World Cup Quarter Final: England v Brazil. Friday, June 21, 2002.
While not for a moment questioning in any way the Englishman-in-the-pub's good sense in shouting his country on to success in this big quarterfinal clash over a gallon of beer or two; the impartial onlooker would surely ask: "Why would anybody in their right mind even comprehend supporting these characterless, homogenously honed, fearful-of-rejection Bobby Charlton Soccer School monotones above a guileful, vibrant, zestful bunch of footballing artistes seemingly fearlessly at one with the entire universe?" Before then, maybe if even somewhat risking allegations of lunacy, proposing that even the respective team kits signify something representative of this contrast: the England white symbolising perhaps some vague, longed-for innocence and its resulting embittered timidity; the yellow of Brazil like the very canvas of Nietzsche's conception of the original, multi-pronged Dionysian Chorus of all life, worn by the moving embodiment of it.
And he would surely be right in doing so. (I certainly hope so.)
Not that it's always been like this of course: simply referring to only as far back a time as 1996, when, wearing the same colours, the roles were reversed and Terry Venables’ own inspired England team were fearlessly tearing to pieces opponent after opponent in the European Championships (not that the results usually suggested such an occurrence, but, to any observer, it is surely true) whilst Brazil were playing out their seventeenth consecutive nil-nil draw with Honduras in the group stages of an Umbro International bore-fest in Peru - Romario narrowly missing the only chance procured for him since 1952 and sending the nation into a deep despair - goes so far as to prove this beyond any doubt. But coming back to the present day, and we have to reason that so far in this World Cup Brazil have been the sole beacons of light amongst a cluster of favourites more cynical than a gathering of German National Socialists in 1942 Nuremburg. And therefore, surely, and without overstating things that much, it would be a disaster of almost equal significance as if that previously mentioned meeting had led to the conquering of the world for world football if the unthinkable happened and England somehow managed to swindle a win against them, sending each one of us right thinking people straight to the funny farm, not even pausing for a moment to pack our bags.
Even for the non-sporting person, then, surely this game is of a paramount significance: Not just a game of football, but a battle of the nadir and zenith of modern philosophy and outlook; indeed, symbolising it against the green canvas. Who could fail to be interested? Surely only those who’s general apathy rivals that of the late shift presenters on Sky Sports News.
The match on Friday, then, is an event of bona fide universal interest and significance. But, first of all, in order to get you in the mood and more updated: a sprightly analysis of some of the most important individuals involved in it:
For Brazil, first of all, Edmilson: a long-striding centre-back much criticised for his defensive capabilities, but forming a seamless attacking partnership with fellow centre-back Lucio - and laughing mockingly in the direction of such criticism.
Next, right wing back Cafu: perhaps the closest thing to a human Superman in all known history, only without the respiration deficiencies; patrolling the right flank like a Burmese panther. When compared to his adversary on the left of England's midfield, Trevor Sinclair, he becomes a talking Burmese panther, adept in nine languages, including English, at which he is also far superior to Sinclair.
Then, Roberto Carlos: a similar kind of eulogised character, but with a left foot far superior - rivalled in its potency only by the scope of footballing ineptitude of the unfortunate Danny Mills, the England right back who’s rugged character will need to have developed a decent sense of humour come Friday.
Gilberto Silva: like Paul Ince in his prime after a mountain-sized reefer, with the short passing ability of Valderrama. He's the midfield anchorman, and an indication of what value Brazil place on such an overrated Europeanly dreamed-up specialist position is the fact he spends most of the game, when he's not otherwise offensively engaged, filling in on either of the flanks for the rampaging full-backs, letting Juninho trot back into the space vacated like he was on a moon walk.
Juninho himself: a four-foot-three dribbling hero. With the drive and looks of a Sahara Desert camel, likely to burst out of that moon walk any time and slip Ronaldo in for his 100th goal of the tournament.
Ronaldo himself: They say the Italian Mafioso got a hold of him before the '98 World Cup Final and threatened to have his parents blow dried on the tail of an aeroplane if he so much as breathed with any effort onto the pitch during it. He complied. But now, in 2002, he's not in such a compromising mood: Bad news for what is these days a strangely introverted Sol Campbell, who surely if withdrawn from the world of reality any more during his interviews than he is presently will drift off into ether leaving David Seaman somewhat at a loss.
Ronaldinho: the man that Gary Lineker wryly said could eat an apple through a tennis racquet. I also propose the opposite: he could eat a tennis racquet through an apple. But that doesn't mean he's not a super footballer - with the guile and looks of Bugs Bunny and the audacious outrageousness of Daffy Duck. What a combination! And an ample compensation even for a man who can eat you in your front room through the window blinds.
Then there's Rivaldo: Sometimes he can't even walk upright properly, but then he comes alive and nonchalantly puts the ball in the top corner. A more deceptive player I have never seen, even taking into account the more negative deceptiveness of possible opponent Owen Hargreaves, who, if fit enough to "play", could be expected to sue me afterwards for using such a frivolous word with relation to him and this match.
