Tuesday, August 14, 2012

It's All Football

Here's Jonathan Wilson on the decline of Brazil, which was on full view in their tepid performance against Mexico in the gold medal match on Saturday:

A generation has grown up watching Nike adverts showing carefree men with questionable hair-cuts freestyling through airports, cityscapes and prison ships and wondering how that equates to Dunga and César Sampaio, or Edmilson and Gilberto Silva, or Zé Roberto and Gilberto Silva, or Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva, sitting doggedly in front of the back four. Nike's advertising hasn't created the contradiction that lies at the heart of Brazilian football culture, but it has highlighted it, perhaps even accentuated it.

Neymar, poor, overhyped, brilliant Neymar, is compelled to do tricks. It's not enough that his team wins; he must also perform individual miracles and live up to the advertisers' ideal. It is his misfortune to live in the age of an Argentinian genius: he must also confirm to Brazilians with every breath that he is as good, or at least may soon become as good, as Lionel Messi. Pelé's pursuit of the line that they are equals not merely confirms his debased status as a pundit, but is actually counter-productive, heaping pressure on Neymar and deflecting attention from far more significant issues.

The twin pressures on the Brazilian game have resulted in a style of football that recalls Arrigo Sacchi's description of Real Madrid in the galacticos era: it is full of specialists. There are those who dribble and run and shoot, and there are those who sit back and fill the spaces to allow them to do so. It's simplistic and effective against weaker opposition, but vulnerable to more streetwise opponents: even before Mexico beat them, Brazil had stuttered against Egypt and Honduras, before being extraordinarily fortunate against South Korea, who should have had two penalties in the semi-final. It also explains why so many of Brazil's holding midfielders are tacklers and distributors like Lucas or shuttlers like Ramires, and so few of them deep-lying creators in the way Falcão or Gerson once were.

As football elsewhere becomes increasingly about universality, about players being able to perform a multiplicity of roles, it also feels like an old-fashioned style.
And here is Chris Brown on the evolution of hybrid defenders in American football:

The 1990s Cowboys may have set the path, but it's the current coaching innovators who are molding the idea to the present. On offense, the trend appears to be so-called "hybrid" offensive players, primarily the new wave of tight ends like New England's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the Saints' Jimmy Graham, and Jermichael Finley of the Packers. All are big, tall, and fast downfield receiving threats, and those like Gronkowski can also block. Then there are the smaller "space players" like Darren Sproles who are just as dangerous catching the ball as they are running with it from the backfield. The meaning of the term "spread offense" is debatable, but the principle it embodies — that all available skill players are a potential threat on any given play, and gone are the blocking-only fullbacks and tight ends who never touch the ball — is now the standard at every level of football. These multitalented and multipurpose offensive weapons are merely the latest embodiment of that.

In response, Jimmy Johnson's edict — that speed on offense must be matched with even more speed on offense — has been adopted by defensive coaches at every level of football. Those hybrid offensive players are being met with hybrid defenders.
I think I have my theme for the season in both soccer and football: the decline of specialization.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're back?!