January 27, 2023
Rainy day, Qawra, Malta

The Buddhist coach

An interview by Giovanni.De.Caro

Dear readers, it is with great honor that I publish an interview with Mr. Wheat, released a few days ago in his country house where he retired several years ago, away from the clamor and spotlights that once characterized his social life. As you may recall, Mr. Wheat was a very successful football president and managed to lead his previously unknown team, the Real Madonna, up to Serie A, the higher Italian league, reaching the ninth place, before the disastrous collapse that led the team to relegate, category after category, with the speed of a stone thrown into a dark well, until the inevitable failure. We know today, without any shadow of a doubt, that the sudden collapse was due to his unexpected choice of hiring as coach the Tibetan monk Nil-Ling-Dom, to replace Filippo Gitano, who was working very well. And, above all, it was this bizarre choice that I wanted to discuss in the interview kindly granted to me in his living room. Seated on a comfortable sofa and surrounded by lively Buddhist statues, paintings and mandalas, I immediately felt at ease, thanks also to his constant sly smile and a good bottle of red wine that kept us company during the interview.

- First, how did you come to the decision to hire Nil-Ling-Dom, an obscure Tibetan coach at the time?

- It's certainly not easy for me to remember those moments. We were euphoric, the team was going beyond our wildest expectations, and from this point of view, the coach Filippo Gitano was certainly not working badly. But my boys weren't happy all the same. They were young footballers, intoxicated by the desire for success, already dreaming to reach Europa League, and for this reason they didn't like Gitano's tactical choices, according to them too defensive. I still don't understand how I got convinced to dismiss him. But even more mysterious, at least apparently, was the choice to hire Nil-Ling-Dom, who, although he had distinguished himself in the local Tibetan league, certainly didn't have a relevant curriculum. However, I remember that it was suggested to me by several sources with a certain mystical enthusiasm. Today I suspect that the Chinese government was behind it, eager to remove from the mother country a man potentially inconvenient and dangerous for their official doctrine.

- I see.

- Anyway, it is useless to dwell on it now. Maybe it had to go in this way. As the Buddhists say: if something can be solved, why think about it? And if something can't be solved, why think about it?

- Ok, but what happened exactly? Why did the team collapse so suddenly? I guess it was due to Nil-Ling-Dom's tactical choices.

- It wasn't just a matter of tactics. Soon the players were completely enthralled by the new coach's philosophy and scarcely fought on the pitch. It wasn't demotivation. Rather it is as if they had reached a higher state of consciousness and suddenly they could see the whole illusion of the championship. And actually on this Nil-Ling-Dom was very clear: “Don't you see that all suffering comes from this eternal desire to win? First it was to reach Serie C, after Serie B, then Serie A, now we want to reach the Europa League, tomorrow maybe the Champions League... like mice that spin forever on a wheel, we delude ourselves that we can achieve happiness by catching something and when we caught it... an ephemeral intoxicating party and here we are again wanting something more...”. He used to say, and these speeches had a lot of influence on those young guys. And also about relegation, it was the same: “Don't you see how this fear of relegation is unfounded? What are you really afraid of? Championships are a construct of society for ideological and economic reasons. They don't really exist without them. They are like a collective hallucination to which everyone gives senseless importance due to the media bombardment and emulation. But if you really look, they have no real existence. Therefore, what are you really afraid of when you think of relegation?”.

- I see. And the supporters? Did they get this message too?

- Not at all! The supporters were furious! Indeed, some of them are still today after so many years! It was almost as if all the peaceful tranquility that he instilled in the players was poured in the opposite way on the fans! They were literally enraged.

- There were also threats and episodes of violence, if I remember correctly.

- Yes. A couple of times big petards were detonated under Nil-Ling-Dom's house. But he, as usual, didn't get upset that much. He never gave in to the rancor of his fans and he always remained benevolent toward them. “It is certainly not their fault if they are still clinging to the yoke of 'avidya', the metaphysical ignorance. The road to enlightenment is long and I cannot certainly blame them”, he once confided to me.

