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Uruguay, a Nacional question

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Tim Vickery | 15:18 UK time, Monday, 2 February 2009

When small clubs are winning league titles it's often not a good sign. Normally it indicates that standards have gone down.

Uruguay is an excellent example. Just like its national team, Uruguay's club football has a wonderful tradition. When the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League equivalent, got underway in 1960, Penarol were the first winners - and the second, and in 1966 they beat Real Madrid home and away to be crowned world club champions (for the second time - they overcame Benfica five years earlier).

Alexander Mediana, Nacional; Julio Mozzo, Penarol

Penarol's great Montevideo rivals Nacional were not far behind. Though they had to wait until 1971 for their first title, it was the fourth time they had reached the final. In the first 12 years of the Libertadores there were only two occasions when the final featured neither Penarol nor Nacional.

Their run continued into the 80s. Penarol won their fifth title in 1987, Nacional their third in 1988. Since then, nothing. Indeed, not since 1989 has a Uruguayan club reached the semi-finals.

The timing is interesting, because it coincides with a striking development in domestic Uruguayan football.

Penarol and Nacional had dominated the local league title. From the start of the professional era in 1932 until 1986 the Montevideo giants had won the championship on all but two occasions. Suddenly the monopoly came to an end. In 1987 the title went to Defensor, followed by Danubio the next year, Progreso in '89, Bella Vista in '90 and Defensor again in '91.

What had changed? The global market had opened up. With a population of just three million, it was all but impossible for Penarol and Nacional to hold on to their best players - and it became more difficult to snap up the best from the smaller clubs, who were now more likely to head straight for Europe.

The Uruguayan Under-20 team are currently showing some promise in the South American Championships. But they will not be coming to the rescue. A couple are already in Europe. Others will surely join them.

So one of the strategies that the big clubs are employing is to bring back veterans whose time in Europe is now up.

The current Penarol side features Pablo Cavallero, Argentina's goalkeeper in the 2002 World Cup, left -footed defender Dario Rodriguez, who scored a cracker for Uruguay against Denmark in that tournament and other repatriated over-30s such as Richard Nunez and Antonio Pacheco.

And last week a team of such experience made a series of schoolboy errors to make it unlikely that Penarol will have a long life in this year's 50th version of the Libertadores.

To get through to the group phase Penarol have to make it through a brief qualifying round. In the first leg they were hammered 4-0 by Medellin of Colombia - and all four goals came from elementary defensive errors at set-pieces. Two resulted from poor individual marking at corners, one from not pushing out after a corner was cleared and the other from not placing enough men in a defensive wall. And now they need a miracle in Tuesday's second leg if their fans are not to spend another year lamenting their decline - a process that first became apparent 20 years ago when they were beaten to the domestic title by some much smaller rivals.

What makes this all the harder to take is the fact that as a general rule South American football culture can be crueller to the small clubs than is the case in England. There is little of the feeling that the soul of the game is to be found in the lower divisions.

The English example is rare - an indication of the force with which football grabbed the country's industrial towns, but also the relic of anachronistic Victorian-era regulations. Until 1961 players in England not only had no freedom of contract, their earnings were also limited by a maximum wage. So Tom Finney stayed with Preston North End rather than joining Manchester United. And for decades Preston, and clubs like them, were able to punch above their weight while United punched below theirs.

Hull City v Accrington Stanley, 1948

The consequence is that English football has remarkable depth, with so many well-supported clubs. But it can also be a culture prone to mediocrity, tending to the belief that the 'real' football experience is a small town club playing sub-standard stuff on mud-heap pitches.

Almost 15 years of exposure to South American football have led me to be suspicious of this perspective. It is clear to me that football is the game of the big city, and its essence is not be found in mediocrity, but in the quest for greatness. The soul of the game might be hard to find these days in the giant stadium of the metropolis. But it is there in the peripheries of the big city, where poor kids sharpen their skills in the hope of achieving excellence - a word that used to apply to Penarol, and which they will need to dredge up from somewhere on Tuesday night if they are to play a part in the 50th version of the competition they helped establish.

Comments on this week's piece in the space below. Other questions on South American football to and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

Recently I was playing on my Fifa 09 game and noticed a talented young Argentinian player by the name of Falcao. I heard that during the summer he was linked to a host of clubs including Manchester United and Real Madrid. I was wondering how his development is going and what chance does he have of breaking into the Argentine national team?
Taba Mugule

None whatsoever, because he's Colombian, and already an international with them. Radamel Falcao Garcia, son of a defender, named after a midfielder and he's turned out to be a centre forward. River Plate unearthed him early - he's come up the ranks with them.

He seems to have it all - he's good in the air, sleek on the ground, cuts in well on the diagonal - a striker of terrific potential. But the time for truth is fast approaching. He's been a bit injury prone and has struggled to really get a sequence of games behind him. He's 23 next week, and I think this is a big year for him - can he be the leader of the River Plate attack in their Copa Libertadores campaign? Is he going to deliver week in week out? He still needs to make the step from promise to reality. But I think that long term he has the attributes to deserve attention from the European giants.

In recent years, there seems to have been a decline in the quality and number of the traditional attacking full-backs in South America. Are there any reasons why this is the case?
Gary Black

I see this as more of a specifically Brazilian thing than a South American, with the odd exception (such as Ecuador's De la Cruz, who gave them great service). I remember former-Argentina coach Jose Pekerman saying that the tradition of attacking full-backs was the thing that he most envied in Brazilian football - Argentina may have had Sorin, but the attacking full-back is not really their speciality - Heinze has even been playing there, though Maradona says that in his reign he'll feature at centre-back.

I'm not sure I completely agree that the quality has declined - a decade ago Brazil had no reserve for Cafu, now they are spoilt for choice at right-back. And if they are a little light at left-back, then Marcelo and Fabio are options for the long-term.

A complication, perhaps, is his early move to Europe - where the full-back position is interpreted differently, with much more emphasis on defence. I remember when Silvinho first came over to Arsenal, and many local pundits commented that he looked more like a wide midfielder - back in Brazil he was seen as one of the more defensively minded full-backs. Inter Milan played Roberto Carlos in midfield when he first joined them.

That's why I think the situation with Fabio and Rafael at United is so interesting. I imagine that United choose to get them over so early (before they had played a senior game for Fluminense) in order to work on the defensive side of their game. The more fascinating of the two is Fabio, who for Brazil's under-17s was playing all from left-back rather than at left-back, popping up everywhere and scoring rivers of goals. Will trying to make him more tactically disciplined add to his game, or will it take away from what he does best?


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  • Comment number 1.

    Great stuff as always tim. Very interesting read.

    Who do you see as Brazil's first choice full backs for the 2010 world cup? Maicon and...?

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Tim

    Must admit I do enjoy your columns, and have a lot of interest in the South American game. With so many of the worlds greatest players, past and present, coming from the region it is hard to see why anyone would not be so interested!

    What do you think of the standard of goalkeeping in South America these days? Looking at it from outside it seems a lot better than in the past - Brazil in particular have been missing a quality keeper historically for a while. I read once this is because the Brazilians place all emphasis growing up on style and skill, but obviously this seems to be passing now and a few talents are emerging a la Joao Carlos or Diego Cavalieri or Renato

    Do you think the standard is higher now, o rjust that the defenses are tighter giving more protection? I find it hard to think that it could be due to a reduction in the quality of the forward lines, surely not!

    Oh and I really miss Chilavert - any idea what he is doing nowadays?

    Thanks for the great work as always


  • Comment number 3.

    To #1... 2010? Surely Marcelo by then? He would be my tip anyway!

  • Comment number 4.

    This blog consistently adds value to the site and to football fans. Thanks Tim.

  • Comment number 5.

    Great column once again Tim, keep up the good work!

  • Comment number 6.

    Guess that would have been a duopoly rather than a monopoly...

    Bit controversial isn't it? As a Cambridge fan who spent two seasons watching Serra fight it out in front of 35 paying fans for the Espirito Santo state title I'd say the small town club on the mud heap can be quite fun.

  • Comment number 7.

    You have often mentioned the decline in the central midfield position for Brasil, with clubs tending to use hard ball winning (but ultimately technically lacking) defensive midfielders. Are there up and coming talents that could reverse this decline?


    Up front with Brasil, there has been a long history of having the very best in the world leading the attack.
    Romario then Ronaldo spoilt us Brasil fans in the more recent years. Is there anyone of comparable ability out there now? (i hear Pato is in a class of his own, but will he be ready for 2010?)

    Many thanks

  • Comment number 8.

    I think there's a mis-conception about Brazil when it comes to Keepers. There's no lack of respect for Keepers in Brazil. From my experience in travelling and living in Brazil (and having Brazilian In-Laws), the fans appreciate all aspects of futebol. From dribbling/passing to classy defending/marking and goal keeping.

  • Comment number 9.

    rafael and fabio are the next cafu and carlos! anyway what can you tell me about our player Pedro Botelho, have you watched him? And how good do you think Carlos Vela can become?

  • Comment number 10.

    To #2

    Argentina has got a vast amount of good keepers around the world, Carrizo at Lazio is doing a very good job (except for his last match) and Sergio Romero is the starting keeper for AZ Alkmaar where theyre only 3 matches away of breaking the clean sheet record in Holland. Also more in Argentina like Garcia for Boca, Islas for Tigre and Orion for San Lorenzo.

    Great blog Tim I hope Uruguay football gets back on his feet I do love that country.

  • Comment number 11.

    Good article once more, but for me the more interesting point is regarding the Brazillian full-backs. Surely Daniel Alves will be a left-back at 2010 if Maicon stays in his current form? I know he's not played at left-back much (if at all) at Barcelona but he can play that position. Fabio won't be old enough (bench maybe) and Marcelo is too flawed.

    On the goalkeeping front, I remember watching River Plate play in the summer and their goalkeeper was awesome. No idea who he was though.

