sexta-feira, junho 16, 2006

Valdano (II)

"Cry freedom for fear of a tournament ruled by systems

If football has become a total spectacle, a fiesta of identity and a secular religion, we cannot begin to analyse the first round of games without talking about the people. We have seen the greatest peaceful invasion in the history of Germany by Japanese, Mexicans or Australians, to name only some that have to come halfway round the world, all by act and grace of football, which stirs up patriotic passions without anyone seeming like a fascist, which excites the sense of play without us ceasing to be adults.
Football is a tremendous energy which moves the world, the emotions and cash registers. How can we be surprised that coaches are conservative, that players are too obedient and that referees fail to blow for penalties? All the actors with a direct influence on the play are shocked by the dimensions of the great show, and not without reason.
The African continent is a great example. "When African football gets itself organised," we used to say, "there'll be no stopping them." They still haven't got organised but many of their players have emigrated to Europe where they have been able to make a profession of their passion. The result is dispiriting: imagination crushed by mountains of muscles - physically awesome but also disciplined, responsible and, finally, mediocre. The reasons? One above all: freedom is fundamental in any creative process and in today's football it is not permitted, neither in the formative years nor in the professional game. What a tremendous contradiction it would be if we let football, possibly the most important phenomenon of the 21st-century leisure industry, die of seriousness.
The most attractive and effective individual performance of the start of the World Cup was that of Arjen Robben because he has quality to spare but also because he dared to embark on individual adventures. Each one of his runs touched the nervous system of his team, in such a way that without Robben we would have been twice as bored and Holland, perhaps, would not have won. Although almost everything came off for him, his team-mate Robin van Persie accused him of being "selfish". What would have happened to Robben if everything had not come off?
It is possible that tension has been a factor in the absence of creativity in teams' displays but I believe that it is a tendency against which all of us who love football must fight. And the only way to do it is to support players like Robben, Tomas Rosicky or Ronaldinho. The same goes for the coaches like Jürgen Klinsmann and Marcello Lippi, who began this World Cup challenging the old culture of boredom and speculation of Germany and Italy, attempting something new and stimulating. It does not matter if the attempt is imperfect; what matters is the attempt. If in the case of defeat the brave and the cowards are equally tragic, there is no hope for football.
What the tournament has shown up until now is that the classic countries are reasserting themselves. Teams that have won World Cups before did not allow any impertinence from those who aspire one day to win one. Only France remain victims of two modern curses. They were unable to beat Switzerland in either the qualifiers or their opening match and have been unable to score a goal in the finals since they lifted the World Cup in 1998.
This is not surprising because, when a team sticks to the same formulas, the same things end up happening. Germany and Italy won by two-goal margins, a deserved reward for a collective attitude full of determination. Brazil suffered to beat Croatia and we can fall back on either of the two currents of opinion [schools of thought]. One: they win even when they are playing badly. Two: they are not an unbeatable team.
Argentina speculated too much with the result and did not initially show such sophisticated weapons as Pablo Aimar, Carlos Tévez or Lionel Messi (though Aimar did come off the bench), which could give the team a different character. England tied Steven Gerrard down and misused Peter Crouch, a forward who is so tempting to seek with the high ball that it spoils the play of the entire team. If José Pekerman and Sven-Goran Eriksson do not adapt better to the nature of their teams, they could have problems. Of the others, only the Czech Republic, Holland, Mexico and Spain have impressed. Spain, in their first match, shrugged off their historic doubts and opted for a game which owes much to Barça.
So far this is a World Cup that does not tolerate teams who doubt themselves, who are timid or do not have a defined character. As nearly all the players end up doing what they look as if they are going to do, much depends on intensity, on a high tempo, on power and pace. I hope that players shake off their nerves and that those who play well come off the bench. I hope that we see great football, because this is a World Cup, the most important tournament of the greatest spectacle".

Guardian, 16 de JUnho