Modern Football- for better or worse?
Change, a phenomenon that has been universal and constant across everything including football. The beautiful game as we know it has evolved continuously, witnessing several changes throughout its one and a half century of existence. My young age and lack of first-hand exposure to the game of old times has restricted my knowledge and understanding of the game of the past to YouTube clips and other articles on the internet. Yet, it is not all that difficult to understand and relate to this change.
The Champions League group stage tie between Ajax and Manchester City at the Amsterdam Arena was blessed with a giant fan poster with the words “Against Modern Football”, a sophisticated open dig against the oil money that in their eyes is ruining the game beautified by their “total football” philosophy. Ajax had over half a dozen players on the pitch who were a product of their Youth academy, City had none, highlighting the stark contrast in their footballing cultures.
Philosophy and culture are very flimsy terms in modern football, but clubs like Ajax and Athletic Bilbao are one of the few last forts of the old times. Bilbao (who before Bielsa’s rein played really non-pretty football to say the least) have a strong identity to their community with a principle of only including Basque origin players in their teams. In an age in which clubs are fast losing their age old identities in pursuit of trophies and revenues, teams like Bilbao offer the purist among fans many reasons to cheer. Bilbao lost their best player in ages in the form of Javi Martinez to Bayern Munich under less than pleasant circumstances this summer. Bilbao were richer by 40 million Euros through that deal, which could have bought half a dozen solid players. Yet, they stuck to their identity and did not buy any non-Basque player. A skewed form of nationalism(or rather regionalism to be more precise) in some people’s eyes, but nevertheless money and trophies were put on the back seat.
The approach by clubs like Bilbao and Ajax are in stark contrast to those of Manchester City, Anzhi or Real Madrid. These rich clubs lack an identity and connect to the game. Not that it is not right; after all it’s all perspectives. But the point is, in the eyes of purist they just do not gain the respect and affection. Real, Anzhi or PSG, such teams’ line ups and strength will always create a fear among opponents, but it’s the teams like Ajax and Bilbao who gain respect among not just neutrals but opponents as well. Clubs like Ajax and Bilbao are few of the last standing beacons in an era where change is fast consuming the beautiful game as we know it. Let us all appreciate and applaud these custodians of the beautiful game.