A Cultural Dilemma

Italian football is hit by a new scandal – Calcioscommesse. Gino de Blasio tries to find out why Italian football has been plagued by these scandals

In an interview published in La Repubblica[1], a key figure in the recent Calcio Scommesse investigation has provided details to a match-fixing scandal gripping a nation.

We buy information and then bet. Players call me and say ‘€20,000 on this game or this result.’ And I do it, it’s that simple.” Who are the football players? “30 in total, 90% from Serie B and the rest from Serie A, I’ll never tell you their names though.”

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It seems that whilst the informant is intent on not naming the players, he does indicate this to being an Italian only problem. “The players are the heart of the problem, the English league doesn’t have this kind of issue, but in Italy, players talk between themselves, they arrange the results, be it with us, with the Hungarian or Sicilian mafia’s, or even Beppe Signori, who is the head of the Calcio Scommesse in Italy.”

It reads like something straight out of a John Grisham novel, and has all the less palatable elements of a leftover three-day-old takeaway; but the latest Calcio Scommesse scandal in Italy has brought into question not only the actions of the individuals but the sport as a whole in the Italian peninsula.

It seems that this time though, in difference to the 2006 Calciopoli debacle, it is more the figures behind the scandal that is causing the shock. Names such as Stefano Bettarini, Beppe Signori and Cristiano Doni have given way to the gossip and tell-tale nature of Italian journalism, causing the guilty before charged tags in some cases.

In a two-hour interview given to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Cristiano Doni had admitted guilt in his part, reaching out to other players and pleading with them to “never commit the same mistakes as me.” It’s a sad and psychological blow to the game, system, player and fans alike, that someone so loved had succumbed to the criminality that is an undercurrent in the current Italian system, and perhaps even further afield.

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The dossier being created for the prosecution grows daily, with more and more individuals being involved, all from different backgrounds, and fewer it seems for now, actually coming from the world of football; it still doesn’t stop the unfounded accusations of some to name and shame stars such as Gennaro Gattuso, Gigi Buffon and Morgan De Sanctis.

In what has become an even more intriguing twist and turn, former Bari captain and now suspended Atalanta defender Andrea Massiello has become the man that the investigation has turned to following arrest and shock confessions.

Massiello’s actions in the Pugliese Derby last season saw Lecce staying up and Bari going down. His own goal sealed the deal. An own goal, which, when watched over and over, you get to realise just how much one man’s corrupted actions sealed the fate of a team he loved playing for.

Now, under arrest and facing many years in jail for match-fixing, he’s talking. What will come out, and what accusations are made, the intensity and the anger directed to others and their corroborators, only time will tell.

Getting Away with It

When Illievski (the informant) made the point that this is ‘an Italian only problem’ it had me thinking, could he be right? Is there something intrinsic in the nature of Italian culture that makes these actions acceptable in the minds of those committing the crime?

[pullquote]Andrea De Carlo once said, “In Italy corruption is in the blood, even if we don’t like it.[/pullquote]

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One Twitter friend and Serie A enthusiast, Rocco Camisola (@rcammisola) finds the term “corruption”  a bit too harsh to describe such affairs. “Self-Serving” is more appropriate in the way he thinks of it, and I couldn’t agree more.

From stories of blatant copying in school exams, to passing your driving test in the most unconventional of manners, through to tax evasion, these used to be things that weren’t chastised but praised. You’d receive a pat on the back for having done the “right thing”. These have been ingrained into the Italian culture. Slowly changing, but still ingrained; it can’t just change overnight.

Whether or not it’s a far reach to associate a footballing scandal with the “anti-Tuscan hills” imagery of Italian culture in such a way is probably best left with the sociologists; however, it’s hard to not see an association when you look at the country’s ideology as a whole.

It, self-serving, resides in the political class, medical fields and even education boards. And these aren’t just wild accusations that some desk jockey, I, am coming out with, but court cases brought forward and resolved. Is this to mean that it is only in Italy? No, however, it seems they don’t mind not hiding it either.
And whilst a “new” generation of thinking is taking shape, it also holds true, as the great Caesar once famously said, while speaking of his legacy, “If it takes 10 years to create, it will take 100 to destroy.” And maybe this latent acknowledgement of self-serving interest even in Caesar’s day goes to show there is a long way to go when it comes to eradicating it from the culture, and then perhaps from the game.

