|June 21, 2002||atimes.com|
Globalized soccer gives diversity the boot
By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO - The diversity of soccer playing styles worldwide is on the road to extinction as a result of the sport's globalization, manifest in the migration of players and coaches, and in the matches of the World Cup under way this month in South Korea and Japan.
The differences between the European and South American "schools" were once obvious, but began to disappear in the 1970s, says Eduardo Goncalves, better known as Tostao, center-forward on the Brazilian national team that enthralled football fans around the globe and won the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
The South Americans began to copy the physical training, "the pragmatism and the tactical discipline of the Europeans", who in turn assimilated some of the South American agility and creativity, said Tostao in a commentary he wrote in South Korea for the Brazilian press. As a result, "they're all the same" - one cannot point to differences in playing styles among the national teams competing for the world championship, he said.
The "denationalization" of soccer, which has accelerated since the 1980s, only intensified the process toward sameness.
Of the 32 teams that qualified for the South Korea-Japan World Cup, 10 are coached by foreigners. Even the ever-proud England hired someone from outside the country, Sven Goran Eriksson, as technical director. A total of 736 players are on those teams, 48 percent of whom normally play for soccer clubs outside their native country, and most in Western Europe. And there are several who are naturalized citizens of the country they are representing at the international tournament, such as Emmanuel Olisadebe of Nigeria, the sole black player among the white Poles on his team.
According to Brazilian writer and humorist Luis Fernando Verissimo, soccer players today are identified more by their "capillary communities" than by nationality. His tongue-in-cheek reference is to the players who seek to differentiate themselves through hairstyle: long, in the case of many Argentine and Italian players, colorful, like many of the Japanese and Koreans, or others whose heads are completely shaved or sport mohawks (David Beckham, of course).
Another sign of the globalization of football is that there were a relatively large number of headed goals in the first round of the World Cup, suggesting that the European style is gaining prevalence. The leading goal-maker, Germany's Miroslav Klose, of Polish origin, has scored his five goals with the head.
Several commentators attributed the unexpected elimination of Argentina - one of the top-seeded teams going into the World Cup - to the fact that it renounced the South American stealthy style that prizes individual prowess and feints and passing the ball foot-to-foot with great precision and quickness.
While the Argentines played "a-la Europe", keeping the ball in the air for headers against the adversaries' goal, England, which in the past has been the leading addict of aerial play, is victorious now with its stars who keep the ball closer to the ground.
The trend toward European domination was already evident in the results going into the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. Just two South American teams, Brazil and Paraguay, reached the second round of the tournament, while Argentina, Ecuador and Uruguay were eliminated. And now, with quarterfinals beginning on Friday, Brazil is the only Latin American team in the running, as the United States ousted Mexico. There are still four European squads (England, Germany, Spain and Turkey), in addition to Senegal, and the surprise: South Korea, which defeated Italy 2-1 on Tuesday.
Unfortunately for the romantics who yearn for the beauty and "magic" of Brazilian soccer from 1958-70, and of Argentina's superstar Diego Maradona, all signs point to the triumph of the mechanical style in which physical strength prevails.
Even African soccer, which held promise of being a more carefree game, has replaced its ingenuity with the discipline imported along with the European coaches. Now the priority is on the athletic power of the players, and at times very dirty, as in the cases of South Africa and Cameroon at this year's Cup.
Soccer is thus following the evolution of other sports - though more moderately - in favoring taller and more muscular players. Twenty of the 32 teams in the World Cup record an average height of at least 1.80 meters, and there is relatively little difference between the tallest, the Germans, at an average 1.85m, and the shortest, the Mexicans, at 1.77m. Height has become yet another factor of the sport's homogeneity.
But soccer still admits some who are more diminutive - for certain positions. Brazil, the country that is a champion of disparity between rich and poor, has the team with the greatest height differences: left wing Roberto Carlos and midfielder Juninho measure less than 1.68m tall.
The decline in diversity is not hurting soccer's global popularity. But it is an entertainment industry in expansion, catering to the multitude of fans who want only to see their favorite team win, while those who have loved the "art" of soccer are left frustrated.
Soccer is also losing its role as a source of cultural identity. The stereotypes of German discipline, Argentine malice, Brazilian creativity, British or Nordic serenity, Spanish fury and Asian patience are substantiated on the pitch with less frequency, and these traits are no longer country-exclusive.
(Inter Press Service)
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