Fear not, friends, for this is the way…

Those of you familiar with that parallel universe inhabited and perhaps even created by yours (f) truly – the vinnymeister – will no doubt appreciate the challenges presented thissaway by ‘covering’ the Spain/Italy final. Whether you will sympathise may be another matter. Put simply, my tendency for foamy action-painting-writing may, with each reminiscence of each threaded pass or nuanced offering, backwash the hell out of whatever was/is reported/intended. Leading to fruiticious anarchy of the most aromatic or indulged sort. I care not; it is my intention to reflect the death-defying poetry of these hypnotically controlling romantics, these brave revolutionaries, these um… Spaniards.

Thus, in psycho-purist good faith…and having denied myself the right to instantaneously orgasmic response… an appreciation.

In their pirouetting and their brimful/loveful dance towards Sunday’s very special victory, Spain have simply changed the football world; for the better. Breathe it in.  In restating and even re-imagining, re-validating their own brilliant and joyous conceptions of footie trust and belief and execution, the diddy, ticky-tacky ones have not so much entertained us as bathed us lucky lucky punters in their elixir.

Such was the lushness, the irresistibly elevating nature of this seminal game of togger. Whether or when the question was meekly or impudently asked – by innocent or heathen or centre-forward-obsessed reactionary – the Spanish, gathering us all up, strode to the mount to deliver their loved-up sermon; in repudiation of the necrophiliac 4-4-2; in glorious praise of liberated though team-hung expression.

Fear not, friends, for this is the way. Gaze or gawp upon it and repent. (Roy).

Well, it had something of the #biblical about it, eh? That utter and almost otherworldly grace; that resonance; that hayzooss gorblimey darting to the heart. Spain – to borrow James Blood Ulmer’s description of an inspired pil – went right past football.

Right past it and into something lovely and rather deep as well as bewildering; something that we surely need to both appreciate and in some measure try to understand, methinks – we Brits in particular.

So, what did they do?

  • They wee-weed purringly, ecstatically over notions of mediocrity
  • They championed skill over hardness
  • They beautifully extended the possibilities of the beautiful game

But what does that mean?

  • That small can be beautiful/effective/strong
  • That intelligence trumps mere effort
  • That they understand and we don’t.

I am clear that Spain’s triumph was a triumph for the game in the sense that they really have taken us somewhere better. In terms of what we might call/are calling inevitably culture. Previous truly great footballing sides – whether Brazilian, Dutch or possibly French – may or may not be meaningfully compared but my suspicion is that what Spain have over all of them is the quality, the depth of their understanding and belief in their own way. Plus a purity from first to last; in comfort and ‘under pressure’; from nominal centre half to False 9 – an unshakeably pure faith in passing and moving and threading and darting a way through, without compromise. In a carousel of triangles of awareness. Options, always-available options, improving or momentum-changing, arising from good, purposeful, communal work.

There is unquestionably a moral dimension to this – listen to them talk. Humbly, generally but always in the certain knowledge of this daft-wondrous footie righteousness, this faith in the power of their skills being evidentially more powerful than fifty yard passes; more certain.

So, what we get is a line-up of New Age Total Footballers. No strikers; because they believe that Fabregas or Silva or Alonso or Iniesta can finish and that they are manifestly better and more influential and more threatening than the current Torres. (And there is no Villa.) And acute or focussed surges from midfield are then the key to unlocking the modern defence.

In fact these uber-hombres believe that they have 10 likely goal-scorers on the park, not one or two. The fluency and the rotation and the efficacy of their alleged midfield – numbering what, 6? – making a mockery of dumb crusty Brits bemoaning Spain’s lack of a Jackie Milburn. Spain (not entirely incidentally Cindy) won the final 4-0, with no forwards but a forward threat that Italy, that great bastion of streetwise defending could not cope with!

Yet Spain have been labelled boring. This is just lazy. There are times when they may not be as exciting as a rampant Brazilian side in mid salsa down the pitch (last seen 15 years ago?) but… come on… boring?

Okay, feasible to remain unmoved by the playing of percentages as the ball is shuffled (occasionally) blandly around… but don’t please go mistaking their ball-retention as boring when it surely reflects the patient ticking of a brilliant mind. Something sensational and inventive will happen – with or without David Villa or Fernando Torres at its thrilling peak. That 4-0 – these 3 tournaments! – annihilate the arguments; both in terms of what is right and what is beautiful; Spain win. Where does that leave us?

