Banned in Brazil

June 02, 2014

Mexico's soccer coach, Miguel Herrera, has banned his team from eating red meat, drinking alcohol or having sex during the World Cup in Brazil, making Herrera the early favorite to win Coach of the Year from the 21st-Century Puritan Society. Lest you think that Herrera's players can't have any fun, sources indicate that a little Parcheesi is still O.K. But only a little.

Herrera has his reasons. Mexican beef has been known to contain the banned substance clenbuterol, which is sometimes used to fatten cattle; pity the poor Mexican player who tests positive for a burrito. Alcohol is risky because it contains—alcohol. And sex ... well, in Herrera's honor, I will abstain from discussing it for a few paragraphs.

Herrera is not alone—even if he will be at night. Coaches around the world are using the world's biggest tournament as a reason to restrict various activities. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has recommended that his players limit their use of Twitter during the World Cup, possibly for grammatical reasons but more likely because Twitter is a distraction. Anybody can cause an international incident in 140 characters, and coaches everywhere will agree: Nothing good ever gets tweeted after 2 a.m.

Iran has told players they cannot carry on the tradition of exchanging jerseys with opponents after matches. Why? Iran says it has a limited number of jerseys, and players must save them for future matches.

How can you develop nuclear weapons if you can't afford an extra soccer jersey? Wild guess: This is about fraternization, not finances. Iran's government, which has forced athletes to forfeit rather than compete against Israel, has a different view of sportsmanship than most countries. Well, Iran's government has a different view of a lot of things.

Coaches often think that control freak is part of the job description, whether they coach football or f√∫tbol. Some players might wonder: If you can't have sex, what is the point of being a professional athlete, or even being in Brazil? But there's something about the World Cup that turns even the host nation prudish. Brazil coach Luis Felipe Scolari has said "normal" sex is O.K. but has banned anything that he deems "acrobatic." I don't know how he defines "acrobatic," or which assistant coach is in charge of checking, but evidently Scolari does not want his players doing anything they can brag about later. As a general rule players should avoid any bedroom activity in which only the goalkeeper can use his hands.

Thirty years ago if you asked most Americans about having sex during the World Cup, they would say that's the only way they would watch it. But times change, and Americans now care about soccer. We don't care as intensely as those in Europe and South America who use the sport as an excuse to riot and set things on fire, like it's college football or something. But we care. As a matter of deep national pride we don't want to totally embarrass ourselves. There is a real risk of that this summer. The U.S. is slotted in Group G with Germany, Ghana and Portugal, a foursome that is being called the Group of Death. U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann described the draw as "the worst of the worst" (a phrase that is downright confusing: If you are the worst of the worst, are you the worst or the best?).

For his part Klinsmann has not banned anything from the World Cup, except Landon Donovan, the star who was left off the U.S. roster last week. We can only hope that Klinsmann will follow the lead of many successful people and zig when the rest of the world's coaches zag. A steak here, a bottle of wine there, a trip to the beach on an off day. Enjoy yourselves, fellas. You might even play better.

Rest and focus are important, but this is supposed to be fun. And anybody who has ever held a job can agree: Working for a paranoid, intensely controlling boss is not fun. Only one country can win the World Cup anyway. If that turns out to be Mexico, we will understand if players nuzzle the trophy a little longer than normal.

Coaches all over the world think being a control freak is part of the job. But there's something about the World Cup that turns even the host nation prudish.

What would you ban if you were a World Cup coach?

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PHOTOCARLOS M. SAAVEDRA FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
ILLUSTRATION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)