  • Comment number 12.

    On the topic of attacking full-backs, I'm personally of the opinion that Brazil has been playing increasingly more conservative... first Felipão selected 3 centre-backs to make up for his full-backs pushing up, and more recently the selection has often favoured more defensive-minded players - eg: Maicon has been given the nod more often than not over the more flamboyant Daniel Alves.

    Of course compared to European sides brazilian full-backs are still very 'adventurous', but I get the feeling that the new generation is increasingly less so compared to the days of Cafu-Roberto Carlos... is this maybe a question of brazilian coaches playing more european tactics as much as the fact that the players leave for europe at a much earlier age?

  • Comment number 13.

    I will say that I enjoy the articles you write and give credit to the BBC for expanding the sports coverage beyond our shores.

    However I must disagree with the statement that football is the game for big cities and that the soul of the game is not at smaller games. The reason is that football supporting is about teams that you can actually see, not watch on match of the day. This is why it is seen as such here as many of us are taken to matches in small towns, not big cities.

  • Comment number 14.

    Enjoyable blog again!
    Was just wondering if you could tell me anything about Juan Carlos Menseguez, who I believe West Brom have signed on a loan deal?
    I've seen some stuff on him on youtube, which made him look quite skillful and quite strong, but thats nothing to judge players on, was hoping you could help me out and tell me if hes a good prospect?

  • Comment number 15.

    Another fantastic article Mr Vickery

    really interesting and insightful about a once great footballing nation with great tradition

    Keep it up

    this blog should also shut up the moaners for a while who say u only ever go on about Brazil?! of which if they actually read your blogs over a longer period they would understand that u actually cover all the south american countries rather fairly and equally?!

  • Comment number 16.

    Juan Vargas of Fiorentina and Peru is a great attacking full-back, strong as a bull and skilful to match.

    Is Uruguay's decline terminal, do you think, or is it a sleeping giant?

  • Comment number 17.

    At post 13. I think Tim is right about the soul of the professional game being in the city.

    To put another perspective on it, what great footballer was born and developed his skills growing up in a rural area?

    Pele, Maradona (Buenos Aires), George Best (Belfast), Cruyff (Amsterdam) - they all were born in big cities and developed their talents in big city clubs.

    When you feel the passion of a stadium like the Bombanera it's very hard to be convinced that the soul of the game is to be found elsewhere than a stadium in the big city packed to the rafters with passionate supporters.

  • Comment number 18.

    Francisco Arce was another exception, at his prime the best right back in brazilian football.

  • Comment number 19.

    hola Tim!

    i'm about to watch brazil-argentina in the sudamericano sub20...well, to be honest, i'm watching exequiel benavidez! haha, he is promising and will fill battaglia's position sooner rather than later. how about an article on argentina's wonderful number 5 position? from redondo, through to cambiasso, mascherano, and now gago, banega, matias sanchez, claudio yacob and benavidez. its an intruiging issue, as the position requires more than the usual "makelele position" in that it requires more grace, dexterity and heart

    lemme go see the kid they call neri now. hope argentina and uruguay win after a disappointing start...chau

  • Comment number 20.

    its tchau if you really want to know

    Fantastic blog again.. it is really interesting reading these blogs as i am in brasil for a year and i still dont see this much info on S.American teams... just Brasil's!

    You have raised a very controversial topic woth the spirit of the game.. but i have to say it doesnt exist in the money run worlds that are the epl etc...

    the real spirit is in the lower leagues.. the less fasionable clubs.. where the play for the love of the game and not the money... but also i agree with the mediocrity point...
    players that play for the love of the game and the club and the will to always improve.. i think thats the spirit...

    but thats just scratching the surface!!!

  • Comment number 21.

    personally i think brazil are spoiled for attacking full backs. we all know dani alves is in a league of his own(that says alot considering the likes of maicon and cicinho would be first choice for any other country/club).

    And i really hope Marcelo gets his oppertunity for a long stint at left wing back at Madrid as hes got more potential than Roberto Carlos.

    On the subject of keepers! Did Taffarel not have the best reflexes of any keeper of his generation!

    He won many a penalty shoot out for the sambas but I think brazils keepers and defenders get overlooked in terms of their contribution over the years.

    And does anyone remember Jorginho and Marcio Santos from the '94 world cup?? Sheer genius!!

  • Comment number 22.

    Mathias at #19 - you forget Franco Zuculini, a cracking "No 5" prospect.

  • Comment number 23.

    Good Article Tim, as always
    Uruguay's national football team is the exact equivalent of the Italian and Argentine Rugby Union sides, the majority of their best players play abroad, therefore it is easy to see that the domestic product will not be as good. In Rugby Union, the Italian sides in the Heineken Cup get caned by 40/50 points in 3/4 games in the pool stage. The modern world of football is just a way of the times, 40/50 years ago only one or 2 Uruguayans probably played abroad, now practically all their players named in the 23 man squads for qualifiers/WC etc ply their trade outside of Uruguay.
    I have always liked Uruguay in footballing terms, for such a small country and population with only one major city they are one of the biggest over-achievers if not the biggest in International football. The shock WC1950 win was evidence of that, beating Brazil a country bigger than Western Europe minus Russia and with many large cities like Rio, Sao Paolo, BH, RGDS, Salvador, Pernambuco etc.
    Look at Forlan, Diogo, Lugano, Godin, Carini, Luis Suarez, Eguren, C Rodriguez, G Sorondo etc they also have some talented past players like Recoba, Dario Silva and Juan Schiaffino.
    Hope they qualify for WC 2010 because they are one of my favorite South American sides.

  • Comment number 24.


    #22...i'm watching argentina lose vs brazil, and zucu is good, but not shining enough. he got sent off in a game of dodgy refereeing

  • Comment number 25.

    Bit of a disappointment this time Tim. Usually I read with interest your comments on South American football, even if I don't always agree with.

    This is in part due to having strong contacts in SA and NA who work closely with the footballers themselves, and some in the UK who are Argentine ex pats. In the case of the latter, they choose not to comment on here as they don't agree (strongly) with a lot of your views. That though, is their choice.

    On the issue of small club vs big, I cannot accept the point. It shows a poor understanding of both of the history of English game, and vastly over estimates the role of the 'big city' clubs in terms of quality in the modern game.

    For example, due in no small part to the distortion of the CL qualifying places, the current European domestic leagues are dominated by a narrower than ever cliche of 'big clubs'. But is the quality high? In either the leagues or the CL?


    Few fans over the age of 40 would agree, anywhere in Europe, that the domination of the 'big city clubs' has resulted in a rise in standards and quality. The opposite in fact. German fans for example have seem nothing but a 'big city' domination in the last decade, yet few would argue the game is better for it in terms of what they are watching.

    Hype aside, and closer to home, the EPL is frankly a joke. Outside, and due to, the domination of the big four, mediocrity is the word, and even amongst that group, bar Utd (when Ronaldo is playing) none inspire that much confidence in terms of consistent quality.

    You have to question, is a better run, mid ranking side that plays good football, Burnley in the 60's, Derby and Forest in the 70's and 80's, or a small side that shakes up the mighty (Watford or Wimbledon in the 80s and 90's) to be dismissed so scornfully? In particular as the overall quality was higher when they were around?

    No. Because when the big clubs in Europe (SA is a whole different kettle of fish) totally dominate it leads to the opposite of what you claim - mediocrity, and in spades.

    The proof?

    Right now, in every major league in Europe......

  • Comment number 26.

    Where do these people come from? Playing on fifa 09 and spotted falcao! Argentinian!

    Oh dear oh dear.

    Makes you wonder really doesn't it.

  • Comment number 27.

    re no. 25.

    mediocrity outside the big four?

    i hate the nostalgia thats stems from hazy memories, its a fact that football these days is of a higher quality. if there's more money in the game then people demand more for their money. fitness is better, the pitches and stadiums are better, the coaching is better therefore the players are better. more people want to play football, so there is a wider net to pick youngsters from. the list is endless.

    football in the 60s, 70s etc was great because you only remember the good parts. its the way the human mind works. there was some great football, but if the term mediocrity applies to anything in football, it would be these times.

  • Comment number 28.

    Hi Tim

    Always find your articles an interesting and enlightening read. However im afraid i have to disagree with you this week.

    You say that by supporting lower reputation clubs this leads to mediocrity but i believe ur a Spurs fan who arent even the best team in north london. Should you not become a supporter of Arsenal a team with a greater record of success and have a greater potential ability to achieve this 'quest for greatness' you seem so eager to seek.

    The real soul of football does not lie in the wallet of Ronaldo or Kaka regardless of their immense ability, but instead in the supporters who turn up to watch their teams week in week out even though they know they have no chance of emulating the success of the bigger clubs.

  • Comment number 29.

    25 - the reaction I usually get from Argentine ex-pats is terrific - if there are some who strongly disagree with me then please get them here posting - we might all learn somethiong from the debate (unless it's just a case of nationalists moaning when I criticize current standards of the domestic game in Argentina. In which case, sorry, we're closed.)

    I think you're taking the perverse road on today's Premiership. I understand that it is wildly over-hyped and not always as good as it likes to think it is- but there's a danger of tipping over too far the other way and saying that it's all the emperor's new clothes - which it clearly isn't.

    Pitches are so much better than they were, so the ball is rolling and the game is much faster - I agree with Tostao that many of today's players should run a bit less and think a bit more - but with good players from all over the world the technical standard is higher. How can increasing (massively) the catchment area possibly lead to a decline - doesn't make sense.

    Some of the clubs that I remember challenging for the title - Watford in the 80s, Palace a decade later - based on commitment and a simple idea - wouldn't stand a chance today - partly because better pitches make it so much easier to play against them.

    Your phrase - "a poor understanding of the history of the English game" - is typical internet rubbish. (a poor understanding of how to construct a case) - i present an argument - the consequences of the maximum wage - you dismiss it without dealing with it.