Not all England players are as bad as might be apparent to the average Ukrainian onlooker at his or her home tournament. But as a squad, as a ‘nation’, England strode idiotically and embarrassingly backwards yet again. They may have discovered some team spirit but this was not reflected in teamwork; or certainly not in what we might call linking, or interplay, of which there was catastrophically little.

I watched every minute of England’s games and can barely recall anything resembling joined up footie. Even Gerrard, who carried his side with some honour in three of the games, achieved very little constructively. More typical was the contribution of Parker – whom I rate – but whose passing was either lame or non-existent for virtually the entire period. It is barely credible that a footballing nation of any stature could again produce such a void where football should be. Except that we do precisely that at every tournament we attend; one reason I came to resent this latest shambles.

Hodgson may yet do okay but it is not too early to challenge some of the central tenets of his footballing philosophy – a philosophy itself in need of arguably seriously independent review following the exhibition by Spain – the revelations from Spain – in Euro 2012. We might understand a manager with only a matter of a few weeks in charge of a group of generally mediocre players ‘needing’ to play safe -circle those metaphorically predictable wagons – avoiding ‘disaster’ being the immediate objective of this ungenerous worldview.  People, there has to be more.

In a Group Stage that was both absurd and utterly predictable England were close to appalling but won their group. For twenty minutes they made a decent contribution to a quarter-final against a workmanlike Italian side but then were soundly beaten before deservedly losing on penalties. Some folks talked of positives at the time of the Group Stage win but meaningful assessments became largely swamped by penno-trauma. We need to get past this.

The new England boss went for a caricature of English ‘dependability’ from the outset. The kind of 2 Banks of 4 that might launch now a thousand aching post-modern odes to Imperial Delusion. In one sense, it kinda worked – that Group win. In another it was like some deeply cartoonlike or ironic thing whereby slumbering giant fails to notice diddymen tying up gargantuan laces before then entering Giant Sportsday. Cue resounding kerrlummpp… and giant returning to slumber.

Except maybe the giant link flatters England these days. But there was something of a return to a fall from grace, or at least a further falling away and behind in that ultimately, predictably sterile 2 banks of 4.

Given the obvious and appealing supremacy now of what I once coined ‘twinkle over clonk’ and the need for a tectonic shift in emphasis in what remains the English national game, we may need to look carefully at whether Hodgson is really the man to preside over England FC. He may be some kind of a sophisticate – possibly – but the former Fulham man seems unlikely to lead us so necessarily and so dramatically forward after his initial and emphatic steps back.

A memory alights; that Brian Clough once said something typically acerbic, throwaway and profound about raising the skill level when competition was at its most pressured peak. In other words, you stoo-pid pee-ple… skill will out.

A joyful-lethal instinct?

Para one – where our scribe yet again froths foamaciously about hearty and enriching nonsenses…

Bright Young Things quite rightly draw our attention and sometimes our love. For one thing it’s kinda fashionable to associate yourself with something that dashes or darts, or expresses something profoundly exciting in its rawness. For another, real talent – the expression of sport-glorious proto-genius – does light us all up, yes?

(False) para two – where things get unusually but temporarily focussed…

Take that boy Oxlade-Chamberlain. In a matrix of relative dullards and rammed Ikea-crafted pegs in predictably worn oaken holes he almost shineth. There is, with him (alone?) the wonderful possibility for something un-James Milner; meaning that, AOC has what JM, in his current maturity(?) almost completely lacks – a subversive whiff of impending inspiration, or the god-given wherewithal to stumble in glorious haste upon it. Possibly accidentally.

A post, then…

And possibly unfortunate or plain daft to make comparisons between these two Wingmen – the City man being essentially now an extension of the shape of things rather than a protagonist in his own right, the young gunner an occasionally unwieldy and at ‘this level’ naive unzipper of the crisp files of technocoachdom. Guess who I like most, out the two?

Oxy boy, of course. With his extravagant pace and directness and sometimes unplayable verve.

