Then, the fallen: Drogba, Henry, Pirlo. Inspirational was what Didier Drogba's presence was supposed to be for Cote d'Ivoire, fractured elbow and all. One could argue that presence was a distraction rather than a rallying point. Henry? He might as well have shown up to play (or ride the bench, rather) in a one-of-one BAPE tee and Futura-designed Dunks; he's actually quite good in those. Ribery? Come on, son!
Pirlo presents perhaps the most interesting case of all of his fellow departed, since with his introduction, we were able to actually glimpse in real time and with somewhat quantifiable metrics what it is a "talisman" does. While the rest of his Italian brethren were playing like handsome somnambulists for 60-odd minutes, Pirlo came on and orchestrated the Italian attacks, such as they were, brilliantly. Creativity, that bit of seemingly mystical genius that is able to conceive of a defense-cleaving pass which creates space where before there was none, that can conjure a goal out of nothing, but perhaps most importantly lifts the team merely by striding about the pitch, is what the soccer mind imagines as the talisman's stock-in-trade. Yet, even so, the Italians have already been sent home with theirs. I say again, who wants a talisman?
Leave it to the colloquial originators of the term to have a team for which talismanic status is openly argued over and sought after, both on the pitch and in the locker room. The English are, unsurprisingly, a team of talismans, almost to a man composed of those who are the embodiment, the synechdochic emblem of their respective club teams. Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, and of course (with a nod to The Guardian's newsletter, "The Fiver ") England's Brave And Loyal John Terry could each be termed "talismanic" for England; that is, they are continually invested with the entirety of their country's hopes for success, as if by sheer presence they could will England past their opponents. Maybe that was (and is) the problem.
There is something untoward about demanding to be the leader, no matter what the cost. We all know what JT's like, so I'm not going to comment on that guy, except to say maybe it's best he doesn't have to tug at the captain's armband anymore.
And Gerrard? Musical tastes and overwhelming propensity for linguistic invention/contraction aside, let's just say that on occasion (and certainly not always the case, as Chris Ryan has proven elsewhere), STEVEN GERRARD IS ASHEN-FACED. Rooney's merely following Sir Alex's directives to save it all for United in the fall.
To return to the OED once again--for the last time--it's in the latter part of the OED's second figuration of the word where we find a more soccer-appropriate subtext: "Anything that acts as a charm, or by which extraordinary results are achieved." (Let's just hope we're not interpreting the word by its 1834 iteration, according to Thomas Pringle's African Sketches: "Let us subdue savage Africa by Justice, by Kindness, by the talisman of Christian Truth.") The idea of a talisman, then, tells us more about our desires for unifying narratives to explain why the English and the Dutch can't win in penalties, why we care that the palimpsest that is Diego Maradona apparently shares bedside chats with the equally fascinating Jose Mourinho, and why Zinedine Zidane remains extraordinarily compelling even years after his retirement than it does as a signifier of meaning. The idea of a talisman, for example, can't explain away Zizou's magisterial headbutt, but it can offer a kind of occult contextualization for such otherworldly acts.