Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Final Farewell to World Cup 2010

The planet has shifted back to reality. Parties and celebrations have come to a close. With England reporting an estimated loss of $1.5-2.3 billion in productivity during the tournament, we can now all return to work and actually do work. I on the other hand, am the anomaly. Having DVR'ed every single game of this tournament, my daily goal was to avoid every game and every score (zero internet). Productivity from my end sky rocketed! My imbalance has now leveled out. After what we witnessed this past month, it would behoove international football to find its balance as well.

South Africa 2010 was a monumental tournament, because it initiated a mammoth shift in the way football is, and will be played on the international level for years to come. Sure, we bitched and moaned about the lack of goals early on. The defensive tactics, non-existent creativity, and cagey gameplans. But now that this tournament is over, and the fewest goals have been scored in years, it's pretty safe to say that this was no fluke. There are a number of causes - each with it's own ramifications on how we will see the game played out before our eyes 4 years from now in Brazil.

"End of the old guard" - a rather fitting summary of this World Cup. England, Italy, France, and Brazil will be unrecognizable to a majority of the planet in 2014. They came to this tournament dragging the decaying bodies of players past their prime. Players who had shown their effectiveness with their respective clubs, surrounded by the world's best, only to arrive in South Africa with a sense of entitlement to stink the whole place up. Brazil, England, and Italy had 3 of the top 4 oldest squads. It's not surprising that with age, experience, and success comes this entitlement that I refer to. A cocky and egotistical player that puts himself above team and country. What worked then surely still works now, no? Just look at what happened to France and England, and even Portugal to an extent.

The world's most famous and successful countries must go back to the drawing board. Elder statesmen must be discarded. Youth - fresh, ambitious, untested, sprightly young men - are the future. I don't think a turnover like this has ever happened on such a massive scale. You would think the best teams would balance experience with inexperience, but they haven't. Now there's no choice. If this tournament showed us anything, it's that the younger and more creative players are the key to success. Players who are too young to have been over-hyped with expectations by their countrymen, and can go out and play stress free. That weight off your shoulders is the difference between reaching progressing to the semifinals or being dropped in the round of 16 (or even the group stages).

You could say this World Cup was revolutionary. More significant than countries offing the old farts, is how the actual game of football will be played from now on. In this respect club football is a miles and miles ahead of the international game. Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Arsenal started this transformation years ago - a game of possession that requires patience and quick passing. Where the best defense is offense. International football has just now caught up. The introduction of the 4-2-3-1 formation, which practically every team from the quarterfinals onwards used, epitomizes this style of play. Two midfielders in the hole just in front of the 4 defensemen provide the supply lines to the attacking midfielders and striker. No more of that long ball garbage. Keep it neat and tidy, passing the ball on the ground, from one end of the field to the other.

4-4-2 is a thing of the past. The attacking nature of that formation opens up too many gaps for the more disciplined teams to exploit (see Germany vs England). And we are also seeing defense taken to a different level, and 4-4-2 simply doesn't have the ability to consistently break down modern defenses. Were it not for Spain winning, the international game would have stuttered. Teams would have walked away thinking that physical dominance and brute force are still keys to winning. Sorry but it couldn't be farther from the truth.
This was the tournament of the team. Of course there were individuals who excelled, but nobody head and shoulders above the rest. There were probably 6 or 7 players who could have staked claim to the Golden Ball Award. You could see how this played out on the field with only the countries who played as a unit moving forward. England, Portugal, Italy, France, all suffered from living in the past and relying on individuals. Moreover, this idea of "team" and unity counts as much off the pitch as it does on. Africa crashed out of this tournament early, and it's not really a surprise. Ivory Coast hired their coach a couple months before the tournament and South Africa's barely had a full year. Cameroon went through 3 managers in the 2 years leading up to this. Only Ghana got it right - with youth. Organization at home is key to success. It has a trickle down effect to the players, the team, and the supporters. South America on the flip side doesn't screw around. Violence at matches and blood thirsty media outlets will always be a problem, but there is a level of stability that is always maintained. It is the one area the national federations have under control and their success in the World Cup was a direct result.
Youth, organization, possession. That is where international football is headed. Every kid coming through the ranks is being exposed to the modern game. Without any accolades of their own at such a young age, they must rely on their teammates to form a cohesive, efficient unit. I realize this seems absurdly elementary, and believe me it is. But too many of the great teams don't believe in it - they believe their trophy cases dictate how they should play. Changes are coming...

Now it's time for the world to learn how to develop these keys to success, and moreover how to beat Spain. As this is the style of play they have revolutionized and perfected themselves, it will be tough work to unseat them as champs.

So thank you South Africa. Empty stadiums aside, you put on a fabulous World Cup - the ramifications of which will be felt on and off the pitch for years to come.

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