Soccer needs a Brazilian revival

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 independent body 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.
30 comments about "Soccer needs a Brazilian revival".
  1. Randy McKee, July 14, 2014 at 3:06 p.m.

    Paul, as much as I can appreciate your yearning for beautiful football and as much as I appreciate that you want to see attractive, attacking football, let me remind you of something. There is only one thing that counts and that is what the score is at the end of the match. If beauty counted, there would be style points added to the score. But style points are not added. If the Game does not satisfy you any more because it fails to fulfill your expectations, maybe you should try watching American NBA basketball. There is lots of scoring, very little defense and style, style, style.

  2. ROBERT BOND, July 14, 2014 at 3:12 p.m.

    team sport won by a side that values teamwork, and the US is improving by following this model(oh, wait, you are not a Klinnsman fan)-why not do away with off sides, then you can score all you work,unlike artistry, is not an elite/efete, it's something everyone can strive for......

  3. Gary Wien, July 14, 2014 at 3:14 p.m.

    "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. "

    Ah yes, another column by Gardner blasting Germany for not being beautiful enough for him...

    Guess what? Maybe you should actually watch Germany play and then watch everyone else. Germany was the ONLY team in this World Cup to play an attacking style in every game. That alone should be praised, but you simply call it "efficient" -- that stale adjective the elder generation loves to toss around when describing Germany.

    Forget the past. Watch today's Germany. They played some of the best quality soccer in the tournament. And they beat traditional powers: Brazil, France, Argentina, and Portugal. That's a pretty formidable list, but, of course, they were merely efficient.

    Paul would probably say, "God save us if everyone played efficient like Germany."

    I say, "God save us if teams avoid playing attacking soccer."

    Germany plays to win. You can't say that about many nations.

  4. Mark Hardt, July 14, 2014 at 3:19 p.m.

    Why is every one feeling sorry for Brazil? They have spent the last 40 years torturing everyone. Now that they are down who cares. Let them be down. I for one would like to see the US beat them at the Copa
    America. But that probably won't happen because they will rebound. And it will happen on their own. Brazil does not need your help and my help to play soccer. The whole country or 130 Million is mobilized to play soccer. Unlike our country of 300 million which is splintered amongst different pro sports. Brazil is focused on Soccer and it will dominate again. I don't think the USA will ever focus on soccer but if we can get up to the NHL level we can compete for the Trophies just like the Hockey team competes in the Medal Round.

  5. ROBERT BOND, July 14, 2014 at 3:25 p.m.

    what do you call a seat at the final Kennedy sat in? a waste of a ticket....they could keep attacking, Gary, because they were FIT-is that boring too?

  6. Greg Morris, July 14, 2014 at 3:59 p.m.

    "Brazilian fans -- motivated by spite and a hatred of Argentina -- supporting Germany.)" I suppose you would know spite Paul. It is shocking when fans root against there bitter rivals - at least when Brazilians do it - and in your mind. Surely the behavior of taunting Argentinians could be overlooked and the fact that the Germans actually played a more attractive free flowing soccer than Argentina is simply beside the point - again at least in your mind. Your recent articles make clear your hatred for all things German. Criticizing Brazil fans for supporting them instead of Argentina is petty - give your bitterness a rest and us a break.

  7. Thomas Hosier, July 14, 2014 at 3:59 p.m.

    Paul, I enjoyed the World Cup as much as you seem to have despised it. I am relegating you to my "do not read" list!

    See you at the pitch .... or not!

  8. Jim Elmore, July 14, 2014 at 4:20 p.m.

    I, too, bemoan the loss of artistry in penmanship, the rhythm of a manual typewriter, the anticipation of a letter from distant parts, the beauty and skill of riding a horse, the sheer pleasure of a standard shift, the ease of power steering, the leisure of an Atlantic crossing by steam ship. Today, enjoy the individual artistry of tennis and golf, the team artistry of soccer. What I found distasteful was the constant grabbing and holding (mostly) by the South Americans. Try that in a youth game.

