Have I woken up in a parallel universe? Or am I still dreaming? The world around me feels as alien to me as Hip-Hop would to The Beatles. Footballers have changed, club owners have changed, the fans have changed. And most importantly, football as a game has changed. I remember distinctly – football was a game which involved two teams locked up in a passionate affair of pride and strength, with the team being more important than any of the players, and the game more important than the teams. The manager was someone who controlled the proceedings, players were more focused on getting their trivela – and not their hairdo right, there was a sense of belonging to the club, money was secondary, and the stadiums were loud and how!
When did the game of skill and strength turn into an orchestra of precise movements and rehearsed animations, practised over time to near-perfection? When exactly was flair replaced by focus as the prime requirement? And when did the death-horn sound for the magicians of the game – the ones who could steal your breath with their moves and creativity – because they could not run for 90 minutes like a tractor or play in more than one position? Give me a break! Looks like I woke up in an era in which Scott Parker is rated higher than Dimitar Berbatov, Frank Lampard higher than Paul Scholes and Carles Puyol higher than Rio Ferdinand.
Gone are the days when the likes of Ferenc Puskas were praised for being great footballers, though not being in the best of shape. All we hear anymore is how great an athlete Cristiano Ronaldo is, how unfit Ronaldinho Gaucho is and how hard-working Darren Fletcher and Sami Khedira are. Where has the fantasy – the ones of a young Busby Babes on the verge of taking over Europe, a local-born-and-bred Celtic team actually doing it, and a Brazilian team winning the World Cup dancing Samba on the pitch – gone? When were such teams replaced by an ultra-defensive Greece team which bored the opposition into submission, Jose Mourinho’s effective-yet-sleep-invoking Chelsea, Jurgen Klopp’s exhaustive tactical methodologies that leave no room for error and a Manchester City bought with enough money to revive Europe’s economy? With increased tactical interference came increased success, but at what cost? Football is slowly turning from being a celebration to a funeral march.
The crowds and the management were a different species altogether. Money did not matter beyond the running of the club and expansion of stadiums, wages were nominal and the clubs were usually owned by the city councils or the fans. The crowds were loud – always cheering the team on, and victories and defeats were taken in a good spirit. One could watch Manchester United one week and Manchester City the other without being judged or labelled as a ‘glory hunter’. Now all I hear around the stadiums is a deafening silence. The ever-cheering fans have been replaced by the ‘prawn sandwich brigade’ brought in by the changing economy and corporate sponsorship. The owners are happy leeching money off the club, running it like any other business establishment, with profits being the ultimate aim. One should not be of the opinion that the growing power of money has not been beneficial to football. Of course it has been, spreading the game around the world, and sending it to every nook and corner through satellites and the internet. But somewhere, somehow, it doesn’t feel the same. The soul of the game is slowly dying, replacing what football originally was, with some kind of Broadway musical, the pitch reminiscent of a circular auditorium in which they take place.
Before footballers were superstars and were the faces of beauty products and undergarments, there was an era in which they were respected for what they did best – dazzle the crowds with their skill on the ball and make them proud with the courage to stand up to the opposition. That was an era in which nothing else mattered; you could look like Elvis Presley and still be looked down upon if you had the composure of a wild pony and the first touch of a gorilla.
Is football a man’s game anymore? I stand on the rooftop and ask ye – Where are the Ron Harris, Billy Bremner, Vinnie Jones and Joe Jordan of your generation? Back in the days, it was a sign of weakness if you fell down under a bone-crunching tackle. You were not fit to play, not fit to wear the sacred shirt if that happened. You mean to tell me that diving is widely prevalent – and acceptable in today’s world? The memories of George Best evading tackles of Ron “Chopper” Harris and advancing in on the goal with the sole purpose of scoring fill my eyes. Watching the likes of Sergio Busquets, Dani Alves, Didier Drogba and Ashley Young going down at little or no contact makes me cringe.
And whatever happened to the colorful characters of football? The loud-mouthed yet fascinating breed of George Best, Socrates, Pele and Johann Cruyff has given way to a timid generation of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Thiago Silva – who sound like they belong more in kindergarten than on a football pitch. The ones who are loud-mouthed and brash – like Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli and Joey Barton – fail to back up their claims on the pitch. It would not be off the mark to claim that methodical madness has given way to plain idiocy – mad genius replaced with retarded footballers talking out their empty minds.
As I drift off to probe the nothingness inside my mind, I wave a final goodbye to the ones who strived hard to make football the game it was. I could envision them rolling over in their graves at the bastardisation that has taken place. As I turn off the light and lie down in the darkness of the deep abyss of my mind, I ask ye for one thing, and one thing alone – If I am dreaming, wake me up. But if indeed this is the truth, let me sleep. Forever.
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