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Team collective more important than individuals

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Tim Vickery | 13:00 UK time, Monday, 27 December 2010

When he was first making his name with Santos, former Manchester City striker Robinho often spoke of his big ambition to be elected Fifa World Player of the Year.

True, he was seeking to place himself in a tradition of some of his illustrious compatriots, but even so I always found it a depressing declaration. For what it is worth, my view is that far too much attention is given to these individual awards.

In some collective sports the star can make the team. But football is so fluid that it can only happen the other way round - the great player emerges when the collective balance of the side is correct. The team makes the star - and 2010 provides us with some compelling evidence...

There is no-one I would rather watch than Lionel Messi. I was in at the start - I saw the beginning of his rise in Colombia at the 2005 South American Under-20 Championship. I would not swap him for Mesut Ozil plus Sami Khedira. But come the 2010 World Cup it was the German pair that came out on top, their team brushing aside Messi and Argentina on their way to a 4-0 win in the quarter-final.

Lionel Messi failed to make a major impact at the 2010 World Cup finals

Barcelona's Lionel Messi failed to make a major impact at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa. Photo: Getty

So where was the world's best player? Messi proved unable to reproduce his Barcelona form in South Africa. Some will say that the occasion was too big for him - there is a school of thought that ascribes everything to psychological motives. Indeed, the mental side of the game is important. But football is not played on a Viennese couch. It has its own dynamic, where the technical, the tactical and the physical come into play. One of the most important questions is, to my mind, not talked about enough: what is the team's collective idea?

Argentina in the World Cup were caught between ideas. After the difficulties in qualification coach Diego Maradona appeared to be taking a cautious, counter-attacking side to South Africa. He had a back four made up of four centre-backs.

Then, during the competition he got carried away with a romantic commitment to push forward, and ended up in the confusion of a team that could neither defend nor attack with efficiency. Maradona still had his full-backs at centre-back, so outside him, instead of the attacking thrust of his club colleague Daniel Alves, Messi had the out of position and uncertain Nicolas Otamendi. Behind Messi, Maradona's original idea was to have Juan Sebastian Veron distributing the play much as Xavi does for Barcelona. But come the big day, Maradona was unable to see past a sentimental bond with Carlos Tevez, and Veron was dropped.

This came undone inside two minutes. Veron's height meant that he carried out a useful role heading away set pieces at the near post. Without him Argentina went straight behind from a free-kick played into exactly that position. And then as Maradona's team sought to play their way back into the match, they lacked someone who could play Messi into the game, and so the number 10 was forced to drop ever deeper in search of possession. In effect, Messi was setting up the play for Tevez - a bit like Michelangelo holding the brushes while an enthusiastic, but less gifted apprentice does the painting.

Without a coherent collective idea Argentina could not get the best out of Messi. When he reached the danger zone the Germans were able to crowd men around him and reduce his effectiveness. More recently, though, Khedira, Ozil and their team-mates could not get close enough to Messi to throw sand at his backside. This time, of course, they were representing Real Madrid and he was playing for Barcelona, a team where the collective idea and its execution work like a dream.

The balance between attack and defence is achieved by keeping the team compact - in this way, in an era dominated by the counter-attack, they can take the opposite path. Their game is based on possession, as much as possible in the opponent's half of the field. Staying compact means that when they lose the ball Barcelona can apply pressure and stop the opposing counter at source. In possession, the man on the ball has plenty of options for the pass - the ball is moved at pace with precision.

There is plenty of width to stretch the opposing defence and either create two against one situations down the flanks or slip the runners from midfield, with Messi equally happy breaking towards goal or supplying the killer pass. Put Messi in such a collective context and he can be unstoppable.

The world's best player could not do it on his own for Argentina in the World Cup. Meanwhile, Spain won the competition with a huge debt to Barcelona, both in terms of personnel and style of play. They passed and passed and passed again, probing for holes. Without Messi Spain had nothing like the power of penetration that Barcelona enjoy. Their goal tally was not great, but they were attractive and worthy winners, probably seen at their best in the semi-final, when they completely dominated the German side that had eliminated Messi's Argentina with such ease - events which should make 2010 stand out as the year of the collective idea.

Comments on the piece in the space below. Questions on South American football to, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

Q) I want to know what are your thoughts on Brazil hosting the World Cup in 2014. There has been lots of scrutiny on its preparations with respect to the time and their security issues. Do you think they can stage a successful World Cup, after the allegations that the facilities required for the World Cup will not be ready by 2014? Also, recently, this scrutiny has made England put in its name for hosting the World Cup of 2014 instead of Brazil [probably out of desperation and disappointment], if it does not go well with Brazil, as Mexico did for the 1986 World Cup. What are your views on this?
Saif Sohail

A) I would be amazed if Brazil were to lose the tournament, both because Brazil are so important to Fifa and because I think they will be ready. True, they have made an awful start, wasting years. The outcome of this is that the government will be forced to step in and spend more public money - from the point of view of the Brazilian taxpayer 2014 will probably cost more than it should and the legacy will be less than it could be. There will be problems staging a tournament in a country the size of a continent - airport infrastructure is a problem, and even if this is resolved there is no way of dealing with the massive difference in temperature between some of the host cities.
That aside, I expect Brazil to rise to the occasion and stage a successful World Cup.

Q) I would be interested in your opinions of what the smaller South American nations, particularly Uruguay and Paraguay, are doing to be successful on the international stage and what steps do you think smaller population countries like Wales and Northern Ireland could be doing to improve their prospects of World Cup qualification? Are their national leagues more developed? Is it the technical aspect? Presumably these countries don't have massive budgets, so is there a key reason?
Peter Walsh

A) In part there is the aspect of tradition - this is a region of the world where football is of immense importance to national self-esteem, and the achievements of one generation inspire the next, and so on. There are also economic factors - football as a way out of poverty. So in comparison with European nations, there are more youngsters willing to take a chance on a career in the game. Maybe one interesting factor is the role taken on by the FA in youth development. This is something that really started in Argentina in the mid-90s with Jose Pekerman. Based on the evidence of the global market - Argentina was going to lose players to Europe at an ever younger age - Pekerman used the youth teams in an important way - looking for technically gifted players from all over the country and giving them a crash course in the identity of Argentine football. The youth teams were (and are) where the players were developed and secured for the long term future of the senior Argentina side. Uruguay are doing something similar, and over the last 20 years Paraguay have also given great importance to their youth sides. Part of the question, though, is this - what type of players are you developing? The shortcut at youth level is to look for quick success by going with the biggest youngsters. But that is little good in the long run, and youth development is always about the long run. Uruguay are giving priority to technically gifted youngsters, and Paraguay, who once had a reputation for being limited battlers, are now showing that there is far more to their game. I think that a key factor in this progress is the importance given to the Under-20 side as a conveyor belt through to the senior team.


  • Comment number 1.

    Man City definitely need to concentrate more on having a team ethos... too many individuals!

    Have a read of; Are Manchester City ready to win the Premier League?

  • Comment number 2.

    Reputations count for nothing
    Tim Vickery on why teams rather than stars shined in 2010

    Shouldn't that be 'shone in 2010'?

    @ PabloPiatti
    Mancini is trying to instill this team ethos by starting games with the likes of Balotelli and Johnson – both of whom appear to find this difficult to apply – on the bench. Though Mancini has a tough work mentality, the team is work in progress and probably not ready to win the league. In any case, qualifying for the Champions League is the club's aim and focus – talk of Man City winning the Premier League is instigated solely by the press due to the inconsistency of the 'top four' so far this season.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm glad that Tim Vickery wrote this blog. Too often commentators and indeed contributors to BBC blogs and 606 message boards take individual performances by players out of context from team performances.

    True, a great individual performance can ignite a team but usually the team provides the platform for an individual to perform.

    Also in regard to individual performances in football- how do you compare the talent of a goalkeeper with a striker, never mind a central defender's talent and importance with that of a winger?

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    2. At 2:11pm on 27 Dec 2010, MacauBlue wrote:
    @ PabloPiatti
    Mancini is trying to instill this team ethos by starting games with the likes of Balotelli and Johnson – both of whom appear to find this difficult to apply – on the bench.

    No, I think Mancini just likes the 4-3-3 shape with three central midfielders and two forwards wide of a central striker.

    Tevez, Adebayor, Silva, Johnson, Milner, Wright-Phillips, Balotelli and Jo into three, does not go. So he rotates them. Johnson and Balotelli have to sit on the bench sometimes because he has to keep other players happy. While Balotelli has had injuries David Silva, Carlos Tevez and James Milner also cost more money than Adam Johnson- it's worth pointing that out as to why there might be a preference for playing them.

  • Comment number 6.

    Tim,You could perhaps concentrate on England and it's failure where it matters most- at the World Cup. They need all the constructive comments and ideas, more than anyone else.

  • Comment number 7.

    Even after the world cup, Del Bosque commented that Messi was the best player of the WC. It was only due to tactical blunders, that Argentina didnt go all the way up in the tournament. Many people seem happy to blame Messi, rather than looking at the reality. It is quite true, Messi, though is the closest we have seen to Maradona, is not Maradona.
    He has 17 goals and 11 assists in La liga so far this season. In fact he leads both goals and assist tally. It is a decent answer to those who claim Messi's greatness doesnt happen without Xavi and Iniesta. He is way ahead than those maestros even on the assist table. And look at Spain in the world cup. How many goals did Spain manage with the same Xavi and Iniesta passing it to Villa/Torres and Pedro.
    The fact is Messi is on a different level that, though individually brilliant, he makes the beuatiful game even lovelier as a team game. He is the best example of a team player and when he have players like Xavi and Iniesta around he is even more dangerous. At present this trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi offers the most beautiful and most dangerous attacking option in Football. Villa and Pedro are a bonus.
    I really think Maradona got lot of ill advise to look ahead of Veron. When Veron was on field, Messi was able to play much higher up. Look at the recent games against Spain and Brazil. The foursome of Mascherrano, Banega, De Maria and Messi will definitely bring some glory for Argentina.

  • Comment number 8.

    Tim ––– Brilliant article, your post-mortem analysis of Argentina's 2010 World Cup Campaign was superb. It's amazing, I'm just about to finish reading Jonathan Wilson's The Anatomy of England, which takes ten England NT matches and puts them through the analytical grinder but somehow the book is shortchanged by Wilson's writing style which continues to draw on stuff everyone's read from his Champion's League Magazine articles and the stuff he writes for the Guardian, stumbling across this piece while finishing Wilson's book is like a man walking through a desert and finding a glass of sparkling water.... really, this article (while short) nails down the idea of what Wilson was trying to accomplish with his book, but while Wilson gets distracted with his usual Cut n' Paste ADD & obsession with Charles Reep, you on the other hand managed to detailed in a short piece why Argentina was cornered into a box by Germany & Maradona's football IQ. I realize it's not easy to compare a book to an article, and Wilson must be applauded for undertaking the task of analyzing ten England matches (2 of which were done without any video data) but still, the short and to the point aspect of your article is sort of like Barcelona's passing... it gets the job done. Wilson's writing in that book reminds me of Mourinho's Real Madrid vs Barcelona, an idea gone horribly wrong, but once you commit yourself to an idea you have to see it through to the end.

    Anyway, thanks again for this piece.