    Imagine Tom Finney today. he wouldn't stay very long at Preston, would he? he would go to a big club, who would consequently be improved. That's what today's Man U are.

  • Comment number 30.

    I would just like to point out that it seems to be that this blog is going on the presumption that a higher technical standard of football provides a greater amount of entertainment. This is not neccessarily the case.

    Just to highlight the 2007 FA Cup Final for example. The two of the most successful teams of recent years, Manchester United and Chelsea lined up against one another. It was by far the worst game ive ever seen, there was no heart, no desire to win despite the fact they were playing to win one of the greatest footballing competitions in the world and despite the technical abilities of both sides, it was dire.

    P.s- just to let you know Palermo once tried to lure Finney with the offer of £10,000 and unprecedented wages (he earnt £14 a week at North End). Not everyone can be bought!!!

  • Comment number 31.

    Dear Tim,

    Fantastic column as always.

    El Sistema, the music scheme which has received global acclaim for the social and cultural benefits which it has brought to the children of Venezuela (and at the top level has produced the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra) is now being adopted across the world, including in Scotland. Firstly, do you think that comparisons can be drawn between the ability of sport and the arts to unite people and really combat social problems; and secondly, do you perceive, by comparison with street football which also provides the hope of achieving excellence, that there is something instrinsically special about South America (as opposed to Scotland, for example), which makes it particularly apt for football or music to drive social progress?


  • Comment number 32.

    30 - might be wrong on this, but I think the story with Palermo and Finney was that preston wouldn't even listen to the offer - and with no freedom of contract there was absolutely nothing that Finney could have done about it. Preston owned him and that was that.

    A lot of these issues are dealt with in a wonderful book by Gary Imlach - My Father and other Working Class Heroes.' his dad Stuart was man of the match for Forest in the 59 Cup Final, played for Scoltand in the 58 World Cup - after he dies his son, a journo, realises how little he knows of his dad's career and researches it.

    For over 200 pages the book is an indictment of how British football treated its stars - maximum wage, feudal treatment, etc etc.

    Then in the last few pages somethign strange happens. the author has been working in the US for a while and comes back to find English football much changed - and he hates it. hates all the hype, the commercialisation and the hysteria, and rails about that for a few pages - without ever mentioning that, for all its flaws, modern football seems to have solved the central problem that he spent over 200 pages getting angry about - ie nowadays it treats its players much, much better. And this, the main point of the book, is not even mentioned.

    In a way that book is part of the inspiration behind this week's column. Reading it back I don't think the join between the two parts (Uruguay and English football) works as well as i'd like - no matter, if we're going to fail let it be by excess of ambition rather than deficiency!).

    But I do think there's an ingrained thing in English football where many think that it somehow should be homely and mediocre. By all means support your local club - terrific. But I prefer to think that the soul of the game is the quest for excellence ('to dare is to do!') - I remember a recent Gavin Strachan blog (I'm hooked) where he was talking about being in awe of the players at the top. If there's anything about them, that's where they all want to be.

  • Comment number 33.

    While it´s clear that Uruguayan football has not reached the standard of the 1980s, nevermind the 1960s, I think there are two main causes:

    1) The change in rules which now allow more foreigners in the European leagues (and many Uruguayans have the right to have an Italian or Spanish passport), something Vickery mentions.

    2) The players are not, since the early 1990s owned by the clubs, they are owned by their agents. Vickery states that many of the players playing the U-20 championship will leave for Europe, I wonder how many of them will actually bring money to their clubs.

    There are some other problems, like the fact that the TV rights belong to the same group people who own the players, the small crowds, the violence and so on, but if I had to choose one cause, I´d choose number 2.

    Those interested in Uruguayan football and who speak or at least understand Spanish should read the weekly blog by Mario Bardanca, you can find it here:

    The last one was about low wages.

  • Comment number 34.

    Tim, just a quick question, whatever happened to Omar Pouso?, im not a fan of Charlton Athletic, yet i can remember him having a spell at the Valley and i think he has left now, is he back at Penarol in Uruguay? I remember him also for the super strike vs England in a friendly prior to the WC2006. Uruguayian players sure know how to announce themselves, Dario Rodriguez vs Denmark at WC 2002 and that goal are still very much in my mind.

  • Comment number 35.

    34 - Pouso's at Libertad in Paraguay, the side who are dominating things over there. That goal he scored against England is by some distance the most constructive thing I've ever seen him do.

    33 - thanks for the blog recommendation - the piece referred to shows how the entire wage budget for a Uruguayan club would hardly be enough to pay 2 Premiership salaries.

    Obviously Europe pays a huge amount more, but it's also worth noting that Brazil pays much more too - I ran into an Argentine club official in Rio for a game against a local club here in Rio, and he could hardly believe how much money the Brazilian players were getting.

    This is the source of a new trend in South American football that I don't think has received much attention - Brazil is starting to buy up talent from elsewhere in the continent - and has even started to cradle-snatch. A couple of players in the South American U-20s, Martinez of Ecuador and Reina of Colombia have been in Brazil with Cruzeiro for a while, snapped up after their performances in previous tournaments.

  • Comment number 36.

    Every time I'm asked about wages I always end up mixing up weeks with months (doesn't make that much difference in my case - 4 times not a lot doesn't add up to a great hill of beans), and I've done it again.

    the imbalance is worse than the previous post makes it appear - the entire wage bill of these Uruguayan clubs (Defensor and Danubio are mentioned) would not even compete with one major Premiership salary.

  • Comment number 37.

    Tim, what you say about how Brazil is buying players from the rest of the southamerican countries is nothing new.
    I remember when Argentina had the convertibility of 1 peso = 1 dollar, the tournament was filled with imports. I even remember how my little and beloved Union bring an African player or how the big clubs where full of colombians, paraguayans and uruguayan players (many more than in the actuality).
    Now if a player don't go to Europe goes to Mexico or to Brazil.

  • Comment number 38.

    Hi Tim, quality blog, having very little first hand experience of south american football, i lap it up.

    On the point of where the 'soul' of football can be found, my perspective as an AFC Wimbledon fan is that I would rather have been watching AFC vs Chelmsford this weekend than have been at Anfield or anywhere else, so the soul of football, for me, is at Kingsmeadow.

    I genuinely feel that it's completely subjective, unlike the point about the quest for greatness, which i completely agree with. Football is surely continously improving as investment grows and lets face it as more people inhabit the planet, more people want to play. (Lets just say past the age of about 5 years old, there was nobody in my class who wanted to be a train driver anymore). Even if you transplanted Messi back just 10 years he would arguably have been considered the best of a generation (in the sense of Pele and Maradona) where as now he is joined by two others in Kaka and Ronaldo and long may this continue. It follows that naturally the resources for a major football club to draw on, is found in the major cities.

    The point of where to find a 'real' football experience, personally i find a little confusing. For me it feels as if its being blurred with the greatest enjoyment of football (obviously subjective) and the experience of the 'best' football, which is undoubtedly found in the top division. The top division will always have the best standard, and generally the more money that top division has, the better the quality. But i certainly don't think my experience of watching Wimbledon in the non league is any more or less real than watching Wimbledon in the premier league.

    With all the talk of the effect money has on football and what we think should or shouldn't be done, does anyone remember an article by Russel Brand on the 39th game proposal? (personally i'm a fan, but despite what you think of him, give it a read if you can find it). In anycase I think its his best article from a good selection.

    Cheers Tim, look forward to the next one.

  • Comment number 39.

    Hi Tim,

    An interesting read as usual. You touch upon the fact that south american footballers are moving to europe at a younger age now compared with 20 years ago, Do you think that this will lead to the South American National teams adopting a more european style of play over the coming years?

  • Comment number 40.

    Hi Tim, these days i seek out your blog having been travelling in South America between Oct 07 - March 08. Whilst we were there me and my pal went to 4 matches, Boca v Lanus in Argentina, Fluminense v Atletico Mineiro in Brazil, Nacional v Penarol in Uruguay, and Millonarios v Deportes Pereira in Colombia! Each one was such an experience, the crowds and the atmosphere was unreal but by far the best one was Uruguays 'Rangers v Celtic' style fixture. We were staying in Montevideo near the centre so had a long walk to the ground and when we got there i've never seen anything like it, it was like a carnival procession, almost like an army of nacional fans walking to the ground firing fireworks and chanting. Naturally we joined in and were accepted into the fold. I knew it was going to be a firey affair from the U-18 match between the 2 same teams immediately before the match which we caught the back of... That had at least 3 red cards! To watch the match in the first ever World Cup Final stadium sent shivers down the spine to think of all the history, the atmosphere was out of this world and the game ended in a 1-1 draw probably for the best! I like the fact that you have the hard core of each sport behind each goal then all the relaxed fans can mingle.

    Great blog, it brings back happy memories.

  • Comment number 41.

    Excellent column Tim, as always. I'm genuinely undecided whether I agree with you or not.

    I support Leicester City which is what I like to refer to as a no man's land club. We're a big club in the sense that we have a large modern stadium, by the standards of our league we are affluent and we aspire (realistically) to play in the Premiership one day. However I am long since resigned to the fact that (barring some Middle Eastern intervention, which I don't necesserily crave) as a club we will almost certainly never challenge for the top flight title or become a European force to be reckoned with.

    Of course I wish we were a great side, I seem to have a lot of friends who are Man Utd fans and I cheer them on casually as my 'premiership club' with enjoyment but no passion, I am a Leicester boy, nothing can change that. I see what United achieve, the players they enjoy and sure, I'd love that, who wouldn't? But at the same time I find satisfaction with following my team trying to achieve their own lesser goals each season. I've never supported a football club in the Champions League, but the feeling of watching your club win promotion to the Premiership, or when I saw us win the League Cup I suspect isn't far off the elation my United friends felt watching the game in Moscow last year.

