Friday, March 26, 2010

Of 'Good Football' and 'Beautiful Football'

Gabrielle Marcotti in an article in the Times elucidated why he thinks good football and beautiful football do not necessarily correlate and on how what constitutes the latter is fundamentally in the eyes of the beholder, a view which I couldn’t have agreed more with. A fascinating case in point is offered by the contrasting fortunes in last season’s Premier League of West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City.

While, West Brom managed at that time by Tony Mowbray played a brand of free flowing football, which I enjoyed watching, Stoke stuck to a more rigid and boisterous approach instilled diligently into them by Tony Pulis. The Baggies, unable to adapt to the rigours of the league and caught up in their seemingly impractical ideals ended the season rooted to the bottom of the table, whereas Stoke who were tipped my most to be certainties for the drop, by adopting a more judicious system, ensured their safety with relative comfort. Stoke’s methods may not appeal to many, but I am sure the fans at the Britannia Stadium would rather watch their team play their present brand of football and enjoy the security of a mid-table finish than watch them employ a more flowing approach and find themselves in a relegation scuffle.

Sam Allardyce, like Pulis, has managed to keep afloat a side of underwhelming footballers thanks largely to a strategy, which even if generating unattractive football in the minds of some has proved mightily effective. In contrast, the likes of Alan Curbishley and George Burley have enjoyed reasonable success with Charlton Athletic and Ipswich Town respectively without overly compromising on the style of play.

At the international level, while Spain won the 2008 European Championship by performing with élan, the previous edition saw Greece adopt a pragmatic approach and emerge as surprise winners. Perceptibly, there are different ways of winning a football game and a manager would want to work within the confines of his squad to produce a type of football that is most effective for his team. Would Greece have won Euro 2004 by trying to play an open style more akin to the Spaniards? I would think not.

Just as some teams have to eschew a dedication to free-flowing football, others need to retain such a commitment, even when faced with the most daunting of prospects. The ultimate aim I would imagine is to play effective football as opposed to football that is merely pleasing to the eyes of some. That brings me to what I consider beautiful, a question which attains greater significance in the backdrop of the forthcoming Champions League quarter-finals tie between Arsenal and Barcelona, a game that pits two teams who play severely enthralling football against each other.

It’s difficult for me to narrow down on any given form of football that I consider most beautiful, for I find beauty in various facets of the game. But I can say with certainty that the pass and move style employed by both Arsenal and Barcelona is something I find utterly satisfying. Between the pair, although the Catalans have enjoyed tremendous success in recent seasons by adopting a fluid system, I believe that Arsenal at their best make an even more exhilarating spectacle. Arsene Wenger’s side though not technically as adept as Barcelona, move the ball quicker and create mesmeric patterns that leave even the viewers feeling a little dizzy.

Simon Barnes in his book, ‘The Meaning Of Sport’, says that you can watch sport out of loyalty; for the pure love of seeing one will against another; in search of narrative; in search of mythic resonance; in search of beauty. I suppose I watch sport for all these reasons and some others, but assuming I was merely searching for beauty, as a sporting contest, the forthcoming tie involving Barcelona and Arsenal is sure to rank amongst the greatest.

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