  • Comment number 9.

    @ 5 Someone Less Imaginative Stole My Username wrote:

    No, I think Mancini just likes the 4-3-3 shape with three central midfielders and two forwards wide of a central striker.


    Whilst I agree in principle, there's nothing stopping Mancini making substitutions earlier in matches, thus saving tired legs. Balotelli has been injury-free for a while now but has shown no fighting spirit nor industrious attitude. Immediately after receiving the Golden Boy award and boasting about only Messi being better, Mancini commented on his lack of work ethic. We'll see how this progresses but I suspect that Balotelli will be used sparingly until he sharpens up and works for the team.

  • Comment number 10.

    Apart from scoring Messi had a very good worldcup, of course he wasn't his Barcelona Brilliant but that was mainly due to the tactics used by the manager!! For whatever reason Maradonna didn't include some outstanding Argentinians in the worldcup squad. I guess he thought Messi would single handedly win all the games, but he did take them to the 1/4 finals which most team (including England) would be very proud of!!

    A better example would've been Wayne "Tap-in" Rooney who thinks he is an individual and bigger than his team mates, country and club - but in reality completely relies on other players to do anything meaningful....

  • Comment number 11.

    does it really matter who fifa say is the player of the year, they are a micky mouse outfit that should be disbanded.

  • Comment number 12.

    Poor at best.

  • Comment number 13.

    does it really matter who fifa say is the player of the year, they are a micky mouse outfit that should be disbanded.

    Yes it does otherwise we would have the Pro-premiership and Sky Lobbyist saying Wayne "Tap-in" Rooney was the greatest ever player there was and will be!!!

    Also get over not winning the 2018 worldcup bid - as you just come across another sour english loser who likes to blame everyone apart from looking at themselves!!!

  • Comment number 14.

    5. At 2:33pm on 27 Dec 2010, Someone Less Imaginative Stole My Username wrote:

    2. At 2:11pm on 27 Dec 2010, MacauBlue wrote:
    @ PabloPiatti
    Mancini is trying to instill this team ethos by starting games with the likes of Balotelli and Johnson – both of whom appear to find this difficult to apply – on the bench.

    No, I think Mancini just likes the 4-3-3 shape with three central midfielders and two forwards wide of a central striker.

    Tevez, Adebayor, Silva, Johnson, Milner, Wright-Phillips, Balotelli and Jo into three, does not go. So he rotates them. Johnson and Balotelli have to sit on the bench sometimes because he has to keep other players happy. While Balotelli has had injuries David Silva, Carlos Tevez and James Milner also cost more money than Adam Johnson- it's worth pointing that out as to why there might be a preference for playing them.


    To be fair though the original post is just the poster trying to justify plugging his site with a tenuous comment regarding the article.

    This usually happens every other week as well. (presuming it's for a bit of search engine optimization).


    As for the article itself it's a good read. The I'd describe the players as rough diamonds who get polished by the clubs in the hope of creating something special. Giving players the right education and time to develop is what makes them great. Cristiano Ronaldo was nothing more than a show pony when he went to Manchester United...all tricks and no end product. He was taught at Man U to lift his head up and play in a system. That system then allowed him to score goals for fun and become a far better player. Who knows how good Messi would have been had he have stayed in Argentina growing up. He'd still ahve been a good player but not the great player he is. His talent is part natural, part education (the same education that also allows most of his team mates to fulfil their potentials).

    And as for Man City. They do seem to have a collective (along with a few bad apples). The problem is a lack of creative spark within the group with only Tevez and Silva providing that touch of the unexpected you need at times (though the brute force of Yaya Toure has been very effective at times).

  • Comment number 15.

    6. At 2:39pm on 27 Dec 2010, tigerSanjay wrote:
    Tim,You could perhaps concentrate on England and it's failure where it matters most- at the World Cup. They need all the constructive comments and ideas, more than anyone else.

    I have my own ideas about why England fail. You could probably write a book about it, but I'll try and condense it into a blog post.

    A lot of people say we lack the ability to produce technical players. That's not true. If you look back in my lifetime the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Paul Scholes, Matthew Le Tissier, Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, and Glenn Hoddle were all technically gifted enough to compare with the best Europeans and Latin Americans. We CAN produce exciting technically gifted players. Whether England can get the best out of them is another matter.

    This leads to my first theory as to why England fail:
    1. We rate hard work, aggression and commitment over technique. Flair players are considered icing-on-the-cake or luxury players, not crucial to a team philosophy or way of playing. When I say 'we' rate- I mean football coaches, media and even fans. It's all about the culture of the english game. Only in England could Matthew Le Tissier win a dozen caps, while Phil Neville and Emile Heskey win 70 odd caps. I don't know any other major international side that would have even capped Emile Heskey once- never mind given him over 50 caps!

    This is also illustrated by the success and importance given to box to box midfielders with good engines over natural playmakers in the England team. This type of midfielder suits a style of play where the ball goes forward quickly and into the penalty box, rather than possession football. Examples- Bryan Robson, David Platt, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard. Paul Scholes was forced out to accommodate Lampard and Gerrard in the England team when he was the english midfielder most capable of playing the one touch midfield play that Xavi and Iniesta demonstrate. Also, what is the most common criticism of Scholes? That he can't tackle. In the english game, players have to show the defensive side of the game, even though if it's not their primary quality.

    The english style is 4-4-2, it's about getting the ball in the box, defenders that hoof it forward quickly, box to box midfielders and big lumps up front. These stereotyped ideas are affecting the type of players we produce and who flourish in our game. However we do produce technical players, but we don't protect them or encourage them.

    2. Weight of history/ media & fan pressure

    Allied to that, is the constant hype of 1966 and the pressure and expectation that England must win tournaments, never mind just perform respectably in them. It's been said by players that they don't enjoy playing for England as much as they do for their clubs, and this is the key, primary reason why they don't.

    Teenagers with no fear- Paul Gascoigne, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney- have come into the England team with no weight of expectation early in their careers and produced memorable performances in their first tournaments. In later tournaments, they haven't lived up to this with the weight of media and public hype.

    Sorry to hijack Tim's blog with this but I felt compelled to reply to your post. You see it time and time again, and England continue to make the same mistakes. We always have the same cycle- fail to qualify, sack the coach, qualify- disappointing tournament, sack the coach. "We need technical expertise and a manager with experience of winning trophies, hire a foreign coach." Then: "No we need more passion, lets go back to an english manager." It's always the same.

    We need to think about the way we play football and what is a successful formula for us. Then we need to select the players to help us achieve that. We need to focus on how we play as a team rather than focusing and obsessing on some individual messiah who allegedly will inspire England to success, whether it was Keegan, Robson, Gascoigne, Shearer, Beckham or Rooney. That's another mistake of the last few years, focusing on individuals ahead of the team. Which neatly brings me back to the original theme of Tim's blog.

  • Comment number 16.

    Interesting article and it went a long way in strengthening my view that Mardona was the author of his own demise when reference was made asto Messi's comparatively poor show in South Africa. The omissions of Zanetti and Cambiasso by Maradona might have been contributory factors here. As we saw in the season preceding South Africa the two Inter players have attributes that would have aided Messi's cause no end. Cambiasso to me would have made an ideal shoulder for Messi in freeing him forward where he's most effective, while Zanetti's contribution would have helped Cambiasso to concentrate at what he's good at most, that is, reading the game in midfield and spotting openings in the same zone thereby Messi could concentrate on creating going forward. Also Cambiasso is very adept at destroying counter attacks as is Zanetti at defending when he's employed as a fullback.

  • Comment number 17.

    On 2014 Brazil World Cup

    A lot of scenarios are still open, but it's almost certain FIFA will treat it as a World Cup with two hosts, i.e., there will be a southern WC and a northern WC and both would meet deep in quarterfinals or even semis.

    Porto Alegre, Curitiba, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte would be certain in the South; meanwhile, Salvador, Recife, Fortaleza, Natal (if actually hosts games) and Manaus would be in North. I'm not so sure about Brasilia, Rio and Cuaiaba.


  • Comment number 18.

    i couldnt give a monkeys about the world cup its a tainted competition , just like the champions league, if i had my way i would scrap both anyway , club football at national level always comes first and always will, by the way i'm italian and not a bitter englishman,as for sky they are ruining football with there constant tinkering of fixtures to suit the tv viewer and not giving a seconds thought for those that actually go to a game , seeing that you are obviously a liverpool fan you should realise what tv has done to your fixtures to see my point unless of course you are one of those tv viewers where no doubt you will say carry on. Rooney !!!! dont let me start on him otherwise i could be here allnight

  • Comment number 19.

    Nice article !! I could not agree you more !! Football is a team game and there has to be a balance in order for the players to be most effective,even for the best player messi.But i do believe Messi can help Argentina win World Cup provided Batista dont make the same mistake as Diego and that he form a stable defence and midfield so Messi can weave his Magic !! To be honest Messi was too Busy playing Xavi's role in midfield he did not have a chance to score for himself(plus some bad luck with goals)..He is only 23 yrs and letf hope he has two world Cup in him to achieve this feat so he can be regarded as the Greatest Of All Time

  • Comment number 20.

    Someone Less Imaginative Stole My Username wrote:,

    Agree with you on most part apart from Scholes - I think people have a very, very short memory on his international career!! The fact is he wasn't very good at international level, he couldn't even pass sideways and that was when he was playing under a manager who wanted to play the controlled passing game - Glenn Hoddle!!

    Also, the biggest problem with English football is that they hype and overrate their players so much that they don't realise the type of football they play. If an English team plays rubbish for 89min and then manage to score from a corner, fluke, deflection, etc in the last minute then everyone go on and on about what a brilliant tactics that was!!

  • Comment number 21.

    At 20. My memory is not short and Scholes had a very good international career. During Hoddle's period as manager Scholes was one of England's best players. Then Keegan became England manager and wanted Scholes to 'drop grenades' as he put it, in midfield. We went backwards at Euro 2000. When Eriksson became England manager, Scholes was still important and at the hub of some of our best performances. We beat Spain 3-0 in a friendly in Eriksson's first match in charge and of course there was the 5-1 in Munich. Then the Beckham worship and Lampard/Gerrard bandwagon started to roll in the english media and then it all became about 'personalities' in the England team rather than our system.

  • Comment number 22.

    Great article, Very true in what your saying..

  • Comment number 23.

    Tim, you are right in saying sides can go a very long way if they possess a strong team collective, however the way teams at the very top level are set-up nowadays they often cancel each other out to such an extent it's only the X-Factor of the odd 'superstar individual' that makes the difference in the big games.

    Very often the opposition is prevented from playing their usual open expansive game and sit-back worried about the threat coming from the 'game-changer' eg. Drogba against Arsenal.

    The media talks such confrontations up so much that the result often hinges on this 'individuals' form on the day.

    Feliz Año Nuevo 2011!

  • Comment number 24.

    Very good blog again Tim. I agree with someone that maybe your picture makes you look like a gigolo...indeed a giant one who has just sat down outside the houses of parliament in london.