Is football’s self-serving nature more likely to occur in Italy because of the elements stated? Perhaps, but times change, and with that so does mentality.


[1] Disclaimer: this is an Italian only scam, hence link not in English

UEFA Champions League and Europa Cup Semi-Final Preview

The biggest club team honour is reaching its finale while the second-tier club competition in Europe is gathering momentum too. Get the showdown of the semi-final encounters with Debojyoti Chakraborty

The quarter-final stage of the Champions League 2011-12 got over without much brouhaha. A Milan faithful may not agree, but Barcelona was a clear favourite for this tie. Real Madrid surged past APOEL FC leaving them looking rather distraught. Their opponents, Bayern Munich also eased their way through to the last four after seeing Marseille off. Chelsea had to endure the toughest of the ties as they shook off a strong fightback from a 10-man Benfica. Teams to feature in the semi-finals have been really consistent throughout the tournament as is evident from the fact that they have topped their respective groups. Spain continued its dominance here as well while Real and Barcelona established themselves as the two top club teams. Italy have lost out on one Champions League spot to Germany from next season and they should not feel hard done by as none of the Serie A teams could make it to the last four whereas German Champions Bayern Munich look to challenge the Spanish Armada. The biggest surprise in the lineup is Chelsea, who have managed to come so far this season. So after a roller coaster ride, it is that time of the season when finally men are separated from the boys. Now let us prepare for the last two-legged encounter of the season.

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FC Bayern Munchen (GER) vs Real Madrid FC (ESP)

April 17, 2012

Fußball Arena München, Munich (GER)

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (ESP)

April 25, 2012

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Winner – 4, Runners-up – 4

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Winner – 9, Runners-up – 3

Quarter-Final

Quarter-Final

Olympique de Marseille (2-0, 2-0)

Apoel FC (3-0, 5-2)

Round of 16

Round of 16

FC Basel 1893 (0-1, 7-0)

PFC CSKA Moskva (1-1, 4-1)

Group Stage | Group A Winner

Group Stage | Group D Winner

Villarreal CF (A) 2-0

SSC Napoli (H) 3-2

GNK Dinamo Zagreb (A) 1-0

Olympique Lyonnais (A) 2-0

Manchester City (H) 2-0

Villarreal CF (H) 3-1

AFC Ajax (H) 3-0

GNZK Dinamo Zagreb (H) 6-2

SSC Napoli (A) 1-1

Manchester City (A) 0-2

Olympique Lyonnais (H) 4-0

AFC Ajax (A) 3-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

There is no bigger incentive for Bayern to win this tie than to feature in their home turf for the final on May 19. They face a mighty Real Madrid, a record nine-time conquerors of the continent. While many are preparing for another El Clasico in the final, it is the German Superpowers who seem to have a realistic chance of preventing that from happening. They had to come through the rigours of play-offs but they have looked sharper and clinical as the tournament approaches its crescendo. The Bavarians then topped the Group of Death before annihilating FC Basel 7-0 at home in the Round of 16 following a shock defeat in the first leg. A typical professional German display saw them ease past Marseille thereafter. Now they find themselves in a proper Big Match, and anyone can win it. Mario Gomez vs Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery vs Kaka, Philipp Lahm vs Sergio Ramos, Manuel Neuer vs Iker Casillas – it is perfect show time. These two superpowers of Europe have locked horns quite a few times resulting in almost even honours. Real has been in superb form from their group stages where they secured a perfect win record – only the fifth club in the history of the tournament to do so. A creditable draw in the freezing Moscow turf set them up nicely for the Round of 16. Los Blancos followed it up with bidding adieu to APOEL FC from little Cyprus – story of the season so far. Cristiano Ronaldo may be leading his counterpart in La Liga in terms of goal scoring but he is still some way behind in Europe. It will be a good stage for him to set the records straight as the competition nears its business end. Real has a star-studded side which is performing like a well-oiled machine – they have top two assist providers in Kaka and Karim Benzema, 3 out of the top 5 scorers are from Bernabéu (Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and José Callejón). Coupled with a compact defence which has conceded the least number of goals so far, this is a mouth-watering tie.

