Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The purity of International Football

I’ve always been critical of international football. I’ve found it to lack the excitement that club football provides us on a weekly basis throughout the calendar year. The fans are duller, the rivalries are lacking and the standard of play is just inferior to what we’re used to on a weekly basis during a season.

Yet, in recent times with Euro 2012 reaching its final stages, even though my obvious love for club football remains, international football has become a somewhat welcome distraction and change from what we've become used to with club football. Particularly in recent years. Strange as it may sound, this new found respect I’ve come to have for international football is born out of the purity of it. Club football is far more entertaining, attractive and attaching, but international football has now become far more pure. That's right.

It’s pure in the sense that money has not (yet) taken such a massive importance as it has in club football. You still don’t have sponsors on international kits (with the exception of Ireland, I think). Players numbers still feature on the front side of their jersey alongside the country’s emblem - which still contain the words “football” or something related to the football federation, unlike many of today’s clubs who have opted to remove the words “football” and “club” in order to brand the club more appropriately for its fans and sponsors.

Money has not yet crept in to international football. It probably will at some point in the future, but at the moment it does not have the importance in international football as it does in club football. Sure, players from other countries are being nationalized and representing countries foreign to those of their birth certificates, but is that a way of cheating? Nope.The prime example always used is regarding the French national team. But is that wrong? People who have lived in France their whole lives, but are originally from other countries are just as French as those who have had their ancestors there for centuries. They pay the same taxes, live under the same laws and have the same rights as one another. They are French. So that argument can go out the window.

When it comes to selecting players, you are guaranteed (unless your name is Roy Hodgson) that the best players in the country are being chosen. The players are playing for national pride. They aren’t paid as handsomely as with their clubs. The average fan understands now that club players these days aren’t necessarily playing for teams out of love, passion or anything romantic/patriotic. Their motives can go from being money-driven to location-driven or are simply petulance-related. With International football, they have no choice. They can’t decide to choose to play for a “better” country.

Don’t get me wrong, I prefer club football by quite some distance, and I’m well aware that competitions such as the Champions League is far better viewing for all of us - but we have come to accept that almost every season the majority of clubs that have spent the most amount of cash are the ones who’ll be challenging for the major honors. That doesn't happen with international football. It still has a raw feel to it. As opposed to club football, international football has not yet become a fully-blown business, and for all its flaws, I’m learning to embrace it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The myth of "parking the bus"

I’ve been quiet lately. Very quiet. You’re going to have to allow me to apologize for that. But I’m back with a bang. Sort of. My lack of activity hasn’t been due to a lack of ideas or anything like that. It’s just been a “break” I’ve taken from blogging and writing. But as that moment has now passed, I’m here again to write and get a debate going. This time it’s about a sentence that everyone has been using quite a lot ever since Chelsea beat Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals last season (sounds strange saying last season now, doesn’t it?).

The term of “parking the bus” bothers me. All variations of this sentence are utter nonsense. How many people know where this term came from? Does anybody remember the game that triggered it all? It was a league game in September 2004 at Stamford Bridge when Chelsea faced Tottenham, and the match ended in a 0-0 draw which pushed Mourinho to say at the end of the game:

The term was altered to “parking the bus” and used quite a lot for a couple of years every time teams would defend. But I believe this term is a load of nonsense. Particularly nowadays, with the tiki-taka jizzfest that follows every Barcelona or Spanish passage of play. Whenever any team defends against them, or teams that play like them, knowing that defending tightly and counter-attacking football is the way to beat those sorts of teams, it is being labeled as “parking the bus”. What a load of nonsense! You can only beat what is put in front of you with the weapons you have. It’s kind of like when sharks want to attack seals. The seals gather up, use their agility and endurance, until the sharks realize they can’t catch them and then bugger off (I swear that is the first time Football has ever been compared to sharks and seals).

In Football, you can attack and you can defend. Everyone loves great attacking football, but nobody should underestimate the power of defending. The last ditch tackles of players like Cannavaro and the organization skills of Beckenbeuer which led their respective teams to master classes of victories were never called “parking the bus”. Why is it that now when a team goes into a match with a game plan to defend (isn't defending legal?), they are suddenly criticized as the Anti-Christs of Football? Oh, that’s right. The media and its ability to blind people with its words. Ten years ago, the local lad in China watching the Premier League could never have even guessed what “parking the bus” meant in Football. If you’d told him that Greece had “parked the bus” to win Euro 2004, he would have gone outside to look for an actual bus.

So, for God’s sake, please avoid falling into the myth that the media has created over “parking the bus”. It’s not a bus. It’s a defensive line. It’s called defending. It’s what some of the GREATEST Football teams have based their successes upon. It's what teams have to use when they know there is no other means of victory. Plus, those very teams do go on and score, don't they? I'm wondering if those goals count less...

Just because it’s now being used to halt that team from Catalunya’s unprecedented glory, doesn’t mean that it should be labeled as something worse than cold-blooded murder.

Rant over. I’ve missed you guys!