The Beautiful Game

 I’m a football fan! (Soccer.) As a German, by force (one only has to think of the dark age between 1980 and 2006, the age I was born into), I was used to a pragmatic football philosophy. Dirk Gieselmann precisely summons its main characteristics up: It is focused on the final score, the team as a tournament’s team (which describes a squad never being considered to be a favourite, but deserving that privilege by oftentimes winning tournaments by means no one admires, rather everybody thinks to be really gross; as the lucky Gary Lineker rushed himself into the famous world of football citation: “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win”) and the most important thing: receiving no goal against (“Die Null muss stehen!”).

 From this he concludes that a football player like Sócrates, who never won the World Championship although being the mastermind of the Brazilian team which is said to having played the best football ever, must be a mystery to all Germans. It is because Sócrates claims to be happy by being remembered for playing admirable football and not caring about never having won the WC. That, for a German, is “eine brotlose Kunst”, unprofitable art; instead of it football is work, for which reason it has to look like work. And I think Dirk Gieselmann is right. Socrates is a mystery to me.

Sócrates’ criticism

 Let’s still stay for a while in Germany. Sócrates said that for him Horst Hrubesch symbolised the German’s attitude to football: That game is there to be won. Thus, football is deemed to be work. That’s the way German football looked like. You can’t even imagine the Germans having fun with that game (http://www.11freunde.de/international/139484).

 When in 1982, at the World Championship in Spain, Brazil lost after a 2-0 lead against Italy 2-3, they dropped out from the tournament. But Sócrates criticised that nobody remembers the final between Germany and Italy and that no one wanted to copy Italy’s or Germany’s style. But still people remember and admire the Brazilian way of playing football (http://www.thenational.ae/sport/football/socrates-polemics-philosophy-and-he-could-play-too; http://www.11freunde.de/international/139484). — Just to give you some examples from the German and French press.

spielverlagerung.de: “He (Sócrates) appeared to be a bit lean, yet he was the ingenious clock of the supposedly most on aesthetics fixated squad ever taking part in the World Championship. Although having dropped out early, it was a team to be considered, until today, by many as the embodiment of jogo bonito, Futebol Arte, the beautiful game. Almost rhythmically acted the team; they moved elegantly and instinctively forward, and their playfulness created an impression of a bunch of cats leaking a ball of wool to each other. They appeared to be untouchable in their bright moments, headed by the magic quartet in the centre formed by Falcão and Cerezo, those modern deep-lying playmakers, supporting the attacking fragile Zico and unique Sócrates. But as talented as they were and although Zico was the better player, it was Sócrates who impersonated this squad’s soul. (…)

A group banded together and created something unique; without violence or unattractive scenes they wanted to create something beautiful, elevate football to art. Until today this ideal lives. It was put on never more beautifully and never more tragically than during that WC when the most talented team rushed headlong into disaster with their eyes wide open just for the sake of art.”

sofoot.com: “At that time Sócrates was rangy, bearded, wore the Peace&Love-bandeau in his hair, was irreplaceable for the Corinthians of São Paulo as well as for the national team of Brazil, in which he formed, with Zico and Falcão, a triumvirate of dreams. Like any utopia that of Sócrates found its end by shattering at the wall of reality. It happened during the World Championship in 1982 when the squad, whose captain he had been and which perhaps has been the most beautifully playing Brazilian team ever, was beaten by its exact counterpart, the Italian team around Paolo Rossi and Claudio Gentile.”

 But his most abrasive, most general and severe criticism he put against the idea of winning. He said: “The object is to win, no matter how. Its logical consequence is the so-called system-football. Its central ideas are efficiency and functionality. But hardly anybody realises that by this means football becomes one-dimensional, uninspired and thus ugly in an aesthetic sense”. That way a squad and its players lose their identity (http://www.welt.de/sport/fussball/article13750393/Als-Brasiliens-Goetter-in-Schoenheit-untergingen.html). Furthermore he questioned the value of winning. On the one hand there exist other values, on the other hand a title is of no use for, apart from being put down on the curriculum vitae which is just a piece of paper that one can tear up (http://www.rund-magazin.de/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,print,0&cntnt01articleid=896&cntnt01showtemplate=false&cntnt01returnid=76).

