The Nutmeg: A Reckoning

What do you think David Luiz did that night?

Y’know, the night after Luis Suarez, the Colombian striker of chomp-y fame, “nutmegged” him twice in a game, scoring both times, en route to a 3-1 Barcelona victory over hapless PSG?

Do you think he retreated to the splendor of his Paris mansion, found his most expensive blank wall, and stared at it vacantly for hours? Do you think he watched six episodes of Family Guy to take the edge off? Do you think he tried to beat his high score on his favorite Luis Suarez chomp game?

One thing’s for sure: he dodged his mom’s phone calls. Why else would Davidcito’s mom get on Instagram to get a message through to him? “I will always love you after the good games, and even more after those that don’t go well!”

Just, how do you shake a night like that?

Et tu Neymar? (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Et tu Neymar? (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Getting “nutmegged,” for the soccer illiterate, is when a player puts the ball through your legs while you’re trying to defend him/her. It’d be an impressive move to pull off in a pickup game — let alone the highest level of European club football — because a defender has a 95% chance of stopping it just by being awake.

But oh, that 5%. What is it about those ‘meggers that hurts so bad? Dat Winning consulted a few footballers and cooked up some hypotheses.

You were not awake

I can’t even imagine how intimidating it must be to mark one of the most dynamic, shifty strikers in football today. But that is why I’m a chump who gets excited for tater tots, while David Luiz was valued at £50 million last summer, making him “the most expensive defender in football history.” That should be enough money to imagine it. Call me crazy.

“A defender is usually ‘nutmegged’ because he or she is on his or her heels — completely the wrong way to defend,” a friend writes. “The correct stance is on your toes with one foot in front of the other crouched — kind of like fencing. That way if the attacker chooses to go one [way] or the other you can quickly turn to either side.”

I’ve never guarded a guy like Suarez. But if I found myself in a nightmare where I had to, I imagine the problem would be staying on guard. To shadow his moves, you can’t be standing like a guard at Buckingham Palace — your feet have to be wide, right?

But this opens a vulnerability, as it were. If Sir Chomp-a-Lot concludes there’s no way to beat you other than going through you…

You’re less good at sports

My sources say ‘megging happens to everybody, at one point or another. Sometimes players are just really good! It happens.

But sometimes there is a ‘megging so ruthless, so total in its devastation, that you may question whether you belong on the same field. You will have time to contemplate this question, because in the first few seconds after a ‘megging you are physically and spatially lost. The question may linger, long after the inevitable goal you permitted and the game you conceded. It becomes mental.

“It certainly messes with your mind,” a pal writes. “If you protect the middle of your legs at all cost, you’re much less aggressive and it’s easier to get around you.”

Another take:

The ‘nutmeg’ is so embarrassing because it is a legitimately difficult move to pull off. It’d be like dribbling the ball between the defenders legs in basketball. If you’ve been ‘nutmegged,’ you were either in the wrong position (you shouldn’t be facing the guy that way) or he put you in the wrong position (you shouldn’t be facing the guy) or his ball skills are just amazing. In the last case, I don’t know that it’s absolutely embarrassing so much as relatively embarrassing; like: why are you on the same pitch as that guy?

Why indeed. If you should find out, please CC: Germany.

You have been reduced as a man

Maybe this is a stretch, but isn’t there something obviously emasculating about the “nutmeg?” Sure, that word — “emasculate”, not “nutmeg” — is fraught with meaning and politics and interpretation, but someone is putting the ball between your legs as a way of defeating you. One friend, a psychologist, goes full Freud on it:

The ‘nutmeg’ is shameful because sex is shameful, and the ‘nutmeg’ is obviously sexual in nature. The tool of the offender is the ball, and, in the case of the ‘nutmeg,’ the offender is slotting his tool between the opened (and ambivalently welcoming) legs of the defender.

Sure, this is tongue in cheek, but any dude who’s played sports knows that part of it is dominance ritual. There’s an uncomfortable, elusive truth somewhere in here.

This leads to an interesting question, which is whether the effect would be different in women’s football. My own sample is small, and not scientifically significant enough to present here. But one does, at a minimum, consider how sports are “coded” differently by women and men. Could the ‘megger be just as “emasculating” in the women’s game? What would that mean?

Can of worms, my friends, and we’ll get into it some other time. For now, let’s just pour one out for Davidcito’s sense of self-worth.

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