Football comets

Pub evening was shifted forward this week, so that students could enjoy the spectacle of Bayern Munich thrashing Barcelona 4-0 on Tuesday night. Borussia Dortmund repeated the feat on Wednesday, drubbing Real Madrid 4-1. It was a little like seeing comets in the sky, exciting, but portentous.Lewandowski

My six-year-old son put it in a nutshell at breakfast this morning: German teams are having a fever of winning four-something against Spanish teams.

In the Guardian, Jonathon Wilson agrees that general conclusions can be drawn regarding the changing tides of football. He submits, broadly, that while tika-taka is not dead, its greatest exponents stumbling to catastrophe in Munich on Tuesday suggest a change is afoot not only in teams but in styles of play. (read the article here)

He also notes that German economic muscle is being thrown more these days behind its football teams. While we like to think that national virtue underlies the performance of our teams, the correlations between population size (or fanbase), investment, and diffusion of the game and its structures through a population are in fact extremely strong. In the long term, Brazil are always going to be better than Colombia; Manchester United always superior to Preston North End. Money, in the end, prevails.

However, while such a reductionist history of the game could be written, football is, in cultural terms, a complex system with its own patterns of emergence; the economic history of football could not have predicted, for example, the rise of Total Football in Ajax Amsterdam and Bayern Munich in the early 1970s; it could not have predicted the Cruyff turn.

Perhaps we were not witnessing a structural change on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, so much as one more pleasing ornamental arabesque on the history of the game. Perhaps, in the end, a match is just a match. Either way, we have a couple of very happy Germans at the school this week. Their only regret, I imagine, is that they have no Spanish classmates.

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2 thoughts on “Football comets

  1. Brilliant article – it remains to be seen if this trend is the start of something. Personally, I rather hope it is. I know completing 900 passes in a match shows fantastic technical ability and maintaining 70% possession is admirable, but it bores me.

    Of course Bayern retain the ball and their passing is fantastic, but there is some also some aggression there, some physicality and importantly the possibility of making errors that make them far more entertaining (for me). And isn’t that what it is about – entertainment?

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    • Thanks Jon – Yes, Jonathan Wilson makes the point that Bayern Munich supplanted Ajax Amsterdam as purveyors of total football in the early 70s with a slightly more muscular approach; same seems to be happening again. No doubt Bayern play good possession football (I think their season stats are second only to Barca’s), but its got a visceral edge that Barcelona occasionally lack.

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