Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Legends of the Past IV

My good friend Mr. West pointed out that there are few players who transcend time and for him these are the players that are truly in the upper echelon of the footballing world. I would agree somewhat with this assertion. These players are known by everybody who has an interest in the sport of football because of their play on the field that seemingly puts them in another time period of the game because they have already passed the standards for greatness in their own time period. But I would not agree that these players cannot be compared with players from the past and future. For me it is a simple matter of transposition as I have already let Aaron know.

The game has become increasingly about speed and strength as these fine tuned athletic machines trod on the green daily. I honestly wish it wasnt that way because to me it has taken a way from the purity of the game. Case in point George Best- smoked, drank and partook in the same activities that the ballers of his day did. But the complete wizardry with the ball at his feet was not lost. Could the same be said for Messi? If he did not partake in daily fitness tests, drank beers daily, partied all night as these past heroes did, would his feet have the same trickery? Would the mental speed which controlled his feet as he glided with the ball still mantain the same level? I think not. As Aaron said, the game was based on a purely technical ability back then. And with that, my feeling is that the greats of this age would not be the phenomenal talents they are today without the conditions of todays game.

In the same way, I feel that George Best would have had a ball playing todays game because he would have been blessed with the same skill set that he had and would have been even more enhanced by the military like regimen that he would have had to undergo to play for Machester United. But the question is whether his passion would have been the same if he had to go through hoops as he would have to presently. This is important because in my book, passion breeds talent- it is the presence of passion that allows one to work tirelessly at perfecting their craft.

But there are timeless wonders such as Ronaldo, Zidane, Riquelme, Van Nistelrooy, Inzaghi, Maldini, etc. whose games have not relied heavily on speed and in some cases fitness for reasons such as injury or the fact that they were simply not built that way. I will hand over to Mr. West to continue our discussion.

Legends of the Past III

As my esteemed colleague rightly put it, it's incredibly difficult to rate players in football simply because of the widespread base of reference. Whereas basketball has the NBA, we have the whole world from which to judge talent. While for the most part, the best players tend to be massed in the biggest European leagues (Spain, Italy, England, etc.), there are phenomenal talents spread throughout the world. In addition, we have the issue of not having seen the talent of the past due to technological deficiencies and the fact that our generation was not alive to see said talent.

Given that fact, what do we use to rank talent? In my opinion, for the most part we cannot truly rank modern legends against past legends because of the simply fact that the game has changed so much over the years. Watching a game from the 1980s compared to today's game is such a different experience that it would appear to be two different sports. The game of the past was played at an almost leisurely pace, without excessive physical exertion and with more emphasis on technical ability. Today's game is dominated by fine-tuned athletes whose initial mindset is to run at full pace for 90 minutes without care for finesse and beauty.

That being said, I believe there are indeed timeless legends that would seem to be able to burrow through the sands of time with ease. Such players as Marco Van Basten, Pelé, Diego Maradona and Johann Cruyff would all seem to have some sort of place in the modern game. By the same token, Zinedine Zidane, Eric Cantona, Juan Román Riquelme and the like seem taken straight out of a 1965 Real Madrid squad. But how would the majority of the future and past stars stack up if transplanted to a different period? How would Ronaldo Luís Nazario de Lima do faced with the brutal tackles and indifferent refereeing of the 70s? How would Alfredo Di Stefano do when faced with the searing pace and technical ability of a centre back like Carles Puyol in his prime?

I leave that to my friend Machel Turner as he continues our scholarly debate.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Legends of the Past II

As the good creator of this blog said, we were involved in a long discussion last night regarding the comparison of legends of the football world. As we discussed Ronaldo (not the soft one that plays for Man Utd.) and Henry I asserted that there is a microscopically slim line that separates the two, but this leaves Ronaldo at #1 and Henry behind him. But these two names are only on the list as the great out and out strikers (# 9s if you will) that we have seen play. This is a very important factor. We have been able to witness these players play, and while I could make a case for Samuel Eto'o who I think is the world's best #9 right now and has been consistently for the past 4 or 5 years he does not possess the same phenomenal skill set as the same two. This man, much like Van Nistelrooy or Raul is deadly in front of goal but is very hard pressed to create something for himself, magically out of nothing.

