Matthew Monk is a school teacher
from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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The Real World Championship
This is a column I never thought I would be writing.
Growing up in the 1980s and early 1990s, I was taught,
and thought, that the World Cup was the ultimate level
of football, the pinnacle of the greatest sport in the
It was at the World Cup that the truly great players
came to the fore, and it was also the place that the
journeymen and charlatans were exposed and humbled.
It gave birth to the legends of Pelé, Beckenbauer,
Müller, Moore, Cruijff and - above all - Maradona. It
was the ultimate, and we knew exactly what we would
get for three weeks or a month every four years. Now
I am not so sure.
This is not yet another column laying into referees,
or berating the fact that Italy, France and Portugal
went out while Senegal, Turkey and Korea marched on.
On the contrary, this has made this World Cup the most
exciting, inspiring World Cup ever. No, what I am
getting at, what has become evident to me while
watching the games on the BBC, is that the World Cup
is no longer the ultimate level of football.
There must be lots of reasons why the quality of
football has been a below what we expected this past
month. It has been very hot and humid, all the teams
can defend better and are much more organised, fewer
attackers find their way onto the pitch these days.
Etc, etc. Forget those. I think - no, I know - why I
(and many, many others) have felt that the quality of
football on show seems down. It is because I am used
to seeing football of a higher quality week in, week
out - not necessarily in England, but always in the
I have written this down loads of times before, but it
is a point that can never be understated. The
inception of the Champions League in its full format
and pomp has radically changed football. It has made
the game faster and so much more competitive, while
not only keeping the overall level of quality but
rather extending it to places the World Cup simply
Think for a second about the two teams that are going
to play in the Final on Sunday. Once this would be
seen as a clash between the twenty-two greatest
players on Earth. Now this statement has hardly ever
been borne out in actuality, but the basis for this
idea held - and strangely, still holds - in much of
the world. The Brasil 1970 side is considered by many
to be the best XI ever to run on a field, while their
own 1982 version and the 1974 Dutch Masters are often
picked to finish as close runner's up in that
particular vote. But is it really true? I am not
going to get into the merits and deficiencies of these
particular teams here, because this article is very
much about 2002, but I challenge anyone to even
suggest that the Brazilian or German teams that will
meet in Yokohama are in the top ten teams in the world
today. Times have changed, and no national team can
find five or six players who can truly be considered
among the planet's best, let alone eleven.
And no, I am not saying that Ronaldo or Michael
Ballack are not world-class players - of course they
are - but instead that Brasil or Germany (or any
national team) cannot ever hope to have players of
matching quality in every position. Moreover, I don't
think that any team - national or domestic - can boast
such a team. Even Real Madrid has weak links: while
Helguera is a magician, Hierro is ageing and the likes
of Karanaka or Campo hardly pass muster in support.
Zidane and Figo are peerless in their positions;
Makelele and Cesar are not.
But these top Champions League clubs do have so much
more strength in depth, and boast the best players
from five or six countries at the same time. That
makes them better. Brasil are devoid of world-class
defenders. To change that they must go out and create
new players, from schoolboy and youth level. If Real,
Arsenal or Bayern need a new, world-class defender
they go out and buy one. It is a simple idea, but is
one that works in 2002. I watch Liverpool play every
week. They can include the best players from Poland,
Finland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Senegal, Norway
and England in their starting lineup, and they are not
even in the top four Champions League teams - yet.
But that just goes to show the strength in depth of
these squads. England struggled to find a player for
the left side of midfield - Liverpool, Real, Arsenal
and Bayern have four or five different options here at
This means huge competition. El Hadji Diouf is in the
process of joining Liverpool, and comes to Anfield as
the undisputed star of Senegalese and African
football. He is - if fit - guaranteed to start up
front for his country. At Liverpool he is at least
third choice, and is competing with Jari Litmanen just
to have a place on the bench. That also ignores the
claims of Vladimir Smicer and Milan Baros to a
strikers role. When Diouf gets his chance he will
have to play out of his skin just to keep it - as does
Michael Owen. It means Liverpool play better, win
more, and advance all the time. There is no such
pressure on Diouf for Senegal. Now this may make him
more confident, and may mean he plays well against
weak defenders, but regardless of what he does he
knows he will be back up front in the next game. And
that is not a good thing.
