Thursday, July 06, 2006

On finding yourself in the odd position of celebrating a French victory


From the Times:


SMILE, smile and be a villain. And how we love a villain — someone who can be blamed for all the wrongs of the recent past, someone to wish harm on for ever, someone to inspire a gloat at every hint of personal failure.

Cristiano Ronaldo has become the scapegoat for England’s defeat in the World Cup, as Portugal beat England on penalties in the quarter-finals last weekend. Ronaldo played a significant role in Wayne Rooney’s sending-off and sent his own gloating levels into hyperspace after scoring the decisive penalty.

The Portuguese were an insufferable lot even before the Rooney-Ronaldo incident. Every bit of niggling, diving, faking and whingeing had been indulged in, every aspect of Latin football that most grates on the English psyche.

Ronaldo might be custom-built to get up the noses of all the followers of English football. He is good-looking in a gloriously smarmy, Italian-waiter fashion and is seriously vain about this. He has the air of a man who thinks that the world in general, and football in particular, not only owes him a living but also a perpetual gratitude at being privileged to know him.

He is distinguished more than anything else by his use of the stepover, a showy and — occasionally — effective footballing ploy. Someone once claimed that he set a world record for stepovers in a single match — 504 — beating the previous record of eight.





Cristiano Ronaldo’s pantomime villainy in getting his own club team-mate sent off in the biggest game of his life should not be used as an excuse for England’s own dismal performances at the World Cup.

But nonetheless, the despised Portugese winger does seem to embody everything that the English loathe about what the Latins have brought to our beloved game: diving, shameless cheating and gamesmanship, injury-feigning, arrogance, lack of team spirit or dignity or sportsmanship, and worst of all, great skill and usually, victory over us.

A talented player, I grudgingly admit, but by goodness Ronaldo’s face is one that it would take a very, very long time indeed to tire of punching.

21 comments:

Hey Skipper said...

Brit:

Agreed on everything, but ...

If you can forget for the moment my previous sacreligious comments on the perfect game, why wouldn't football be improved by something like four refs on the pitch, and instant replay?

I can think of a number of reasons why football will never become popular in the US, but this whole diving thing could well be #1.

Brit said...

It would certainly be improved by some level of video refereeing - there's a whole debate about that in the game at the moment. The arguments against are mostly about too many interruptions to the game - also, unlike say, baseball or cricket, football is a fluid sort of game, with a lot of fouls being open to interpretation.

Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, recently suggested having two refs, one in each half of the pitch. But Blatter comes up with at least 6 crazy ideas per week (most notoriosuly, suggesting that women's football could improve its popularity if the participants wore skimpier shorts). I can't see multiple refs working: they'd always be disagreeing with each other.

----

Diving illustrates one of the many cultural differences in the world of football. In Italy, for example, football is seen by players as a job. In England it is still (just about) seen as a game. So in Italy ideas of sportsmanship are somewhat more lax: you do what you need to do, as a pro, to win. The fans don't boo their own players if they dive in Italy. They still do in England.

But even English players regularly dive now. It is infuriating, but shouting furiously at divers is all part of the entertainment, I suppose...

Brit said...

Incidentally, I don't buy any of these arguments about 'this particular thing is why America doesn't like soccer'.

First, what we;re talking about is not 'why doesn't America like soccer?', but 'why isn't soccer a major spectator sport in America.

There's nothing inherent in the game for Americans to dislike because they are uniquely American. That's just a crazy idea suggesting that Americans are somehow cleverer and more percpetive about what makes good sport than literally every single other country.

It's just that for various reasons the big three American spectator sports, and their accompanying franchises, cultures and eventually traditions, established themselves first.

There's only so many major spectator sports you can have, so soccer is a minority spectator sport (but a majority participation sport).

Back in the 80s there was a brief craze in the UK for American Football. It didn't last long. Why not? Is it because either (a) there's something wrong with American Football; or (b) (and this is the argument that follows from the anti-soccer arguments) the British public were ultimately not clever enough to 'get' American Football?