For this I brought up one Marco Van Basten. The man is a true legend but had his career cut short at age 27 from knee injuries when us in our early 20s were only 4 or 5 years old. I would advise those of you who have not seen this man to go to youtube right now and prepare for a feast. As Aaron did point out the basketball argument can be used when we compare the greatness of all these legends over time (from Di Stefano, Puskas, Pele, Cruyff, Gullitt, Maradona, Baggio, Batistuta, etc.). But where as the basketball base has a much narrower base of reference (there is only 1 legit league and 1 legit basketballing country that produces stars) the base for football is much wider. Because of this, while the younger generation may not have seen Michael play as we did, there is still the myth of Michael that surrounds him and will always surround him. This myth is powerful and while Lebron and Kobe are great themselves, the Myth of Michael will always place him above them in the pecking order.

In terms of football, this is not true. A new star pops up every day such as your Lavezzis, Hamsiks etc. and no country (except maybe Brazil) or club can claim to have a dominant stranglehold on the international scene and producing stars. Because of this it is easy for us to forget the great ones of the 50s and 60s such as Mr. George Best, Garrincha and Eusebio, etc. But that does not make them any less great. With the wide base it is much harder for us to rank players, even by position and this is what we will take into consideration as we move forward with this debate. Your go Mr. West.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Legends of the Past

I was talking to one of my good friends, Machel Turner today about "O Fenômeno" Ronaldo Luis Nazário de Lima and the conversation shifted to how to compare footballing legends. The discussion started with my assertion that Ronaldo is the best striker of all time. Machel's valid argument was that Thierry Henry in his prime could rival the great man, but we eventually settled on Ronaldo as the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time). The crux of the winning thesis was that although both men were phenomenal finishers, Ronaldo's superior dribbling ability and absolute devastating finishing within the box made him a better all around forward. One needs only to watch videos of Ronaldo from the PSV, Barcelona and Inter Milan years to see this made plain.

Moving on from this topic, we began to talk about how Ronaldo, Henry and the legends from our day stack up against the legends of the past such as Marco Van Basten, Pelé, Maradona, Cruyff and the like. The list stretched on to luminaries like Ferenc Puskás and Alfredo Di Stefano. The main question was this: How do they all compare?

To use basketball as a reference, such giants of the game as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, etc. were considered the G.O.A.T. in their day until a certain man named Michael Jordan came along and snatched the title. However, we are approaching a generation of teenagers and young adults that will never have seen Michael Jordan play a game. In lieu of that fact, will they respect his achievements? The same goes for Marco Van Basten, Maradona, Pelé, etc. For the simple fact that we didn't grow up watching these players, our generation (and by our, I mean my generation of 20-somethings) will find it difficult to truly appreciate their accomplishments. Because of that, will the next generation recognize our current legends (Ronaldo, Zidane, Henry, etc.) for their true brilliance?

I'm going to throw it up for Machel to continue so we can debate the issue further. Hopefully we'll see a good debate over the next few days.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I lived in the hood...

I know what you may be thinking. Why is he talking about such a topic? Well I have read Aaron's post about the temperamental geniuses and their flaws. I'd like to talk a bit about why these players have these flaws.

The players that were mentioned earlier (Rooney, Zidane, Ronaldo, Adriano, Cassano) all have one thing in common. They were all from the mean streets or in ghettos in some cases. They knew the one way for them out of their situation was to get a soccer ball and start honing their games. This guys would practice on their craft day in and day out trying to get themselves and their families out of the struggle. However while they weren't playing soccer, they were in the streets causing all kinds of trouble, whether it is committing petty crimes or just getting into fights with other kids. These young men only knew the rules of survival. The "I'm going to get mine" rules.

After mastering the game to the fullest, they were either scouted or went on trials. The scouts didn't care what kind of character they had, they were focusing themselves on finding the best players for their clubs. So those young men have finally found a way to get to their goal of being a professional and getting out of the struggle. Then these prodigies turned out to be the best in their youth and reserve sides and make it to the senior team. By this time, they were on top of the world. They were making millions and millions of dollars and they were enjoying things that they have only dreamed about. But these young men still lived by their street mind-set. The problem with this is that it is magnified in the public because they are on TV almost everyday. So that's when their flaws are exposed, because in the youth ranks, the youth coaches would turn a blind eye to fights that might have occurred in the academy. Once a player makes it up to the big leagues, a fight lands one in the newspaper (ask Joey Barton). So they can be as great as anything however when someone disrespects them (coach, teammates, media, or opponents) they have to show them that they are hood and they aren't taking it.

