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Not long ago, perhaps just over 5 years, this title of this piece could have been much the same as it is now. The same, except that the main noun of the sentence will be replaced, so it will read, ‘Are the days of the technical wizard over?’
It seems we have gone half circle in the last 5 years. Perhaps even full circle in the last 15 years, as we can all remember players like ‘Fash the Bash’ and his many Nigerian based clones swarming our league. The most dominant player in the world at the time was George Weah, who, let’s face it, is probably the only person who could take Chuck Norris.
Then came the skillful players. Zidane, Beckham, Scholes, Totti, Figo all thrived. Such was the strength of the skill, that a player so weak and lanky that he still literally had the visual effects of poverty, was crowned the World’s best in 1999.
A shift appeared soon afterwards. Brazil seemed to produce bigger and stronger players than ever before, Adriano, Dani Alves, and Luis Fabiano being the most intimidating. Athletic players, dare I say journeyman, athletic players, suddenly rose to prominence. Cafu was suddenly the best right back in the world. Sol Campbell seemed to double in effectiveness overnight. The best player in the world was once again lightning quick, with great strength. Henry was able to use these gifts to the fullest, even though they appeared ineffective in his early career. Europe filled up with African imports, who stereotypes aside, are simply much better athletes. Such was the athletic dominance required, that some Premier League clubs rejected trialists for their academy without touching a ball; they weren’t powerful enough of course. A great young player was Obafemi Martins.
Today though, a great young player is Jack Wilshere, Carlos Vela, Sergio Aguero or Sebastien Giovinco. I wouldn’t frankly like to be in the same town as Obafemi Martins if he was ever filled with rage. The four mentioned above… I don’t think I could actually stop laughing in disbelief if they said they would give me a beating. They are the typical, American view of footballers. Pussy fags. Incidentally, I was recently called a ‘soccer Nazi’ by an American the other day. Strange, to say the least.
The point is, it seems like world football is opting for skill over power again. There are numerous examples of this. The outlined prospect above is only equaled as evidence by the decline of great young athletes. When I watched Abou Diaby and Lassana Diarra in the Carling Cup final 2007, I thought they would both become world class players. There skill was OK, not great, but they were physically dominating and looked brilliant.
Diarra is now what his name sounds like, and Abou Diaby may have disappeared to Abou Dhabi for all I know (get it?). There have been so many great prospects who have been complete duds because they don’t have the skill. Florent Sinama Pongolle anyone? Best example though, that honour goes to Micah Richards. Everybody was raving about him just over a year ago. He had been caught out defensively by more skillful players so much this year, that now he can’t even get in the England squad, when it appeared he had the entire right wing nailed down last year.
I think that we will enjoy the next 5 years of football. It will all be about outrageous curling shots, perfectly weighted passes, superb off the ball movement, intelligence and new skills never thought of before. If money does ruin the sport, as many seem to think it will, then this next few years could prove to be the zenith of football. Thank goodness I will be alive to be one of those old people, who can hark on about the good old days, and not feel the need to exaggerate at all.
As a final note, I realise that there are exceptions to the trends. Of course players like Raul, Shevchenko and Van Nistelrooy thrived despite being athletes, just as athletes will live on in the form of Balotelli, Anderson and Marcelo. I am talking about the general trend, and only a bit out of my ass.
Written by Douglas Johnson.
This article is a submission for the Soccerlens 2008 Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here. The competition is sponsored by Subside Sports (premier online store for football shirts) and Icons (official signed football jerseys).