Even a fairly unschooled and dispassionate understanding of footballstuff assumes/evokes/infers some appreciation of the sportslife-enhancing boogie that naturals such as he hipswingingly perform. Naturals, when in the full flow of their electrifying ease, can utterly expose the stodgy, the ordinary and sometimes even the good. Because there is no answer to the kind of movement and joyful-lethal instinct they express. No answer – not even from top-draw defenders – not when the sap of confidence is risen and the ball is possessed so by the will and the spirit of that liberated charge. And yet…

England and Sweden has just finished. And the Boy Wunda didn’t feature, other than in the role of timewasterupper, as the ticks and tocks were being counted out. (Perhaps predictably, he fluffed his only meaningful opportunity, when failing weakly to control a through-ball; if confident, he might have taken the ball easily into his stride and lashed it gleefully home like some kid in a park. But he didn’t.)

And this is why I have been clear that despite the uplifting frisson/the succulence around his potential, Hodgson was quite right not to pick Oxlade-Chamberlain in the starting 11; sadly. Like Walcott – more of him very soon, for obvious reasons – the Arsenal fledgling divebombs still too often and too crassly for top level international football; or, er… for England. The fact that this is clearly a matter of confidence deficit rather than talent deficit may be used against the Manager/Mr G Neville Esquire (arguably) once the side shuffle homewards.

Not that this fixture came near that aforementioned higher category of sport. As many of us expected, it was poor; poor but hugely enlivened by goals – good goals even, from England. And that other juvenile – Master Walcott – was central to the England ‘recovery’. Much of what I have said or suggested about AOC applies to TW. Except that Theo has skilfully played himself out of contention for the first team over a fairly long period of time now… allowing AOC to get a sniff of that right-wing birth now occupied by Milner. Theo, for me, has failed to grow up on the pitch; staying cute’n cuddly in an oh let’s make allowances kindofaway when we needed his pace to grow a beard or something. Seriously Theo, we have had to conclude that you should be better than this by now.  And maybe… so should AOC?

Perhaps it’s a very deep one this. The question whether we should, as a nation now freed-up by the general revelation that We’re Shit And We Know We Are, experiment/and/or encourage our imperfect but exciting youffs? But is it worth bringing them on? Are they – these specific flawed gemlets – worth it? Can we bear all this cringing (our cringing) as they scurry down obvious blind-alleys or commit heinous sins of wastefulness in possession? Do the shocking miscontrols send you slightly nauseous like they do me? Ought we in a fit of wage-conscious pique to pitchfork them or flay them in the streets? Or give them a restorative Horlicks and tuck them up with a Mwa on their startled brows? These suddenly feel like matters of philosophical import rather than mere team selection, do they not? And remember we are relatively unshackled in this, because we ARE shit, yes?

That was the overwhelming conclusion, surely from the Sweden game? They were awful and we were like some some Scarfeian satire, some throwback to days when Jackie Charlton bawled at kids to ‘show me some aggression’. Terry could barely jog, but ‘fought through it’; Gerard again played so far within his gifts I imagine he used Lucas on a bad day as his role-model; Young broke his record for most wasteful moments and Johnson may need to be dope-tested again. BUT… the score was 3-2 in favour of the blues/skyblues/Oxford/Cambridge/whoeverthatwasexactly representing some mythical ‘us.’ And we need to rally round and be grateful.

There are – there always are – mitigating circumstances and I will almost certainly not, therefore, abuse the management team. Hodgson – an honourable man and a solid, perhaps even quasi-sophisticated coach – has barely got to know his charges. His choice (I assume?) of Gary Neville most of us approve of and his squad for the most part picked itself. Extraordinarily, these guys are pretty close to our best available. The particular crushingly naff 4-4-2 – awaiting or in the process of righteous deconstruction as I write – is Hodgson’s own and we can actually see why he’s done that thing. (Because we’re crap.) There’s a tournament to avoid utter humiliation in. (Un)fair enough.

The individuals involved in tonight’s Sunday League knockabout may have some kaleidoscopic sense of the paucity of their encounter but I fear are so depressingly-convincingly up their own botties that even the filmically pregnant pauses during conversations with friends – the thin ‘you’re doin’ great, mate(s)’ – may not pierce the squad bubble, let alone emerge on the flipchart of their team consciousness.

Almost no football was played tonight. But England, mighty England bore on.