Joao Moutinho. I once waxed some lyrical madness about Moutinho having the same tenacious urge for the ball as former Wolves madman Keith Downing. After I waxed then the laughter started, I laughed too, at the people that were laughing at me. Perhaps it was the way I wrote it, anyway. He has the same tenacious need to get the ball back into his possession, the same as ‘Psycho’ did but that is where the similarity ends isn’t it? Where Psycho tended to kick you in the balls with his football Moutinho tends to tickle them.
João can unroll his scroll of Honours with the various clubs he played for, Porto, Sporting Lisbon, Monaco…the scrollage is long, especially when you add in the European honours he won with his country. You can read about those elsewhere, what he did and how he did it but that’s empirical again and rarely means anything. I’m a firm believer in a person reflecting the place they were born. In João’s case Portimão in the Portuguese Algarve. It’s a beautiful little town and is picturesque, and it’s ice cream colours and blue skies hide a thing, a synchronous relationship with what they once were, a Carthaginian stronghold. It has two castles. A history of hard fought conquests by the Moors and a forced entry into what would become the Portuguese Kingdom. One famous Carthaginian you may have heard of is Hannibal. Not the lunatic played by Anthony Hopkins. The one which terrorised the Roman Empire for a good many years. When I found this out I laughed. João is Hannibal.
When João first signed for Wolves I was a bit nervous. All of a sudden these beautiful young Portuguese and Spanish players we were used to seeing roll in (and out) of the club had this 30 odd year old roll in. I had barely registered what Moutinho was about to be honest. I was thinking about the Jack Hayward years and the endless queue of ‘former Premier League’ players with ‘experience’ who fancied having a quick gobble at the Hayward tit while they forced their shattered limbs around Molineux for one last payday. This mixture of pissheads and cripples made me quiver a bit.
So he turns up, moves Ruben Neves back into a more defensive roll, takes control of the midfield and starts to wax the lyrical football we know and love. The times I have stood on the Southbank and been absolutely astounded by Moutinho, well I’ve lost count. Now I just don’t even look around me, I just try to force down the little Butterflies that flutter around in my belly when he steezes another pass, another interception, plonks a corner in. When he waves at the Southbank thousands of grown men wave back. Love mate.
What can you write about a player like João? Volumes I suspect. His vision, his lifestyle, his Philosophy about Football. I could start to write pages and go game by game layering the text with metaphors and aphromisms. So it all becomes a confusing mess of words and we become like the players who have to play against Joao. It will all end in us falling over and eating grass, thumping the 5G Pitch, looking at the Referee. Is he the best player ever to wear the Gold and Black? I would say yes. It’s all relative of course. I never watched Hancocks and Wright play but I have watched every Wolves team since the days of Derek Dougan, Bailey, Richards et al. Moutinho is the best I have watched.
When my mind wanders during a game and ‘They’ have the ball, Moutinho reminds me of a kid who while enjoyimg a solitary kick about in the park is approached by a group of much bigger scrotes who take his ball off him. But it’s Joãos ball. He wants it back and he wants it back right now. There is a rage within him that is controlled perfectly and transformed into pure footballing beauty. There is a Hannibal within him for sure. Some of that Moorish/African Stoicism…some of that resistance that Portimão showed when a Greater Portugal annexed the town maybe? I’m quite happy to luxuriate in the thought that if Hannibal of the Carthaginians was told to put a kit on and get out there to play football then he would be Joao Moutinho.
In the games against Tottenham last season he smashed great slashes through the Spurs midfield with alacrity and seemingly at will. Here was quality that put Spurs multi million quid bunch of inebriates and doughnuts in some Hannibalian shade. With no answer most the time. Riddles for sure. Football they couldn’t and will never really understand. João threw question after question onto the Molineux turf. Every syllable of those riddles was punctuated by movement and grace that I am struggling to describe. Moutinhos movement was at times obtuse, angular, then erupted in great curves in order to manipulate four or five Spurs players to react to him. This allowed Joao to bring in other players, other movements and he actually conducted the pattern of play for huge periods of the game. The result of this was petulance on behalf of many of the Spurs team which unfolded into pitch thumping, ankle grabbing theatrics as well as the odd elbow or ankle tapping challenge. I remember turning around to Horace early in one game after another Spurs dramatic interlude and telling him Spurs were done for. If you do that kind of crap this early in a game then you have lost it. And they did.
Here in Moutinho is a man that has learned how to keep a firm lid on his own rage. He has conquered himself. Made his height a plus, a weapon in his armoury. Instead of petulance at meeting someone who played better than him he learned, he watched and he played ‘better’ than them. His passing is beautiful, looping, curved, a placid geometry that beggars belief sometimes. You have to remember I’m just a normal bloke like everybody else. I’ve worked in factories and building sites, school was something to be survived and not enjoyed. I stand on the Southbank watching this magical madness from Joao and often I feel like crying great gushing tears at the absolute joy this man brings to me and when he decides to hang up his boots to enjoy the fruits of his skills on some beautiful beachfront restaurant sipping wine pressed between the breasts of Aphrodite herself…well mate, there will always be a sunny patch on that Molineux pitch that belongs just to him.
So we have it. A footballer that good, that inspiring that platitudes written on this cold day in Wednesfield on a lap top that doesn’t even belong to me. What can I say? Nothing of course. I read my books on it all sometimes and I’m fucking horrified how I haven’t been able to capture the Nunogeist, the excellence of it all. I think of Coady and Saiss, Boly, Traore, Jonny, Neto, Vinagre, Raul, Jota, Neves, Patricio all of them and had an idle thought maybe I could paint what it was all about. Maybe colour and form would describe the indescribable. So I sat down and painted and it took me a week to do. It’s Moutinho that photo up there at the top. 20″ by 20″ of acrylic and ink on canvas. Each line and lick of paint is an emotion I had when watching João Moutinho. Every arc of paint is a pass or a move. Every mark, every addition of line or circle is Moutinho and the spirit of his football pinging out like a radar and whacking you right in your soul as you get another elbow in the head, another hug off your mates, the odd sly punch in the head too. Goals, football madness. Fucking brilliant.
I’m going to do all the team. This isn’t those funky framed computer generated things where the players are carefully pencilled and washed with slashes of colour, its not that. This isn’t anything that can be monetised. It’s not something anybody would appreciate on their wall. It’s innocent of all that shit. It’s just about how everything this team does makes us feel. I hope you enjoy it anyway.