- And also some protests against you, requesting to fire him.

- Sure, many times. In particular the one after the match against Atletico Brigante. I myself, although as you can see I tend, if not to defend, at least to try to understand the work of Nil-Ling-Dom, I have to admit that perhaps in that match an unacceptable level was reached. The players didn't even move anymore. Some were motionless in midfield to do yoga, some meditating... in short, it was really too much. And Atletico Brigante was quite merciless. I don't even remember how many goals they scored, it's certainly still the record in that category.

- So why didn't you kick him out!?

- I don't know what to say, it was still a difficult choice. Among other things, I and the players had grown fond of his teachings. In case of dismissal, he would have left forever. And for what? Just to avoid a relegation?

- Yes, but in the end, relegation after relegation, there were no more leagues where to play and the team vanished.

- Nothing is eternal. Everything is impermanent.

- But haven't you felt remorse for the unfortunate fans?

- I loved, and I still love the fans very much. But, as I said, they were not keen to understand. They were not yet ready to embrace Buddhist philosophy and, at the same time, there was nothing we could do about it.

- You once called them "buttheads", if I remember correctly, sparking vigorous polemics. What exactly did you mean by that?

- I don't remember ever calling them like that.

- I seem to remember an interview in which you said that the fans were too "buttheads" to understand the team's work and for that comment there were many polemics after.

- Well, if I said that I apologize to the fans for using that term. Perhaps I was in a moment of particular stress. I certainly shouldn't have and, as I have already said, it was certainly not their fault if they didn't have the basis at that moment to really understand what we were doing.

- But what were you doing exactly? Besides losing all the matches?

- Nil-Ling-Dom was very clear about this. He often said to the guys: “First you have to become men, then you can be footballers. Indeed, you will see that the moment you become real men you will also become real footballers."

- And did they succeed in the end? As far as I know, they all left their careers. Real Madonna was their last team.

- Yes, they all left their careers. Many are living in Buddhist monasteries around the world, especially in Tibet and India.

- What a sudden change!

- Yes, I believe as well that maybe they went too quickly from one extreme to the other. From Ferraris and Rolexes to total poverty in monasteries. But perhaps, even in this case, it was due to youthful immaturity. For example, although I have left the activity of president probably for the influence of Nil-Ling-Dom, I have never reached the opposite extreme of asceticism or of shutting myself up in a monastery to meditate, and as you can see I also drink a small glass of wine from time to time. But who knows, maybe they did the right choice, who can say that?

- Anyway, I think that it is not necessarily true that to be footballers and Buddhists at the same time must necessarily be at odds. For example, one of the greatest Italian footballers, Roberto Baggio, is a Buddhist.

- I agree that there is no contrast. As I said, I think that my players were too young at the time to coexist with the teachings of Nil-Ling-Dom. As for Baggio, sometimes I and Nil-Ling-Dom talked about him. He greatly appreciated him both as a player and as a person, but he told me that, although the Buddhist influence was evident in his always extremely correct and kind ways, he certainly hadn't reached the enlightenment yet and is still far from that.

- Did he also explain why?

- Especially for the fact that Baggio still can't make peace with himself for the missed penalty in the World Cup final against Brazil and keeps dreaming about it at night. Nil-Ling-Dom explained to me that if he was a true Buddhist he wouldn't still be attached to that episode, by the way also so far away. Besides, no one has ever blamed him for that episode. He should simply let it go out of his mind, like when you loosen your hand grip that is grasping something. If he can't, it means that he still has a long way to go.

- And can you tell me something about the mysterious match?

- Which match, sorry?

- The friendly match against Real Madrid! It is now clear that it's not an urban legend, as, for some reason, all you want us to believe.

- Unfortunately, I have to confirm that it is precisely an urban legend.

- But also Real Madrid's captain slip a comment about it! He said that the match against Real Madonna was the most instructive experience of his life!

- He had fun feeding the legend. As others too.

- And what about the viral photo taken by the Bernabeu custodian?