Of course not: it's just that football, two kinds of rugby and cricket (which is more complex even than American Football) are already deeply ingrained into British sporting culture, and with tennis, athletics, horse racing etc making up the minority sports, there's just no room for any more to compete.

These American exceptionalism arguments about soccer are hubristic nonsense.

Hey Skipper said...

Brit:

I didn't mean to imply there is some American exceptionalism at work here (also, the question I was really asking was the way you re-asked it for me).

Perhaps even more accurately, I should have asked what is it about football that will stop it becoming a major spectator sport in the US.

It is possible to do, though not easy. NASCAR has pulled it off over the last twenty years to the point where it may be the popular spectator sport in the US.

For reasons I can't begin to fathom.

US football makes do with at least four referees, baseball with four, and basketball may have two.

So I suspect multiple refs are doable.

As far as video replay, it can take place up in an officiating booth without interrupting the flow of the game. I'll bet if there was some sort of penalty for malicious diving, it would bring it to an end pretty quickly.

Brit said...

They're supposed to get a yellow card for 'simulating' (diving).

Unfortunately, the officials apply that only occasionally, mainly because it's difficult to tell whether there is a genuine foul unless you've got a very good view of it. Which brings us back to video refereeing...

Hey Skipper said...

I happened to be in a sports bar this afternoon.

Every, and I do mean every, TV in the place was on the final. While not packed, you would have found the place commendably full.

What the heck was the French captain thinking?

Here is an interesting article on penalty kicks.

I know I'm just going to get in trouble again, but I found that spectacle singularly unedifying. If I were LGKB, I would move the spot another 10 yards back, so the goalie could be something other than an accidental part of the action.

Brit said...

"I would move the spot another 10 yards back, so the goalie could be something other than an accidental part of the action. "

Jeez, you must really have it in for the Mud Peanut.

An accidental part of the action, unless he happens to be playing against England, of course.

To be fair, both teams took excellent penalties. It ain't easy to put the ball in the right spot, even from 12 yards, when there's a few billion people watching you.

But there wasn't much excellent about this particular World Cup, as I shall argue in a wrap-up post on the subject - Zidane's frankly horrible moment of madness sums up a largely rotten tournament, I'm afraid...

Peter Burnet said...

The diving is appalling and ultimately so tiresome that I neither know nor care whether the guy is really hurt or not. But don't blame the refs, Brit, you are all part of it. I think you all secretly like it. Hockey had a problem with that early this year when they tightened up a few penalties to improve offence, but it didn't last very long. Not only did the refs come down very hard on it, but those who were called for diving were exorciated by commentators, in the press, in the stands and even I'm told in the locker room.

The whole ethos of the game is different from most other sports. Here are a few imperssions I had:

A) The ref is barely tolerated and seems to have a tenous grip on things. He is clearly only seeing part of the action. He has two tools--ejection and awarding a free kick to someone from exactly where he was kicking when he was fouled--big deal. Unless, of course, he is 21.5 yards from the goal rather than 22.5, it which case he gets a free goal that often decides the game. Sorry, but it would be a far better game if you took a page from hockey and insituted penalties where the offender spent time off the pitch. It's all too extreme, which leads to all the theatre but also to insufficient consequences for dirty play that doesn't get a red card. (like elbows to the head).

B) Everyone is on their own to pursue their own theatrical careers. In hockey or baseball, the whole Italian team would have pummelled Zadane for that (extremely dangerous) outrage, and damn the consequences. You just don't do that. Here, we just saw everybody dancing around trying to entice that red card out.

C) Anybody who causes a stoppage in play because of an injury should be sent off for a certain time with a temporary sub allowed. This bouncing back within seconds from near-death is ridiculous.