    But I completely agree with you about football being all about the team. Inferior players can be on the winning team as opposed to star players, if the right tactics are employed collectively. A team can really be greater than the sum of its parts. Surely Uruguay at the world cup this year is a very good example. Undoubtedly they also have quality players in Suarez and Forlan, yet they performed as a team, and with a bit of luck too, went far in the competition.
    As for Robinho to say he wanted to be voted the best in the world is a bit arrogant and presumptious, yet also shows confidence and hunger. BUT to want to win the top trohies in the world is far better. But yet again it is not just about the winning in football (all too much an english disease at youth level), but the enjoyment in producing a fine pass,or a neat trick, or scoring a cracker. As a youngster playing for the school team...if I had played very well, scored a few, I was happier than if we had won whilst playing badly. Most pros say the opposite, but just think if the Netherlands had won the world cup instead of Spain?..would that have been a victory for football?

  • Comment number 25.

    @Someone Less Imaginative Stole My Username

    "No, I think Mancini just likes the 4-3-3 shape with three central midfielders and two forwards wide of a central striker." TRUE

    BUT ask any city fan n theyll tell u that milner and jo are a waste of space, mancini just doesnt like adebayor, johnson just hasnt played well enough recently, i think people who dont watch city a lot might just hang on his highlight reel a bit too much, SWP, i rate him, but he's no way world class, and i feel mancini is reluctant to play him, tevez and silva are obviously their star men, up front that is. balotelli looks potentially good, but he has a terrible attitude. i think their problem is that too many players came to the club either for the money, to use the club as a stepping stone, or in spite of another club (tevez, robinho etc), and as such they either arent too bothered about being a top performer, theyre more into trying to show the world what they can do, and not fighting for the team. also i think players there who are there for footballing reasons struggle to find identity, and i think, certainly players like barry and de jong, whose best qualities are what they do for the team, when they see so many personalities around them, thats takes from their desire to perform well for the team.

    for city, the next couple of seasons, regardless of aspirations, can be used to buy in players if thats what they wana do, and filter the ones who are real team players, tevez, toure, hart etc, a real strong spine, tie them down and bring in class team players around them. unfortunately, this might not happen as the owners seem to prefer the idea of having superstars rather than a good team. in a couple years theyll be general genuine contenders. balotelli might turn out to be the most gifted player in the world, but for me his attitude is not like messi's, or even tevez's (think michaelangelo holding paintbrushes..), he's not as dedicated as ronaldo, or rooney. i wouldnt want that at united, dont care what anyone has to say about that. same with adebayor, i could go on..

    but, for the sake of world football, players like santa cruz, jo, wayne bridge (remember that guy!!), just release them, u dont need the moeny, n its just ruing the twilight years of their careers, a time when u wana be playin more than any.
    Tevez, Adebayor, Silva, Johnson, Milner, Wright-Phillips, Balotelli and Jo into three, does not go. So he rotates them. Johnson and Balotelli have to sit on the bench sometimes because he has to keep other players happy. While Balotelli has had injuries David Silva, Carlos Tevez and James Milner also cost more money than Adam Johnson- it's worth pointing that out as to why there might be a preference for playing them.

  • Comment number 26.


    our players are used to one thing. the PREMIER LEAGUE.
    our hay day in my life was probably the mid 80's to mid 90's, GASCOIGNE, LINEKER, FRANCIS, PLATT, WADDLE, KEEGAN, INCE, they ALL PLAYED ABROARD.
    i know we have a mix of players from all over the world, arguably the best quality league in the world, overall, it has to be. but all our players are used to playing in ENGLISH SYSTEMS, against ENGLISH SYSTEMS, tactically we miss out on a lot of experience, except maybe CHAMPS LEAGUE clubs, but how many english players play in the champs league? thank god spurs got in there!

    but the monopoly of the CHAMPS LEAGUE clubs means that REPUTATIONS always get in, NO MATTER WHAT CAPELLO SAYS, and also, YOUNG ENGLISH TALENT, WHEATER, CAHILL, RODWELL, NOBLE, ADAM JOHNSON, HENDERSON, these players are at crucial stages in their development, but they are only playing for and against ENGLISH SYSTEMS, and we expect these to one day go and play in a WORLD CUP? it may already be too late for BAINES, AGBONLAHOR, YOUNG, ONOUHA, CATTERMOLE.

    if i had my way id SEND EM ABROAD. send them to SPAIN, ITALY, FRANCE, broaden our own collective horizons, so each player called to the squad brings something new and individual to pass on to the collective, instead them all just being mates or in some cases bitter rivals.

    ENGLAND has become too much of a CLIQUE, the players are TOO COMFORTABLE, they only have to worry about competition for an england spot from players they see and play with or against every week, if they thought that there was an ENGLISH lad in ITALY who was going places in SERIE A, that might make them start looking over their shoulders and really performing their hardest, theres nothing more unnerving than the fear of the unknown, give them a good old fashioned case of xenophobia!

    just look at other countries, throughout the history of modern (premier leauge/champs league era [my era!!]), and you'll see that they have key players who play abroard.

    ONE EXCEPTION?: SPAIN, they all play for the same team! but that's a secret to their success, that that team is BARCELONA, but even SPAIN, TORRES, FABREGAS, XABI ALONSO (his past experience for LIVERPOOL definitely counts) and now SILVA, even SPAIN HAVE PLAYERS OVERSEAS.

    if we are to be real world beaters on the international stage, we either need to forge more links, club to club, association to association, overseas, and send young players there on loan for experience or just to learn a bit about other footballing cultures, or ENGLISH FOOTBALLERS are just going to have to BITE THE BULLET, GIVE UP THE WAG/PREM LEAGUE FOOTBALLER STAUS and fanfare, and go ply their trade in OTHER CULTURES.

    Lineker - 1986–1989 Barcelona (p)103 (g)42
    1984–1992 England 80 48

    Beckham - 2003–2007 Real Madrid 116 13
    1996–2010 England 115 17

    Gascoigne - 1992–1995 Lazio 43 6
    1988–1998 England 57 10

    Keegan - 1977–1980 Hamburger SV 90 32
    1972–1982 England 63 21

    McManaman - 1999–2003 Real Madrid 94 8
    1994–2001 England 37 3


  • Comment number 27.

    interesting column as usual, Tim, but just one thing that confused me slightly: " Maradona still had his full-backs at centre-back" - did you mean to say "Maradona still had his centre-backs at full-back"? Because, in the context of saying Otamendi(usually a cb) is playing right back, this doesn't make sense. Also, wasn't Gutierrez utilised here as well?

  • Comment number 28.

    Hello Tim

    First, as new to your blogs, may I congratulate you on being perhaps one of the jammiest so and so's in football journalism? I take it you're not currently "from your Rio base" having to trawl through the piles of slush, snow and ice like back here in "good old Blighty"?

    The tan in the photo would suggest not, at any rate!

    As to your article, it's clearly a cut above the Sun level of soccer journalism!

    It's an interesting theme, this "team collective" idea, but I can't help thinking however of the famous Borg collective out of Star Trek!

    Because I think it's really a very major issue you've brought up, the question of how much a footballer as an individual is important and significant, and how much as a team member.

    I find it highly suspicious however myself, that so many modern managers are very quick to echo (especially when players like Rooney and Tevez talk about quitting for a transfer) "no player is bigger than this club."

    But on the other hand, for example both Man U and Man C have shown that when certain players threaten to peddle their trade and talent elsewhere, the castle drawbridge very quickly gets lowered and the iron gate comes clanking down.

    Because despite the power of the collective, the team, all history has shown that certain outstanding individual players are decisive in the team's past, present, and future, and indeed that of the now much feted managers.

    Would Alex Ferguson for example now be Sir Alex Ferguson without massive and decisive contributions at certain moments - last minute goals, saves and so on - from very gifted and rare individuals like Ole Gunnar Solskaer, Peter Schemichel, and before those two the amazing Eric Cantona, who first effectively won the title for Man U and Fergie after decades in the wilderness?

    Would we have ever heard of Malcolm Allison if there weren't very gifted players at Man City at the time, like Colin Bell, Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee?

    Would there have been a Sir Matt Busby, except for the heroics in the 1968 European Cup final, saving scorching rocket shots from Eusebio by Alex Stepney, and the sheer cheek and wizardry that was George Best, who scored the first goal in extra-time taking Man U into the lead?

    Indeed, re your current location, would Brazil ever have been the total legend it has now become in world football, without extraordinary individuals like Pele and before him Garrincha and a few others? Argentina without Maradonna (as player of course, not manager), Ajax and Holland without Cruyff...the list goes on and on.

    Because without these extraordinary individuals, football would be very much a "Borg collective" full of robots, lacking in entertainment to watch, and creative inspiration for the team.

    But yes, football is a team game, and even the greatest players can fail to shine brightly enough, like Messi in the last world cup, if the structure around them is not adequate, just as George Best never made the World Cup final stages with N Ireland, as neither has Berbatov with Bulgaria for 2006 and 2010.

    I feel the basic ground of validity in your argument therefore is that the players must work for each other, but that does nothing to devalue the importance and value of the stars, who always must be there, to supply that extra something that the other individuals collectively lack.

    I think your principle is best applied and interpreted by saying that the goal of the team and its manager should be to see that the best player is chosen and assigned for the task or role he is best at, in a true "division of labour" sense.

    This rarely happens in practice however, as one sees weekly for example, even at the best clubs, defenders who are closet-attackers routinely taking potshots at goal, and usually firing 10 or 20 feet over the bar or to the wrong side of the posts.

    Defenders must defend, midfielders must distribute and coordinate in midfield, and strikers must be up front to strike.

    That so often these roles get muddled, is a great loss to the team each game, every time it happens.

    The key to scoring goals and thus winning at football is that when in attack you must give the ball to the best player or players.

    We see at Man City for example that Tevez has complete freedom to dribble and have a crack at goal, take all the penalties, and mess up all he wants, and nobody says a word against him. As you point out with your "apprentice" talk, he's not actually a great player, but certainly one of the best City have right now.

    But he wastes many opportunities, out of greed and personal glory hunting fails to give the ball to others much better placed many times, and that may have been one reason Argentina didn't do better.

    So yes, in that sense you are right, about valuing the collective, which we see for example Rooney does, Messi does, and Tevez mostly doesn't, which is maybe one reason Fergie let him go.

    But then there's the other angle - sometimes, especially when losing or in stalemate, nobody want to take responsibility, so you have a "collective" of scared and unadventurous players who just keep passing the ball/book to somebody else, saying effectively "hey, I don't know what do with it, YOU have it, see if you can do something" and then the next guy passes and so on.

    Sometimes the stars, if lacking confidence, like Rooney currently does, pass the ball to somebody less well placed and capable, and the result is failure, when they should have taken it on their own and would likely have scored.

    So that a team has a good ideal of working for one another in the collective sense is a must, but if a team wants to win, it will do so by virtue mainly of its stars, valuing them above the other players, and therefore giving them more possession, much more time on the ball.

    And it's worth pointing out that ultimately this tends to be the manager's decision, as to who is regarded as the "star", the "target man", and if the manager makes a poor or inadequate choice, the team may rise or fall on that decision.

    In the case of Tevez, he's good enough to score against and thus beat for Man City the players in the lower 2/3 of the Premier League. But can he score and win against the top ones?

    Tomorrow night, for example, against Aston Villa, who will have a much tougher defense than Newcastle, we may find out, just as Tevez failed to win the game against Everton last week.

