Ruud Doevendans has been an official columnist for a Dutch club and owns one of the largest
collections of soccer videos containing hundreds of World Cup matches. We at PWC are proud to have him as
a columnist. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
the World Cup.
Read earlier columns
World Cup, dear World Cup, where have you gone?
Fabio Grosso's well struck spotkick ended the World Cup 2006. The four-annual party is over. Was it a good championship or not? What needs a World Cup to be a good World Cup? At least remarkable players (preferably strikers), at least three or four memorable matches. Germany 2006 had none of them. Correction: far too few. The fact that the old and tiring though sometimes brilliant legs of Zidane earned him the Golden Ball, tells the whole story. No Ronaldinho, no Henry, no Shevchenko or Ronaldo capable of beating the old man. World Cup 2006 wasn't a good World Cup. It was an average one, at it's best. What is so embarressing is that it will take another four years before we get a new chance. Another four years have been thrown away. Football, the best sport on earth, has driven away from what it should be even further and what are we doing? We are looking away from the problem. FIFA persist in brainwashing referees with the wrong instructions. Coaches go on with being cowards, the substitutions of Lippi and the way Klinsmann had his team play as some of the few exceptions. Players will never stop cheating it seems, diving when they were not even touched by their opponent. As long as they get the penalty, as long as the opponent gets the yellow or red card. It is annoying.
Which versions of the World Cup were actually good? I have seen every tournament since 1966. Okay, I was born in 1965 but you may know about my videocollection. The 1966 tournament was a great one. It had the likes of Eusebio, Bobby Charlton, flashes from Pelé and most of all young, emerging and brilliant Franz Beckenbauer. It had superb and tense matches like Hungary-Brazil, Italy-Sovietunion, quarter finals like Portugal-North Korea and Germany-Uruguay were very good and the final between the hosts England and West-Germany is among the best ever.
Certainly one of the best World Cups ever was in Mexico, in 1970. The Brazilian team was a classic, Pelé playing very well and Jairzinho, Tostao, Rivelino and Clodoaldo nothing less than spectacular. Peru was a pleasant surprise producing Teofilo Cubillas and Hector Chumpitaz. England en Germany still had fine teams. Both semi finals were fantastic, Italy-West-Germany is deservedly named as one of the best matches ever and the final was also great. At least it had a flood of goals, goals from open play. The 2006 edition had 30 goals in the 16 knock-out matches, 14 coming from set pieces. Exactly 1 goal/match from open play. Maybe the tournament of 1974 wasn't that great but at least it brought us the Total Football shown by the Dutch, the reunion with the Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer and the stylish counterattacks from Poland.
Actually until 1982 World Cups pleased us pretty much. In 1978 the world saw many memorable matches. Take all Argentina-matches, take West-Germany-Holland and Holland-Italy. This tournament, like fours years earlier, had a fantastic final. Maybe the best tournament was 1982. I am sure I do not need to tell you about the Settimana de Sarria with the three magnificent matches in a row. The semi final between France and West-Germany was a classic. Italy, Argentina, West-Germany, France and Brazil all had excellent teams. Brazilian creative players like Socrates, Falcao, Eder and Zico stood out. Platini, with Giresse and Tigana, had a fine World Cup, Conti was superb. Remember Leandro and Junior? Tardelli and his unbelievable run in joy after scoring? People who saw it still talk about it today.
Something remarkable had happened in the meantime. Until 1974 football was a virtually non-contact sport. The pace of the game was rather slow. A quick player, quick in running (Cruijff, Jairzinho, Lato, Eusebio) or thinking (Pelé, Charlton, Müller, Beckenbauer) could really make a difference. It was a game of individual talents, the technically best players were the best players in the game. From 1978 on, the team effort became more and more decisive. Of course, Argentina had truly greats like Passarella, Ardiles and Kempes but they were already more team players than individuals. Brazil in those days never managed to compile their teams as strong as their main opponents (their players individually remained the best in the world) and didn't win the cup for 24 years. They only returned on the top spot when they put the team first and played defensively well organized, in 1994. Teams who won the trophy in that period (Argentina, Italy, Argentina again, West-Germany) all relied on their team spirit, with only sometimes an individual who really made the difference: Maradona in 1986. But there is no evidence that Argentina without Maradona, but with Burruchaga, Valdano, Ruggeri and possibly Passarella (who clashed with Maradona but was still one of the best around) would not have won that tournament.