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Chelsea FC (ENG) vs FC Barcelona (ESP)

 

April 18, 2012

Stamford Bridge, London (ENG)

Camp Nou, Barcelona (ESP)

April 24, 2012

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Runners-up – 1

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Winner – 4, Runners-up – 3

Quarter-Final

Quarter-Final

SL Benfica (1-0, 2-1)

AC Milan (0-0, 3-1)

Round of 16

Round of 16

Napoli (1-3, 4-1)

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (1-3, 7-1)

Group Stage | Group E Winner

Group Stage | Group H Winner

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (H) 2-0

KRC Genk (A) 1-1

AC Milan (H) 2-2

FC Viktoria Plzen (A) 4-0

Valencia CF (A) 1-1

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (A) 1-2

FC Bate Borisov (A) 5-0

AC Milan (A) 3-2

KRC Genk (H) 5-0

Valencia CF (H) 3-0

FC Viktoria Plzen (H) 2-0

FC Bate Borisov (H) 4-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

Chelsea seem to have over-achieved this season in the Champions League considering their woeful domestic form and unrest in the dressing room. They saw off Valencia in the last match day in a must-win encounter in some style before staging one of the most memorable comebacks in the history of Champions League against Napoli in the Round of 16. Another tough nut waited in the quarter-finals and Chelsea rode their luck a little to knock out a resolute and gritty Benfica side. They would be determined to keep their continental form going as automatic Champions League qualification from the EPL is uncertain and hence winning this year’s Cup would be their only hope. They face the mighty Barcelona in a repeat fixture to 2009 edition. That time, Barcelona advanced on away goals and Chelsea would hope to do it one better this time.   Chelsea seem to be the weakest of the surviving teams – they have hardly been able to hold on to the ball, rarely threatened the goal mouth, scored the least and conceded the most number of goals. Add to that the quality of opposition over the two-legged semi-final tie – possibly the greatest club team ever to have played the game – and Chelsea seem down and out. But matches have never been won on paper and Chelsea would dearly love to prove this once again. Barcelona are through to the semi-finals of this competition fifth time in a row. By doing so, they have equalled the feat set by their archrivals Real Madrid in the late ‘50s – then known as the European Cup. And they would like to match another envious record held by their quarter-final rivals – win consecutive top European Club honours. Records are nothing new to the man named Lionel Messi. He became the youngest man, and fourth overall, to score 50 Champions League goals and also bettered his own Cup record of 12 goals in a season. The little magician has netted only 56 times so far this season and there will be hardly anyone who would bet against him scoring in this tie. People mesmerised by the tiki-taka brand of football often fail to appreciate their tight defence – Barca have not lost at home in Europe since 2009. They have some problem against aerial balls, but they more than make up for it through their defensive organisation. Except for Milan in the group stages, the Catalan side have conceded only 3 goals while scoring a staggering 28 in seven matches. They do keep the ball well – better than any other team in the competition – and make good use of it as they have outscored everyone else. This should be a good test for Barcelona, but not likely to be much more than a good warm-up for the impending final.

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The Europa Cup Previews

Some call it the poor cousin of the Champions League, but the teams vying for the Europa League would strongly object to that. After much blood, sweat and rigour of the horrific schedule, four teams survive to fight it out. The all-conquering Spanish dominance is even more evident here as we have Sporting Clube de Portugal sandwiched between three clubs from Spain. Some may argue that the competition is dampened by the reluctance of top clubs to compete in this demanding tournament and they have preferred to focus on their respective domestic leagues. But this, in no way, can undermine the achievements of the semi-finalists. Let us build up to these matches.