    Roberto Mancini at City also seems to be negative about Adam Johnson, who is both a team player and a "solo artist" doing individual runs that often lead to goals, on account of Mancini's view of him not being a great "team player", which does not seem to be based on a calm objective and unbiased assessment of his many performances for City since last December.

    But either way, a great error in my view, for which Mancini and Man City are paying weekly.

    So through of course in football, the team is the main thing, as no individual can win a football match alone, all history seems to show that the thing that separates one "collective" from another, is often merely that touch of class shown by one or more specially gifted individuals, and that is something that no manager or fan should ever forget.

    And likewise, as star players are still the biggest asset in football, it's only fitting that they should get individual awards, but in my view, only with a sense of modesty and gratitude to the teams they have played in, and also only after they have shown they've played a key or decisive role in the team's major successes, as has been true of great winners of the past such as Pele, George Best, Bobby Charlton, Maradona, Cruyff, Zidane and so on.

    So for example, Robinho might well wait for a World Cup victory with Brazil in which he plays a key part before demanding the "FIFA World Player" accolade.

    Incidentally, the fact that there's rarely only one great player around at any particular time, such as in the Best, Law and Charlton era, when there were many other greats such as Eusebio, Pele and all the rest, tends to be a humbling phenomenon in itself, as to date, no outstanding player has won it more than 2 or 3 times, if at all.

  • Comment number 29.

    Maradona doesn't know a thing about football management. The fact that he was one of the greatest players ever, doesn't mean he knows about tactics. I have no doubt that Argentina with a proper manager would had had a brilliant World Cup in South Africa, they had the players to do so, but with an incoherent manager you can't conquer football's most wanted trophy.

  • Comment number 30.

    Let's hope Batista builds a team to get the best out of Messi. Banega and Pastore are two players who could help link the midfield and attack and place less of a creative burden on Messi.

  • Comment number 31.

    As your article raises so many interesting and deep points Tim, and as this is the first of your blogs I've commented on, I want to have another crack.

    Firstly, I think the "collective" idea you have highlighted re Germany's ousting of Argentina with the "world's best footballer" Lionel Messi, really points to a more general issue, even more general than your collective concept.

    I think the "elephant in the living room" re modern football is that the standard of managers/coaches is actually pretty appalling, and in that assessment, I include the like of Alex Ferguson, whom I regard only as the best of a bad or at least mediocre bunch.

    What the better managers of the bad/mediocre bunch in the Premier League however like say Fergie and Harry Redknapp manage to do, where others fail, is to create a good team spirit, a sense of belief and as you say, of "collective" and "togetherness" in the team.

    Man United is now both a major world brand and as they say, a national - or even global - institution.

    Other EPL clubs have that to a lesser degree, like say Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham or Arsenal, but no other British club truly rivals Man U as both a brand and an institution, and after the best part of 40 years in the wilderness, and no truly colourful history like Man U and its "Busby Babes" and Munich Disaster etc, Man City certainly doesn't rival the brand, despite a solid and mostly loyal fan base.

    So your "collective" ideas applies more easily to teams like Man U in which the sense of pride and loyalty is greatest, but where that doesn't apply, it's very hard to get players to toe the line in that kind of less selfish, egotistical, individualistic and more team-centred philosophy, e.g. Man City, which due to its "richest club in the world status" inspires the same sort of loyalty and devotion from its players as must have occurred to gold in the American 1840s gold rush.

    That's not to pick on Man City per se, by the way, it's just their double-edged fortune to be currently the world's richest club.

    And due to the kind of large international squads that are at places like Man U and Man City now, especially City, unfortunately, the competition for first team places drives many players to be as individualistic as possible, and against the team collective concept therefore that you are proposing.

    i.e. put simply, if a player is selfish and successfully goes for glory all the time like Tevez does, because he gets his name on the score sheet all the time, he gets made a regular, and those who merely do assists, however valuable in true football terms, can easily get overlooked, as routinely all the headlines go only to goal scorers.

    So knowing this, many non-strikers chase goals routinely, and squander countless chances, causing the "team collective" to frequently lose or draw games they should have won.

    This alone in my view, is why Man City for example won't win the Premier League, because it's simply a numbers game: if you replace a fraction of the sqaundered chances with goals, that would take the team 2 or 3 places higher, perhaps right to the top, and thus Man City with the over-competitive and individualistic culture they've got right now under Mancini, aren't likely to end higher than 3rd or 4th, and maybe even lower.

    The 1970s Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino, etc., Brazil team were certainly an example of a great "team collective", the way they played for one another almost telepathically aware.

    And the fact that most EPL teams are not playing that way, has to be solely down to lack of influence and direction of the managers, not even picking up on basic things like not clamping down on defenders who routinely shoot and waste goal scoring opportunities, when they should have passed to midfielders or strikers, and thus my contemptuous view of most modern EPL football managers.

    Fergie and others only look good, because truly great managers like the Brian Clough/Peter Taylor managment team at Derby and Notts Forest are not around.

    My guess is - though the memory of the last World Cup is mercifully now dim - that the Germans take, and have always taken a more "collective" attitude to football, really a more reasoned, scientific and less "off the cuff" approach as opposed to British and other world managers.

    In the last World Cup, I think they were simply better organised and better motivated amongst other less organised and properly motivated teams, regardless as you say of the big stars, as for me, the in my view overrated Christian Ronaldo also underperformed for Portugal.

    But regarding your reference to Viennese couches, having a manager who can generate belief and confidence is an absolutely enormous factor.

    Because a team is like a gang. And if its boss or leader is full of confidence, bravado, the gang members feel and act tough and powerful too, whereas if the leader starts to show any noticeable streaks of yellow when faced with a tougher looking opponent, and doubts himself, then the gang members lose heart too, and when the heart is gone, the skill suffers also.

    The heart isn't there at key moments, like when faced with a near open goal, and they fluff what on another day they would have buried. Fear is like an infectious disease that goes from man to man, just as confidence does, when the leader shows it.

    But the job of the manager isn't that straightforward, because like most gang leaders, he feels brave when faced with opposition he feels confident he can defeat or at least equal, but when he's unsure if he can win, the players are the first to sense it.

    The trouble with that, is the manager's own fears and ambitions.

    That's why I believe Ferguson will never win another Champions League trophy, and I don't think Mancini will win anything more than at best a League Cup or FA Cup, if that, as a Premier League manager.

    Because when the big test comes, the final against Real, or Milan, or Barcelona or whoever, in the case of Europe, the manager's own private ambitions will intervene, even if he thinks his team is good enough to win on merit.

    Ferguson is stuck in his ambition of trying to outdo Livepool's record both in Europe and in the Premier League/former First Division, and Mancini is trying to prove his sacking from Milan for failure in Europe and against the Premier League teams was unjustified and he's a great manager.

    That's where I think Harry Redknapp has the edge now on both of them. He believes he can go to the top in my opinion, I don't think it's just bluff.

    If he doesn't make it, I think it will be only due to tactics, or not maybe having a good enough goal keeper, not down to his lack of self belief or the team's performance.

    So unless anybody wants to take me to task, that's my last comment here now - in summary, neither the "team collective", not the "individualistic player" is the most important, but balancing the star's role with that of the team.

    If a player has the ball at his feet in an attacking position he only needs to ask himself - am I the best man to hold the ball or strike or should I pass to somebody who is better placed or more capable?

    It's the manager's job to make sure that each player knows what his job is, and who on the field is his superior to whom he should defer, which of course depends on the manager rightly assessing the ability of each player, which in my view, Mancini for example fails to do.

    But where a truly competent manager is successful in that task, then the collective team serves the best individuals, and the best individuals best serve the team.

    Anyway - while you're basking in the Brazilian sunshine, do have one of those drinks with the umbrella in it on me Tim, and a Happy New Year to you and all the others who've commented here.

  • Comment number 32.

    Great Article Tim. anyone who has played the great game understands that teamwork is everything. Yes, a talented player playing in a strong team alliance can make a huge difference, but without that team base, they will not go far.
    Argentina's failure to advance can be placed squarely on the shoulders of Maradona. As a coach, he's an idiot. His ego was responsible for Agentina not fielding it's best squad. He had his favorites and would not listen to good counsel from qualified advisors.Here we see that even at the coaching level, big egos can bring down the team.
    On the theme of runaway egos and how they spoil the enjoyment of watching top level futbol,I give you Mario Bolatelli. Give him the golden horse's behind award for 2010 and look for him to earn the award consecutive years.

  • Comment number 33.

    Tim, thanks for your thoughts on the individual vs. the collective in football. However, you chose Messi, a team player of the highest calibre, to make your point about the value of the collective. Maybe you should have used Maradona himself to add some fairness. Where Maradona failed was seeing Messi in his own image. Messi is in a class of his own, no doubt, but he is a very different player than Maradona was. Maradona expected Messi to 'win it single handendly' i.e. play like Maradona himself did. Maradona had everything - he was the leader, could command his team, organise them on the field, and inspire them with one brilliant run after the other. He could bring his team mates into play as well. Good as Messi is, he can not make a Maradona run one after the other. He can't carry the ball and fend off challanges over 20 or 30 yards. Messi lives off his team mates and makes them tick. He is a different kind of player. Four years older, he could have told Maradona what he wants. Maybe he was a little too young this summer.

  • Comment number 34.

    Although I do believe in the importance fo youngsters coming through with the technical trickery,skill and inventivness of the likes of Messi and Tevez, while there are players coming through with these attributes and that style of play that just increases the importance to bring through players that are able to play with composed,thoughtfull style of which the German Sami Khedira is a great example.These are the players that do not fight for the limelight and get as much recognition as the more skillfull players.Players that are happy to do the donkey work in the middle of the park so the players with flair can do their stuff.A prime example of a player that has been doing this for years is Darren Fletcher, he always puts in 110% efffort for his team in every game no matter who he's playing but does not get the applause he deserves and if each of the well known successful teams in history did not have a sample of this style of player they would not have acomplished what they did.

  • Comment number 35.

    Yes, it´s all about teamwork. Not even Diego Magno won it on his own. Argentina 86 was a solid team, with very good team players like Burruchaga, Ruggeri and Valdano and, of course, one very special genius. Argentina 2010 was not a good team and Messi couldn´t do everything by himself. I suspect Messi will win a WC before he retires. He will need a solid team to do so though.

  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 37.

    I wouldn't worry about Brazil hosting the World Cup. They will throw loads of money at it and both times I have been out there I have had no problems with getting around. The security issue will be sorted out as it was in South Africa and their customer service levels are impeccable out there. The same can't be said for England. Infact if it was England hosting the 2014 World Cup it wouldn't come close to being as good, the money isn't there to do it right now whereas Brazil has a hugely booming economy and the Government will do everything necessary to make sure its the best World Cup yet. I for one will be out there in 2014.

  • Comment number 38.

    Some garbage on here about CITY.

    1. Firstly Adam Johnson is not playing week in and week out because he has not performed trhat well when he has been given the chance to play the full 90.

    2. Saying CITY is not a team is ther biggest joke I have heard in years. In Kompany, de Jong and Tevez you have players who give everything each game. In fact if De Jong would have played against Everton we would not have lost, he plays his role brilliantly and is vastly underated.

