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Reminiscing about the beautiful game

  • Published at 07:08 pm June 18th, 2018
How will the samba style fare? Photo: REUTERS

What style of football will dominate this time?

As I glean from the “oracle” these days -- Wikipedia -- football was termed “the beautiful game” by an English soccer commentator, but the term took root when the legendary Pele called his 1977 book My Life and the Beautiful Game. Pele deserves the credit, not unanimously, for phrasing the game as such. 

My baptism to football was anything but beautiful. I saw my first Abahani-Mohammedan game in 1975 when in class V, a staunch supporter of Abahani already by then. It was Dhaka Stadium, as it was called then, and the cauldron was deafening. 

I watched the beautiful game till 1984, when an all-too-common fracas, a regular affair during Abahani-Mohammedan matches, got so bad that I got beaten mercilessly by the police. That remains my last visit to a football match.

Well, I digress from what I wanted to write about -- the World Cup of football. 

I have no clue as to who will lift the cup for Russia 2018 in July, but I can reminisce; no bars on that. 

For watching World Cup matches, Bangladesh Television, ie the much scoffed-at BTV, was my only source when in 1978, still a schoolboy, I watched the final. It was a black and white NEC TV that we had then, and all I saw was that Argentina beat Holland to lift the cup. 

It was so different, it seemed, from my heroes, -- Salauddin, Chunnu et al, and I learned of some exotic players with equally exotic names -- Kempes, Passarella, and Neeskens and a lot of “van”s. Not impressed, I can safely say.

The year 1982 was when people in Bangladesh got to see a hell of a lot of matches, live. I was easily taken in by the flair of the Brazilians -- the midfield dominated by Socrates and Falcao, the amazing free-kicks by Eder, who ran in like a fast bowler would in cricket, but was heartbroken by the defeat of such flair by the foxy Paolo Rossi of Italy. 

Italy went on to win the cup: Marco Tardelli’s reactions after scoring the second goal against West Germany remains etched in my mind. Even though Brazilian striker Zico called the defeat of Brazil to Italy as the “death of football,” I soon realized that the European philosophy of the game was surely to rule the day -- even if you don’t score, don’t concede a goal. 

That philosophy has ruled the roost since, and even South American teams have conceded their flair to learn to play safe a la Europeans. 

Exceptions, though, are the rules of the beautiful game, and Maradona proved in 1986, with or without “Hand of God,” that individual brilliance still counted: His second goal against England is living proof. 

Argentina lifted the cup in 1986, creating a horde of supporters in Bangladesh, and needless to say, a horde for Brazil, too. We Bengalis always like a fight, and overlook the game and its nitty-gritties in favour of blind support. 

I, however, realized that what Zico said in 1982 was prohetic: Football was not all about flair, but cool tactics.

I rooted for Spain in 1986 especially after Emilio Butragueño scored four of the five goals into the Danish net, the reigning European champions. Morten Olsen’s defense was in tatters in the face of the counter-attack. I was now convinced of the undeniable success of the European method. 

Brazil, the samba team, has won the cup twice since 1982, but playing the “Europe method,” defense before flair.

France won in 1998 with Zidane at his best, but lost a sure win in 2006 with Zidane still the centre of attention. Alas, for different reasons. 

Spain eventually won in 2010 with their “ticky-tacka” play, but the methodical Germans won the cup in 2014 with meticulous precision. Who will win it this time? Ticky-tacka, flair, or precision? My bet is on precision. What’s yours? 

SM Shahrukh is a freelance contributor.

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