That's why a player like Kaká is not in this list because he did not have to worry about all the troubles that those other players have had to deal with. He always had the silver spoon in his mouth and if someone disrespects him he isn't going to fight them, he is just going to go on with his business and torch you for everything he has on the field. That's why I think he will last a lot longer then other players because he has his life in order. As for the others, it only takes one incident to highlight a magnificent career as this picture shows us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Temperamental Genius

Every club has one, and if they don't, they want one. The on-field genius with a screw loose. The creator and the destroyer all in one. The make-or-break factor that carries a club to dizzying heights, or causes the same club to spiral out of control. More often than not, the player is an attacking midfielder or forward with mesmerizing skill, but a tragic flaw that can drive the player to inspiring brilliance or cut him off at the knees.

These players are infamous in their magnificence and petulance. From the "modern" age (2000 and on) we can name such players as Francesco Totti, Adriano, (fat) Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Antonio Cassano, David Beckham and most famously, Zinedine Zidane. These players, all oustanding talents in their own rights, have infamous shortcomings that have pushed them over the edge on various occasions. From Totti's spitting incident and Adriano's double-fisted to Ronaldo's partying and Zidane's legendary temper, there is plenty of evidence that these temperamental geniuses are often their own worst enemies.

The tragic flaw is not a product of the modern environment, but rather a characteristic of legendary footballers through the ages. Going back through time, such players as Eric Cantona, Diego Maradona and Edmundo were all famed for their mental lapses, snapping on players, fans even animals.

Such reprehensible behavior would not be tolerated from these players if they didn't produce such remarkable displays of footballing prowess and beauty. For every double-footed stamp by Totti there was a mazy run from inside his own half. For every reckless tackle from Zidane there was his graceful pirouette and slide-rule passing. These players' exquisite play comes with a price, but for such fantastic displays, I (and most fans of the beautiful game) deem it worth it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Maradona: The Right Man for Argentina?