    3. The PL is wide open. UTD have not played many away games and they have been poor awayf rom OT this year.

    Individuals win games, we have that type of talent in the CITy squad with Tevez and David Silva. We have strength on the bench and it looks like we are about to sign another goal scorer in Dzecko.

    CITY will be there all season, mark my word lads, mark my words.

  • Comment number 39.

  • Comment number 40.

    While I agree with the basic argument, I'd like to ask Tim whether he thinks Maradona and his team of 86 was an exception to this.

  • Comment number 41.

    Season's greetings Tim. Looking forward to more of the same next year.

    It seems more and more prevalent in modern sport that a good team is greater than the sum of its individual parts, and that a team of lower value individual parts can be better than a team of higher value individual parts. I never thought I would say it, but I've increasingly realised this in sports that seem less reliant on team mates, such as cricket, golf, baseball...Indeed, I would say, surprisingly, this has been a huge contributing factor to the performance of the England cricket team in Australia. There's some immeasurable gluten that bonds the team into a superior functioning unit. I'm not sure what the gluten contains: determination, intelligence, discipline, psychology, tactics...? Perhaps it isn't uniform.

    In football, Barcelona deservedly receive the plaudits for the beautiful symmetry of their football, but life in general isn't perfectly symmetrical. Perhaps the gluten isn't getting the credit it deserves. Or maybe, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira are more talented than you give them credit for Tim.

    The criticisms of Manchester City's lack of team 'ethos' is sheep following sheep, some of whom obviously haven't seen much of City recently, e.g. Adebayor hasn't been getting a look in. If you've watched them regularly, you will see the team is getting stronger and stronger, and that Mancini INSISTS on the team ethos, why Jo has been playing and Adebayor hasn't. No doubt there are some difficult characters to manage, but RM doesn't budge.

  • Comment number 42.

    Messi i believe is getting some unfair treatment, argentina and barcelona are 2 very different teams, xavi and iniesta constantly pass and move the balla and interchange positions and have that connection with both themselves and messi, argentina relied far too heavily on messi, but i dont think that he was 2 bad at the world cup, he wasnt greedy, he passed at the right times, he did his best to inspire his team, he aslo at times had 3 men marking him which at this point it is the teans fault that the dont create passing options and utilise the space which is left by the men who went 2 mark messi, and i think that commentators often wrongly build up players but not in messi's case with barcelona it is different becos they always hav the ball which does make it easier but the whole barca team has been praised, obviously not 2 the same extent as messi which is fine as messi has given the commentators right to praise him with his performances, but xavi iniesta busquets alves villa pedro and pique hav all been praised as has pep guardiola

  • Comment number 43.

    38. At 02:54am on 28 Dec 2010, The Whinger wrote:

    Some garbage on here about CITY.

    1. Firstly Adam Johnson is not playing week in and week out because he has not performed trhat well when he has been given the chance to play the full 90.

    2. Saying CITY is not a team is ther biggest joke I have heard in years. In Kompany, de Jong and Tevez you have players who give everything each game. In fact if De Jong would have played against Everton we would not have lost, he plays his role brilliantly and is vastly underated.

    3. The PL is wide open. UTD have not played many away games and they have been poor awayf rom OT this year.

    Individuals win games, we have that type of talent in the CITy squad with Tevez and David Silva. We have strength on the bench and it looks like we are about to sign another goal scorer in Dzecko.

    CITY will be there all season, mark my word lads, mark my words.


    Firstly Whinger, your comment is OFF TOPIC.

    I discussed Man City merely as an example in a discussion of Tim's concept of "team collective" - THE TOPIC here - and you disrespect Tim by commenting here on Man City alone, without discussing the topic.

    However, your comments both about Adam Johnson and the future of Mancini are nonsense, but as this isn't the place to debate them, I'll let Mr Mancini's continuing blunders (disguised by "great victories" over struggling and bottom of the league teams) speak for themselves.

    If you can't stay on topic, please confine yourself in future to your Man City 606 page, where you'll find many other City die hard fanatics who'll no doubt agree with your erroneous and shamelessly biased and unobjective views.

  • Comment number 44.

    Anyone would think that the centre of the universe right now is Eastlands. The article focusses on the team ethic rather than individuals, referencing the tactically naivety displayed by El Diego in playing favourites like Tevez over more positionally sound options like Veron. So how does this turn into a diatribe on the failings of Mancini and his mercenary crew? One mention of Captain Carlos (what a joke that is) and you lot dance around like Bez from the Mondays.

    Phil, you're right. Team first wins the day - Uruguay were a great team at the World Cup, marshalled by the real El Diego! A lesson in man management and playing your best pairings, even if he and Saurez can only exchange the occasional grunt.

    As for a Brazilian victory next time around, there's one team out there that will play like a team, have a great mix of youth and experience and the kind of pedigree to win on foreign soil. Hate to say it, but Germany looked a few years short of being the total package. They could be absolutely unbeatable in time for Brazil.

  • Comment number 45.

    Tim, do you think the temperature differences between the cities in 2014 will really be a problem... or more of only an "interesting" or "odd" factor?

    also... are you following (99.9999% chance you are) the Ronaldinho return to Brazil soap opera? What are your thoughts on it?

  • Comment number 46.

    @World Cup Wally
    "What the better managers of the bad/mediocre bunch in the Premier League however like say Fergie and Harry Redknapp manage to do, where others fail, is to create a good team spirit, a sense of belief and as you say, of "collective" and "togetherness" in the team."

    Isnt that exact the main quality of S.American coaches? And one of the reason Felipe Scollari didnt managed to make it at Chelsea? In South America, its more about spirit, sense of belief and team spirit than tactics, or so they say.

  • Comment number 47.

    This article is spot should always be about the team, too often English football is all about they accommodate players (Gerrard and Lampard) or play players out of position (Scholes on the left) no wonder he retired.

    In my area, club's Centre of Excellences are clearly looking for 'that one individual' and the rest are surplus, its not the way to get the best from players as the article evidences! Players play as if they're in competition with each other not teammatea.

    The FA, through its future game initiative are looking to improve technical ability and lets hope they have found a formula that works... the game is more complex than just technique of course and we do need to incorporate mental attitude and philosophy in the process.

  • Comment number 48.

    Football is not a 'simple' game, never has been!

    Barcelona have come closest to making it look simple but the thought that goes into there preparation is immense, and by thought I mean the clubs whole philosophy on football.

    In your opinion, would Barcelona's philosophy by a credible model to follow for future youth development of Englsih players. If not, why?

  • Comment number 49.

    I'm fed up of every article being hijacked by Man City fans and made to be about them. You were nothing a year ago and wouldn't even be in the back of peoples minds when they wrote articles. You make Chelsea actually seem a tiny bit likeable.

  • Comment number 50.

    world cup wally - it's like you got an encyclopedia of football world cups for xmas and seem set on regurgitating all its facts in this blog. Can you now stop?

    thanks in advance

  • Comment number 51.

    Excellent job Tim

  • Comment number 52.

    40 - no, i don´t see argentina in 86 as an excpetion. remember that with the same maradona they very nearly failed to qualify.
    come the world cup, bilardo had time to implant his collective idea - he was a pioneer of the back 3 thing that was popular for a while - it enabled him to pack the midfield and gave his team defensive solidity - in the knock out games they had few defensive alarms - germany in the final caused some moments of panic from set pieces, as did england at the end of the quarter final when, chasing the game robson sent on his wingers to play outside argentina´s defence. In general, though, they were very hard to play through - remember england´s problems for 75 minutes of the match - and that defensive solidity gave maradona his platform.

    In response to an earlier point, Banega already seems to be a key man in Argentina´s midfield (I found his omission from the World Cup squad absolutely baffling), but coach Batista says that it´s not easy for him to find a place in the starting line up for Pastore.

  • Comment number 53.

    I hope you who emphasise team play are not doing so because the country/team you support has failed to produce star players like Messi; making you support the strategies you can handle and belittle the ones YOU CAN'T HANDLE. I think star players a very important. They can be called upon to turn the game most of the time.
    In a flying flock of birds, the leaders influence movements of the flock; star players do the same to football teams

  • Comment number 54.

    Great blog, tim, as usual.

  • Comment number 55.

    53 - i don't think the article is that hard to grasp, but you have failed to understand a single word.
    This is not a piece against star players - fantastic things that light up the game. It is a piece which discusses how to get the best out of star players.

  • Comment number 56.

    Hello Aces High


    46. At 1:21pm on 28 Dec 2010, AcesHigh wrote:

    @World Cup Wally
    "What the better managers of the bad/mediocre bunch in the Premier League however like say Fergie and Harry Redknapp manage to do, where others fail, is to create a good team spirit, a sense of belief and as you say, of "collective" and "togetherness" in the team."

    Isnt that exact the main quality of S.American coaches? And one of the reason Felipe Scollari didnt managed to make it at Chelsea? In South America, its more about spirit, sense of belief and team spirit than tactics, or so they say.


    Interesting thoughts Aces High.

    I'm going to admit freely however I'm not terribly well informed about South American football except for what I've seen in World Cups which obviously only happens every 4 years.

    My guess however is that on account of the heat, the game remains and always has been played slower.

    Pele of course called football "the beautiful game" and it's questionable if the "headless chicken" style of modern English Premier League football, everyone running around at 100mph and putting in scything slide tackles all the time, would really qualify for the term "beautiful."

    But in Brazil, from the time of Garrincha and maybe before, there's been a culture of individual skill, and in video clips still available of him, you can see he was really like the precursor or first role model to George Best, Cruyff and all the rest, probably including Pele himself.

    So I don't see that a kind of "communistic collectivism" in which individual importance is suppressed has really been at the heart of Brazilian football ever, but more a philosophy in which individual talent has been respected, allowed to flourish and shine, in a culture that values and respects individual talent, but without detracting from the concept of team, and working for one another.

    I think that is what our English culture lacks, and we've been more about "collectivism" since day one, and according to some, especially since after the 2nd World War, with the kind of military culture seeping through into the management of football teams, and the high handed treatment of the players by some managers and owners.

    I think the pace of play has a great deal to do with the difference in the modern game however, and I don't know about nowadays so much, but certainly Brazilian teams of the past would play in a stop-start rhythm, instead of the constant push and run of most of British and European football of the past 40 to 50 years.

    And regarding that difference, it appears that many South American or Brazilian players like Elano, Robinho, Jo, Santa Cruz and a few others have not adapated well to English football, or is it just the weather and the homesickness?

    But we had Argentinians like Villa and Ardilles for Tottenham in the late 70s and early 80s, who adapted much better, and now Tevez has done well also.

    But a lot of Brazilians have failed to adapt well to Enlglish football, I'd guess on account of the pace and style, and maybe Tim would like to answer that question if and whether he thinks South Americans have adapted well to the English Premier League, and if not, why not.

    My anxiety however about this "team collective" idea, is there's a great danger of suppression of individual talent, just like in the communist system, there's a certain amount of equality that doesn't exist in the capitalist system, but then there's a lack of individuality, a lack of freedom of expression.

    For me, there's far too much emphasis on winning, and not enough on entertainment, not enough on what Pele called "the beautiful game."

    A George Best or Adam Johnson solo run, skilfully beating 2 or 3 men with silky skills and curling a great shot into the back or the net is what for me qualifies as most beautiful in football, just like a lot of pop songs live or die on the quality of the guitar (or sax or whatever) solo somewhere in the middle, just as in classical music the most popular form is either the song or the concerto, due to the brilliance of the solo performance therein.