- Probably done with Photoshop. Young people today are very skilled in these things.

- Please tell me the truth! Help me to make this scoop!

- I told you the truth… there wasn't any match against Real Madrid.

- But you have to admit that you were a close friend of the president of Real Madrid and a friendly was planned.

- Yes, we became friends almost as a joke, due to our similar teams' names, and we were thinking of organizing a friendly match, but we didn't manage to organize it.

- Ok, you don't want to tell me, patience.

- ...I would, but I cannot.

- Ah, so you admit there's something!

- Yes, but we've all promised to keep it secret and I can't break that promise, sorry.

- Which promise? Please tell us once and for all what happened!

Mr. Wheat was silent for some minutes, sipping wine and staring into void space, thoughtful. I sensed that it was better not to interrupt his state and, in fact, it was the right choice because, in the end, he continued:

- Nothing is forever, perhaps the time has come to talk about that match. I do it mainly so that the talent of Nil-Ling-Dom and of my footballers is known, even though they couldn't care less.

- So, that friendly was really played!?

- Yes. Real Madrid vs Real Madonna. The last game of Real Madonna and, as far as I know, of the coach Nil-Ling-Dom.

- Oh my God. And why did all of you always keep it a secret?

- At the request of Nil-Ling-Dom. He agreed to play it on the condition that there were no TVs, audience, supporters, etc ... and that no one would ever talk about it afterward. And so it has been until now, apart from a few comments slipped from time to time.

- And how did the match go?

- In the locker room, before the match, the atmosphere wasn't, as always, very fierce. My players, most of them just returned for that match directly from obscure Eastern monasteries, were asking: Which sense has to kick a ball into a net? To tire out for a cosmic illusion? And above all, why should we disappoint our opponents who never did us any harm? Nil-Ling-Dom replied by quoting the Mahabharata, a Hindu work in this case, and precisely when Arjuna, before the decisive battle, sees in front of him the host of enemies, many of whom his relatives, and is taken by despair wondering why should create pain and death between them. Krishna, whom Arjuna had preferred as a spiritual guide alongside him instead of an army of demons, replies that he must do it because he is a warrior and his duty is to fight. But he has to do it without any attachment to the result and possible rewards.

- Do you remember what he said exactly?

- Of course. Even today it is as if I have him right here in front of me, clear in front of my eyes, when he made his last speech in the locker room before the match and we saw him for the last time. In fact, he didn't come up on the pitch with us. He said, “Just as Arjuna is a warrior, so you are footballers. And your duty is to fight to win the match. Without fear and without hopes of future rewards. This is why this time there are no cameras, journalists and the public. And neither there are the fans, who I consider the soul of football. This time there are only you and in case of victory you will not get any fruit, also because no one will ever know".

- And did the players get that message?

- Yes. They were as shaken. Indeed, perhaps it was at that moment that some of them really achieved the enlightenment. Then he concluded: “This is my last teaching and it is therefore useless for me to go up to the pitch with you since from now on you will no longer need me. Today you play against the strongest team in the world, a team with players with extraordinary technical skills and extremely experienced in their team schemes. As you know, I have never imposed any scheme on you, but this will be your advantage. Because their schemes, imposed by force and fixed in their minds, will limit their possibilities. In contrast, your mind is now empty, free, open to infinite patterns and possibilities. On the pitch, everything will come naturally to you, like pure creativity. As for your technical skills, even if you may not have noticed it, you have now reached perfection, training after training, even though you often didn't even come into contact with the ball. All of you masterfully learned everything there was to learn and now you are finally ready. It has been a long journey, but before you became footballers you had to become men. You had to become masters of yourself and of your talent. Before it dominated you. Now it is only one of the tools for your liberation. You will understand it during the match when you will experience the abandonment of the illusion of the "I" and you will be instead all-one with your teammates, with the ball, with the pitch, with the opponents and with their goal, shrouded in the mystery of the great liberation. And let's thank our opponents because thanks to them we can strengthen ourselves.”

- How did the match end?

- We won 5-0.