Club Atletico de Madrid vs Valencia CF

In their last meeting in Europe, Atletico Madrid edged past Valencia on the basis of away goals in the quarter-finals of Europa League in 2009-10 and went all the way to lift the trophy. This time they will host Valencia on April 19 with the away match a week later. The club from Madrid has failed to score against their La Liga counterpart in the domestic season and they would surely love to break the shackles this time. Thibaut Courtois, on loan from Chelsea, has been in superb form under the bars for them – taking over from the now Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea – conceding the least number of goals in the competition. Up front, Falcao Garcia, the leading goal scorer in the tournament, has impressed some cash rich clubs in Europe and he would surely like to prove his worth. Not only him – Adrian Lopez, Eduardo Salvio – Atletico have quite a few options going forward and they are clear favourites to clinch it.  They have shown the desire by eliminating Manchester United from the tournament. On the other hand, Valencia are the only team to have come from the Champions League, having been eliminated on the last match day of the group stages in the hands of Chelsea. They boast of a strong defence consisting of Victor Ruiz and Adil Rami. They have a free-flowing approach to the game, reminiscent of any modern top Spanish side. They have netted 4 goals in two consecutive home matches and they would look to hone their goal scoring skills once again against their Spanish compatriots.

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Sporting Clube de Portugal vs Athletic Club

Only non-Spanish team left in the competition, Sporting Club will entertain Athletic Club on April 19 in an Iberian derby. They are enjoying their best season in Europe since 2005. History favours the Portuguese side in this tie as they have beaten – that too after trailing in the first leg – Athletic Club in their only meeting so far, way back in 1985-86 season. But they will have to go past a fantastic Gorka Iraizoz who has made the most number of saves (37) in the competition. Sporting is inspired by the ex-Liverpool left-back Emiliano Insua who is having a tremendous season. Ricky van Wolfswinkel up front also has performed beyond expectation. They are up against an Athletic team, which is the only team to compete with Atletico de Madrid in terms of goal scoring. Diego da Cunha is leading the pack in the midfield as he leads the assists chart with four of them while chipping in a few on his own. They have come back from behind twice against FC Schalke 04 to clinch the tie which shows their hunger for success. In fact, they have had the most number of attempts – 67, close to six per match on an average – in goal amongst the teams surviving in the competition. Markel Susaeta has orchestrated the midfield quite well and he will have a major part to play in this tie as well. But they have leaked quite generously in the back and this is one area where they would like to improve. They will be further handicapped as star defender Javi Martinez has been suspended. This should be a fierce battle as both the teams rank right up there in terms of fouls committed throughout the tournament. Nonetheless, this promises to be an enthralling contest – plenty of goals, some shrewd tactics being employed and a nail-biting finish.

The Three Halves and Halves Nots

A few months ago the media was awash with reports that FIFA was toying with the idea of introducing three halves of thirty minutes each in the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Though I couldn’t find any official statement from FIFA confirming this (in fact they had swiftly moved to refute the rumours), I can’t wait for this strategy to be introduced. It may turn out to be one of the most important innovations in football, comparable to the banning of snoods and booking players for taking off their shirt.

For starters, the term “three halves” is path breaking in itself. It can potentially change the entire footballing paradigm where every match, in fact, becomes a match and a half. It is straight out of the Kevin Keegan world of football expressions where there is no bigger honour than being the second best team in the world, where there isn’t anyone bigger or smaller than Maradona. With it, FIFA can scale the marketing heights of Woolworth or Sainsbury’s by offering three matches at the price of two tickets. Besides, with two half time breaks, they must come up with appropriate names for them too. Taking a cue from cricket, the breaks could be named tea and high tea, or supper and dinner depending on when the game is played, and embellished with appropriate sponsorships.

Beyond these obvious marketing and promotional opportunities, there are other ways to leverage the third half to make the beautiful game even more beautiful. The basic game of football has not changed since it started. It has always been played in two halves where two teams, comprising 11 players, fight for a ball. Tournaments like Moretti were a whole new ball game though. Now with three halves, FIFA will be well-equipped to introduce three-way match ups, much like the three-way elimination matches so widespread and popular in professional wrestling. Let us try to understand how it will work. In a match between Team A, B and C – Team A plays Team B, Team B plays Team C while Team C plays Team A in the first, second and third halves respectively. The goal difference for each team over the three halves is computed and the team with the highest goal difference declared the winner. If there is more than one team with the highest goal difference, the points are split. In case of knock-out matches without a clear winner, there are two or three-way penalty shootouts as necessary. Three-way penalty shootouts work in exactly the same way as the three-way match.

The question is what is in it for FIFA, apart from revenue, that is. Well, with three-way match ups of 90 minutes split in three halves, FIFA will be able to increase the number of participating teams from 32 to 48 with zero overhead. This is likely to reduce the chances of global favourites such as England missing the tournament by bowing out in the qualifiers.  Besides, with more teams participating, TV revenue will also surge.