    It's called entertainment, football is not war, and if they were right in the head, football fans who are willing to hand over £30 or whatever of their hard earned cash to see a sports contest should want to be entertained.

    Or am I missing something?

    e.g. today's dubious (maybe 2 (at least 1) soft looking penalties, 1 header that likely didn't cross the line from Lescott and a probably offside tap in from Balotelli - let's wait for MOTD tomorrow to be sure) 4-0 victory by Man City over a thoroughly disheartened looking Villa side, did not today count very much as entertainment, unless of course all you're into is "tribal fan war", and not concerned with the quality of football, which was OK today from City but hardly outstanding.

    I think in this talk of "team collective" it's necessary to be very careful not to suppress individual talent and therefore both entertainment and skill, by trying to reduce all football to defensive and two-touch football based mainly on intricate passing moves and "percentage play."

    It may very well be that from the "military tactical" point of view, that "siege" heavily defence based style football is even superior to a more attacking style - I see the progress of Tottenham Hotspur as almost the focus and test of that debate - but if it turns out that more defensive, less exciting football, really is tactically superior, and the Tottehnams of this world simply can't win Champions Leagues or domestic leagues with more attacking tactics, then it appears to me that it will be at the expense of entertainment, of suppression of individual skill, and if football is not entertaining, why should we want to watch it?

    I watched two games today - Man City and Tottenham - and despite less goals in the Tottenham game, it was by far the most entertaining, and Gareth Bale's solo goal was absolutely the highlight of the day, as I think the MOTD commentary team will confirm tomorrow night.

    So yes, we need teams whose players work for one another, but like in a genuine war, sometimes we need a Douglas Bader or a Baron Von Richtofen to do what others cannot, and strike fear into the enemy, in football we also need to give the freedom to great talents to have "more than their fair share" of the play, because they are the "special ones" who make the difference between the "team collective" who wins and the one that loses.

    As to managers in our Premier League like Scolari, I think there are all kinds of problems with foreign managers trying to manager a multi-national collection of players, the most obvious of which is communication problems.

    In what other field of business or endeavour would one even dream of appointing a man manager or leader who does not have even the basic language skills to communicate with even the majority of those whom he seeks to manage or lead?

    It's madness.

    Sven on the other hand spoke perfect English before he came here, and when briefly appointed as Mexico manager, he took and gave all his press conferences even from day one in Spanish, even though he was new to the language, and devoted himself to improving it from the outset, based on the Italian and Portuguese he already knew.

    He respected our language and our culture, as he's done every country he's been.

    Mancini and Cappello in my view have respected neither, and Mancini has openly whinged about the drinking culture aspect of it as if he had that right.

    I think Scolari was just a bad lot who struck lucky with Brazil. I think his Portugal team in 2006 were appalling cheats, including Ronaldo causing the sending off of Rooney that may have cost Sven and England that World Cup or at least a semi-final place.

    As to management in general, my point has been that it takes a certain character or personality to succeed, especially in the EPL, and I don't think Mancini's got it, though it will take some convincing of Man City fans of that right now, so if you have a bad man manager, not only will you get no "team collective" or players working for one another properly, you'll get all kinds of problems.

    Balotelli before today's game had been talking of wanting to leave, and maybe the hat trick will settle him for a while, but my guess is not for long. Another aspect of the "team collective" failure at Man City, will be that I very much doubt Carlos Tevez will be happy to see Balotelli scoring a hat trick today, stealing his thunder, so we can expect more trouble and friction from him.

    Berbatov has obviously settled much better into the Man U team, but it appears at the expense of loyalty to his national team, Bulgaria, who he has in my view selfishly retired from playing for, though possibly under pressure from Ferguson.

    Doesn't "team collective" therefore imply a loyalty which Berbatov is only showing to Man U right now, but not to his home country?

    Finally, Man City and whoever else will show "team collective" spirit when they are winning, but what about when losing?

    I don't believe teams are a collective of equals, but a hierarchy of one player deferring to another in a pecking order, which is mostly arranged by the manager, and as I said earlier, if he gets it wrong, thus putting players like Tevez at the top of the pecking order, and suppressing players who are actually better quality like Adam Johnson, then the team will suffer, so in the case of Man City they'll beat the "minnows" and "no hopers" like struggling Villa today, or West Ham the other week, but even against Everton City floundered, so what will happen when the meet the other top 4 or 6 teams?

    I don't think there will be any "team collective" there any more, it will be a bunch of frightened and uncreative players, all waiting for a brave "Archie Gemmill" type individual to pull them out of the myre.

    That is what England lacked in the last World Cup - an individual with a bucket load of guts who could inspire them and lead them to victory, while their confidence was at its lowest ebb, and they didn't have anyone of that description (they might have had, if they'd taken Adam Johnson), and neither was Cappello able to pick them up at half time.

    So my conclusion on this debate is that "team collective" sounds great in theory, but in practice, the problem with teams not winning is mostly down to poor managers who make poor management decisions.

    The cups and titles then go to the managers who have the best players and who make the fewest dumb decisions.

    Whether there is a team collective concept or spirit or not, is mostly down to the manager making realistic assessments of his players on merit, and then man managing them in a humane and diplomatic way as Sven and Harry Redknapp for example do, with Fergie somewhat behind but still adequate, but the likes of Mancini and Cappello have to date mostly failed to do, and thus the latter have only assembled a bunch of "fair weather friends", who are happy to celebrate and kiss when the "good times" roll, but suddenly are disappearing when "the chips are down."

    Thus we saw Cappello's failure to create team spirit in the World Cup England squad, and Mancini's failure to bring back Man City from a goal down to victory any time this season.

    Apologies to all, for so many references to Mancini and Man City, but it's the subject I know best at present, and so it's easiest to use it as an example in my discussion of Tim's "team collective" concept.

  • Comment number 57.

    the concept is not 'team collective' or team versus individuals - it is having a collective idea that enables the team to function well and therefore get the best out of the key individuals.

  • Comment number 58.

    re 57

    Hello Tim

    Sounds fine in theory.

    Any chance of you answering my question directed to you in post 56 about why a lot of Brazilian and maybe (I'm not sure) South American footballers in general - I listed Robinho, Elano, Santa Cruz, Jo, don't seem to adapt very well to the Premier League culture?

    Argentinians like Tevez and in earlier days Ricardo Villa and Ossie Ardilles for Tottenham have done OK, but do you see a fundamental difference between Brazilian or South American and European or Premier League football that makes their adaptation here problematic?

    If you're too busy drinking Tequilas and upping your suntan however, it's OK, if you don't have time!

  • Comment number 59.

    re 57


    Perhaps I've expressed myself poorly in earlier posts.

    My concern is that this concept you are putting across may be perfectly valid when properly understood and applied.

    But I think you are at least partly picking up on a trend, particularly in Premier League football of managers saying "the team is more important than the individual."

    I don't think it's irrelevant to note that Western culture as opposed to Eastern culture - e.g. the Indians and Chinese - has historically been very much about the group and not so much the individual, whereas Western culture has since its inception as far as I can see been about individual achievement and brilliance whether in arts, science, business or sport.

    I really think that Germany is kind of unique amongst European culture in that due to the still lingering memories of the Nazi culture, there's a kind of reluctance amongst the German people to make too much fuss of or attach too much importance to any individual as clearly happened in the case of "the Fuhrer", and I think it's led to a less egotistical and individualistic culture there, which has on balance probably been good for the country.

    Even the organisation of the last German world cup in 2006 was a model of self-effacing efficiency, and when you see the staggering intelligence of ex-players like Beckenbauer as compared to ours - i.e. they have Beckenbauer and we have "Becks" - as I've said elsewhere above, there seems to be more cool rational thinking and organisation in German football than in the more emotionally based English/British.

    But you've said as your headline - "Team collective more important than individuals" and I think that's part of a culture that really can lead to the suppression of very talented individuals like Man City's Adam Johnson by Roberto Mancini.

    I think the kind of individual skill Johnson shows would be welcomed in Brazil - I actually saw one non-City fan comment saying Johnson is the nearest thing we've got to a Brazilian - but is not so welcome here, because I think there's a hell of a lot of suppression of individualism in modern Britain, and that applies to football also.

    That in my view is the fundamental reason that as a footballing nation we are dying, and our national team fails repeatedly.

    We've repressed the individual, and that's why so many fans and journalists stand fairly mutely by while a foreign manager who make have very dubious motives, Roberto Mancini, suppresses one of our best English talents and hopes for generations, Adam Johnson.

    And not only Johnson, but lots of our English and British players are being kept out of first team and Premier League football by a whole host of foreign stars like Tevez, who are basically only here for the money, and once again, most journalists are mute and accepting of it, even though it's at the expense of our 5 national British teams - England, Scotland, Wales, and the 2 Irelands, who have been slipping back further and further from qualification each successive World Cup since the Premier League as we know it began, and in the last World Cup our only entrant in the finals, England, didn't even make it to the quarters.

    So with the greatest respect Tim, that's why I am a little concerned about your promotion of "team collective more important than individuals", even if I've not managed to fully understand the subtlety of your concept.

  • Comment number 60.

    your misunderstanding comes from judging the headline rather than the article. i'm not responsible for the headline. nowhere in the piece will you find the idea of team versus star.

  • Comment number 61.

    Of course there are huge differences between life and football in Brazil and England - in the latter the game is much faster, more physical contact is allowed.
    So you might say that it does not suit the more ball playing Brazilians - but then we need to explain how Juninho was such a success.

    As a broad generalisation I think it is true that Argentines adapt better than the Brazilians. I think we draw a certain parallel between Brazil and Britain on this - there is an element of insularity in British culture, manifested in the reluctance to learn other languages, and clearly in some part the result of living on an island. Brazil isn't an island, but can feel like one - a huge, huge country surrounded by nations that don't speak its language - contact with 'the other' is limited, and horizons can be as well.

    The great Hugh McIlvanney wrote in the 80s that British expatriate players were often so reluctant to immerse themselves in their surrounding culture that it was as if they took the field with a return ticket tucked into their sock - much the same applies to some of the Brazilians - there is also the aspect, much commented over here by sports psychologists, that Brazilian players can sometimes feel that abroad everything is against them. They can at times be a bit spoilt, used to a paternalistic culture that lets them get away with things.

    The example of Juninho shows that adaptation is possible, whatever the player's physical build. I suspect that in 20 years time there will be plenty of Brazilian success stories in English football - there have been in every other major (ans minor) European league.

  • Comment number 62.

    the dig on ozil/khedira was not smart. why alienate yourself so. so it fit the story did you check the lineups on the day? this is why the neutrals favor the germans now while the haters continue to live in the world of old stereotypes

  • Comment number 63.

    Thanks for the reply Tim which was by no means assumed or expected.

    It's an interesting question isn't it, why Argentinians adapt better to British football culture, and maybe even British culture in general, which quite frankly, I don't have the slightest understanding of.

    All I can think of is the fact that the Portuguese language is an isolating factor in itself shared only as far as I'm aware by Brazil, Portugal and maybe a few African countries/colonies here and there, whereas Spanish for example is pretty universal across the 5 continents to a significant degree.