    My club is, if any club is, a mediocre team. We're better than a lot, but not as good as many and that is unlikely to change. We are unable to aspire to ambitions beyond our financial abilities so have customized our ambitions to rever lower levels.

    Which part of me is right, the part that wishes my team was United or the part of me that would not be dissappointed if I spent the rest of my life watching Leicester play in the Premiership and not win the title?

    I don't think anything you've said is wrong per say Tim and I think you make a number of excellent points but at the same time I think the mediocrity found in England is the greatest insurance policy our sport has. If this whole Man City, Chelski boom comes crashing down one day and all the quality follows the sun to La Liga or Serie A then maybe that will be the day we thank the heavens the crash mat that are our lower divisions are a bit more firmly padded than other countries.

  • Comment number 42.


    Great comment!

    Good blog as well

    Do you think a similar thing has happened to the SPL? no longer able to attract the same quality players as Larsson, Kanchelskis etc and the top scorer (and arguable best striker) only bid for by a Championship club?

    Way off topic I know but similar theme perhaps...

  • Comment number 43.

    Great blog as usual Tim.

    I do slightly take issue with your rather stereotypical view of non-league football as being poor quality and on muddy pitches.

    This is a view the media love to portray (especially around FA Cup third round time) and may have been the case a few years ago but not so much anymore. I support Bognor Regis Town. We are bottom of the Conference South and I can tell you that there is quality football in this league, played on the ground, and pitches as good as any you would find further up the leagues.

    The quality of English non-league has improved with the amount of foreign players further up who have pushed the English players further down a level, thus every level is better than it was.

  • Comment number 44.

    >tending to the belief that the 'real' football experience is a small town club playing sub-standard stuff on mud-heap pitches

    tending?? what do you mean tending? the real football experience is in the ccc.. proper honest endevour without the diving, glamour(?) and unnecessary razmatazz of the premiership..
    myself i think it is a cultural thing.. unlike most countries british folk get off on supporting the underdog, bands you've never heard of. it is a badge of honour.

  • Comment number 45.


    What do you think about Liedson from Sporting not being snapped up by a big European club. I know he has been there for 6 or 7 years now.

    Personally I think he is one of the most natural finisherers in Europe !!
    He is fast , loses his marker easily in the penalty area , and for a smallish player he leaps like a salmon and has excellent direction when he heads the ball.

    You could probably get him for 25% of the price of Robbie Keane for example !!
    And I would bet he would be a 20 goals a season striker in any big league.

  • Comment number 46.

    No. 17 - You have in fact named one yourself - Pele was born and lived in rural Brazil (Barau if I remember correctly from his auto-biography!) until he was signed by Santos when he was about 16

  • Comment number 47.

    @20 tchau? what language is that????

  • Comment number 48.

    #37: Tim clearly stated that it is a new trend in brazilian football. Unlike their counterparts in Argentina, brazilian football clubs didn't used to import so many players from other South American countries like nowadays. The likes of Perfumo, Figueroa, Romerito, Quiñónez, Rincón, Aristizábal, Sorín were unique cases in Brazil while today you can see many more players being bought by FCs in Brazil.

    Internacional of Porto Alegre is one clear example of what Tim is saying about this issue. To have players such as D'Alessandro and Guiñazú it is still very rare to see in most brazilian clubs.

  • Comment number 49.

    Right, the problem with Tim's theory (an ex-When Saturday Comes writer writes) is that it doesn't leave the smaller clubs - and for that matter, most of the supporters - with any role except as cannon fodder. On whipping-boys, or extras, or "just there to make up the numbers" or whatever term you want to use. So you get a situation like you have in Spain, where practically every training session of Real and Barca is on the evening news and the other clubs might as well not exist. Now is that healthy? Well, it's healthy if you've got a pass to the press box, or you live within range of Madrid or Barcelona and can afford a season ticket. Otherwise, it's not.

    Moreover, the point about these teams is that they win, they're expected to win. But the point about real life is that normally, you don't. You try and you try and sometimes, once in a lifetime perhaps, you get lucky. That's reality. And that's "soul".

  • Comment number 50.

    I think 'health' of domestic football is different from different perspectives.

    For continental/international health, it helps if the league is continually dominated by a small group of teams, so they gain regular exposure to the continental level (i.e. the Big 4 in England).

    For domestic health, a greater variety of winners is important.

    Imagine if West Ham, for example, hit the ground running in the PL in August, and just simply had the skill and fortune to go all the way and win the title. It would be a shock, highly memorable, and prove that the English game was open to all. I think it would be seen as a sign of great health by the (currently very cynical) English football media. But then a season later when West Ham did nothing in the Champions League (i.e. Blackburn in 1995-96), those same people would use it as a stick to beat the English game with, saying we'd fallen behind the continent.

    Basically you can't keep all the people happy all the time!

  • Comment number 51.

    41 - wonderful post, just the kind of hornets nest I was trying to stir up!

    Delighted to get a post from an ex-WSC as well (49) as well, because, though I never get to see it these days, I imagine the magazine as the steeped in the tradition of 'it's cold, we're rubbish and the pie is tasteless' - and I don't mean that as an insult.

    The point on Spain is clearly valid - I have a friend there from the Asturias region - he's crazy with local patriotism - it's Asturias this, Asturias that. So you support Oviedo?, I asked. No, what would be the point - they're not very good so I follow Barcelona.

    Our own football culture, because it is so dispersed, is the one where this type of behaviour is most scorned. Great - but there is a downside - if the 'real' experience is lower league, this inevitably leads to a championing of mediocrity - think of all the flair players that English football has mistreated over the years.

    One of the top Brazilian coaches, when he was working in the Arab world, used to fly in to England when he could just to watch Ray Wilkins pass the ball - think how the local culture treated Wilkins because he held the view that retaining possession was more important than putting the ball into the mixer to see what happens.

  • Comment number 52.

    Thanks Tim, always interested in your blog as I'm a philistine when it come to South American football!!

    RE Comment 13 - The perception that in order to be a "proper" football fan you have to support your local team and go week in week out, is a very British one. The image Mr Vickery conjures up of poor kids on the street in sprawling South American/Souther European cities is for me, far more appropriate to the soul of the world game, than old men waving scarves on the terraces of 50's England, while an enormous centre back scythes down a tricky winger!! Lots of poorer European and I guess (feel free to correct me Tim) South American cities have very little grass to play on, so the street games are more informal and, dare I say it, fun, than the organised, pursuit of results that British kids are subjected to on our playing fields. It's this difference in attitude that creates the difference in flair and skill between South American/European and British players.

  • Comment number 53.

    #43 - I disagree with this - "The quality of English non-league has improved with the amount of foreign players further up who have pushed the English players further down a level, thus every level is better than it was.". While of course there's no denying that there are more non English players playing in the Premier League than ever, that also applies at all levels of the English game. And that, in my opinion, is largely responsible for the improvement in quality in all levels of English football.

    I must say, regarding the comments from the ex-WSC writer - I do find WSC to be an entertaining read, but all that parochial, dogs**t for goalposts, bovril and bad pie stuff a bit tiring sometimes.

  • Comment number 54.

    Hi Tim,

    Following Messi's latest two-goal saving of Barcelona Racing Santandar do you think its time to up his status even more? Now he has deftly shown the door to Ronaldo's belief that he is the worlds best player (even as a United fan this is easy to say) is it time to regard him not only as the best player in the world but, at only 22, the best player of his generation?

    Could he even, blasphemy aside, become even better than the 'Great One'?

  • Comment number 55.

    Great stuff. As a die-hard Nacional fan (more international club competition wins than any other team in the world, by the way, though Boca are closing...), it is pretty tragic to see great player coming through and getting snapped abroad immediately. What am I talking about, the sadness is that Nacional isn't able to snap them off the poorer clubs and enjoy them for a while before they go off to Europe. Chino Recoba was a classic example - an absolute hero at Nacional who these days would be snapped straight from Danubio.

    Apart from selfish reasons of wanting to see the best players at Nacional, i'm not sure it is doing the young players much good. They tend to go to fairly average clubs and make slow progress (e.g. Cavani at Palermo, Fornaroli at Genoa - Fornaroli is phenomenal, by the way), or they go to a good club and get some serious bench time (Cardaccio at Milan, Caceres at Barcelona). I think it would do them a world of good to go to Europe with a bit more confidence under their belt. Much as the smaller clubs wouldn't want to admit it, Nacional and Penarol are their best bet for Uruguayan football staying on the world map.

    And seeing some old players come back for a run-out is not quite the same, notable exception being Ruben Sosa, who is a living god...

  • Comment number 56.

    I have been looking around the South American Leagues recently and i have to admit there are more big name signings (made from Europe btw) than ever before, D'Alessandro plays for Internacional, as does Sorondo, i know Daniel Carvalho is also back in Brazil. Tim, i get the impression this is down to 2 factors, the first is the fact that some of them either came to Europe and failed, or transferred there too early, i get the impression that the second reason is because of the strength of the Reais (Brazilian currency) would you argue this to be true?

  • Comment number 57.

    #53 - Fair enough and I take your point.

    As a follower of non-league however I just get abit annoyed when people talk about it as being hoof-and-rush, muddy pitches and 'giant centre-halfs' when it really isn't (on the whole) like that anymore.

    As for your friend in Spain Tim, are you saying that i Spanish and South American football culture, these what we might call 'glory-hunters' are far more accepted than they are in English football culture?

  • Comment number 58.

    I think I see what you mean Tim...

    This is surely a lesson that any opinions on football, whether they be which team is best, which team is the 'bigger' club, who the best player was or which team you 'should' support comes down to personal opinion and anyone who says it's black or white is talking nonsense.