In 1986, Maradona gifted Argentina the country’s second world title by beating West Germany 3-2 in the final, a feat making him much more popular than any Argentine celebrity or even president! Through Maradona’s outstanding play in the tournament and his wonderful performances at the club level, the FIFA had no other option but to give him the player of the year and later go on to prize the Argentine with the Best Player of the Last 50 Years Award, along with Pele. There is no doubt Maradona was far and away one of the top two players to have ever played the sport. However, with Argentina’s present predicament in their qualifiers for the world cup in South Africa, the question remains: Did Grondona and the AFA make the right decision in appointing the eternal national hero and World Cup winner, Maradona, as the new coach? The answer is simple, NO!
It is 100% true; by selecting Maradona as head coach of their national team has reunited the Argentine population after a free-for-all Basile caused during his second era with Argentina’s national team. Maradona’s fervent attitude towards the Argentine jersey and country makes him an instant crowd-pleaser. Obviously his past credentials as a player also give more incentive to trust he will do more than a good job with Argentina’s finest. Because of his love and passion for the sport and the country, all Argentine players will forever respect him for bringing glory to an overzealous country. He is not only Argentina’s footballing symbol, but also one of two the entire world has. Unlike other coaches, who are often disrespected and disregarded by their players, Maradona is confident his personality and his past will never be doubted by his fellow countrymen, and this is because he was a football giant, a rare player who has only come along every once in a while in a privileged generation. Others like Hugo Sanchez, after an appalling run as Mexico’s head coach, will never restore all of what they represented because he was not one of the best ever. Maradona will not have to worry about losing his Argentina’s respect because of his achievements. Also, unlike Basile’s era, Maradona will strongly bring out the passion and love for the jersey and country from every player he selects, making them work harder as a team. But surely, player respect and effort along with the entire country’s support are not enough to direct Argentina to their third World Cup title. Obviously, there is much more to coaching than just having the backing of the players, federation, and population because after all, a coach, by definition, is a fundamental leader who keeps organization and discipline within a team structure.
Maradona, believe it or not, has had a short spell in the early to mid 90’s as a head coach of a couple Argentinian clubs, including the popular, Racing. During his short stint as coach, Maradona racked up 3 wins, 12 draws, and 8 loses, a record not worthy of bragging about. Grondona, clearly, overlooked the one measurement sports analyst, fanatics, and experts use daily when studying and discussing the art of sport: the statistic. Other coaches, like Carlos Bianchi, on Grondona’s hit list for Argentina’s head coach have won every club competition Argentina and South America have to offer, yet because of a personal conflict between the AFA president and Bianchi he was not selected. Grondona also overlooked other coaches who have much more quality (in terms of length and good results) experience like Batista (Argentina youth coach and winner of the 2008 Olympics tournament) and Russo, the current San Lorenzo (tied for first place in Argentina) coach. Statistically, Maradona is not even close to being the ideal coach for Argentina, especially under the current crisis the national team finds itself in qualifying, being tied for third with neighbor and trans-Andean rival, Chile.
The second troubling aspect of the Maradona selection is: does Maradona have the right attitude and personality to coach a star filled Argentinean team? Maradona is and will always be the most criticized footballer of all time, from his playing days (drugs, red cards, fights, etc.) to his coaching days (red cards, verbal assaults, media personality, etc.) to his days as an observer of the sport (player and coaches criticisms, recommendations, etc.). The recent conflict between Maradona and Messi is a clash between Maradona’s care for the player and his obsession with being the best ever. Though Messi reminds Maradona of himself as he and Grondona have admitted, Maradona always seems to criticize Messi more than everyone else, maybe because he expects more of Messi or because Messi reminds him of himself or out of sheer jealousy, whatever the reason, Messi respectfully retaliated in a media conference by stating, “Maradona always has something to say about me”. It must be said, Maradona is very close with the Argentine squad (coaches and players), but this can also cause some problems, take for example the Maradona-Aguero relationship (Aguero is Maradona’s son-in-law).
Maradona’s obsession with being the best leaves little room for others to object to any of his ideas because Maradona is very passionate about being the best, even when he makes mistakes. This characteristic is a negative one to have for a coach, especially an inexperienced coach. During Maradona’s reign, he will need to consider his player’s feelings, ideas, and playing ability, and stop comparing himself to his ideal world, which he has often done when watching Argentina play. As a coach, it is important to accept mistakes and poor results in order to learn from them, hopefully, for Argentina’s sake, he does not get too rattled when things do not go his way because he is on the sidelines now, not playing.
Maradona’s coaching behavior in the past has haunted his teams in the past, as he has gotten more red cards in his short coaching career than he did in his entire playing career. In a troubling situation like the one Argentina currently finds itself, Maradona’s coaching behavior will be tested, especially with tough world cup qualifying trips at La Paz, Quito, Asuncion, and Montevideo. Again, Maradona’s pride can cause some problems for Argentina. Maradona will bring more outside attention to himself and the team.
Maradona recently claimed he has more than enough experience (from his playing days) to coach Argentina to victory. One must reject his claim when taking into account his coaching career numbers (again, in terms of wins and length of career). Coaching an international squad is much more difficult than a club coach because you don’t train everyday like the clubs do, instead you meet up every couple of months for a week and play two games or you meet up for a couple of months during international tournaments, one month for training and one month to play the tournament. Also, as mentioned before, Maradona has had plenty of experience controlling situations in the field but not off the field. He is blessed with the best players in the world, but with this blessing, one goal needs to be achieved: a World Cup trophy, anything less will be an absolute failure (if Argentina does not qualify for the World Cup, the world should come to an end!). If Maradona is to succeed in this new highly difficult challenge, Maradona will need to learn how to control himself on and off the field, accept the way his player’s play, and tactically set up a team that is nearly impossible to field correctly because of the large number of talented players the country provides every year around every league.
As an Argentinean football fan, I hope Maradona can prove me wrong and win the World Cup. Though I must admit he is not the right man for job because of the current delicate state of the team and his experience. We’ll see what happens in March when qualifying restarts again. Good luck Maradona, you’re going to need it!