With Sham Samaroo
(August 25, 2020) – Last Sunday, we caught a glimpse of football at its glorious best. It was scintillating stuff. It is what our Brazilian friends call “jogo bonito”: That delightful style of football, attacking and entertaining, with a high premium on ball skill and guile, first gifted us by the likes of Leonidas, the Black Diamond, Garrincha, the Little Bird, and who can forget soccer’s avatar; Edson Arantes do Nacimento, affectionately known as Pele, the Black Pearl. Now watch the PC crowd start bawling at the moon about slur. They always seem to be screaming about something or other, don’t they? But I digress.
Over the years we watched that beautiful game degenerate into an ugly, defensive, boring spectacle as theories, game plans, and win-at-all cost mentality became the mantra of coaches. And they shamelessly justify this defensive style by claiming that if you don’t give up a goal, you can’t lose. Surely that drivel (not to be confused with dribble, heavens no!), could not be the game that captured the imagination of millions across the globe. For 90 minutes last Sunday, Bayern and PSG reminded us that it was not.
German football generally places a high premium on fitness, efficiency, and discipline – in a word, boring. But this Bayern side, the one that hammered eight past Barca, is a different kettle of bratwurst. They play with an attacking, pulsating rhythm. This was not the case at the start of the season. After a rude awakening last fall, courtesy a humiliating 5-1 loss to Frankfurt, the club went through some overdue changes in the front and back offices resulting in a different style of play. Full backs began making furrows into their opponents’ defense; that signature Brazilian style first made famous by the Santos duo, Djalma and Nilton Santos, full backs from that legendary 1958 team. This opens up the middle for Bayern’s explosive forward, Lewandowski, to register a season-high 55 goals, scoring in every Champions League game to the final. The result? This Bayern side notched up wins in 29 of their last 30 matches with a perfect run in the Champions league, undefeated in 11 games.
Prior to Sunday’s final, there was talk that, facing PSG’s frighteningly talented, cash-rich front line of Neymar, Mbappe, and Di Maria, Bayern might change strategy. To their credit, and the game, they did not. PSG met the challenge head on providing that wonderful spectacle we witnessed on Sunday. In fact, PSG was the better team in the first half. Ironically, it was also in the first half that they lost the game. They played beautifully, but could not finish, let down repeatedly by Neymar and Mbappe. Di Maria too, skied one into the stadium. At least three goals went a begging in that half. With a price tag of £200M, £160M, and £45M respectively for Neymar, Mbappe, and Di Maria, this is unforgivable. Could it be the old adage that comfort is a motivation killer, and PSG might well be the mentally lazy man of football? We see it play out in classrooms every day where children of second and third generations are, generally speaking, not as motivated as their newly-arrived classmates. Financed by Qatari Investments, the club is one of the richest in the world, and its players might well lack the “ganas”, the desire – that hunger to achieve. To borrow a thought from Nietzsche, comfort tames the wolf into a dog, and man is the most domesticated of animals. Will the PC crowd start braying again with this animal reference? Your guess is as good as mine!