    Anyone who says lower league football is the 'real' football is usually trying to rationalise their own unfulfilled desire to support a giant side. Equally anyone who says there's no point supporting your local side if they have no high aspirations goes into football just seeking glory by connection rather than achievement. Remember we all talk a good game but we don't put the ball in the back of the net.

    I look at people who say if you don't support your local team (whatever league they're in) you're not a real fan, or that being a Man United fan isn't as 'real' as supporting other clubs because the club is so commercial and multi-national in the same way I look at Liverpool and Man United fans when they're discussing which is best.

    I have two close friends, one a Man United Fan, one a Liverpool fan and both are mild mannered and usually intelligent people but neither will tolerate any view other than their team is greatest and the other team isn't just weaker but is in fact one of the poorest teams in history.

    No team should be happy to permanently reside in the middle of the league, but equally no team should be ashamed of trying to climb the ladder and finding they just don't quite have the strength to get to the top flight.

    Viva la difference!

  • Comment number 59.

    Post 41 is an interesting one. I can add to this because I have gone in the exact opposite direction. At the age of 4 or 5 (1989/90) I developed an interest in football, living in Germany but having moved from Manchester. United's star striker was Mark Hughes - a man who had the same name as me. At that age, such trivial things attracted me more than they would now (I hope!) and I developed an increasing passion for United. In doing so I'd rejected my Dad's team Stoke - thanks to Mark Hughes. I moved back from Germany in 97 and started going to Stoke, where I realised a different kind of experience - they even got relegated that year in fact. From there I watched them almost every home match in what's now League 1 and followed them all the way though the comparatively dark years of relentless disappointment and bad management. I never thought I would see Stoke play United so I didn't have to consider who I cared more for - I could pretend it was still United. But this year, amazingly they made it to the Premier League and I found myself wanting care for United more, because it's blasphemy to change clubs. But the fact is, everything is so much more meaningful for Stoke. It's a real football club with real fans, from Stoke. Not everybody knows about Stoke as a team or it's players, but what can you say to people about United? Yeah, we won again, we're brilliant, Ronaldo disappointingly only scored the 1 today etc etc. Did United fans react in Moscow like the Stoke fans did on the last day of last season? No - 2nd place in the Championship feels better than the European Cup! In this sense, I agree with Tim - football is about the pursuit of excellence. But I feel that is where we disagree - it's about the PURSUIT, not always the arrival. Football is a culture more than it is an art in my opinion - not that is isn't an art, just less so. For a club at the top, there is only one aim - to continue winning, to do what you did last season again. For a smaller club at the bottom of the Prem, in the Championship, League 1 or 2, the probabilities may be limited but the possibilities are comparatively infinite. What is there to dream about if you are already in heaven?

  • Comment number 60.

    Sorry I could have written that so much better but I am at work! Sorry if it's not as clear than it should have been but hope you get the point. By the way, brilliant yet again Tim - the only blog on here that consistently sparks intelligent and interesting debate. Well done, it will be a great disappointment if you were ever to finish writing this weekly blog for the BBC.

  • Comment number 61.

    #55- Nacional "more international club competition wins than any other team in the world, by the way, though Boca are closing..."

    Where did you get this?

  • Comment number 62.

    Insightful as ever Tim.
    I was just wondering about the brazilian youngster (well i suppose former youngster even though he still quite young) Kerlon. I a few seasons ago he was touted as brazil's next big thing with his unique 'seal dribble' Interest was shown by alot of the top teams in europe. At one point Man Utd were extremely interested. What's happened to him? Is he still regarded as a prospect for brazil? Is it another case of too much hype to early?
    Also any news on Douglas Costa?

  • Comment number 63.

    #41 was the kind of message i meant to write, had i not been up all night. Really well put.

    Just wanted to add, as it comes across a little like i was comparing the Russell Brand column and the Vickery blog. Apologies Tim, Russell's is slightly funnier, but i think its safe to say you've got the edge when it comes to the analysis of football and issues surounding it.

  • Comment number 64.

    59 and 60 - no need to apologise for anything - that was well spent work time!

    As I wrote in one fo the earlier coments, this week's piece didn't come out as coherently as I'd hoped - but sparking this kind of debate makes it well worthwhile.

  • Comment number 65.

    A good blog post as always Tim. Your work always evokes some thoughtful opinion and it’s good to see. A credit to the BBC – Could I plead with you to do some entries for the BBC on Irish league (N.I) football?

    In response to the blog. I'm afraid I disagree. I don’t see smaller clubs winning a league as a bad sign and a decline in standards of that league.

    Without knowing the background my thinking would be the sign of a league dominated by 2 clubs for so long is either going to be a sign of a problem that already existed or a sign of change that has to be for the better.

    In the English Premier League the standard remains at its present height predominantly through funds generated via TV rights and advertising. I’ll stick my neck out and suggest that the majority of funds for clubs in Uruguay (as in leagues in similar countries) are largely from local advertising, match day income and private backers.

    If the bulk of the league doesn’t have a strong footing (especially financially) then eventually those top teams unless they find a new environment in which to play will eventually see a decline.

    Uruguay like every other league has to pitch its product at some level against every other and many nations’ leagues have worldwide reach. So if the majority of its clubs were unable to compete in the past with those 2 clubs - to recover all clubs now have to live within their means and re-structure to be suited to the market as well as pushing for any future success.

    In the long run having one or two clubs dominating proceedings is probably amongst other things largely due to problems with the footballing governance of that country.

    Without their decline you might end up in Uruguay like the Irish league with a club like Linfield who although largely funded by its own FA can’t afford to repair its own ground even though on paper they are the most successful domestic club in Europe and also end up with clubs who aren't at the top of the pile unable to even stay in the league next year like Bangor due to a lack of finance.

    I'm sure the majority of Penarol fans would rather have a league to play in with a chance to play in other competitions than to have a franchise of a club who might as well be in Europe just for the small chance of success.

  • Comment number 66.

    #55- I think you will find that Boca have won more international tournaments (18) and share the top with AC Milan if Im not mistaken!

  • Comment number 67.

    Hi Tim.
    Superb blog again: arguably the best on the BBC! Just wondering if: 1- you could tell us a little bit more about Pedro Botelho, and 2- there is any possibility that there could be a separate South American page on the BBC Football site in the same way that African football has its own section? Cheers.

  • Comment number 68.

    "I have a friend there from the Asturias region - he's crazy with local patriotism - it's Asturias this, Asturias that. So you support Oviedo?, I asked. No, what would be the point - they're not very good so I follow Barcelona."

    And this is the difference, no? And of course it's extraordinary, because locality is far, far more important in Spain than it is in England. But the concept of "support your local team" is far, far weaker and while it may apply to some degree in Sevilla or Valencia (and some other places) it barely applies at all outside La Primera and the handful of teams who assume they'll be back in it soon. And this makes Spanish football very hard to get into for an English expatriate, because while I can support any side at any level provided that the supporters treat it as the most important game in the world, the fact is that they don't.

    But "support your local side" isn't a championing of mediocrity, I think you're wrong here. It doesn't mean that great teams or great players are any less great (and for that matter, it hasn't stopped English teams dominating in Europe, either recently or in the Liverpool era). It's just about that term"soul". It's about having a wider view of football than the top players in the top stadia, about udnerstanding that although the football may not be on the same level, the experience itself may be fuller, deeper. Buit it can't be, if, secretly or otherwise, the fans watching a lower-division match wish they were somewhere else.

  • Comment number 69.

    re #66 and 61 - yes! I got a bite. Sorry am really busy at work and this is in Spanish, but this was published in 2006 (so Boca have caught up a couple since then), but Nacional is said to have 21. Now this includes a large does from approximately 1917, btu if you aretalking hard facts... Would be interested to hear if anyone thinks this is balls...

    The important bit is this:

    Ganador de la Copa de las Competencias (Tie Cup) de los años 1913 y 1915; ganador de las Copas Cusenier de los años 1905, 1915, 1916 y 1917; ganador de las Copas Aldao de los años 1916, 1919, 1920, 1940, 1942 y 1946; ganador de las Copas Intercontinentales de los años 1971, 1980 y 1988; ganador de las Copas Libertadores de los años 1971, 1980 y 1988; ganador de la Recopa de 1988 y ganador de las Interamericanas de los años 1971 y 1988, se encuentra el club con más títulos internacionales ganados del mundo.

  • Comment number 70.

    Interesting blog Tim, and good to see you touching on some of the smaller South American countries rather than just Brazil and Argentina.

    I disagree with comment 15; I know that you're based in Brazil so it's understandable that you cover them (and Argentina to a lesser extent) more than other countries, but you are supposed to be the South American expert. Please can we have a bit more continent wide coverage like this in future.

    Keep up the good work!!

  • Comment number 71.

    (Or perhaps, put is this way: your view puts the player, and especially the great player, at the centre of football. But I think mine puts the fan there.)

  • Comment number 72.

    "English football has remarkable depth, with so many well-supported clubs. But it can also be a culture prone to mediocrity, tending to the belief that the 'real' football experience is a small town club playing sub-standard stuff on mud-heap pitches."

    This is the passage I have a problem with, and I think some of it is to do with the definitions of "mediocrity", "real football" and "sub-standard", and some of it is to do with Tim Vickery's own generalisations about the English game.

    As in any sport, not all footballers can be excellent like Tom Finney, Bobby Moore or Cristiano Ronaldo. There's a huge swathe of average-ability clubs and players in the English professional leagues, but are they mediocre? Well, yes, compared to Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo they may well be deemed that. But do they play sub-standard football? I think that's too subjective a call to make with any real basis.

    As for "real football", no-one would pretend that the football that Hartlepool or Preston North End play is as good as Manchester United's, simply because these two clubs have more average-ability players, but their football is just as valid and therefore it is indeed real, and there is therefore nothing wrong with tending to the belief that the football they play is real - it's fact.

