By Paul Gardner
RIO DE JANEIRO --It took nearly two hours of often rather trite soccer for Germany to win this World Cup. The one goal that decided the final, from Mario Goetze, was a beauty ... in a game that, while it had plenty of tension and a sufficient number of near-misses and other highlights, was sadly lacking in that precious quality: Beauty.
We’d hoped that a tournament in Brazil would feature a Brazilian team playing jogo bonito. We were badly let down by the Brazilians who turned out to be the worst Brazilian team that any of us has ever seen. Their 7-1 obliteration by the Germans was painful to watch, but it accurately reflected the vastly superior play of the Germans, and the almost hopeless ineptitude of the Brazilians. There were also obvious signs of a collapse of will and spirit among the Brazilians.
In the final the Germans were not nearly so dominant -- but dominant enough to make their victory a clear and deserved one. A close victory for efficient soccer.
Already we’re hearing about how the Germans are now going to dominate world soccer. Pretty much what we heard from Franz Beckenbauer after Germany’s win at the 1990 World Cup. Also what we had been hearing about Spain more recently. We ought to know by now that, these days, the top teams do not stay at the top for too long in soccer.
Brazil and Germany have been the two world powers in the game for as long as I can remember, with Brazil edging the Germans for the top spot. Is that going to be turned around? At the moment, that’s what it looks like.
Not really because of any outstanding German soccer qualities, but because of the total abdication, by the Brazilians, of their soccer traditions.
Nothing demonstrated this better than the thoroughly unworthy way in which Brazil -- the Brazilians? the Brazilian fans? the Brazilian media? -- made a pretense of supporting Germany in the final. Simply because they could not stand the thought of Argentina, their great South American rival, winning the trophy -- and on Brazilian soil at that.
That Brazilians should be supporting a style of soccer that has few links to their own style is an unpleasant reminder of just how dumb this business of passionate fandom can get. I’m using that word “business” quite deliberately because I do consider that so much of this so-called passion is today aroused and encouraged and sustained -- often at the expense of simple sportsmanship -- by commercial interests. That is, by people whose primary aim is to make money and who will always put the values of the sport in second place -- either because they simply haven’t a clue or, more likely, because they simply can’t be bothered to understand.
So be it. For the moment. And for the moment we have Germany as the global soccer power. Correctly and cleanly. There can be no argument against that. They earned the title in Brazil with soccer that was, on the whole, technically superior to that of any of its opponents. If we look just at the final, this was a game that Argentina could have won, but had that happened, I don’t think it would have been possible to argue that the Argentines had played better soccer than the Germans.
Nevertheless, it is on that point -- of what constitutes good soccer -- that objections can be raised to the German game. Those of us who like our soccer to carry not only the physical elements of speed and strength and stamina and so on, but also the less-definable but more -- much more -- intriguing aspects such as artistry, individual skills, subtlety and the unexpected, are never going to be satisfied with what the Germans are giving us.
Those aesthetic aspects are the ones that characterized the traditional Brazilian game and helped make it the world’s best. Not only because Brazil won more titles than anyone else. There was also the widely accepted belief that everyone’s second team -- the one you supported when your own team got eliminated -- was Brazil.
That was so because Brazil’s soccer was so widely admired. (Just measure that open-minded attitude with what we have just seen here. Brazilian fans -- motivated by spite and a hatred of Argentina -- supporting Germany.)
The Germans, I must repeat, are not a guilty party in any of this. They have achieved their success clearly and honorably. But they have given us a rather soul-less, less than warm version of the game. Bastian Schweinsteiger, it seems to me, is the totemic player on this German team. Do I want a sport under the influence of a series of Schweinsteiger clones? Hardly.
The great Brazilian team of 1970 had, as its leader, Pele, or maybe Gerson. A team led by Pele is simply not going to be playing the same sort of soccer as a team led by Schweinsteiger. On this one, I’ll go 100 percent with Pele.
So we need a new Pele? Maybe. Maybe it was meant to be Neymar. But the poor kid, kicked repeatedly in every game, ended up departing the World Cup on a stretcher. Maybe it could be Colombia’s James Rodriguez. But would there be a place for such players in a soccer world under the Schweinsteiger imprint?
To bring back soccer in its full richness, the change must begin with the Brazilians. But Brazil needs help. That has to come from the top. Do I mean FIFA? Well, logically, FIFA should lead. But I’m still thinking - dreaming, is it? -- that the sport could have a truly independentbody that looks after the basic interests of the sport, the sport as played on the field. A body that can make authoritative decisions affecting the direction of the game. That can decide what sort of game we want. That can steer the sport away from the overtly physical toward a way of playing that emphasizes all of the rich skills that allow soccer to be the sparkling game that it should be, but rather too frequently is not.