The South American Demise
It’s been the most fascinating and enjoyable World Cup in my living memory. Late heroics, the drama of VAR, superlative goals, outstanding saves and penalty shootout suspense. However, the most glaring observation from an enthralling four weeks has been the disastrous demise of South American football. Once revered for giving ‘beautiful’ to the beautiful game and blessing us with two of the greatest players of all-time in Pele and Diego Maradona, the continent’s most famed nations are a mere shadow of past exploits. Once the final four nations are determined on Saturday evening, there will not be one South American nation there. No Brazil, no Argentina, no Uruguay, no Columbia etc.
How has the demise of such formerly great footballing countries been so rapid and ungraceful? There are a number of reasons that come to mind and they are as follows:
- European players have evolved into specimens that combine power, pace, technique and intelligence. When I use the word technique, I by no means refer to skill. It’s one thing to rainbow a football over a defender’s head only to be cut-out by the next man but another to strike a ball with such exquisite technique ala Kevin De Bruyne. The latter will always garner more successful results. South America has not evolved their game to include the enhancement of technique while Europe has. Yes, we can point to the fact that a lot of the South American players ply their trade in Europe but it’s at the grassroots where the mindset is developed.
- Europe has worked on developing football academies that are institutions that embed the four aforementioned assets (power, pace, technique and intelligence) from grassroots level right up to the professional game. See Clairefontaine in France and St. Georges in England.
- European nations have paid close attention to tactical awareness and having a different game plan tailored to situational circumstance. If you compare France to Argentina, it’s night and day. The Argentinian’s were completely lost for the entirety of the tournament and were lucky to make it out of the group stage. They had no cohesion, no plan A or B and were solely reliant on one man to bail them out of trouble and you know who that is. France combined tactical brilliance with power and guile to strategically disseminate each team standing in their path. The same for Belgium which makes the first semi-final so appealing.
- I’m not going to dismiss European players from play-acting, but let’s take some perspective, the South American’s were far superior in the dark art. They either tried to con referees by diving and feigning injury or using school yard bully tactics behind the referees back and sometimes even towards the referee. It crossed the line into disgraceful territory on multiple occasions. Neymar Jr. – yes, he gets kicked a bit but so does Eden Hazard, Harry Kane, Antoine Griezmann etc. so let’s not make excuses for the samba star.
- Finally, item 4 leads into ownership. The European nations owned their destiny while the South American’s blamed poor officiating and conspiracy theories for their lack of success. See Diego Maradona accusing FIFA of collusion with England in appointing an American to officiate the Columbia vs. England dog-fight. Oh dear, Diego - cry me a river.
We can only hope that South America addresses their down-fall with a strategic, well thought-out approach rather than being reactive to another under-whelming performance at a World Cup and making irrational decisions. As seen today, Brazil’s football can still be beautiful, Peru were a revelation and wonderful to watch and Messi had moments of brilliance. There are foundational elements still held by these magnificent countries but the over-arching fundamental flaws in a lack of strategic approach was evident for the World to see.
Perhaps the heat of Qatar may give them a bite-size advantage in 2022 but it will take a lot more than that to restore the glories of past generations.