From that moment on, defenders and defensive midfielders have started to dominate the game. In Euro 1996, the football world collapsed when German Dieter Eilts (who do you say?) was named best player in the tournament. So no need to watch that championship once more. Eilts was a thirteen-a-dozen workhorse in midfield who never played a pass over more than 10 yards, never went past an opponent and never scored a goal. In 1998 Zidane's incomparable talent caught him the headlines and yes, he scored twice in the final, but he could not really dominate the tournament. Players like Deschamps, Davids, Desailly and Dunga did.
This is a Crie de Coeur for better football and everyone directly involved in the thing has to realize: coaches, referees, players. It simply can not go on like this. We, spectators, are mad. We still pay hundreds, thousands of euro's to be in a stadium. For what? For the atmosphere, for the event. That is all. Not for the quality that is being offered to you. Of course our PWC-colleague Paul had the experience of a lifetime following his Australia closely, I myself would have loved to go to Germany but could not get tickets. But if you start thinking about it and realize what you have to do for it …. How many chances do we see in a match? Four, five. Sometimes even less. Look at the World Cup final: Buffon had to make one single save from Zidane's header. Barthez made no save. At least I can not recall one. I myself stopped goalkeeping ten years ago, but I could have played this match without making a mistake. How many players go past a defender, not to speak past two or three? Okay, Zidane every now and then. But he quits the game now. What is left? Even the brilliant Ronaldinho (now is he a majestic player or not?) or Thierry Henry couldn't do it. Defenses are too tight, coaches too cautious.
These are things that go through my mind all of the time today, the first day after the World Cup. We need to change the game. Coaches are far too afraid to lose control. The problem is, you can not change them. You can not force people to think in a different way. What you can do is change some rules. We are plagued by players who fake injury, just to win time. It is annoying, it has been like that for 64 games. With a player down on the pitch, teams will kick the ball out of play. What follows is treatment, it seems like the victim is going to die but a few minutes later he is on his feet and when he enters the field again, it is as if nothing has happened. The team that gets the throw-in will put it there where the team that originally had the ball can do nothing with it. Why do we acccept this craziness? It normally takes 20-30 seconds before a free kick or a corner kick is taken. Why not decide to play actual time? It would free us from those who try to win time. I am not sure what the average actual playing time is these days, I never counted it after 1992 (when it was 60.91% in Euro 1992). Why not play 2 x 30 minutes actual time? They do it in other sports too, it is not so difficult as it seems. It works! Have you ever seen a basketball player wasting time? A hockey player on the ground for nothing? There will be less players down on the field for nothing, less undeserved free kicks, less undeserved yellow and red cards. A step in the right direction. Take it!
As far as intentional diving is concerned, it is one of the main problems of the game. I would recommend to award it with direct red cards. No yellow card, no: send them off immediately. The Cristiano Ronaldo's, the Robben's, the Ronaldo's, the Malouda's, the Van Bommels, the Shevchenko's, the Figo's and many more: simply kick them out, these cheaters. Thuram got a yellow card from a Ronaldo dive, with a little bad luck it could have cost him the final. How classy they may be, it has to stop. It destroys the game. You may be wrong on one or two decisions, but they now have had enough unjustified penalties and free kicks. When they know they will get punished, they will refrain from it. I am sure. It has been the been same with tackling a player who is one on one with the goalkeeper. You know you will be sent off, so they don't do it anymore. Just do it two or three times, and you will see that it will stop. The same with the string of fouls in the area just before a corner kick is being taken. Award a penalty, do it a few times and it will stop. A lot of referees did a terrible job in this World Cup and some of them do not belong on this level. But imagine yourself in that position. A lot of things happening at the same time. And then these guys trying to make you look bad. And FIFA theatening to take you off the list if you do not act the way they want you to. It is the impossible job.
Now I realize that it is very difficult to judge it fairly. Use video! There is a 4th official, even a 5th official these days. Use them! Mr. Medina Cantalejo used his influence in the final to get Zidane off the field. It was one of his first real good decisions in the tournament, again favourizing Italy but this time correctly so. They should do it more often. Put a camera on the goalline, why not? It would have given France and Patrick Vieira the goal they deserved against Korea (which could have been the difference between going through and being eliminated!). It is only for the good of the game. Never say that it will stop play too long. It can be done in 10-15 seconds. What is the current situation, how many times in a match are we waiting for 10-15 seconds before play resumes? With the possibility of watching the situation again, Malouda would never have gotten the penalty he was out for against Italy. What if Barthez had stopped Materazzi's header ten minutes later? Well possible that France would have won the World Cup by cheating. I think one tournament (1990) decided by an unjustified penalty kick is more than enough.
It wasn't the World Cup we wanted. I hope FIFA, players, coaches and referees learned from it. I am afraid they didn't.
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