    And I really do think that the notion of playing on mud-heap pitches went out of the window several years ago now. Only those professional clubs who allow their grounds to be used by rugby teams have poor pitches now. You go to Hartlepool, their pitch is very good. That's Third Division in old parlance.

  • Comment number 73.


    A bit like Romario counting his goals... :)

  • Comment number 74.

    hi tim

    great blog

    any chance of getting some live liberatores cup mathes on even red button

    also brazilian league

  • Comment number 75.

    This is where channel 5 really did come into their own: supplying us with late night South American football, including the copa libertadores! How I miss those days.

    The standard of goalkeeping has always be the most controversial aspects of the SA game, and I do recall a match in the libertadores when Abbondanzieri made a fine save but he was about 15 yards outside of his area, and he only got booked for it! Events like that seemed not to be commonplace, but at least evident more so than in the European game. The goalkeeping side of the game along with the refereeing side of things seeming to be rather in its infancy compared to the its European peers.
    Along with the rather flambouyant but useless attempts at goalkeeping, thats my main memory of the south american leagues, although the chance at seeing some great players exercising their flair and talent was too exciting to miss, and to be fair to a few of them, some of the goalkeepers could on their day pull off quite the save.

    AC Milan. We used to rely on Dida for so long and now look at who we have got back inbetween the sticks? Mr Abbiati himself, and isn't he playing well? Helping us climb back up toward the top of the table. If Dida isn't safe from competition by his ageing Italian counterpart, then what SA goalie is?

    Great read, Tim. I don't think we get enough coverage on the SA leagues and its great to have a well informed football correspondent filling us in.

  • Comment number 76.

    Mr Tim Vickery

    Montevideo, February 3, 2009

    For first, excuse me for my poor english, I studied too much but it was a long time ago.
    I am an Uruguayan fan of football, I grown up playing, reading and seeing in stadiums and TV this sport as much as my curiosity for learn his rich history.
    I send you this letter because I readed your article of 2 february with the title: “Uruguay a National question” and I considered is important you know about some of these topics:

    • The uruguayan football first important problem is the mentality of his senior directives, trainers, journalists, etc, they are all just quietly seeing how a manager of the most important players (Paco Casal) buy absolutely: players, trainers, directives, entire teams, TV rights of transmission of matches and with this, for a few coins, buy the independence of the Uruguayan football teams.
    • Otherwise, most of trainers (old friends of the manager before mentioned) keep his tactics and strategics in old concepts like the power of motivation as the only way to win matches, forgeting the necessary evolution in basic concepts of the game like training the spirit of real team, elementary ball control, etc.
    • For final, talking about the players: they sale all of his rights of representation to the managers and with these forgot years of investment of the teams. They do it negociating with the only own adventage of running to other countries for more money allthough –in facts- they have less participation (most of uruguayan players are in the bench all over the word)

    I´m a fan of Club Nacional de Football, the first national team in this country, and I’m waiting with optimism that his different conduction of seniors directives works in acrecenting the team patrimony supporting his young players and rebuilding his old stadium (site of the fist World Cup match, in 1930).
    I hope this lines and comments helps you to know much more for my country football situation.


    Daniel Capdevielle

  • Comment number 77.

    I can appreciate what you mean about the preference to football of the highest level.

    But for me, its not a case of being put off by the glamour and attention that the big teams get. Its just about the fact that I'd rather support the team who are from where Im from. I have a couple of friends who passionately support English Big 4 sides, both from cities where they have no link to, and I just cannot believe that they feel the same emotion or pride that I feel when my local side, Dundee United, win.

    Its not that I prefer the mediocrity, which it clearly has been all the time Ive supported them. Its just that this idea of picking a successful team to follow, or watching games at the highest level from a neutral stance, could not give me what I get from watching my own team.

    I think for those who are simply watching the highest level of football through a concious choice like that are missing out on something far more rewarding.

  • Comment number 78.

    Dear Tim

    I always find your articles interesting and refreshing. I have emailed you previously about my admiration for Enzo Francescoli, in my eyes, the 3rd best south american player of all time.

    I am conscious of the decline of Uruguayan football and it pains me. I fear that this will impact upon the senior team ( I am currently uncertain whether the present XI would even beat a much maligned Mexican team in a World Cup playoff) and wonder whether, in your view, Uruguayan ex-legends are doing enough to improve the standard back home. Francescoli and Nelson Gutteriez own Gol TV and are based in Miami. I assume that Francescoli would only go into management if it was at River Plate (unlikely now), but what of the Santiago Ostoloza's, the Reuben Paz's, the Reuben Sosa's and Hugo De Leon's of this world. Surely, it is essential that their wealth of experience is reinvested in the domestic league rather than wasted. I generally fear that Uruguay will soon become a footballing backwater, equivalent to Peru or Venezuela. I hope not.

    I invite you to comment as to whether, in your view, more could be done to help the game back home in Uruguay.

  • Comment number 79.

    as with so many countries in this globalised sport, we have to define our terms when we speak of 'Uruguayan football'

    It is hard to see the domestic game getting back to what it was - the country is too small to hold on to its players.

    But I'm more optimistic about the national team - in recent years at youth level they've given priority to technically gifted players rather than mere fighters - the current Under-20 squad is excellent - there are few there who could be very interesting players at senior level - though not for Uruguayan clubs!

  • Comment number 80.

    Great column as always Tim, even though as uruguayan, it hurts. But just imaging, what if the ones that run the clubs get rid of agents. In my country agents sell a player for 100 and give the club 20 at the most. We are a third world country, underdeveloped, but there is a lot of money to be made in footballers tranfers and that money instead of being invested in keeping players in the country goes to agents. In the case of my country that money, at least 80% of it, goes to to a well know agent.
    Best regards

  • Comment number 81.

    Daniel Capdeville means "agent", "Dealer" when he refers to manager. I agree 99% with him, but not in the most important issue, Penarol is the oldest and most laurete club in Uruguay.

  • Comment number 82.

    an inevitable consequence of the globalisation of futbol is that the best players get concentrated in the big leagues, leaving teams from small countries unable to compete.

    historic teams from big cities like penarol, nacional, rangers, celtic, benfica, ajax and many more all suffer because their leagues are small and weak. the best players leave for bigger, more glamourous leagues, and this is reinforced by TV money and foreign billionaires wanting to invest in teams from the sexy big leagues, leaving the smaller leagues falling farther and farther behind.

    the only solution is for these teams to join the big leagues or for small leagues to combine.

    the most conservative option would be for big clubs to join neighbouring big leagues eg penarol and nacional joining the argentine league.

    this still leaves fans in other countries denied the chance to ever see their clubs compete at a high level.

    if other countries want to stop brazilian clubs hoovering up their good players, maybe they should consider something like this:

    argentina, uruguay, chile, paraguay and maybe bolivia creating a joint league.

    colombia, venezuela, ecuador, peru creating a joint league.

    along with the brazilian league, that would be 3 big leagues.

    alternatively, having a single south american super-league, properly marketed, could help stem the loss of talent to europe and give south american clubs the chance to comptete with europe's finest.

    the obvious problem is the great distances between clubs. i assume hardly any fans could travel to away games except against their local rivals, leaving stadia full of only home fans - hardly good for the atmosphere. yet how much does this differ from the present situation in say, the brazilain or argentinian leagues Tim? do fans travel in large numbers to distant cities to follow their teams?

    another problem is the teams left behind. the smaller teams in uruguay etc probably need the money generated when the big boys come to town.

    but if small countries like uruguay want to have teams capable of competing at the top level - and on a bigger scale, if south america wants to close the gap with europes top clubs - then drastic measures are required.

    thoughts anyone?

  • Comment number 83.

    awcowley says the club with most international titles is Nacional from Uruguay.

    It all depends on which titles are considered. I honestly don't know what Copa de las Competencias (Tie Cup), Copa Cusenier, Copa Aldao were. Recopa which Nacional won in 1989 is the equivalent of the European Supercup, only much more inconsistent. Instead of playing the Libertadores champion against Sudamericana champion, it's the Sudamericana champion against the Libertadores champion from the year before...

    Anyway, what's clear is that the guy who made that blog considered all those cups, and I seriously doubt whether he researched the minor international cups I imagined were played in Europe about 90-100 years ago.

    It's sth funny here in Uruguay, both Penarol and Nacional claim to be the team with more international titles, the team with more national titles, the team who has won more derbies, the oldest club... fans just tweak the statistics a bit and they get the result they want!

  • Comment number 84.

    RE post 29.

    I have to admit I was astonished to read such comments from a BBC writer.

    'Typical Internet rubbish', 'you dismiss it without dealing with it', pointing to quality of pitches as a reason for 'better quality of football now, and why 'Watford and Palace' (is that it?) would be 'demolished today, , the fact that Finney never joined Man Utd as proof of your argument without substantiating it, is all great knock about stuff, but hardly quality journalism.

    To deal with the first argument, I have a an in depth knowledge of the ins and outs of footballs history in England, and understand (without arrogance) it probably better than you. It's my job. Internet rubbish? If you say so. I just couldn't be bothered with a drawn out answer.

    But, having been stung;

    Would Finney's arrival an ageing Utd have changed the ability of the side that much for them to win things? Hardly, and that's why Busby re-built using youth. Would Matthews (who wanted to join Arsenal in the mid 50's) have stopped the rot there? No. You are working on an assumption that all players would have dumped their 'little clubs' and shot off to join the big City clubs at once thus making them into the modern super clubs. But that fails to take into account that, that didn't actually happen anyway, that what makes a club 'big' is success, and lastly that words like 'history' and loyalty' played a much bigger part in the game then than now.

    I would suggest (humbly) reading some of the players of that times bio's, not those where history is re-written by modern writers, but by those at the time. The views of the players then, was that the likes of Preston and Bolton et al WERE big clubs, and as such why move? For example, in 1958 Bolton won the cup (which was a fag paper behind the league in prestige in those days) for the fourth time, which is four times more than Liverpool (no wins until 65'), and twice more than their opponents, Utd!

