Saturday, August 18, 2007
Global Grind, Part 1
His latest article, an excursus on the increasing homogeneity (and sterility) of modern football, is worth a look.
To clear the ground first, though, a couple of small quibbles:
Didier Drogba is a good case: since joining Chelsea he has become a tower of steel and muscle, an apex of intimidating power at the head of Jose Mourinho’s tactical design.
In truth, Drogba has always been this kind of player, as anyone who watched his performances with Marseille could confirm. Sub-Saharan African players have, in fact, been some of the chief beneficiaries of the pan-European move towards a more physical style of football.
Earlier in the article, we return to the familiar theme of Brazil:
Later [post-1970] the Brazilians did flirt intermittently with notions of European-inspired so called modernity, but always with failure.
Now here I think Les has missed the point somewhat.
Brazil's last two World Cup victories have been achieved precisely by adopting a more "European" approach. Typifying this has been the use of not one but two hard men in midfield; in 1994 there were Dunga and Mauro Silva, in 2002 Gilberto Silva and Kleberson (after the more creative Juninho, used in the preliminary games, was jettisoned). Skilful opportunism in the final third, of course, was the other essential element of both of these tournament triumphs, and Brazil possessed it in spades.
But Les's essential point is, I believe, valid. There is far less distinction between individual club and national teams these days, and the worldwide trend has undoubtedly been towards greater fitness, allowing opponents the minimum of time on the ball, and sacrificing numbers up front in favour of stiffening the other areas (especially the centre of midfield).
Significantly, the team that bucked this trend most notably at the recent Asian Cup was Saudi Arabia, whose players are yet to really descend on the European leagues. But the corollary of a lack of exposure to European levels of fitness and organization (and perhaps cynicism as well) is vulnerability in defence, from which the Saudis have suffered for some time.
The rest of the football world will follow Europe these days, for many reasons. Bosman has merely exacerbated the general tendency. Had Argentina won the recent Copa America, it would have been a small victory for those who prefer a more thoughtful version of the game, but I'm not sure if it would have had a long-term impact.
Although the success of an Argentina-esque side in the UEFA Champions' League (or even a national league of sufficient status) might help, I feel that the best thing that could happen to football in terms of playing style would be for a genuinely entertaining team to win the World Cup. Although there have been some very worthwhile winners of the event since 1970, there has usually been some sort of stigma attached to them, and in recent times all the winners have relied rather more on graft than inspiration.
And there's an interesting pattern emerging from the fortunes of the positive footballing sides at World Cups. More on that soon.
The Brisbane I remember as a child was different from my home outside of Sydney. The Brisbane of today really does seem like it's pretty much like the Sydney I live in. Whilst we have rebel sports here, the europeans seem to have a similar store that crossses over borders. ( I can remember on chain in three countries).
The impact of the mass marketing of the EPL and the UCL is probably the ultimate reason for this. You don't need foreign player restrictions if you stop the broadcast of games outside of the nations of the competitors. ;)
Although the success of an Argentina-esque side in the UEFA Champions' League (or even a national league of sufficient status) might help, I feel that the best thing that could happen to football in terms of playing style would be for a genuinely entertaining team to win the World Cup. Although there have been some very worthwhile winners of the event since 1970, there has usually been some sort of stigma attached to them, and in recent times all the winners have relied rather more on graft than inspiration..."
This is why I wasn't exactly backing Argentina to win the final of the Copa America. They've still got some work to do and I think a victory may have glossed over their weak spots going into South Africa 2010. Now they can reflect on their team and might end up being in better shape to win a far more significant tournament. And I don't mean becoming another pragmatic team based on graft. Just some rebuilding in defence, more versatility in midfield and a more workable front pairing.