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The State Of Football Today

An exclusive report by Ignacio Moran



In a decade of three World Cups that have not only included many
controversies and scandals, there seems to be a 'down' period that the
world's greatest sport is undergoing. The term 'down' does not necessarily
point to a negative notion about the game, rather a change of priorities for
what many players, particularly the top footballers, place theirs.

Gone are the priorities for playing for your country, whether it be a World
Cup tournament or a friendly match that puts importance to the picking of a
national roster. Gone also are the importance of the youth programs that
have built many of our past great players of the sixties, seventies and eighties.
The lost "football morals" of past such as the importance of practicing and
playing for World Cup Qualifiers for one's country while giving up on too
many club matches that are contract-binding has hurt the preparation of
many national teams that badly need the services of their best players who
are too busy making money for selfish clubs abroad. The clubs themselves
believe they 'own' these great players and many of these powerful, wealthy
owners accuse the various football federations of each country if these
players ever get injured or worked too hard in preparation for the World
Cup.

Again, the issue here is money. Because these owners dish out a lot of cash
for player transfers, they fail to tell the fans and federations how large the
return is for the monies taken out for these great franchise players. All they
are interested in is a club championship now and once a players is considered
'damaged goods' from too many club matches and practices, then it's time
to secretly hide the injury and get rid of these players as soon as possible.
Remember Marco Van Basten....who never got to play in a World Cup
match ? How about Alen Boksic ? These are perfect examples of great
players caught up in the deadly game of injuries caused by too many club
matches and being dealt to other clubs disguising their career-ending (I hope
not in Boksic's case) injuries while ending all their hopes of playing for their
country in a World Cup. In a nutshell for Boksic....it's Lazio first and Croatia
second to last. Lazio tried to sell Boksic to AC Milan right before the World
Cup and when the Croatian Federation found out about his knee injury,
Lazio's deal to AC Milan was null and void. Of all people, Dino Zoff (Lazio's
president) and Lazio's millionaire owner hi the injury and tried to get rid of
Boksic, Lazio's greatest striker, right after the season ended so Boksic would
have had enough recovery time to get in shape for the upcoming season this
year. Unfortunately for Serie A, Lazio and all leagues and clubs
involved.....there was the staging of the World Cup in France'98, a bad omen
and timing for any club to do this common thing of player transfer while
hiding an injury.

This is also one of many reasons these same owners want to get rid of the
World Cup and have a international club tournament to replace it, a cheap
method of not having to sacrifice their players to their countries. There is
absolutely no way FIFA will allow this to happen in the eve of the millenium
when so many countries around the globe are now involved with the World
Cup. tournament.

These factors that have changed the primary priorities for players and club
owners have directly affected the game today as we see it......from the inside
and from the outside. There is a definite change in fundamentals where the
flow of the game has been very inconsistent and haphazard, so to speak. Not
only has the 'jogo bonito' ways of playing by the Brazilians suffered but so has
the free-flowing passing game that Holland so well displayed during those
great years in the seventies and eighties. The great passing and possession
game is still there for the Dutch as they displayed in France'98 but it was very
confined to the midfield area. The problems start once the ball is laid over
the top of the box; not only is the forward passing predictable, it is not as
accurate as players of that caliber should execute them. I will not even get so
much into the poor finishing touches of Bergkamp and particularly Kluivert but
the attitude of many of these players is one of self-satisfaction....not having
the need or cause of concern for better improvement on that delicate,
skillful and important last touch for goals. I truly believe because of the big
money contracts and importance given to these players' given skills, the lack
of other undeveloped skills and maneuvers are completely overlooked and
forgotten....until the need for it is exposed.

Much of the mistakes and blown opportunities by many of these players
are mental breakdowns and lack of focus. There is a lot of self-discipline
attached to the mental aspect of football. Too much emphasis is given to
the physical and emotional aspects of this game with the mental part of it
overlooked and not given the necessary importance of mental disciplinary
focus. A good example is what happened to Ronaldo during the final match
of France'98. His widely-publicized mental focus and strength eventually and
humanely gave in to the everyday pressures he had to live with so much
duress. This also rubbed off with his Brazilian teammates during the final after
the unfortunate breakdown incident at the hotel. The mental focus of the
team before and during the match disappeared into thin air ....and it clearly
showed.

Such are the missing ingredients of football players today, starting from the
mental strength displayed by players like Puskas, Pele, Garrncha, Di Stefano,
Beckenbauer, the Charlton brothers, Bobby Moore, George Best, Falcao,
Zico, Jairzhino, Rivelino, Cruyff, Riva, Djalma Santos and the countless
strong-willed players of those days. There were also the strong personalities
behind those players, particularly the defenders who had to single-handedly
take on the great strikers without the help of modern day zone defenses.
The mental focus and preparation in taking those super strikers were so
unimaginable to begin with, let alone the task of physically and emotionally
being beaten time and time again. But there war no giving up in the hearts
and minds of these defenders of yesterday....they almost welcomed the
challenged and were not intimidated by it.

