I still have hazy black and white memories of the 1982 World Cup. I remember, perhaps influenced by popular belief, taking it for granted that Brazil would steamroll everyone and win. But above all, I remember Italy’s shirt 22, Paulo Rossi, the chap who just would not stop scoring.
In the months that followed Rossi and Italy’s victory, almost everyone I knew at school, including those who played in goal had ‘22’ printed on their sports shorts. And every break-time, tens of mini Rossi’s could be seen trying out stuff in the school field.
And that is what the World Cup did. It produced heroes, men who we all wanted to be and play like.
1982 had Rossi, 1986 had the Deigo Maradona, 1990 still had Maradona and a couple of other pretenders like Paul Gascoigne. 1994 belonged to Romario while 1998 was Ronaldo’s until that strange final.
Ronaldo, after a serious injury lay-off, was again the star at South Korea/Japan 2002, his eight goals propelling Brazil to their fifth World Cup. Then things started to go wrong. From 2006 to 2010, I have struggled to identify a dominant character.
And even if Brazil 2014 is at the quarter final stage, it is clear that no single player is going to dominate it despite the presence of luminaries like Messi and Neymar. Why is this?
I have been thinking it is because the way in which football has evolved over the years. There was a time when solo efforts could determine a match. And here, the image of Maradona skipping past an entire English midfield and onto goal comes to mind.
But he played in the days when there were spaces. Today, Neymar and Messi can keep the ball for less than a second before being challenged. I actually shudder to think the damage Messi may have created in a 1986 match for example but that’s another debate altogether.
In any case, space and therefore time, are at a premium. Teams, and not just individual players, must think quicker, pass faster and interact more closely. Teams may cede possession and narrow the pitch down, after all it’s the goal not the corner flag that’s being defended, but when possession is regained its flock to the opposition area in support of each other.
Resources play a big part in set up of course but the overall swarm mentality of Germany, Holland Columbia, Algeria, USA and Belgium and their achievements so far are plain to see. Football teams today must work like a colony of bees.
This collectivity leaves less room for the individual and it is also why I think Brazil, which is less communal, will fall short.
One may want to raise the matter of the Spaniards, the original custodians of swarm intelligence who were dumped out at the first hurdle, but their fate was down to system fatigue more than anything else. They peaked in 2010 and it was only ever going to be downhill thereafter.
So individual brilliance has been replaced by collectivity and for that Brazil 2014 is more likely to be remembered for the team efforts of Algeria versus Germany or USA versus Belgium, even if those two are out, than any solo effort. Football moved on which is such a shame, for to be honest, and just like in1982, I prefer the memories of individual brilliance.
No more space
Today, Neymar and Messi can keep the ball for less than a second before being challenged. I actually shudder to think the damage Messi may have created in a 1986 match for example but that’s another debate altogether.