  9. F. Kirk Malloy, July 14, 2014 at 4:29 p.m.

    Excuse me, but why is Schweinsteiger the unelected representative of German soccer? Every winning team needs a gritty workhorse player to succeed, like him, but he doesn't epitomize the team. What about Muller, and Ozil, and Schurrle, and Lahm? Each a technically gifted, creative attacker, who in combination were as beautiful to watch as any solo run from any individual. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I'll take beautiful team play over individual play any day of the week. And so too will coaches of the highest caliber, whether named Low or Klinsmann, Popovich or Holzman.

  10. Mark Konty, July 14, 2014 at 4:55 p.m.

    Mr. Malloy left out Khedira. On the whole I thought the Germans played beautiful football. They attacked from every angle--up the middle, down the flanks, over the top, counterattacks. Gardner's Germany this was not.

  11. Wolfgang Woischke, July 14, 2014 at 5:14 p.m.

    Mr. Gardner.......World War ll has been over for a few years......People can read in between the lines.....You have a deep dislike,for anything having to do with criticize Klinsman, German-American born soccer players, German National team....probably would like to tell us that Budweiser is better than German Beer?......Give it up.....Be a little pro-active.....its 2014......the world is constantly changing...It's getting to be embarrassing reading your article in a good published magazine, like Soccer America.....if it wouldn't be for other parts of the magazine, I would discontinue my subscription.

  12. Jeffrey Organ, July 14, 2014 at 6:17 p.m.

    I rarely agree with Paul Gardner (except on his disdain for the English attitude of soccer superiority which is classic). I have to admit, though, that he has his story and he is sticking to it and I have a lot of respect for his opinions. For the people who are canceling their subscriptions and not reading him anymore...please chill out. The guy is a legend. He was a commentator on 1970's NASL games on network TV for heavens sakes. Doesn't get more authentic than that.

  13. Gonzalo Munevar, July 14, 2014 at 6:58 p.m.

    I do agree that Germany played beautifully against Portugal and Brazil, but not against Argentina. Paul Gardner is not so much blasting Germany -- he did say that Germany deserved to win the World Cup -- as mourning the end of a tradition of beautiful soccer. And that beauty did matter, for the Brazilian "jogo bonito" overwhelmed its opponents and led to victory after victory. That is why they have won more World Cups than anyone else. Moreover, the "jogo bonito" was not merely about individual play, for it led to truly spectacular team play. Watch, for example, Pele's assist for Carlos Alberto's goal in Brazil's 4-1 victory over Italy in the final of 1970. One of the most wonderful features of those great Brazilian teams was the quick and intricate one-twos in the packed penalty areas of their opponents. For me, Paul, you are preaching to the converted. So all I can say to you is, "Amen."

  14. Tyler Wells, July 14, 2014 at 8:20 p.m.

    Germany is a slightly modified version of Spain 2010; they play as a collective. It is a different aesthetic but one that I find attractive.
    Until something is done to crack down on tactical fouls and encourage more offense that will be the way forward for winning soccer teams. I predict a German/Spanish dominated next 10 years. They won't win them all, but will be consistently the top 2 sides.

  15. Gus Keri, July 14, 2014 at 9:08 p.m.

    Something strange happened to me yesterday and it has never happened before. I was surprised when the referee whistled the half time because I didn't notice that 47 minutes have passed. It spoke very much of how full of action the game was, to the point that I didn't even look at the clock the whole time. This has never happened when I was watching Spain playing in the last few years. to me, Spain can be very boring sometimes. Although Spain play what I call "the artistic tiki-taka," I like the Germany's style which I can call it "the efficient tiki-taka." It keeps me on alert the whole time because it never stops or takes a break. As for the jogo bonito, it died long time ago (after Brazil 1982-1986). Jogo bonito is not suitable for success nowadays in the face of the faster and more physical game. since 1986, few teams combined the jogo bonito with efficiency to some success like Holland 1988 and France 1998-2000. and now we have the tiki-taka which is dominating the scene.