Sócrates’ vision of football

  Sócrates’ vision of football can be put in a nutshell with the following statement made by him about himself: “I’m not an athlete. I’m a football artist” (http://www.welt.de/sport/fussball/article13750393/Als-Brasiliens-Goetter-in-Schoenheit-untergingen.html). Reading “athlete” reminds me of a indestructible, perfectly functioning war-machine operating in a format system of instruction executioners, and reading “artist” reminds me of an outstanding, elegant individual.

 As already mentioned, aside from winning there exist other values. The value he aimed at was happiness: “I mean, every second in my life must be the best and the next one has to surpass the previous one. What really counts is being happy” (http://www.rund-magazin.de/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,print,0&cntnt01articleid=896&cntnt01showtemplate=false&cntnt01returnid=76).

 What does he mean with those statements? He thinks that football is affected by the idea of freedom being expressed as creativity and inspiration. This notion of freedom is from his point of view a Brazilian one. It is referred to the player him- or herself. The only thing being important when playing football is talent; the talent of being imaginative and creative. Which is to say that for example race or birth don’t matter (http://www.welt.de/sport/fussball/article13750393/Als-Brasiliens-Goetter-in-Schoenheit-untergingen.html).

Some critical remarks

 Even though some of his thoughts seem to resemble those I’ve written about in “Blush For One’s Life As a Work of Art”, I not fully agree with his vision.

 First, as he said, there are various values one can reach for. Well, as competitive football is about winning, one is justified to incorporate virtues helping one to win. That can lead to the idea that football is work, too. And why shouldn’t that be of aesthetic value?

 Second, to annihilate the idea of winning equals the idea that a football game should either be a friendly game or an artistic performance in the circus ring.

 Third, the attractiveness of football for me is two-sided. On the one hand I want to see a beautiful game, on the other hand I’m crazy about the tension, thrill and excitement that my team wins or avoids to lose, that my team can become champion, can enter the next round and reaching the final of a cup, that my team can promote to the division above or can avoid being relegated to the division below. That’s why I prefer the ideas Louis van Gaal expressed.

Louis van Gaal’s vision of football

 Like Sócrates Louis van Gaal wants to be remembered for providing a beautiful game. Of course he wants to win a game, but it is more important to him to be remembered. For example, Juventus Turin in 1996 and Inter Milan in 2009, though winning the Champions League, they are just remembered by their own fans, but by no one else. In contrast people do not only remember the 1990ies Ajax Amsterdam for its winning the Champions League (in 1995), but for its beautiful game (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrZCj2f3RH8). Take for instance spielverlagerung.de: “The great Ajax squad from the 90ies reached its peak in 1995 by winning the Champions League and Intercontinental Cup. It was the rebirth of the 70ies myth of Ajax; their football was as beautiful as rarely ever before or after and it completely dominated Europe.”

 In particular this means, that van Gaal wants his teams playing a successful and entertaining football, which he wants to achieve by letting play a dominant, offensive and pressing game football with creative players in order to create chances – more chances than the opposite team (http://spielverlagerung.de/2011/07/05/louis-van-gaal-der-missverstandene/, http://wissen.spiegel.de/wissen/image/show.html?did=8889574&aref=image017/SP1996/009/SP199600901840184.pdf&thumb=false).

 Well, that’s the football that impresses me and is desirable. And there is something in the statement of Louis van Gaal that I can partly understand and agree to: “Win or a beautiful game? Sometime I have the suspicion that it is more important to me to show a beautiful game than to win. Or to put it in other words: If the team plays bad, I do not need to win. I couldn’t be happy about it” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrZCj2f3RH8). Yes, sometimes it feels undeserved. (But then at times something inside of me says, that a dirty win can be exciting, too.)

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