D) Brit, the penalty kicks are a bad joke. I like H.D. Miller's comment that it is like having the Kentucky Derby decided by having the jockeys get together after the race to play "kick the can". But, I've been around enough to know all you soccer fans will reject any suggestions whatsoever on how to improve the game and sing that melodious ode to the perfect game that unites you all. I listened to two British commentators sniffing about how penalty kicks were a highly-skilled, integral part of the game (right!!) and how golden goals were never a part of true soccer. They didn't actually say they were an American-inpired abomination, but I'm sure they wanted to.

I can't wait for 2010 to see all those 0-0 games and those heart-stoppingly dramatic yellow cards.

Brit said...

What, you think nobody talks about football and its pluses and minuses in football-loving countries? We don't talk about much else.

What we object to is the endless half-arsed, ill-thought out opinions on 'improving' the game from armchair experts in non-football loving countries, for whom the World Cup IS football, rather than the big summer holiday jamboree that makes an amusing break from the real business of the domestic season. Thank you for adding yours.

Everybody agrees that penalty shoot-outs are an unsatisfactory way to decide such big, world-watched matches.

But everybody also agrees that:

1) nobody has found a better way of deciding tied games.

2) for sheer drama and tension, there's very little else in sport to touch them.

Brit said...

One more thing: what's wrong with 0-0?

Ukraine 0 Switzerland 0 was indeed a dreadfully tedious game. I'd even go so far as to call it a maudlin match.

But Sweden 0 Trinidad & Tobago 0 was an absolute belter.

Trust a North American to need something as crude as a goal to make him happy.

Peter Burnet said...

OK, I will respectfully defer to you experts and try to refrain from making any specific recommendations on how to improve the game if you will at least come up with some ideas yourselves rather than just keep telling us how riveting everything is as is. It wouldn't be the first game that has had to confront the fact that advances in systematic, scientific defence takes the excitement away.

But one last point before I do. How about allowing more substitutions and considerind permitting those who have been subbed to come back on when rested. Surely you aren't going to treat us to an ode to the "drama and tension" of eleven cramped up, dehydrated panting dogs who can't pass more than six feet for the last fifteen minutes of the game.

OK, now I start.

Brit said...

Ah, now that's a sensible way of talking about it - tinkering tempered with respect for the basic premise and culture of the game.

Certainly, an extra sub or two in mid-summer tournaments where you have extra time would be worth considering. That's the kind of football pub blather I can tolerate, nay, that I regularly revel in.

What I cannot bear to hear is stuff like "Gee, why don't you guys make the goals twice as big and let 'em use their hands, and then maybe us rich Americans will bestow some of our dollars on y'all..."

For these views I care exactly as much as you care about my views on improving hockey (hey, why not start by not playing on ice - the stuff is just too slippery?...)

I feel a magnum opus coming on.

Peter Burnet said...

Go with it, Brit--how about suggesting we flash a nice, pretty yellow card at a player for slamming someone into the boards from behind and then letting the injured player take a free slapshot from behind his own goalie?

I'll give you this, though. I could watch soccer goals all day.

Brit said...

I could watch Zidane play all day.

At his best he was football's Superman, but as was proved again, the point about men is that they can't be Superman.

Hey Skipper said...

... so the goalie could be something other than an accidental part of the action.

I didn't see the Britain festival o' penalty kicks.

My interest having been piqued somewhat recently, I read the article I linked to above about penalty kicks. Seems the writer got much more right than wrong. IIRC, in the final, neither goalie got so much as a finger on a penalty kick.

Which makes the suspense the same sort as one gets when shooting craps: hoping to get lucky.

There is a parallel with baseball here. The pitcher's mound is 60'6" from the plate. Any closer, and putting a bat on the ball would be a matter of sheer luck. Any further, and the batters would cream the thing.

Just so here. I don't know what the right distance is, but it sure seems the current spot is at least 15 feet too close.

I am saying all this with the deepest respect for the game, of course.

Brit said...