  16. Josip Kristic, July 15, 2014 at 12:01 a.m.

    it is obvously very hard for you to accept the fact that your favorite kind of soccer style did not prevail. Soccer is a global game and has most of the world participating in it, it is constantly evolving. It is first and foremost - team game, then it is individual's contribution to the team, and then one's individual talent and creativity.
    We all need to be open and tolerant to different styles of the same game, and the beuty is in the eye of beholder.
    For now let's congratulate German national team on deservingly winning the Cup.

    Your negative comments, or your call for FIFA's help can not justify or improve Brazilian style of soccer. Their game is beautiful, they are going through a crisis, and through crisis is when they will perfect it more and find their way to the top again. That is up to Brazilian players. You are not the one to cover for them by "bad-mouthing" other teams.

    You used a very negative,harsh out-of-place comments for some of the German players for no reason or justification ??? It is not Germany, or Schweinsteiger that had maximum number of fouls committed. It is Brazil.

    Our Country (USA) is based on tolerance and acceptance of our differences. Your writing is not in the spirit of those values, it is rather negative, emotional and one-sided.

    It is hard to say that one kind of soccer playing is superior to the other, but European soccer won this Cup.
    Also, you might want it to be different, but Klinsman and his style of German influence on US soccer team is obviously very positive. USA played and demostrated one of the best "team" plays with amazing spirit in this World Cup and we need to be proud of our team's performance. Considering USA soccer(with no Pele's on the roster), this style of play is going to bring us much further on the international scene.

    Let's respect soccer as a whole, the most beautiful game there is, and recognize beauty in the all different ways it is played globally.

    Let's play soccer.

  17. Jogo Bonito, July 15, 2014 at 2:49 a.m.

    I agree with PG that a future of watching hard-working, efficient soccer does not appeal to me. The future “look" of our sport lies not in the hands of the coaches, because they have failed miserably here. The “advancements” in coaching education has only brought us more tactical and predictable soccer. Coaches generally favor efficient, sturdy players over creative, skillful players. I think the future of our game lies in the hands of the referees. The refs can change our sport back to a game where size, strength and speed are only advantages if you can actually play. Michel Platini once said in an interview several years ago that he would like to see slide tackling get banned (much like typical indoor rules) because he felt that all the sliding and throwing yourself at the ball made it too hard for the great players. I do not agree that such a change is necessary, but I would like to see referees call fouls (and cards) when players slide in and make any contact with the player in possession. If a player slides and gets all ball then fine, but none of this getting ball and player stuff. Defending will mean actually moving your feet and trying to stay goal side standing up. If players had to think twice about sliding then the game would change drastically and we would see more skill, more dribbling and hopefully more goals. So referees (directed by FIFA I guess) can be the catalyst of change. It would be almost comical at first. With games that feature 2-3 red cards and a dozen yellows, but over time the game would change and maybe we’ll see more players like Messi and Neymar.

  18. Rick Estupinan, July 15, 2014 at 5:02 p.m.

    Paul Gardner,sounds like a dejected and defeated Briton.Sure,I know what you mean by saying that no country has been dominant after wining the World Cup.Since 1960,England has been a big '0', when it comes to dominance of the game.And do they do any thing to solve the problem?,of course not.Just look at some of their 'premier' league teams.Of the 11 players in a game,9 or 10 are foreigners.So yes,if he is talking about his own country,then he is right.What do you think Paul,that the Germans are a lethargic bunch like you?,who can't even call the British game by its right name,'Football'?.You really have some nerve to criticized the way the Germans play Football.I wish most countries would play like they do.Just go to the tape and watch how they play against Brazil.Did they know before the game that the Brazilians,on that day would be so bad?.No,but they soon found out and played a very intelligent game with speed and precision passes,that stunned the Brazilians,and after that second goal,they just could not recuperate.And then Paul,go to the other tape.All along the Germans knew this would be a different affair,so you saw the game,and the rest is history.That was good Football both parts,and as we all know,the end result it could have gone either way.
    To me,and I am sure,to a lot of people,this was a great,game considering the circumstance.This was pure German efficiency.
    Paul,there is no question that you are a good sports writer,but I can say,there is a bit of bias against German Football and I hope,in your next article you correct this,okay?,thank you.