The point I am trying to make - laboriously as always
- is that because there is such competition not only
between the Champions League teams, but also within
each team, the quality of football played shoots ever
upwards. The difference in standard between 1992 and
2002 is immense. In 1992, Sampdoria, and Barcelona
emerged from the first 'leagues' without too much of a
problem, but while the football on show was good, it
was hardly much better than that displayed in Italia
90 or even Euro 92. This past seasons' Champions
League has seen tremendous football, with seven or
eight teams playing the type of stuff we have been
missing in Japan and Korea. 1:0 games are rare in big
Champions League showdowns. Obviously defences do get
packed and spoiling tactics are used when a team can
happily settle for a draw, but think back to the
Deportivo/ Man Utd battles or Liverpool/Roma at
Anfield. These games were full of attack from the
first to the last, with teams full of superstars
testing themselves at levels this World Cup has not
even dreamed of.
Tactically, the Champions League is miles ahead as
well. The World Cup is full of has been - or never
have been - coaches. For every Trappatoni there is a
Phillipe Troussier or Winni Schäfer. Even England's
saviour Sven hardly has the most inspiring record in
club football - his biggest successes came at Lazio
and Benfica where his teams were regularly beaten in
the Champions League. Where are the Ferguson's,
Houillier's, Cuper's and Del Bosque's? The truth is,
with a very few exceptions, the World Cup is home to a
whole host of second-rate coaches. Before this summer
Guus Hiddink couldn't have given his services away in
Europe, and it remains to be seen if the big boys are
going to come calling even now. Yet he is being
hailed as an innovator for the way he has turned Korea
around. On the whole, the type of football being
played in the World Cup was being played in the
Champions League in 1997 or 1998. In other words it
is four years behind the best.
And is this going to change in time for Deutschland
2006? Don't bet on it.
When Italy was in revolt over its elimination by
Korea, a large number of European voices were calling
for UEFA to pull out of the World Cup and go it alone.
While this was never going to happen this time, who
is to say that it would not do so in the future,
especially if the conspiracies were proven? Way back
in 1993 Silvio Berlusconi, then merely a billionaire
TV magnate and Milan owner, was talking about the end
of International football as we knew it. Club sides
would become the new International teams he said -
Milan and Juve would represent Italy, Real and Barca
would do the same in Spain. Between them and the
other G14 teams they would cherrypick the best players
from all around the world to fill their shirts. At
that point they would stop being Brazilian or
Argentinian, and would become honorary Italians or
Englishmen. To some extent that already happens.
Roberto Carlos represents - and belongs to - Real as
much as Brasil. Ronaldo is owned for all intents and
purposes by Nike. Playing at the World Cup is still
important because it gives a huge shop window, with
all its billions of TV viewers, and not even the
Champions League final can match that. Yet.
One day though, a Ronaldo or Zidane is going to get
seriously injured while playing for their nation, and
their playing days will be over. As well as being a
human tragedy, it is a massive financial disaster for
a G14 club. Michael Owen can be expected to make at
least $10 or 20 million for Liverpool each year,
Ronaldo even more for Inter and Nike. Will the clubs
allow that much revenue to be lost? Not likely. And
then the old club-versus-country debate will start
again. But in the future the clubs will win every
time. Money talks - $150 000 per week from Inter is
just as tempting as a World Cup medal I am afraid.
And that will mean that some of the best players will
not be going to the World Cup, not wanting to risk
injuries - like Steven Gerrard - or even because they
do not want to jeopardise their club careers. I know
I keep going on about Liverpool, but there is another
case in point here. Germany have played in this World
Cup without their most complete defender. Yes he was
injured this summer - very, very seriously as it
happens - but he made the decision not to play in the
World Cup a long time ago, when he was very much a fit
player. With Markus Babbel at full back (or centre
back) Germany would have someone to complement Oliver
Kahn very well, but staying in the Liverpool team was
more important for him two years ago. Times have
changed, and Babbel - or Roy Keane - will not be the
last to give up on Internationals.
Luckily, the World Cup still has so much more than
football to drag us in. I have watched fewer games in
full than I did in 1998 this time around, but the
World Cup is much, much too big to ignore - even if
you have Baseball to distract you. I am not going to
stop watching the World Cup just because the games are
not as 'good' as the Champions League. Tactics and
technique are one thing, passion and drama are
another, and this is where the World Cup still stands
Enjoy the final.
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