    However, there seems to be something a bit unique about Brazil, which may be partly to do with that isolating language factor, and without having your own personal first hand experience of the country, my guess is that it's reflected in the music like the Samba and so on.

    I do question a little bit however about the "paternalistic" cause of the perhaps spoilt brat element of the Brazilian psyche.

    I actually had a great deal of contact with a very educated Brazilian native for several years, whose main axis of anxiety seemed to be his dominating mother and not his father!

    Anyway, without getting too deep into it, my feeling is that the Brazilians are a rather emotional race, not too much "stiff upper lip" like the Brits, and so homesickness and lack of sun, sand and samba would be a big issue to them.

    I'd guess that one cruel British winter would probably be enough to shock most of them into buying a plane ticket home, and head back to the sands and beaches of Rio.

    I think we have to bear in mind that there's a major song about the girl from Ipanema but not one I can recall about a girl from Argentina.

    And of course, a large part of what foreigners to Brazil like myself, and maybe natives of Brazil too identify as "essence of Brazil" is the "carnival culture", which once again, projects into how they play the game of football.

    Having said all that, I do honestly think that Latins in general have a tendency to be spoilt brats, and even Brazil have shown dirty tactics over the years in the event of them being in a losing position, which of course Argentina over the decades have been legendary for, including Diego Maradonna's infamous "hand of God" which translated into everyday English means "I punched the ball into the net in a vital world cup game and pinned the blame on a much contested deity."

    Maradonna was an outrageous cheat on that day, and his light-hearted evasion and excusing of that fact was in my view a historic and unjustifiable football scandal.

    As to the adaptation of Brazilian players to English or European football, I think it is mainly an issue of temperament and cultural incompatibility, and so I don't share your optimism that there will be any greater adaptation in the future.

    English/British life is just not lived to a samba/bossa nova beat, we Brits are a boring bunch of rhythmless uptight people, who struggle to dance, with a few exceptions a century like George Best and Torvill and Dean.

    I think the Brazilians probably see our dreary nation as some kind of robotic, cold and unfeeling hell, and for anybody who has enjoyed a near tropical clime for most of their lives, that's an understandable point of view.

    In spirit, we're probably closer to the Germans than anybody else, with a distinct lack of sunny beaches but a surplus of "bier halles", and the British mentality would seem to work best when there's a spirit of "we shall fight them on the beaches" as opposed to "we shall party and samba on the beaches" like presumably those more rhythmic guys and girls in Rio and Acapulco do.

    Anyway, I'd just like to say it's been a pleasure Tim, posting on your blog, and long may you continue in your commendable efforts to inject a rare measure of intelligence into British football culture and journalism.

    And finally, I'd like to send you my most envious greetings, because my guess is that most people in the UK if receiving a postcard on it from you that said "wish you were here" would actually be inclined to "second that emotion" in all honesty for a change.

  • Comment number 64.

    World Cup Wally, do you get paid by the word?

  • Comment number 65.

    62 - there's no real dig at ozil and khedira - fine players both - the point was the difference in messi's effectiveness against them, caused, as far as my argument is concerned, by the difference in collective idea of the teams on the two occasions.

    63 - there's a risk that you're getting too carried away with myths about happy-go-lucky Brazilians living their lives to the samba beat - there is huge portions of myth in this - it's a myth which has been very useful to the brazilian elite over the years.

    the culture puts great emphasis on moments of happiness - that's not the same as being happy - in fact, can be the exact opposite. as one local song puts it, "sadness has no end, but happiness does."

  • Comment number 66.

    re 65

    Fair enough Tim - as never having visited Brazil, I may well be naively buying into the myth, I know there's a lot of awful poverty and inequality there for example, but it looks to me like the Brazilian footballers at least have some feeling for rhythm that shows in their style of play that the Brits tend to lack, and there's no denying the better weather!

    I do think however there's some kind of innocent child like quality in the Brazilians which once again, the Brits tend to lack, which may have something to do with the massive Catholic culture there, and maybe they haven't totally absorbed the "Protestant work ethic" that we have, despite the desires of the elite, which may show itself in the reluctance of the Brazilian footballers to adapt to our more regimented way of life, even in terms of the training regime.

    Players of old for example here for decades talked of the army PT style of football training with its emphasis on "physical jerks" which often lacked the presence of a football much of the time, whereas as a rare exception, Brian Clough's style of training was mainly 5-a-side, and he actually forbade one of his players, McGovern, a fitness fanatic, to go running outside of training, and of course we've had another Latin American, Carlos Tevez, recently rebelling against Mancini's rigid training methods, and pretty much everything else Mancin's been trying to do, though there's no "trouble at mill" at least for the moment.

    Anyway, in the absence of any further major blog entries from you, all the best for 2011 Tim, and I'm sure you're quite right in pointing out that it's just as miserable in Brazil as here (though I do wonder if you're only saying that out of fear the BBC hierarchy might relocate you to Poland or Moscow or somewhere if they think you're having too much fun - perhaps a more miserable and less smiley photo would be in order, preferably black and white to disguise the tan!)

    Let's hope for some interesting football developments in 2011, as it looks like it's going to be a fascinating year, especially for me personally with Berbatov hitting form it seems suddenly for Man U - a fantastic goal last night against Birmingham, with Berbatov stroking the ball around looking like a Brazilian at times!

  • Comment number 67.

    55- guess I forgot to add the part that says I don't think your article is against star players, etc, etc. However, some of the people here think so. The point in my closing paragraph (posted with Eric Cantona like encryption) actually appears in your article but diffrerently when you discuss how argentina could have made line-up changes in order to allow Messi to concentrate on his game instead of dropping back to win balls

  • Comment number 68.

    Hello again Tim, I wasn't going to post again here, but I thought part of your last comment deserved special attention now I'm able to do that.

    So I don't know if anybody is still looking here, including yourself, but for what it's worth I want to give my take on the issue below, because I think it does still relate to your thread topic, and you've raised psychology and Brazilian psychology in particular, and I'll just give a reasonably short reply (by my standards) as psychology is one of my main hobbies, so perhaps what I have to say is of some value to someone here.

    You wrote:


    "63 - there's a risk that you're getting too carried away with myths about happy-go-lucky Brazilians living their lives to the samba beat - there is huge portions of myth in this - it's a myth which has been very useful to the Brazilian elite over the years.

    the culture puts great emphasis on moments of happiness - that's not the same as being happy - in fact, can be the exact opposite. as one local song puts it, "sadness has no end, but happiness does." "


    I think the whole issue of "happiness" is a false concept, not really properly defined or even perhaps definable at all.

    Many try to equate pleasure with being happy, but that kind of happiness only lasts as long as the pleasure does, which quite often is not long, such as the pleasure of eating an enjoyable meal.

    And in practice, a lot of people regard happiness as "absence of anxiety" which of course can be obtained by the use of drugs, or exciting pastimes such as watching or playing sport, because the excitement and focus involved temporarily drives all other anxiety and misery inducing thoughts from the psyche.

    Obviously in your own case, you get great happiness/satisfaction/pleasure from analysing football, and clearly thinking/philosophising in general, as your commments here are not confined merely to football issues.

    Which is of course natural, as we can't divorce sporting performance and matters surrounding sport from human and psychological issues.

    But a lot of so called happiness is basically just described as the state people are in when indulging in some form of pleasurable escape, whether eating, or some exciting pastime like listening to music, watching sport, or eating for pleasure as opposed to merely for nutrition.

    So I think when you talk of the Brazilians valuing "moments of happiness" that is the kind of "happiness" they are talking about, that of escaping from misery, which to me wouldn't be genuine "happiness" at all, but just the temporary masking of an underlying miserable state.

    My own concept of happiness is threefold.

    I think firstly that happiness - I mean a natural anxiety-free state that can't occur without good physical and mental health - cannot really occur as a routine state, where the fundamental needs of life - education, work, food, shelter, and healthcare, are not guaranteed.

    But even that is only the first step.

    Because secondly, work for example, is not enough per se - it has to be suitable work which people feel is meaningful for them and corresponds to their potential, and if people feel insecure in their roles, as our subjects here, footballers and football managers so frequently do, as well as workers in general, they can't really feel truly happy, because they are living in anxiety and insecurity.

    Thus the routine use of alcohol and other recreational drugs, because hardly anybody feels secure, in either their work or personal relationships, and so once again, the only "happiness" they can get is by blotting their anxiety out for however long the drug lasts.

    This insecurity however is needless, and mainly due to an overly competitive culture, like we have in football now, and also a lot of business in general, which in my view results mainly from globalisation policies which aren't actually in the best interests of anybody but the elite who own banks, corporations and so on.

    And then thirdly, and this is very relevant to your thread topic here also, in one sense the only real happiness is found when you are being creative in some sense, meaning that you feel your individuality is being expressed.

    Thus most people dream of having a "creative job" like being a writer, artist, actor/actress, musician, sports person (to whatever extent they are creative), so they can "express themselves", their individuality.

    So really, that makes a job like yours a pretty plum one, regardless of where you are in Rio or Moscow, because there's quite a lot of creative freedom there, though obviously not as much as in the case of somebody who writes plays, novels, songs, or paints pictures for a living, who more or less as they say has "carte blanche" provided the quality of their output is still adequate to be saleable.

    But good cooks/chefs or crafts people can also get such satisfaction if they love what they do, and thus there's the expression "my work is my life" (and the converse).

    But it's also not enough to enjoy what you do, you also have to believe you are good enough at it, or you are tormented by insecurity, feel like that sooner or later you'll get "found out", and that's a major problem in all fields of work including football, because most people now derive their identity from their job title, as distinct from if they are really deserving of that title and suited to that particular line of work.

    The consequence again being, that ambitious people will aggressively try to take away a higher status job than maybe their natural talent merits from others who do merit it, and thus we end up in this man/woman against man/woman war for jobs, because the job title has become the source of their identity, whether or not they deserve it.

    Which of course just leads to endless insecurity for all concerned.

    There are other levels of "happiness" that one might seek for as discussed in philosophies like Buddhism, etc, but really unless people have the basics of life more or less guaranteed to them - i.e. suitable work/livelihood (as I said, the emphasis being on suitable), health care, housing, education and food, you can't really talk about any kind of happiness beyond those things, beacause it's all really about what the psychologist Abraham Maslow defines as a pyramid of levels of happiness/fulfilment, at which the pinnacle he describes as "self-actualisation" - i.e. fulfilling one's potential to whatever degree one is able.

    So I think at present, that is the main source of misery for most people, and thus by implication lack of "happiness" - lack of suitable and secure and as much as possible creative employment.

    Of course the other major arena of happiness/unhappiness is personal relationships, but in my view, unless one is happy in one's work, it's probably not possible to be happy in personal relationships either, as without a feeling of having a value and place in society, and of course, economic security, one is going to be dissatisfied with one's self, and then how can one expect others to be happy with one who is not even happy with him or her self?

    So in Brazil, I think the main problem is really economic, as you imply, caused by an uncaring and exploitative elite as is true to some degree everywhere right now, and clearly has been throughout most or all of recorded history.

    I'll just finish by trying it in to my theme - that the repression of the individual is the problem, including in football, and when the individual is taken care of, then the group also, in football, the team, or in society, the whole human family, will prosper best.

