English football used to be a guarantee for spectacle, although not always technically and tactically at the forefront, at least it had huge entertainment value. Bar a few exceptions, this is no more. By far the worst offenders: Liverpool. We can’t even bare to watch them for 10 minutes without falling asleep. It has nothing to do with football. It’s terrible.
The ridiculous infusion of money and foreign players (it’s English football merely in name, most of the top clubs play with a majority of foreigners) hasn’t changed English football for the better.
Some might retort that it’s winning quite a lot in Europe. Yes, but as we argued earlier, winning alone doesn’t really count, it’s greatness that is more important for achieving a place in football history. And by the way, English football used to win quite a lot in Europe in the past as well.
A typical English football match 25 years ago had the following irresistible ingredients, long kicks and lots of action in the boxes (despite stylish midfield players like iconic Glenn Hoddle, but they were a minority). Today, the whole pitch has become the box.
And as a result, the box is rarely reached, as duels are all over the place, increasing the error rate of passing and distracting terribly from the viewing pleasure. It’s like 10 different boxing matches going on simultaneously.
Basically, the infusion of ridiculous amounts of cash has transformed what used to be the pastime of the working class into a serious industry with oversized egos. Winning has become that much more important. Too important. All risk is being banned. The ‘beautiful game’ is no longer romantic. It’s ruled by fear.
Say what you want about the Barça dream-team of the early 1990s, but they took risks, and sometimes, that worked heavily against them, most notoriously in that 1994 4-0 loss against Milan in the final. But it’s a sign of greatness if you put your ass on the line. And the result was a great match.
What happened to that good old Brazil attitude that footbal is just scoring a goal more than the opponents?
Two clubs in particular have been catalysts for the stylistic downfall of English football. José Mourinho’s Chelsea and, most of all, Liverpool under Rafael Benitez.
The latter especially must be the most boring team in Europe by far. It’s almost devoid of any creativity, it’s players just keep on running and defending everywhere on the pitch. It is not even sure one is watching football, it looks more like athletics.
One emblematic player is Dirk Kuyt from the Netherlands. Would he have made a top team in Europe? We doubt. His work ethic is secondary to none, however. He just keeps on running..
He should be in attack, but Benitez (the coach) turned that old wisdom “defence begins with a good attack” on it’s head. Attack begins with a good defence. That means, everybody is defending, including attackers, even in their own penalty area.
In a way, even Italian cattenaccio in its heyday was better to watch. At least these guys had razor sharp counter attacks, that came out with blistering speed.
Tonights match with stylish Real Madrid was unbearable to watch as Liverpool just didn’t give them any space to play. Always pressing the ball with one, often two men, keeping as many men behind the ball, keeping the field as small as possible.
It was dejà-vu, seeing Robben passing one, always meeting the next immediately after. A scene from the Worldcup 2002 comes to mind. Portugal was playing South Korea. These guys were superfit, while the Portugese stars had a long taxing European season in their legs (and more importantly, head).
Luis Figo, still at the peak of his ability, went passed a Korean player, close to half time. But with lightning speed, he returned. Figo, with superiour technique, passed him again, and again. To no avail. And then something strange happened, which we really have never seen before. Figo just gave up. Too much hassle.
Although the Koreans were not nearly as negative as Liverpool under Benitez, they were just superfit and had the advantage of a long preparation for the tournament. We remember how Ajax played Juventus the final of the champions league in 1996, and something similar happened.
There were a couple of Italians that just kept on running, as if they were these Duracell bunnies, it was unreal to watch. Of course, years later it was revealed that they used EPO, and only then did it make sense.
One ray of hope though, it turns out it (for anyone who was in doubt) that indeed the coach has a lot to do with this. It’s a bit early to say, but it looks like Chelsea, the other boring team (matches between Liverpool and Chelsea were amongst the most notorious ever, really unbearable stuff for the impartial viewer), has been revived something much more palatable to watch under Guus Hiddink
Hidding has a more offensive football philosophy than any of his recent predecessors (most notably José Mourinho, who bored us to death already with Porto, especially in that season when they beat Manchester United and won the cup), and is strangely idolized at Stamford Bridge.
Luckily, there are a still a few attractive teams in the premier legue, most notably Arsenal, although hampered by crucial injuries and bad transfers, and ManU. Apart from that chewing gum (can’t he at least shut his mouth?) and some shady business deals by his son, Ferguson remains a class act.
And for you Liverpool fans out there, yes, five European cups. But who cares. Of the most legendary top three teams (France Football election), two never won anything (Hungarian and Dutch national teams in 1954 and 1974, with undeniable 1970 Brazil in between).
Who remembers the Greek as Euro champions four years ago? Great achievement, great surprise, but great football? To be great in football, you have to do more than just win, in fact, it might not even be a necessary ingredient. You Liverpudlians, who do you think people abroad rather watch, you guys or Arsenal, Barça, Real Madrid.. Asking the question is answering it.
At least Abramovitch seems to have grasped that.