  19. David V, July 15, 2014 at 7:52 p.m.

    I don't get it... with all due respect, open your eyes... Brazil has not been the team that the world fell in love with (in the late 50s, 60s, 70s, and early 80s) since the mid 80s... a flair here and there and more son in 2002 than 94, but it just hasn't... if people want to talk crisis, it is NOT NEW... this team was only in the conversation because of geography (host country) and because of history (past accomplishments), not because they were a great team, and that isn't because of 7-1, it's because of the last decade, and the last 30 years... wake up man.

  20. David V, July 15, 2014 at 8:01 p.m.

    Another silly comment in this article was ... "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. " of course that is true, but wake up man, the Spaniards had the longest run in history... they WERE AT THE TOP FOR 8 YEARS... starting with their unsurpassed run that began in the Fall of 2006... your point about the Kaiser's comments are correct, but to lump this in with the Spanish reign is ridiculous... THEY WERE AT THE TOP FOR 8 YEARS!!!!! 8 YEARS!!!! and along the way they won Euro 2008, WC 2010, and Euro 2012... though they peaked in 2007-2009 in terms of quality, they were so far superior to everyone that the world feared them, for 6 years (right after Euro2008) and they packed 11 men behind the ball and brutalized them along the way... THEY WERE the greatest team in history... even the WSJ knows this... a run like that will not be repeated in our lifetimes, so don't lump them in with the other "1-2 season dynasties" who peak at a cup... Good on Germany that they copied and studied the Spanish (a mixture of spanish football, and mixed in with a bit of *some*, not all, Dutch philosophy... Bad on Brazil by following the thugs ... even the ultra defensive Italians have changed their ways by copying the Spanish... Good on Spain

  21. David V, July 15, 2014 at 8:04 p.m.

    Also... I'm NOT Argentina's biggest fan... however, don't knock them... if DiMaria had been healthy, they would have won the cup... the tiny slight edge that Germany had (because they got a goal in the final), would have shifted to a tiny slight edge to Argentina... Germany were NOT dominant.

  22. David V, July 16, 2014 at 2:30 a.m.

    Gus Keri... you still don't get it... Germany has never been so dominant that all opponents play 11 behind the ball, as Spain faced, Germany can be more "route 1"due to not being as dominant, and therefore, more teams are open against them... Spain did not, does not play Horizontal when they don't NEED TOO... oy vey

  23. Haydn Jones, July 16, 2014 at 12:36 p.m.

    There are more Brazilians in the Champions league than any other nationality, and it is supposed to be a European competition! All the top teams have to have at least a couple of Brazilians. The list of great Brazilian players is unmatched by any other country: Dida, Garrincha, Tostao, Pele, Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Neymar and on and on. Did you see how many countries had naturalized Brazilians in this WC? Thiago Motta, Italy; Dos Santos, Mexico; Costa, Spain; Pepe, Portugal. There is no question Brazilians are the best footballers in the world. I lived and played there and just the level on the streets is ridiculous. Obviously any football fan laments it when the clear masters of the game are not able to get it together and show us all what they can do. Scolari introduced a cynical team, thinking Brazil had to play bigger, faster and more aggressive to compete with Europeans. He was wrong, Brazil has to play like Brazil. Also, how is 8 years the longest run in history when Brazil won back to back world cups in 58 and 62 and only did not win in 66 because Pele was literally kicked out? Then they went on to win again in 70, earning the right to keep the old Jules Rimet cup. As for winning being the only yard stick; everyone remembers the great and skilled 82 Brazil and the 74 Holland teams, even if they did not win the cup. Was the Italian Materrazzi taunting team really better than the Zidane inspired France?