    After 61', there was no lemming like rush to join the big five (at that time Liverpool Utd, Spurs, Everton and Leeds) and the decline of the 'great Lancashire sides', Villa and co (as the clubs own histories suggest) was down to poor management, ageing sides, and lack of leadership from the top in an increasingly 'real politik' football World. Retain and transfer or no. It's noticeable that Burnley, who in Bob Lord had a leader who did grasp the growing hard nosed needs of the game, rode out the worst of the storm, and only succumbed (after Lord had gone) in the 80's.

    It is also one of the great 'myths' that players were 'hard done by' or 'wage slaves' as is oft quoted by lazy pundits. Len Shackleton amongst others gave the lie of that.

    Please don't insult my intelligence again with lazy comments about 'internet idiots', while I apologise if my comment on your grasp of the games history caused offence.

    On the other hand, I am not (going on the ever growing number of empty seats) the only one that feels that indeed the EPL is merely 'Emperors clothes'. To be honest after watching MOTD at the weekend I would say Emperors rags more like. It genuinely frightens me how poor, such a large number of teams, and players, are from this 'galaxy of stars' drawn from the great multi continental pool'. If that's REALLY the best the World has to offer, well.......

    As for Watford and Palace, since both were sussed out pretty quickly back in those days, that doesn't mean much. However, as Bolton under Big Sam prove, the argument is hardly valid as until he (rather foolishly) left them, they were more than holding their own playing in exactly the same way as Watford/Wimbledon of old did.

    @ the other poster, 27 I think, nostalgia be damned. I saw plenty of rubbish in every era I've watched the game. The difference was it was called rubbish back then. Now it's 'a game in which defences dominated' etc, etc.

    No guy's, it was, and is, rubbish.

    On pitches, if you are really claiming that a well groomed turf is the great quality enabler (no pun) I suggest we think back to World Cup 94, where pitches were good, but football was, by and large, pretty bad. You can have the nicest pitch in the league but if you can't play as a team, then, well.............

    Tim, no offence was meant, so I'm sorry you saw it that way. I do rate your column, but I think I'll steer clear from now on.

  • Comment number 85.

    84 - that's better, an argument. Why didn't you do that the first time instead of wading in with 'poor understanding of history.'? Those who come in with unsubstantiated abuse leave themselves open to getting it back - you didn't like it, why should I? What on earth has this got to do with 'BBC writer'? Do I have to be a sponge because you 'can't be bothered with a long drawn out answer'? You 'can't be bothered' and I'm the one who is lazy!

    Debate is great and disagrrement is fine - and we're going to have to disagree on many things here.

    Preston and Bolton can't be clubs of the size of United simply because of the catchment area - there are rare exceptions - Santos is a relatively small town that had a fantasic team - but it's not goign to happen often - and in their case they had to become the Harlem Globetrotters and play friendlies all over the place to sustain it.

    I use Finney as a general example and you try to make it as specific as possible. My point is this - an artificial mechanism was in place (two really - maximum wage and no freedom of contract) which worked against the natural tendency of top players to converge on top clubs - that's why the likes of Bolton were able to win trophies. Remove the restrictions and Bolton can 'hold their own' (not challenge for the title like Watford and Palace), but that's it. And can you really imagine an autocrat like Bob Lord with today's players? He belongs to an age of deference which has gone.

    Did Bobby Moore really want to spend his first division career with West Ham? Despite his undoubted affection for the club, no. if he had enjoyed freedom of contract he would have been at Arsenal or Tottenham.

    Ok, there was no mass stampede to big clubs after 61 - these things take time - culture is important, and the dispersed culture of the English game is extraordinarily strong. It's also true that the big clubs tried to take advantage of their prestige by offering relatively low wages - I remember Niall Quinn telling me that he nearly left Arsenal and joined Watford, who were prepared to double his salary. That can't really happen so blatantly these days because the big clubs have to compete internationally.

    Your analysis of playing standards doesn't seem to take into account the physical development of the game - i'm well aware of the deficiencies of statistics, but the following is striking - average ground covered per player mid 70s - 5,000 metres. Twenty years later - 10,000 (source, a lecture by Murici Sant'anna, physical preparation specialist of Brazil when they won the 94 World Cup).

    Players are bigger, stronger, the game is quicker - which means that technical deficiencies get shown up all the more - it's like when I used to live in England and watch cricket - I remember England batsman running up huge scores against, say, India, who weren't strong at the time, but as soon as Australia's Lillee and Thomson or the West Indies quick bowlers appeared it was a different story - pace exposed flaws.

    I'm all for pricking the modern-day hysteria bubble, but you haven't done anything to really persuade me that the good old days were better.

  • Comment number 86.

    84 again - just spent the first half of Cuenca - Anzoategui (petulant and not very inspiring) dwelling on our disagreement - and I think it comes down to loyalty.

    You seem angered by modern day lack of loyalty - there is something in your case , we live in an age where collective solutions have been replaced by individual.

    But I'm also very very suspicious of old time loyalty - which in many cases I think contains a fair bit of hypocrisy, fear dressed up as virtue. What was presented as loyalty was in fact deference - if the old time players had had the chance to move as freely and earn as much as today's players I think many would have taken it - but there was a lot of fear of taking on the autocrats of old - with some reason. Look what happened to those who tried to break free - Neil Franklin when he chased the money in Colombia, George Eastham when he wanted a move - the system jumped on them.' as an example to the rest - know your place and don't do getting ideas above your station.

  • Comment number 87.


    I think your blogs are excellent and I really enjoy some of the debates that happen in the comments section. However, what does disappoint me is that you are so prickly when it comes to criticism - by that I don't mean you can't take the criticism but if you do receive any you MUST reply to it. I'd say 90% of your replies in the comments section are for those that criticise your blog. There are many intelligent and thoughtful questions that are ignored while you give oxygen to ridiculous criticisms like the guy who said you hate Man City in your last blog.

    On your blog, I enjoyed it but at the end I found myself asking what your point was?
    As a former English University student I found myself scanning for key points and time and again I found this line jumping out at me: "It is clear to me that football is the game of the big city, and its essence is not be found in mediocrity, but in the quest for greatness."

    Where I do agree with you is that the essence of football is NOT in mediocrity - I hate things like Setanta calling the Blue Square Premier 'real football' or the Football league advert that had Championship fans singing "We're the real fans, we're the best thing in football".

    However, I don't think it is necessarily in the quest for greatness. As a Scot I have experience of the big city and football. I live in Greenock - 25 miles from Glasgow - and support Greenock Morton. I don't identify with either Celtic or Rangers so don't support them. If the essence of football was in the quest for greatness and the game was all about the big city I would just follow one of those two or even Manchester United or Barcelona as those clubs are truly great on a World scale. I don't because, for me, the essence of football is in identity. I identify with my local team but not because I love mediocre, long ball football on a muddy potato field of a pitch but because they are just that - my local team. I do aspire to greatness for Morton but at the same time know it will never happen on the scale I would like but that doesn't make me want to go and support someone else in the search to be aligned with greatness.

    I'm not sure I have put my point across as eloquently as I would have liked but if it misinterprits the point you were making please feel free to set me right.

  • Comment number 88.

    87 - i think you're probably right, and i might have to change tack on this. i love a good debate so the temptation is always to respond to those who come looking for a fight - especially as so many of the other questions are not relevant to the piece and therefore could lead the debate on a tangent.
    As I think i said last week, criticism is welcome, and we who give it out for a living need to be on the receiving end.
    But you're right, it can get tiresome, so I might leave some to stew!
    Your second point - well you're right there as well - as I commented earlier on, the two parts of the piece didn't hang together as well as I'd hoped - but it got some cracking responses. Spot on - the question of identity is crucial - perhaps like the ex-WSC writer said, my perspective is player-based, his is fan-based.

  • Comment number 89.

    I am really feeling honored at this time to participate in the on going discussion. I am of the opinion that no one is bigger than game (soccer). we are all students of life as well soccer. I think that we must have to quest in remote areas too to get the best talent as well as we do in big cities. I saw peoples playing soccer in deserts and on coastal areas who i get the point that these lads are playing some quality soccer than the players of big cities without proper guidance.So, we should not let the talent spoil saying only metropolis' are the right choice. may be i am wrong in opinion.

  • Comment number 90.

    First, congratulations for the blog. It's very interesting. Second, I apologize for my poor knowledge of english. Anyway, I will try to make myself clear. Regarding the issue if Nacional, the team I support, is or it is not the most winning team in international history, I will like to make some precisions about the relevance of the cups played in the early years of the 20th century. The Tie Cup, The Cusenier Cup and the Honor Cup, were cups of great importance in those days. They were played by the best teams of Uruguay and Argentina, countries that in that time were the best exponents of south american football. Brazil was growing up in that time and wasn't the measured for nothing, so I think that the winners of that cups were really the best teams of the continent, and considering the reality of footbal at that time, also were teams that could be condisered part of the elite of those years. I don't know what cups were played in Europe in the same time (1900-1940s), but I'm sure that it must be counted as historical winning or participations if they have the excellence for that. By the way, I cannot place apart my condicion of Nacional fan, the most trascendental winning in the history of my team doesn't count for the club statistics... It was the firts international victory of the Uruguayan national team, entirely represented in that ocasion for Nacional. It was in Buenos Aires, against the powerfull and undefeated argentinian national team, in a distant 13 of september of 1903. Best Regards.

  • Comment number 91.

    What a great debate this blog has turned into.

    My point of view is that perhaps Tim, being a journalist looks at the 'soul' of football from a player point view. The soul being great football played by world-class or potentially world class players. Correct me if I'm wrong Tim but I'm guessing that your not a massive fan of any South American team generally? Being a journalist you must have to remain relatively impartial and therefore perhaps do not see things from the viewpoint of a fan, when looking for the soul of football, particularly people like the Greenock fan before or the fans of many of the smaller sides.