Now, fun over, and time to set the alarm clock as we go through some of the England bright lights. (Sorry if at any time here I come over like the long lost brother of Peter Taylor, God forbid.)
David Seaman: Without him at the moment it is conceivable that England would fail to beat a team of dustbins.
Rio Ferdinand: See above.
Danny Mills: See Roberto Carlos for a reference. (Mills is unlikely to see him in anything more tangible than subtle form on Friday.)
Ashley Cole: To be serious, quick and sharp enough to always offer a good option on the left hand side; but, while in this team, so bereft of any midfield options, might as well be in the left upper stand, counting his beard hairs.
Sol Campbell: Strength of ten bears and the footballing ability of ten bears.
David Beckham: England's most technically efficient player. But he's no mercurial dribbler like George Best, and should never be expected to guide such an otherwise craftless team on to winning the World Cup single-handedly.
Paul Scholes: The exception to this otherwise offensive craftlessness. But still, undoubtedly no Paul Gascoigne, and strives for a fellow midfielder who can beat a man to procure him some space.
Nicky Butt: Not that man. -Not even a man.
Trevor Sinclair: Despite occasional explosiveness, also not that man or a man.
Emil Heskey: Coming to life slowly in the tournament, but still not currently inspired enough to take part adequately and safely in a brisk country bike ride.
Micheal Owen: The epitome of the squad's refined characterlessness and Sven's ideal mouthpiece. Could be and sometimes is a world class player; but on other times seems to have the striking tactfulness of a fully grown elephant playing with a beach ball, if not its endearing personality.
Okay, that's England. Arguably the best player in their squad, Teddy Sheringham, is on the bench, but even he more often than not suffers in this team without the far superior likes of his Euro '96 partners Gascoigne, McManaman and Anderton. And - okay - to be sensible, add some midfield thrust to the side and they could all contribute something of their own supportive qualities. But, again, to be sensible, that's what and all they are - supportive qualities; every member of this squad have them and the point is that the elements to which this support could be given in order to create a real football team are, sadly, for whatever lack of inspiration Sang-Froid Sven has, completely missing, banished into obscurity and by now probably reduced to ardent string collecting.
Frustratingly for everyone, all these players consist of a squad to mirror its manager, and words cannot express its blandness - apart from maybe one: void. As a football team utterly void of any redeeming qualities. As individuals, part of forlorn outfit that has stumbled through its matches thus far like a down-and-out from one local haunt to the next - overtly and shamelessly relying on the opposition being just slightly worse than they are in order to scrape through as if by default (Brazil being the epitome of the opposite), while just about managing to keep their trousers up; appealing to only the most stoic diehards of their nation.
To conclude on a hopeful note: it would, frankly, be a disaster if this team were to prevail over the bright hopes of Brazil on Friday. And this will only be possible if the aforementioned, as they showed signs of doing in the second round game against Belgium on Monday, inherit any of their overriding fear.
To conclude again: it really is all about Brazil, and England can only be but the benefiters of their repressions, the ugly, dirty-white ducklings at the bright yellow ball. They should be ashamed; we look forward to the match. The future of football rests on it. A nation placed half-heartedly on the edge of its seat would probably disagree; but I say you deserve better, and, also...
Come on Brazil!
Appendix: Decline of the Specialist
Too often in football past the “hard” majority has effectively stifled or bit off its other arm (or leg) which is the “soft”. Anyone remotely aware of the yin/yang principle will know the importance in any one activity of the two forces, representing Hard and Soft. In football the demands and sheer effort of the hard majority have naturally often failed to recognise the importance of the soft to balance. The type of player who’s qualities within a game are the “specialities” of an artist has invariably been misunderstood, neglected, and forced into a false discipline which is totally counter-productive and self-defeating to his game. But in the end we can only conclude that it is his own fault, arising from his own indiscipline.
What is called for, contrary to what the immature “artist” will tell you, is never a profuseness of the artist so that he would be in the majority, because then the game would decline into an aesthetic sterility in which nothing happens. Rather it is a greater understanding, on both sides of the game, of its essential duality. Without one arm, the other is in a state of chaos; it is overrun, or indulgent – hysterical. This is what has to be realised in the tempestuous rush – first and foremost by the artist himself.
It is the artist himself who ultimately has to take responsibility for his decline. He seems these days to go one of two ways – both negative. He is either washed away by the urge to comply with the rush, taken by a false discipline enforced on him from without, and thus defeated before he has even started; or, conversely, given to take an equally perverse stance in utter selfish indulgence. These responses and reactions have undoubtedly hastened his decline, and it is in finding his own discipline that the answers lye.
The skilled, specialist player must take it upon himself to be the first to realise the true potential of his sport and discover in himself the true discipline and spirit which will see him regain his position in the game. An artist is ultimately himself responsible for refining his art to its point of maximum efficiency in the current climate. Only when he begins doing this will football again move back in the direction of realising its full potential. The artist has to find his maturity. The sport must be embarked on by him like never before in the true spirit of self-discovery.