  24. luis llontop, July 17, 2014 at 3:54 a.m.

    I am surprised nobody has mentioned how beautiful it was to watch the "tiki taca" of Spain in 2010 and winning it all! Mr. Gardner speaks of a beautiful era that not many people understand in the USA. Paul implicitly speaks of creative, poetic FUTBOL. You see that's where Scolari failed trying to impose a style of play that is not natural to South America and in particular to Brazil. America has tried English style of soccer, now is German, but I'm sorry to say that none of it has worked. It's time to give a true born American coach and player, a chance to develop a unique style, brand and utilize all the great domestic talent here in America. To me Tab Ramos is it! Why did the Brazilians taking him out in the 94 Game? Because he was showing the Brazilians his own brand of "Jogo Bonito". Mr. Gardner thank you for your always incisive and astute thoughts. As for me, I eagerly look forward to your next article. And kudos to Mr Haydn Jones commentary very true.

  25. Santiago 1314, July 17, 2014 at 9:51 a.m.

    @Davind V...Your comment; "Germany has never been so dominant that all opponents play11 behind the ball "... Somebody Wake Klinsmann and Tell HIM that... LOL

  26. David V, July 17, 2014 at 10:42 a.m.

    Santiago, again, you're NOT getting it... every single opponent did that to Spain, for years and years on end...

  27. David V, July 17, 2014 at 10:57 a.m.

    H Jones... conventional wisdom (EVERYWHERE, by EVERYONE... Brasil, Pele, EVERYWHERE) HAD Brasil 70 as the best team ever... up until the Spain Golden Age team... it is MORE difficult to win two European Cups in a row (I know, I know, s.A. teams can't play in a cup)... EVERY team in a EURO is tough... not every team in the S.A. counterparts to the European cup are tough... (look, in the WC you get to play teams from Japan, and Korea, and Algeria, and Australia, and Costa Rica, and etc, etc... even if you THINK the CONCACAF, ASIAN, AFRICAN teams are difficult now, that would further make my point... they weren't in 58,62)... most difficult run ever to pull off was Spain's run... do a google search of the Wall Street Journal and "Best Team Ever"... I think this will help you understand... Now, two EUROs in a row with a WC sandwiched in between, and EVERY (not just one or two teams who do it to you, Santiago 1314), EVERY (OK,maybe 98%) team playing 11 men behind the ball against you for nearly 8 years... that's the context of the greatest team in history... and YES even the great Pele had '70Brasil as the best Brasil team ever, and even the Great Pele has said that the Spain team, this golden era team that just ended a month ago, which peaked in about 2008 or 2009, but which lasted nearly 8 years (2006-2014), and won Euro2008, Euro2010, and WC2010, that team, Pele said was better than his 1970Brasil squad... any more arguments on this topic should be directed and taken up with him... not me :-)

  28. David V, July 17, 2014 at 10:58 a.m.

    ooos S.A. teams can't play in Euro Cup is what I meant to say above

  29. David V, July 17, 2014 at 11:01 a.m.

    PS... there are multiple WSJ artices/movies, etc on the best team ever, so looking at all of them would help you... also, they make that the Spain Golden Age team was the best team in the history of Sport... not just football, but the best team of any sport for all time... it's pretty conventional wisdom by now (it's been said for over 4 years now, and crowned by all the football greats in the past 2-4 years... How can all you astute SOCCER AMERICA fans not know this?

  30. Allan Lindh, July 18, 2014 at 4:25 p.m.

    PG ignores, as do most of the commentators, that the response of the rest of the world to the great Spanish teams of the last 6 years was to hit them, hard and often. Deliberate hard fouls to injure or knock off their game the most skillful players. And FIFA and the refs let it happen. The most egregious at this WC was Brazil's pummeling of James Rodriguez, with NO, like in N-O yellow cards. Start enforcing the rules against intentional and persistent fouls, and you will make room for the Beautiful Game.

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