Today, because of the spoils of big money contracts, player reputation, the
fan and media focus given to these name players, many of the important
instinctive personalities that players in the past had built inside themselves...are
forgotten and almost unheard of these days. Instead a false sense of media
hype is built to their reputation and many of the young players just cannot
handle it, in and out of the football field. In many ways, it's a travesty to the
game and to the fans the way these players put themselves in the category of
past hall-of-fame players of the past.

To the many football followers of the past thirty years, we all realize the
evolution of football in its positive areas....and in its negative areas.

There are the good points where the enjoyment and fanatical appreciation
of the game has reached unprecedented heights throughout the globe, the
rise of worldwide known household name superstars like Baggio and
Ronaldo, the positive hype given to the sport especially during World Cup
times, the fast pace and great individualities of great players, particularly South
American players, the great tactical measures that has been instilled into the
game in order to stop the dominance of the great offensive midfielders and
the unstoppable strikers, the attention that has been placed in building tough
defenses to build teams from because of the abundance of great goal scorers
from all points of the globe, the rise of African football from the dark ages of
that continent, the recognition and acceptance of foreign players playing in
Europe , Japan and soon, the United States and lastly, the rise of the sport in
the US......a long standing problem that FIFA intelligently solved by hosting the
World Cup, its most successful one ever, in the US.

Sadly, there are also the negative aspects of the evolution of the game. We
can start with what I emphasized earlier on the lack of strong personalities
that makeup the payer of today as compared to yesteryear, the convictions
and morals of "country first, club second", the importance of playing for the
team and not just for oneself, the lack of the great midfield passing
fundamentals that once dominated this game, the lack of great sweepers
such as the Beckenbauers, Baresis, Matthaues, the missing great midfielders
who could do it all....passer, playmaker, scorer, dribble, the loss of the
creative playmaking process instead of the present one-on-one, two-on-two
situations we normally see today, the emphasis on fundamentals as opposed
to the flair for the spectacular.....useless backheels, erroneous bicycle kicks that
are long shots leading to nowhere, fancy passing that unfortunately lacks the
creativity, vision and skill in order to get the ball to the fourth or fifth teammate
which usually spells success and beautiful, well-conceived goals.....just like the
great Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, River Plate, Flamengo, Santos,
Manchester United and Liverpool teams of those great years of past.

To sum it all up, what we have today are teams with players who play key
roles, not all-around capabilities like before. Today, we have great scorers
who have yet to learn how to pass, highly skillful strikers who need to know
how to finish, excellent midfielders who need to understand the game
better as a whole..not just from the midfield area, good team defenders who
need to learn how to individually mark and defend opponents...whether it be
a breakaway or a set-piece situation. There are great set-piece free kick
specialists who can only use one foot while rendering the other useless.
How about the lack of dribbling skills by most of all players with the
exception of a few ? This is a direct result of the  one or two-touch passing
scheme that has prevailed in the game today in order to get the ball moving
at a quicker pace and not let the other ten have a chance at their own
possession game. Like the sport of professional basketball today, there is an
emphasis on speed and flair due to the superior physical strengths and
capabilities of players today. But the downside to this is the lack of good basic
fundamentals like dribbling, pinpoint passing and the many basics of playing
good defense like the fundamentals of blocking out, setting proper picks,
proper positioning for rebounding and the many things that were taught to
all players during training camps in high school.

The same speaks for football all around the world. Players feel they can get
away with flashy moves fancy headers and back heel along with the
'Hollywood' style of faking and dribbling around defenders.....that rarely does
work and fool good defenders who have seen all this before. These
crowd-pleasing maneuvers are fine and dandy when they work during
opportune times in the match but rarely do they accomplish what the team
needs to have done. On the other extreme, there is the extremely boring
side to this way of playing. We all know about the European way of putting
ten men on defense to combat the South American and other Eastern
European creative methods of offensive firepower. I have no qualms against
this boring style of play which does get positive results up to a certain point
but never does it achieve championship status like the other teams that
emphasize an attacking attitude to their players.

So there we have it, both extremes that football today is known for and also
the lack of fundamentals that have plagued the game all over and in it's
place......we have the knack for the flair and the spectacular that fans and
media alike.....love to see and talk about.

Like history has taught man, the evolution of football, the world's greatest
and most popular sport, will come around to its basic form with the
fundamentals stressed to players and the skills that come with each
succeeding generation of better fit and physically gifted players......to eventually
produce a quality of football....like the world has never seen before.

Ignacio Moran
New York

 


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