Yuri Olesha's Envy, the funniest novel you'll ever read about the quest for the perfect means of mass producing sausage, has as its dramatic center a soccer match between the USSR and Germany. In the passage below, Volodya is the shlub of a narrator's rival, and Goetske is the flamboyant star of the opposing team. The playing styles of the two men are contrasted, each, perhaps, reflecting the spirit of his home country.
Volodya would catch the ball in midflight, when it seemed mathematically impossible. The entire audience, the entire living slope of the stands seemed to get steeper; each spectator was halfway to his feet, impelled by a terrible, impatient desire to see, at last, the most interesting thing—the scoring of a goal. The referees were sticking whistles into their lips as they walked, ready to whistle for a goal...Volodya wasn’t catching the ball, he was ripping it from its line of flight, like someone who has violated the laws of physics and was hit by the stunning action of thwarted forces. He would fly up with the ball, spinning around, literally screwing himself up on it. He would grab the ball with his entire body—knees, belly, and chin—throwing his weight at the speed of the ball, the way someone throws a rag down to put out a flame. The usurped speed of the ball would throw Volodya two meters to the side, and he would fall like a firecracker. The opposing forwards would run at him, but ultimately the ball would end up high above the fray.
Volodya stayed inside the goal. He couldn’t just stand there, though. He walked the line of the goal from post to post, trying to tamp down the surge of energy from his battle with the ball. Everything was roaring inside him. He swung his arms, shook himself, kicked up a clump of earth with his toe. Elegant before the start of the game, he now consisted of rags, a black body, and the leather of his huge, fingerless gloves. The breaks didn’t last long. Once again the Germans’ attack would roll toward Moscow’s goal. Volodya passionately desired victory for his team and worried about each of his players. He thought that only he knew how you should play against Goetske, what his weak points were, how to defend against his attacks. He was also interested in what opinion the famous German was forming about the Soviet game. When he himself clapped and shouted “hurray” to each of his backs, he felt like shouting to Goetske then: “Look how we’re playing! Do you think we’re playing well?”
As a soccer player, Volodya was Goetske’s exact opposite. Volodya was a professional athlete; the other was a professional player. What was important to Volodya was the overall progress of the game, the overall victory, the outcome; Goetske was anxious merely to demonstrate his art. He was an old hand who was not there to support the team’s honor; he treasured only his own success; he was not a permanent member of any sports organization because he had compromised himself by moving from club to club for money. He was barred from participating in play-off matches. He was invited only for friendly games, exhibition games, and trips to other countries. He combined art and luck. His presence made a team dangerous. He despised the other players—both his side and his opponents. He knew he could kick a goal against any team. The rest didn’t matter to him. He was a hack.