You've missed the whole point - the only point, of the penalty shoot-out.

It's not a crap shoot, it's a test of the nerves of the penalty takers.

England (not Britain - I've had enough stick off the Scots thanks. The Scots were supporting Portugal) always, always go out on penalty shoot-outs.

When we lost the last shoot-out in the European Championships, it emerged that the England players didn't bother practising penalties, on the grounds that penalty taking is too easy in training and it is impossible to re-create the pressure situation of a big knock-out match.

Suffice to say, the English public thought this was a crock, and there was a bit of a fuss.

So sure enough, this time around we get daily bulletins from the England training camp about how the players are practising shoot-out situations after every training session. And guess what, they're flying in. Some players never, ever miss. This time, we'll be alright, we promise.

Come the game...exactly the same story. Four penalties, three misses. Portugal put two wide of the goal and we STILL lost it. We even brought on a sub, Carragher, with a couple of seconds left, for the sole purpose of taking a penalty because we was so unerringly cool and accurate in training.

He took his penalty. Scored. Ref wasn't ready. Had to take it again.

Missed.

Brit said...

You've missed the whole point of the penalty shoot-out.

It's not a crap shoot, it's a test of the nerves of the penalty takers.

England (not Britain - I've had enough stick off the Scots thanks. The Scots were supporting Portugal) always, always go out on penalty shoot-outs. If it was a crap shoot, England would win 50% of them, instead of 0%.

When we lost the last shoot-out in the European Championships, it emerged that the England players didn't bother practising penalties, on the grounds that penalty taking is too easy in training and it is impossible to re-create the pressure situation of a big knock-out match.

Suffice to say, the English public thought this was a crock, and there was a bit of a fuss.

So sure enough, this time around we get daily bulletins from the England training camp about how the players are practising shoot-out situations after every training session. And guess what, they're flying in. Some players never, ever miss. This time, we'll be alright, we promise.

Come the game...exactly the same story. Four penalties, three misses. Portugal put two wide of the goal and we STILL lost it. We even brought on a sub, Carragher, with a couple of seconds left, for the sole purpose of taking a penalty because he was so unerringly cool and accurate in training.

He took his penalty. Scored. Ref wasn't ready. Had to take it again. Lost his nerve.

Missed.

Peter Burnet said...

Ah, there we North Americans go again--missing the whole point. I guess that's what happens when you've never savoured the delights of salty Bovril and steak and kidney pie without kidney(where do you guys come up with these abominations?).

Now, Brit, steady on. You did allow above you would entertain respectful, modest suggestions on how to improve things. Skipper isn't suggesting doubling the goal widths or restricting each team to two. He may be off his nut on religion, but he's making sense here. The penalty kicks are so close that the goalkeeper must guess and decide where he will go before the shot is taken, which means Lady Luck plays a huge role here. I could probably score a couple out of ten, which is a statement and not the right sort. It may be a test of nerves, but so would be a post-game bungee-jumping contest. If you must have those silly kicks, wouldn't it be better if they were a test of soccer skills?

We're only trying to help. Now, on to my proposal for hot dogs, semi-naked cheerleaders and marching bands...

Brit said...

Most goalkeepers move before the kick is taken. Ricardo doesn't, the sneaky swine.

Have you ever played in a competitive football match and taken a penalty, Peter?

I have and I can tell you that when you've got to stand there on your own with everybody watching and depending on the outcome, the goal looks very small and very far away, and that the goalkeeper looks very, very big.

Seriously though - I don't have a problem with such respectful suggestions for moderation - I just don't think this particular one is necessary. Shoot-outs rarely go beyond five each and into sudden death anyway so there are enough saves and misses as it is.

Peter Burnet said...

I have and I can tell you that when you've got to stand there on your own with everybody watching and depending on the outcome, the goal looks very small and very far away, and that the goalkeeper looks very, very big.

Brit, I never realized you're on the English national team.

Brit said...

They may as well have played me.