However, in the mundane world of domestic and continental football, it will not be justifiable to have three-way matches for the simple reason that to maintain the traditional home and away format, the number of matches will increase beyond control and the schedule will become unmanageable. Nevertheless, an idea as radical and path-breaking as a game of three halves has its advantages. The domestic and continental competitions can continue to be held between two teams, but introduction of the extra half will add value to the player and spectator experience, as well as introduce avenues for new tactical thinking. In the following paragraphs I shall explain how.

One aspect football has not been able to market is the toss. It is such a trivial affair in the game that nobody but the referee is usually bothered about it. However, this third half might just give the toss a new lease of life. Journalists can spend column inches on which way the wind will blow, while broadcasters can perhaps slip in a weather report into the match preview. We may also have a full-fledged pitch report where the venerable experts will pick up blades of grass and blow them in the air, measure the hardness of the soil in various areas, especially the penalty box and provide expert comments. Captains will be interrogated on their decision and blasted or commended on it, and the armchair fan will have another topic to ruminate on. Of course, all the while the camera will silently follow them around to seize every moment that can enhance the drawing room-audience experience. What’s more, it will positively contribute to the employment scenario as meteorologists and geologists will now be added to the entourage of coaches, doctors, physiotherapists, dietitians, nutritionists, psychologists, philosophers and the likes.

Most football fans will agree that time added on due to injuries and substitutions, is fast becoming one of the most intriguing topics of discussion. From waiting for the fourth referee to flash the number of minutes to be added, to anticipating when the referee will decide that enough time has been added and blow the whistle, to Manchester United inevitably scoring a goal well beyond the anticipated end of the half, time added on continues to enthral the football fanatics and divide opinion. What happens during half time is also occupying increased mindshare with pizza fights, handbags and accusations of referees visiting opponent dressing rooms bandied about with increased regularity. The additional half time break will obviously enhance these simple but nonetheless essential appendages to the football experience. Certain managers will also no doubt be delighted to find another window for unleashing the hairdryer to make sure that everyone is on their toes.

The move is also expected to have social and economic impact reaching far beyond the perimeters of the football field. With two half time breaks, the sales of hamburgers, baguettes and sandwiches in the stadium are sure to skyrocket, thus substantially boosting the stadium refreshments business, and creating more employment opportunities. Back home, we can expect a marginal increase in domestic harmony as during the extra break the football fan will perhaps spend a bit more time with his family during the hectic Saturday and Sunday evenings.

However, the question remains, what is in it for the players. There certainly is something. It is not apparent because we, the unforgiving audience, treat them like Roman gladiators and do not spend a moment to consider the trials they undergo on the field. We pulverize them for making simple mistakes without considering that they may be in obvious physical discomfort, the likes of which we seldom need to face. Have we considered that some of the misplaced passes, fluffed clearances, scuffed shots and flapped corners, inability to track back or mark the opponent could have a physiological reason? In other words, have we considered that not every player may be blessed with the industry of Jens Lehmann? So, the three halves will obviously give that additional opportunity to answer nature’s calls, both proactively and reactively, that may have been inhibiting them from playing to their potential. Given that, I must say, every professional footballer will be flushed with delight if FIFA’s new move is implemented.

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Saumyajit Ray can be reached at saumyajit.ray@gmail.com

Title courtesy: Anustup Basu

Triviela – Beyond Trivia


The Trivela is a Portuguese term to denote the art of kicking the football with the outside of one’s foot. It is used to hide one’s weaker foot and also to suddenly fool the opposition with a wickedly swerving ball from a difficult angle. In Triviela, we will attempt to find some football feats/facts which would make you sit up and take note, like it happens when you see Ricardo Quaresma try these.

The 1st Bishop of Pavia

The 1st bishop of Pavia has an unwitting history with a game, which was discovered at least 14 centuries after his death.

Pavia is an ancient town in northern Italy about 35 km from Milan. It is the capital of the provinceofPavia. The city achieved its greatest political importance between 568 and 774 A.D., as the capital of the KingdomoftheLombards. Syrus (Sirus) was the 1st bishop of Pavia back in the 1st century. His legend, according to the 14th century source known as the De laudibus Papiæ (In the Praise of Pavia), states that Syrus was the boy with the five loaves who appears in the Gospels.

