The best team won, in the smiliest, sassiest, feelgoodiest cup of them all. Perfect – just what you want.
In the oven-warm afterglow of a final that was better than many (but hardly wedding-cake, aesthetically) our reviewing and re-living can be surely generally positive? We’ve enjoyed generally good, sometimes exceptional Group Stages leading to the delicious South American/European Giants confrontations in the last four. Though those semi’s see-sawed between the extraordinary (Haaysus Kreeeeest! Bra-zeeeeell!!) and the arch-typical staccato tease and counter-thrust, the simple rightness of the German victory over a relatively dull Argentina in last night’s showpiece surely artfully plonks the cherry.
But… before looking again at the meaning of all of this, I’ll hand over to the Morrissey lookalike sitting alongside me on the sofa. Because it’s time for my regular dance with miserablism, moralism and emphatic, quiff-swaying pomp.
This has unquestionably been a vibrant, colourful and sometimes brilliant World Cup but not one that allows me to go with the Best Thing Since Sliced Wotsists – not quite. Too many things cut across that notion – key examples include the measured negativism of Holland and Argentina; the low standard of the host country; the continuing drift towards anarchy on the park.
Let’s start with that last one… and get it out the way.
#Brazil2014 confirmed or reaffirmed the sad truth that ‘top’ players are now spending too much of the 90 minutes seeking advantage rather than playing. The Holy Grail is apparently that moment where you find yourself on the edge of the box – or in it – horny with the possibility that you may by some means draw a foul. The actual goal as an objective has receded into the distance, so that only the drawing of contact counts. That grieves me. For so many players to be rejecting the idea that the most life-affirming surge of adrenalin might best be employed to jink gleefully but cleanly past the defender before lashing the ball wholeheartedly into the roof of the net saddens me. However retro or unrealistic it may sound, I just wish they’d dismiss the very existence of the defenders, dart instinctively towards the red zone and smash the fucking thing. Like they used to.
I know how corny it sounds. Robben and Muller aren’t Malcolm MacDonald, eh? The game’s moved on. But I know I ain’t the only one thinking this drift towards games made ungovernable by the cynicism and the cheating of players is BIG and BAD.
Muller and Robben may be word-class footballers but they are both evidently shit sportsmen. They habitually cheat through shameless exaggeration or pure invention of that most contemporary (and cancerous?) of concepts – contact. Forgive me but cheating is unacceptable. Not regrettable, or inconvenient, or inevitable – unacceptable. You don’t have to be weirdly conservative to believe honesty is important in sport or anywhere else. Honesty is important – it’s a central part of that which makes life – and games – work.
I regret but don’t accept either the need to go on the defensive about that value; I’ve written many times about the need for a powerful step back towards that idealism. I still think a Gentlemanly Conduct law could be redrafted to bundle football back into line on this.
In Brazil (as in the Prem/La Liga etc etc) with a zillion witnesses we saw the following on countless occasions; an international player either chugging purposefully or bursting athletically towards the danger area with but a single thought in his head – to throw himself shamelessly as soon as a defender’s leg was stretched. I’ve heard it said that there is some skill in ‘drawing’ fouls this way but c’mon, really? What could be cheaper or more crushingly anti-sport? Players are plainly unable to restrain this appalling instinct so it falls on those who govern the game to sort this. (Surely this is do-able, given the 86 cameras on every significant event in world football?) For me, until it is dealt with there will be no relief from the drift away from full-on, life-affirming sport – from pure footie.
The second major disappointment was the unsurprising but still dispiriting funk that was the host team. Brazil have been ordinary for arguably 20 years – certainly they have rarely showed the expectant world the kind of football for which they are famed – but there was no avoiding the near-cataclysmic sense of well… despair that engulfed the host nation and provided an unwelcome mega-story for the tournament. SEVEN – ONE.
Let’s face it Brazil had a head-start in terms of goodwill, the buzz around this World Cup being manifestly sexier and buzzier than yer average quadrennial gathering. I can’t imagine a neutral anywhere not wanting to see some festival football from these hosts or at the very least downright expectant of an upful shindig given the context of beachy, beautiful, footie-daft people. Brazil (the nation – or nations?) was well up for it; the team, however, was simply inadequate.
I confess to some minor toldyouso-ism following an early-tournament twitter prediction that either #Ned or #Ger might stick 5 past the hosts given their diabolical defending. When it came to pass in such dramatic, nay traumatic style I felt angry rather than vindicated – angry for the arrogance of Luiz and Marcello and the rest, who have plainly been dreaming they are no. 10’s for aeons and have finally been found out for simply not bothering to work at their real jobs.
Scolari is of course culpable in this, for imagining a clubby, fatherly relationship would see his poorly selected, frankly inept crew through. Ultimately an obviously consistently negligent group got what they deserved, if somewhat cruelly. Is it strangely gratifying that our press aren’t the one’s screaming Show Ponies?
The generally more predictable inertia around the other semi (and mercifully, just a few of the other ‘knockout’ matches) was simply tournament football in action. Argentina were unlovely but successful against a Dutch side who did a whole lot more but without that finding, expressing or urgently seeking the freedom to unleash. Van Gaal enhanced his reputation (you do wonder if this was as important to him as the progress of his team, especially given the theatrics around That Goalkeeping Change?) but chose not to liberate up his side. Whilst the majority of coaches would do the same in the circumstances that ole idealist in me wants to believe he would have been better advised to have bawled ‘we’re plainly better than these Argies – go get ‘em, boys!’ before instructing Schneider and co to flood forward into the box. Except I suppose, that if they’d gone in there, they’d only be thinking of that one thing… contact.
So let’s remember the other stuff; the freshness and brilliance of James Rodrigues maybe, the sheer quality of the German’s teamwork, the gusto and the brilliant defiance of the Americans. Mini-glories from Iran and Costa Rica, gallantry and ecstasy, as well as local heartbreak or overly growed-up caution. If we can ever separate the obscenity of all that money spent on our indulgences – and perhaps we are simply wrong to do so? – this was a really good World Cup.