Saturday, July 10, 2010

Beautiful Reading on the Beautiful Game

Thanks to my friend for passing on the following links, which I'll gratefully pass on for anyone else to check up on. Here's an article from Slate on why we should root against the Dutch, a Vanity Fair piece by David Winner (he of the fantastic book Brilliant Orange) on the changing Dutch and German rivalry, and a really interesting blog post, a little older, on Barcelona and the Idea of the Beautiful Game.

It's always a pleasure to read good writing, and good writing on football is an even greater pleasure (makes me realize I'm not so good of a writer, at least not when I'm just posting randomly here and don't have much time to really compose something worthwhile).

The Barca piece was particularly interesting but I'd argue it wasn't entirely accurate in describing Madrid as existing solely to win without regard to aesthetics. Clearly Real doesn't try to sustain a moral idealism through their style like Barca, and they truly do exist to win more than anything else. But my friend who is a lifelong die-hard madridista would argue that there is a constant tension between that desire to win and the desire to do so beautifully, and it's a much greater aspect of the Real Madrid psyche than the article wants to give credit. It's the reason Capello was constantly pilloried for his pragmatism and was fired despite winning La Liga, while the madridistas looked longingly upon the previously unsuccessful galactico era simply because they played more adventurous football.

As for the Slate article arguing that we should root against the Dutch, well beside the fact that I'll be rooting for Spain because they attack better, don't have dirty midfielders, and I have Spanish blood, I sort of do think that there's something endearing about the image of the Dutch as the "almost" team, the purveyors of skillful football that can't quite win the big one. A loss by this team, even if they are far removed from the long deceased total football, would keep up the image of the Netherlands as everyone's favorite team that hasn't won the World Cup and would add another layer on top of the already complicated interrelationship between the Dutch philosophies regarding football, the desire to win and win beautifully, and the growing recognition of the benefits of pragmatism and the desire to simply win for all the lost opportunities of the great Dutch teams of yore (thereby also alleviating those past national traumas from the collective psyche).  Not to mention the psychological intrigue that would result from losing to what is probably the closest relative to the total football ethos (as the article correctly notes, this Spanish team's style is largely based on Barca's style, and that style is largely the offspring of it's one-time star and ex-coach, Cryuff).

On an somewhat tangential note, it'd be nice if people would stop overplaying the angle of the Spanish as being historical underachievers.  Yes the Dutch teams underachieved in the past.  But Spain? The reputation of Spanish football is largely built on the reputations of its great domestic clubs, and those clubs built their reputations on foreigners from Puskas and di Stéfano (he's Argentine, let's not consider him Spanish please) to Zidane and Messi.  Sure the Spanish have had good teams in the past that underachieved relatively, but as far as I can remember, and I've never really read otherwise, Spain has never come into a tournament as big favorites.

This version of la furia roja are favorites however and I expect them to keep up that artistic tiki-taka and win one for the lifelong lovers of the beautiful game and newcomers alike.  You know there is something great about them because even the people who don't follow soccer and are just caught up in the spectacle of the World Cup appreciate Spain because they really do manage to create sudden coherence and eloquence out of chaos.

Need further reasons to cheer for Spain.  I give you... paella and sangria v. Gouda and Heineken (does anyone who's not from the Netherlands even know a Dutch dish?).  The defense rests.

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