This Saint Syrus would have stayed off limits, till you hear the Italian way of writing his name – Syrus is written as Siro and being a saint, he was called San Siro!

Even though San Siro di Pavia did not have any direct relation to football or football clubs, it was in his memory, that a vast district of Milan was named San Siro. So when the stadium was opened in 1926, it was named “Nuovo Stadio Calcistico San Siro” (San Siro New Football Stadium). Later it was renamed as Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, but owing to Meazza’s Inter history (though he played for both Milan clubs), the Rossoneri half of Milan still call the stadium San Siro.

Parting Shot: San Siro di Pavia had a compatriot, a bishop in Pavia back in the 1st century, and his name was Juventius of Pavia. No link has been found between him and the third famous Italian club from Turin though.

Larger than Life

Let’s start with a question: What is common between Jomo Sono of South Africa, Abedi Pele of Ghana and Mohammed Kallon of Sierra Leone. Well for one, they are all African. While Jomo and Abedi Pele are absolute legends of the African game and in their country, Kallon is only a national legend. 56 year old Jomo and 46 year old Pele are into managing clubs while 31 year old Kallon’s wandering career has taken him to a struggling I-Leage (Indian national league) club Viva Kerala.

But the thread that connects all three is that all of them have clubs named after them.

After his soccer career ended, Sono returned to South Africa, where he purchased the Highlands Park club in Johannesburg in 1982, renaming it Jomo Cosmos in honour of his old team, the NY Cosmos. Under his ownership, the club went on to achieve several successes: it won the National Soccer League in 1987, the Bobsave Super Bowl in 1990, the Cola Cola Cup in 2002 and the Super Eight in 2003. Jomo Cosmos has also consistently finished among the top teams in the South African Premier Soccer League.

European Champions League winner, 2 times African Player of the Year, winner of the African Cup of Nations and former Ghanaian Captain Abedi Pele founded FC Nania (often called as Abedi Pele’s Nania Accra F.C.) in the Legon suburb of Accra in 2004. Nania never reached the successes of Jomo Cosmos and instead was embroiled in a match fixing scandal. In 2008, Abedi Pele was banned from participation in active football for one year by the Disciplinary Committee of the Ghana Football Association after the controversial Division One Middle League results in which Abedi’s Nania FC beat Okwahu United 31-0.

The only silverware that FC Nania managed to win was the E.K. Nayanar Memorial Football Gold Cup, a tournament in Southern India beating Viva Kerala and that is where our 3rd figure, Mohd. Kallon comes in. Sierra Fisheries, a club based out of Freetown, Sierra Leone, was acquired by Kallon in 2002 for $30,000. Kallon FC won the Sierra Leonean FA Cup and the Sierra Leone League title in 2006. Kallon himself played for the club in the 2009-10 season. Just like it’s a sharp drop for a man who has played 42 times for Inter Milan – with 14 goals, between (2001-04), and 48 times for AS Monaco – between (2004-07), scoring 14 goals again, to ply his trade in the Indian League, Kallon FC too have not set any pulse racing since their last title in 2006.

Parting Shot: Clarence Seedorf is the coowner of AC Monza, a club in Italian lower division, one he bought in 2009. Though he hasn’t renamed it after himself, you may keep an eye out on this.

A Brave New World

Evacuation routes to ships, escape plans, protection protocols, people being searched for concealed weapons, a one-armed man as a major character, a clash between a military dictatorship and a democratic coalition, a death threat and a moat to protect the main protagonists. At first glance it seems a fine plot of an Alistair MacLean or a John le Carre thriller; however the subject in discussion is the first final of the World Cup held on July 30, 1930.