    I suppose therefore, as even Woody Allen pointed out in at least one of his movies, the happiness of the individual is not really possible unless the group is happy collectively (i.e. not if others are suffering), and neither can the group be happy without acting in so far as is possible to guarantee the happiness of all its individuals.

    That would imply a more cooperative than competitive arrangement of society, though that would not negate or outlaw the value of sport like football, but the emphasis would be more upon taking part and playing one's best, rather than making winning the all important goal, which of course is ultimately only an "ego based" pleasure, like a dominant gorilla beating its chest in the jungle - I'm surprised sometimes we don't see some of our modern players doing that after scoring a goal.

    Well, I'll stop there. I hope that meant something to somebody here, hoping there might be still one or two people left looking at this page, or may do so someday.

  • Comment number 69.

    65. At 03:01am on 29 Dec 2010, Tim Vickery - BBC Sport wrote:

    "63 - there's a risk that you're getting too carried away with myths about happy-go-lucky Brazilians living their lives to the samba beat - there is huge portions of myth in this - it's a myth which has been very useful to the brazilian elite over the years."

    This is fascinating, Tim. From the outside, Brazil looks to be in decent shape. It has a young population, vast agricultural (and water) resources, and now huge offshore oil discoveries. The outgoing president was extremely popular, and economic growth has been impressive. I'm aware of poverty and the favellas, but the general trend looks very positive. Am I underestimating the scale of the problems?

    On the blog (great, as usual), I agree that talented individuals don't make a team, and that Argentina are an example of this, but the management of the team seemed incredibly incompetent. Would Spain have won the World Cup managed by Maradona? I doubt it!

  • Comment number 70.

    World Cup Wally:

    That is simply incredible insight.

    I was wondering about this question yesterday, and after reading Tim's excellent blog, I have to say I was not expecting something of that calibre that so coincidently was such a precise answer to my question.

    Might go and print it now!

    I do think that happiness is unattainable in the society we live in, but I think we are defined by our pursuit of that happiness just over the horizon. Those moments of pleasure to escape the confines of our 'miserable' lives is perhaps what explains levels of consumerism reaching what they are today.

  • Comment number 71.

    @ 68: fascinating insights Wally and a valuable contribution to a valuable blog. I will need to digest it all at leisure, but will make a few comments based on personal experience and observation: i) I believe that it is a basic human necessity to find some way of expressing oneself, and receiving recognition for one's efforts; however, ii) humanity spends most of its time in an egocentric "me-focused" world (partly dictated by the battle for survival), and yet happiness seems to be found in those moments when we are drawn out of that centre and find ourselves tapping into some kind of universal connection that reinforces our sense of being an integral part of something far greater than ourselves; so, iii) we need to get the ego out of the way in our dealings with one another and I agree with you totally that cooperation, not competition (and inspiration, not fear) is the way to go.
    As for the sporting angle, you touch on an aspect that I believe is far too often overlooked. Imho, the essence of sport is the personal challenge, to make the most of your abilities and overcome your limitations. That is why it is so relevant to people of all skill levels and far too much emphasis is placed on those at the top of the ability scale. That is why the Olympics is such a joy, because everyone can appreciate that Swiss marathon runner who struggled over the finishing line, or the Brazilian who was attacked by the religious fanatic, and still managed to finish 3rd. Or the non-athlete who was an essential part of his house's rugby triumph on school sports day. These people are examples of winners, every bit as much as the gold medalists and highly paid stars.
    It is also reassuring to read a blog such as this, suggesting that, despite all the individual hype, the collective aspect of team sports is becoming appreciated once more. May this trend continue to evolve, and also progress into the business world, where we also see too many primadonnas taking an undue proportion of the rewards for successful results, while those who keep our society running go largely unrecognised.

  • Comment number 72.

    @ 59: I have to take issue with you on this one. Although I agree that British football has been excessivley distrustful of 'individual talent' and great players such as Rodney Marsh and modern talents like Adam Johnson haven't been given a fair chance, such talent will only bring success when harnessed to the collective good, as Barcelona are demonstrating nowadays. England's abject failure in SA2010 was mostly down to the fact that they did not play as a team, perhaps because of the cliques that apparently exist within the squad, perhaps because they're all unduly affected by the overhyping from the local press. Imho, Germany were not superior to England on a man-for-man basis, but as a team they wiped the floor with us (though there is an argument that, had Lampard's equalizer been given, the rest of the match may have turned out quite differently - games at the highest level often swing greatly on little details).

  • Comment number 73.

    re 72 BLRBrazil my feeling re Adam Johnson is simply that it's not in the "collective good" of Man City to be keeping him on the bench of most Premier League games (the 4-0 victory on Tuesday being a rare exception, as Mancini was as far as I can see resting some of his "first teamers" and Tevez supposedly injured).

    To know if a player's performance is going to be in the collective good, we have to give him the freedom to do what he thinks is in the collective interest.

    As I said earlier, my philosophy of what's most in the collective interest of any team is to give the best player(s) the ball for as much of the time as possible.

    Johnson showed he was a great team player last year, the axis of most of Man City's attacks, but there have been many times (especially when behind) when Man City have been struggling for a goal, for an "Archie Gemmill moment" (a great solo run he did in the World Cup group stage Scotland V Holland game 1978), which at times Johnson has been allowed to do when he's come on, and get draws (e.g. Juventus) and victories for City (e.g. Newcastle) when they've otherwise been lost for ideas.

    But there have been other occasions, when he hasn't succeeded in rescuing them, and in my view, that's largely been because of Mancini's insistence of him being more of a "team player" (which he was already in my book) inhibiting his natural style, so he's given the ball to players many times - e.g. Jo and Tevez - who have made a pig's ear out of it, when he probably could have gone on his own and scored.

    So I think it's just not that simple when we talk of what's in the interest of the team/collective, because managers like Mancini are using that philosophy of "team is more important than individuals" to suppress individuals like Johnson.

    As to England in the World Cup, the first major blunder was not taking Adam Johnson, but even given the team that played, they severely underperformed in comparison to their pre-finals play, and indeed what we've seen since (in the A Johnson inclusion era), and for me, that's a failure on the manager's part to give his team a belief they can perform on the "big stage", i.e. Mr Cappello's fault.

    He remarked after the World Cup exit that he didn't know what went wrong, why they underperformed.

    He failed to understand, that was the reason he was being paid £6m a year, to know the answer to that question, to be able to succeed where all the other previous managers since Alf Ramsey had failed.

    My take is that the players simply can't handle the pressure from the fans and media, especially the media.

    I think Rooney's recent "thank you" to the booing fans was a clear proof of that.

    i.e. the problem was not so much tactical or inferior skills or an outdated approach as "stage fright", and of course Green's awful "hand of clod" goalkeeping blunder was a good example of that.

    So I am not sure that as you suggest, England would have done much better if Lampard's "goal that was but wasn't" had been given, because the fact is that Capello - and we must take into account his poor English skills and diplomacy in my view - failed to inspire belief in his team on the big stage as all great managers have been able to do.

    I'm really not sure that there are any managers in the world who are capable of doing that, such is England's "performance anxiety" post 1966.

    I think the only hope really is a new generation of players like Johnson and so on, who don't yet have a record of failure in big international competition, mixed with good old players for 2012 like Gerrard, Rooney and I'd even say Beckham if he's fit enough and in form.

    I really think it's more a case now of a manager damaging the team by playing the wrong players, as I feel Cappello also did - e.g. should have used Joe Hart in goals from day one - so I think that Harry Redknapp would be a much better choice, simply because he would probably pick the best players, and not overmanage too much, and just let the players do their thing more, and let them find their own heart and courage.

    What they don't need is more criticism, that's for sure, so "tough guy"/"hard man" managers like Cappello tried to be at first, are a disaster and would continue to be so.

  • Comment number 74.

    Tim, I have a question for you.

    You always state that brazilian football is slow and has no allowance for physical contact. But many interviews and facts indicate the opposite of your statements. IIRC, the argentineans that play in the Brazilian league stated in interviews that the game was very physical and much faster than they ever experienced in other countries.

    Matias Defederico spoke to an Argentinean radio saying that the players in brazil are too big and strong for him to play as a winger (thats how they used him).

    Also Ramires when asked the differences between brazil, england and portugal leagues, stated that "english and brazilian league are speed leagues, portugal is a slow paced, thinking league"

    I would like to hear your thoughts on that.. Maybe you are confusing speed with tactics, time on ball, which are completely different things.


  • Comment number 75.

    74 - I've often talked about Brazil's culture of physical preperation and production line of athletic players - an excllent thing which can at times be taken too far - many wonder whether zico or romario would get a crack if they were youngsters these days, or whether they'd be regarded as too small.

    So this emphasisis on speed and athleticism is in a way a similarity between contemporary english and brazilian football.

    In terms of the amount of physical contact, though, there are massive differences. In Brazil everything is a foul.

    there are 2 other key differences - one is the speed at which the ball is circulated - because this, more than the speed of the players, determines the speed of the match. In Brazil this happens more slowly, in part because of the other key difference - the positioning of the players.

    In Brazil the defensive lines will tend to play very deep, meaning that there is much more space on the field. In England it is much more condensed.
    Did you see the goal that Sandro gave away for Tottenham against Bolton a couple of months back? Receives the ball from his centre back 25 yards from goal, tunrs into trouble and loses possession - the main reason that he was caught was that he is simply not used to being put under pressure in that zone of the field. Back at home he could have a look and take his time choosing what to do with the ball, but not in England. It is this high level physical intensity that cuases the difficulty of adaptation - as Ramires is finding out as well.

    In part this helps explain why players such as conca and montillo, argentine playmakers who didn't do much at home, have done so well in Brazil - like the serbian petkovic, a star in brazil toward the end of his career when even at his peak he couldn't do much in the major European leagues. Brazilian football has struggled to produce the collective type of number 10, the man who makes the team play. But for those who can do it - Conca, Montillo, Petkovic, etc - thera are rich pickings. There is space on the field, protection from the referee, and the number 10 is surrounded by interesting options - such as the wonderfully athletic attacking full backs that Brazil produces.

  • Comment number 76.

    there's no real dig at ozil and khedira - fine players both - the point was the difference in messi's effectiveness against them, caused, as far as my argument is concerned, by the difference in collective idea of the teams on the two occasions.

  • Comment number 77.


    Yes I agree, it has to do with tactical differences. Another day I watched Lucas comment that Brazilian tactics are getting better, even compared to 3,4 years ago when he played there. He also stated that in Argentina the tactics are much more similar to Europeans, that may make adaptation easier for them.

    Also the pitches in Brazil are notably larger and the grass is much bigger than in other places, a factor that always causes complaints from argentinean sides when playingn in brazil. (which contributes for a more slower game)

  • Comment number 78.

    I think its more apples and oranges, not one being better than another style. In Brazil there is more space to play, but they attack with 2 or 3 more players than the opposition does and with more coordination. In brazil there is also twice more training periods than in the rest of the world.

  • Comment number 79.

    77 - great point about the pitches and the length of the grass...

    back in 93 when he broke through it was something ronaldo used to complain about - he had a sponsorship deal with a boot manufacturer - he would receive in accordance with how many times their logo appeared on his boots - but the grass was so long, especially in his home stadium, that the logo hardly ever appeared!

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  • Comment number 86.

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