    Something that (I think) has not been mentioned yet are the State Championships in Brazil which pitch the small sides against the big ones. In these Championships do the small sides have any fans? Presumably, based on what’s been said, people from the towns of these smaller clubs would support the much bigger clubs from elsewhere in the State. Is this the case?

  • Comment number 92.

    This is the first time I've ever seen a football writer echo my own thoughts on Englands uniquely 'deep' professional game... namely that it's not big, hard, or clever and the sooner 30 or 40 of the lower league clubs give up their professional status and turn amateur the better it will be for English football, and English footballers.

    Right now you have all the talent and ability spread thinly over nearly 100 teams. The genuinely talented English youngsters are scrapping alongside players who, in any other country, would be bricklayers or McDonalds employees. They're being coached and managed by staff who, in any other country, would be retired and running a bar by now. Talent is spread thin, then squashed underfoot rather than nurtured. And all so that Crewe Alexandra can carry on as a professional club because they've got 'history'.

    Fewer professional clubs = more time for talented players to bloom in an environment surrounded by other talented players and coached and managed by the best coaches and managers = better English players = fewer requirement for foreigners at the top level = better England team. Our league structure that we (royal we) defend so vigorously is precisely what is destroying English football.

    Moving on...
    I kneejerk against any idea of what 'real' football is all about... it felt pretty real to me when I played at my local 5-a-side last wednesday... but professional football should certainly be about greatness.

  • Comment number 93.

    Surely only Football is the only sport that could provoke this level of debate and symposium in reply to one blog entry about South American football.

    I hate to blog on topics not directly related to Tim's Initial post but I would like to donate my two cents to some sub- topics that have derived from Tim's initial blog.

    1. I know the word has been used quite a lot already but surely the debate regarding the "soul" of football is completely subjective, moreover totally specific to the individual. I’m aware there is a vast difference, but it is similar to asking what defines a man’s soul. Whilst vast wealth & individual success maybe food for one mans soul, moral integrity maybe the fuel of another I think the same can be said for football. I have to disagree with Tim and believe it maybe a step to far to suggest that in English culture the belief that "real" football is the local non league game. Whilst I accept that plenty find there footballing pleasure watching ordinary men who have a day job representing the local team there are plenty of people who gain immeasurable enjoyment of watching the "superstars" who may not have any loyalty or affiliation to the team they play for, doing things on a pitch that us mere mortals can only dream of. Providing us with football in its finest form. Who is to say who is right and who is wrong, this surely has to be a case of whatever floats your boat.

    2. The next point is in reply to post #25.
    This continuous argument of the quality of football in comparison to the "Good Old Days" Where the players weren’t supposedly prima donnas and were honest salt of the earth blokes to the present day where players are labelled as money hungry mercenaries. I have to say this notion is complete rubbish and I agree totally with Tim. Had freedom of contract exist back then and the financial rewards been as it is today these so called stalwarts like the afore mentioned Finney and Moore would have moved around as players do today, not necessarily for money but for success. We must remember that one of the fundamental differences in the top level sportsman and Joe Bloggs on the street is the drive and unwavering commitment to success and self improvement. Unfortunately history shows us over the last twenty years or so success has followed money.

    The notion that back in history the standard of football was better is ridiculous. People have commented on the state of the EPL but in reality does anyone think the standard was better 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago? Course it wasn’t, sure it might not be as entertaining as it was back then but that is a result of the money involved in the game today i.e. teams like Bolton play the way they do because they are aware ability wise they cant compete with the top teams so they tailor their tactics to gain the best result they can. Where as in the 80's when you had teams like Watford lighting up the league, they wouldn’t have risked loosing £20m for getting relegated or risked missing out £20m for not getting in the top. That I think explains all we need to know about current top flight football. But if we are talking about the ability not entertainment factor I think its absolutely ridiculous to suggest a team say finishing 10th in the 1st division 30 or 50 years ago could compete with a team who finished 10th in the Premier League.

  • Comment number 94.

    Sorry for not commenting on a great intial post Tim, and I think all the other educated bloggers have addressed all the valid points you raised about the state of the game in Uruguay

  • Comment number 95.

    The celian - it's a joke to suggest the problem with the English game can be boiled down to too many teams resulting a dilution of the quality of football.

    The worst thing to ever happen to English football was the removal of the wage cap. The players these days are over-paid, greedy mercenaries. The majority of whom lack the true quality to reach their potential: DESIRE.

    The desire to suceed in a footballing environment, as opposed to becoming a millionaire is the true "soul" of football.

  • Comment number 96.

    I think it was wozzafrancescoli who asked whatever happened to the great Uruguayan players of the 1980s.

    Ruben Sosa: was assistant coach for Nacional, not sure whether he's still there.

    Hugo De Leon: Has managed Nacional twice and was very successful domestically and quite disastrous at international level. Has been figthing against the bureaucracy which preventing from managing at the sidelines. Had a couple of spells in Brazil and Mexico and was unsuccessful as well.

    Santiago Ostolaza: Has managed a couple of minor clubs. No clue where he is now.

    Ruben Paz: No idea.

    Daniel Fonseca: Player agent.

    Jose Herrera: Player agent.

    Pablo Bengoechea: Has been assistant coach in Uruguay and Mexico. Not sure whether he's working now or not. Is also the owner of a bar called "El Diez".

  • Comment number 97.

    I am so so glad English football isn't run by people like theceilican - post 92.

  • Comment number 98.

    Comment 92:

    You seem to presume that people would prefer to watch a successfull team on tv than to be able to cheer on their local team at the stadium.

    If you kill of the lower leagues do you honestly think English football will be better for it? How will losing a large percentage of the sports fanbase help to improve the level of performance?

  • Comment number 99.

    As a Doncaster fan who grew up with most people supporting either Sheffield Wednesday or Leeds, I’ve always believed that it’s important to support your local team. For me supporting a team like Man Utd when I’m from Doncaster would be like supporting Portugal when I’m English (as someone I knew at school did). The question of wanting to identify with your team is an interesting one though - most people have a team or two that they follow the fortunes of quite separately from the team they support and I suppose that’s a question of identifying with that team for one reason or another.

    As for the old argument that football was of a better quality “in the old days”, I’m too young to be able to comment on it from experience. I suppose it comes down to what you mean by the quality of football though. If you’re talking about the quality of the top teams like Man Utd then almost undoubtedly it’s better nowadays - quite apart from the financial situation the best players are increasingly attracted to these teams as there is very little chance of challenging regularly for honours otherwise. In one sense you could say also that the league as a whole has grown stronger. Although much of the revenue gained as the game has grown richer has funded increasingly inflated transfer fees and wages, it would be difficult to argue that it hasn’t enabled teams to bring in a better quality of player.

    On the other hand, although I know people who call the Premier League “the most competitive in the world” it seems to me they do so more because the league gets more difficult each year than because it actually IS competitive - it’s always two or three of the same four challenging for the league title, the top four is almost cast in stone, and although occasionally a team comes along that looks like at least challenging the top four, it’s one thing to do it as a one off and another to do it consistently.

    There was a quote in one of Tim Vickery’s articles I read recently (on SI, may have been an old one) that I rather liked because it seemed applicable to more than just the football world, something like globalisation in football resulting in the concentration of wealth and talent into the hands of an increasingly small elite. And for me that sums it up exactly. Although the English league is stronger in terms of the wealth generated and the quality of players brought in, it’s more unequal and less competitive than probably ever before. The teams which have had a level of consistent success outside the top four have achieved it more through being well-organised than by playing attractive football (Everton and Bolton under Allardyce are prime examples). Teams that are punching above their weight have always used defensive tactics so that’s nothing new, and even big teams don’t all play like Barcelona or Arsenal (eg; Capello’s Juventus team of supermen, where 6ft was short). But the inequality between the teams today is bound to result in more negative football from the rest of the league. If even the players on the opposition bench would be beyond your means transfer-wise then it would be tactically naïve to play an open and expansive brand of football because that would be footballing suicide. It makes sense that the more unequal the league becomes, the more prevalent men behind the ball and counter-attacking tactics will become from the teams at the sharp end.

    Quality of football isn’t just about the players on display or the top teams but the brand of football on offer, and open, end-to-end football is likely to be more common amongst teams in a league with teams on a reasonably level playing field, where each team can hang on to some good players to rival the other teams. Naturally managers will try to make best use of the players at their disposal and there will always be good defensive players, and an abundance of those where hard work and grit has made up for their lack of quality to some extent, so I’m not trying to say that defensive tactics wouldn’t exist in a completely level playing field. I haven’t seen much football from prior to the Premiership, but from what I have seen I did get the sense that most teams were more willing to attack the opposition than is the case today.

  • Comment number 100.

    I have to agree with Tim; the essence of the game is in the pursuit of greatness.

    The pursuit of greatenss, of ever increasing efficiency and success, is the guiding principle of modernity, of urbanity. Football is, afterall, "the game modernity has played", to quote David Goldblatt.

    I remember Fabio Capello saying that the reason why attendances at Serie A games was higher than Serie B, and why Juve, Inter and Milan attract a national support, is because they play better football. He said you saw mostly good football in Serie A and mostly bad football in Serie B, while the football in Serie C required the ingestion of intoxicating substances before the watching thereof could become tolerable to a discerning viewer.

    This phenomenon is visible across the footballing globe; 220,000 people watch football at either Celtic or Rangers every month. Boca Juniors and River Plate have over 50% of the support in Argentina, ditto Penarol and Nacional In Uruguay.

    I appreciate that there are intricacies in football's economy which bely the general trend in consumer preferencies for more aspirational brands and products, but I don't think this undermines Tim's general point. I think he is correct to point out that the majority of supporters watch their teams with the dream of future greatness.


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