If football is — as George Orwell once colourfully put it — war minus the shooting, then the end must surely justify the means. Why then can the game’s appeal not be captured in pragmatism? If the Belgian pair of keeper Thibaut Courtois and playmaker Eden Hazard is to be believed, whatever advantage France’s functional football gained by securing a place in today’s World Cup final was quickly lost in the court of purists.
Hazard went to say that he would rather not be compelled to endure such unmerited and humiliating torture as France did in grinding out a marginal win. The excruciating tone of his submission gave a fine flavour of, well, sour grapes. It showed more than anything that the defeat weighed heavily on the 27-year-old’s mind.
As indeed it should! A defeat will always go down as a defeat regardless of the circumstances. A defeat remains unmistakable it what it outputs — it plunges those on its wrong end into a feeling of despair as evidenced by Courtois and Hazard’s comments.
It is true that Belgium’s intelligence, liveliness and guile were always apparent to those around them at Russia 2018 not least France. To some a curious sight presented itself when France won what was by all accounts a semi-final duel of small margins. To others this was nothing new. The rules of engagement in football are simple — outscore your adversary. The manner in which you achieve this obligation is secondary to be honest. What counts after all is said and done is that three-lettered word — win.
When 2010 champions Spain lost a penalty shootout at the hands of Russia in the last-16, the paralysing impotence of possession football was laid bare. Spain controlled the game for large spells — stringing together in the excess of 1000 passes — yet they rarely troubled Russia’s low defensive blocks.
While writing a tragic footnote about tiki-taka is as much an exercise in futility as it is premature, the age of pragmatism appears to be upon us. Those not encouraged at the prospect of functional football have no choice really for pragmatism is here to stay. Football is for all intents and purposes a war. The art of war has many facets to it. There is no singular way in which one can beat an adversary.