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“Jugo Bonito” or The Beautiful Game May 26, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football, Samrat, Sport.
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The game captures the imagination and stokes the passion of people around the world like nothing else (hmmm. maybe s3x is a close second). The game is a bundle of contradictions; it can be ridiculously simple or be real complicated. It may be delectable and exotic like an elaborate Kashmiri Wazwan cuisine where savoring it requires patience, or a straightforward yet satisfying  Big Mac burger providing instant gratification. It may be synchronized like a philharmonic orchestra or may resemble a Bronx gang war slugfest; it can be an opera concert or a staccato rap song. All highly entertaining depending on your tastes.

It is a sport that is discussed fervently across continents, be it notorious drug dealers in a high security prison in Bogota (incidentally the Columbian goalkeeper Rene Higuita(1990-94) was also in such a prison), or slumkids  in a ghetto in Lagos, or suburban mothers "soccer moms" in US mid-west while watching their young girls kicking around, or executives in corporate boardroom meetings in Frankfurt, or a group of Kolkata collegians holding an animated conversation on Maradona vs Pele in "Adda"(gossip) sessions in the "Para"(locality) youth club.

The diversity of this game is mindboggling. This is a game that is played simultaneously in NATO bases and Taliban camps in Afghanistan. The fanatical following it enjoys, brings out the best patriotic feelings and the worst jingoistic emotions, example being the infamous "Futbol War" between El Salvador and
Honduras. In Marx's words Football is the modern Opium  of the Masses, it is a universal language and expression.

The Football World Cup is the greatest event and spectacle of the world beating even the Olympics hands down, the World Cup has played a stellar role for more than half a century in sustaining and also enhancing football's popularity all over the world. FIFA in my opinion has also done a commendable job in managing the sport competently and professionally.

In India also the game has tremendous following, though it is not apparent and in your face like cricket, but the World Cup is one of the most looked forward of all events, and this is not confined to the usual regional suspects Bengal, Kerala and Goa.

The game has evolved over time, cannot comment too much of the games in the 50s and 60s though have seen numerous snippets from those days on television, but nothing much can be inferred from those grainy and jerky frames; seem more like Charlie Chaplin, Laurel Hardy pictures. The movements seem contrived and cartoon like. But recently saw a few clips in slow  motion, especially few dribbles of Stanley Matthew who was renowned for them. The way he controlled the ball was impeccable, the feint he gave to defenders was remarkable. Though coming to feints and maneuvers (the hindi word "jhaasa" seems more appropriate) no one compares to Maradona. The way he could mesmerize was unparalleled, ask the leadenfooted English defenders in the 1986 QF. In the current crop Ronaldinho and Zidane come close in the "Jhaasa" aspect. Though overall I still consider Maradona as superior, but the way Ronaldinho is progressing he may also touch similar divine heights.

One thing I lament about current state of football is the similar playing styles of the teams. Due to increased heterogeneity and intermingling of players and coaches in the European leagues, more technology, greater intercontinental exposure etc all the styles have began to converge., As an example the styles of England and Brazil prior to the 80s were as different as chalk and cheese, but now in this decade they may only be as different as say, two varieties of cheese. Teams across the globe have adopted the "Best Practices" of other teams, say the slow build-up of Brazil, the Catenaccio defence of Italy, the combative mid-field of Germany, the uncomplicated British way of attack, Total football of Dutch etc.  So all aspire to be the same, but obviously the degree and capability of implementation varies. So in a sense the uniqueness and competitive advantages of the different teams and styles are being eroded. Even the African teams nowadays have an accomplished technical game, compare that to the raw unpolished talent and unbridled enthusiasm of the Cameroon team of 1990. So the lack of diversity in playing styles, has dulled the game somewhat, but it has taken the game to a higher level with teams playing with lot more nous nowadays, and adapting their gameplan accordingly. Games are more competitive, players are fitter, the results remain as unpredictable as ever. Ultimately the thrill and magic of football remains the same.

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Comments»

1. arnold - May 26, 2006

I have a question about “The Beautiful Game” — How come only 7 nations have won the Football World Cup so far when one considers how many countries actually play the game? What is the reason for this apparent oligarchy? Any answers?

2. Abhishek - May 26, 2006

i think the right word to describe the post is ‘insightful’, and as for Arnold’s question, i have answers simmering – but will leave Samrat to do the honours.

3. Samrat Sengupta - May 29, 2006

Arnold, on the face of it, it does seem to be a sobering statistic that only 7 teams have won the world cup, but still it is not a strong enough case to counter the universality and broad-based popularity of the game.
As you pointed out about huge participation, 207 teams overall have competed to qualify for the World Cup Finals, and 78 nations have qualified at least once.Whew !
But there have been only 17 WC so far, so 7 winners is not that skewed also. 24 different countries have qualified for the semis, which is quite a lot of diversity. Though earlier it were only Latin American and European teams, but nowadays Asia and Africa are also catching up, with Korea,Turkey (technically Asia) reaching semi-finals, and Senegal,Cameroon,Nigeria giving strong performances.

Another interesting thing is that 5 of these titles have been won by Brazil, and in my mind Brazil is a world team, undoubtedly the most popular team across the globe, their wins are celebrated across the globe, they are like a backup team for supporters. So Brazilian wins infact make the game even more popular in the so called neutral countries like India or China.

4. Bharat Maheshwari - May 30, 2006

Your article is great, but I would like to counter the fact that FIFA has done a great job. The reason for this is that I believe they are not paying enough attention to smaller nations of FIFA family. For example, they tend to pay lot more attention to whats going on in European Leagues, when there is lot of problems like fan fighting and influence of so called Ultra’s in major South American (in Italy as well) clubs/nations. Add to the fact, there have been many incidents of deaths in stadiums in Africa due to improper facilities. But FIFA turn to turn a blind eye to that.
Another thing that distinctly unimpresses me is their weak handling of the racism problem. They can take a look at how UEFA has started taking racism very seriously. Seep Blatter has spoken of banning nations, point penalties for racism but it has to be written in word for it to be effective. I remember a year or so back, Spanish coach used some deplarable words against Thierry Henry to “motivate” Jose Antonio Reyes. What action did FIFA take? Nothing. He was fined a pitance by Spanish football accociation, that too when British press went on overdrive regarding the issue.

5. Abhishek - May 30, 2006

i would like to add another point, that even when the tournament is scheduled to be in europe, they should have it in smaller nations like switzerland etc. My cousin in Australia was rightly crying out that why Germany, Australia has a proven track record?


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