Eighty one years on, the game and the tournament have both grown in epic proportions. So much so that the phenomenon was nearly nominated for the Nobel Peace prize a couple of years back. To understand the game and its huge impact on the world and its people, we need to travel back in history. Not as much the study of numbers and statistics, which apparently constitute a mechanical approach, let’s rather take a sneak peek into the major events, the people associated and other related  aspects significant to the game, that help transcend football from being merely a sport to a passionate way of life.
The first World Cup was conceived as a competition independent of the Olympics, which was then the main competition in the early part of the 20th century. The idea was primarily driven by Jules Rimet, the then President of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Countries like Uruguay, Italy, Sweden, Hungary, Spain and the Netherlands exhibited a keen interest to host it. FIFA did not have any voting system in place in those days so Rimet after much deliberation, named Uruguay as the host country of the inaugural World Cup tournament as they were the champions of the last two Olympic Games and also to commemorate their centenary of independence. The other idea was to spread the game beyond Europe.
 Even before the tournament started there were a lot of obstacles. For one, air travel was absent. Secondly, many European teams refused to undertake the long tedious journey aboard a ship. Rimet, however, managed to persuade four teams viz. Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia to participate. The Uruguayan organisers agreed that all expenditures shall be borne by them. The Romanians managed to participate due to the intervention of their new monarch Carol II, who personally selected the team and persuaded the employers of the players to ensure that their jobs were safe. The French team joined owing to the efforts of Rimet. Their star striker Manuel Anatol and regular coach Gaston Barreau could not make the trip though. The Belgians were similarly persuaded by the then FIFA Vice President Rudolf Seedrayers who was from the same country. The Yugoslavs were possibly the only European team to participate without any persuasion apart from all the expenses being paid. The ship SS Conte Verde served as the mode of travel for all the teams but Yugoslavia, who made the journey by a mail steamship named Florida. The Conte Verde also carried the trophy, then known as ‘Lady of Victory’, along with Jules Rimet and the three designated European referees. The ship made a stop at Rio where the Brazilian squad boarded. Another brief stop was at Santos where the teams bought plenty of fruits like bananas, oranges and pineapples. The ship eventually reached Montevideo on July 4, 1930, just nine days prior to the commencement of the tournament, with ten thousand residents of the city welcoming them.

The tournament proper started on July 13, 1930 with simultaneous matches featuring France versus Mexico and United States versus Belgium. Four groups had been made where Uruguay, Brazil, USA and Argentina were seeded. The seeding was more to ensure large crowds for knockout matches than actual strength of the teams. Surprisingly, all the seeded teams with the exception of Brazil made it to the semi finals. Yugoslavia was the only European team to make it to the semis. The South American teams were better equipped as they understood the concept of conditioning camps, training and tactics since they had been playing the Copa America, their continental championships, since 1916. Eventually the final came down to a match between the neighbours, Uruguay and Argentina, the original ‘El Clasico’. There are a few of interesting bits of trivia associated with this tournament. Penalties were difficult to score as they were taken from 16 yards out. The referees were dressed immaculately in coats and ties with golf plus fours and thigh length stockings. In fact, in many matches it was complained that the referees missed out on important events, as they were busy combing their hair or straightening their tie.
 The Argentina captain Manuel Farreira actually left the team before the last group match against Chile in order to appear for his Law examinations in Buenos Aires and returned just in time for the semi finals.
One of the biggest stars was the Argentinean mid-fielder cum defender Luis Monti. He had the quintessential build of a centre half but had a sublime range of long passes. He was also the original strong man who used a lot of thug-like tactics while undertaking his defensive duties. For instance, while at a group match against France, Monti managed to get his elbow on the opposition goalkeeper Alex Thépot’s face following which Thépot was unable to continue. Then Lucien Laurent was subjected to a fierce kick to the ankle which left him limping for the rest of the match. It is believed that Monti was much subdued in his performance in the final match owing to the death threats received earlier. This explanation is, however, offered by the Argentine media. Monti went on to play the next final match four years later representing Italy where he performed much better without any death threats hanging over his head.
The final match of the World Cup can alone form a subject for a gripping novel with several sub-plots. The two capitals of the finalists were across the Rio de La Plata – imagine a match between Manhattan and Queens of New York, each located in a different country. The game was held on a Wednesday, a working day, yet that did not in any way reduce the enthusiasm. The match started at 3:30 in the afternoon but the gates were opened at 9:30 in the morning and within two hours the Estadio Centenario was filled to the rafters. The early opening of the gates was to accommodate a thorough security check of every spectator for concealed weapons. This saw a considerable reduction in  the ground capacity – from 90,000 enthusiasts to the final attendance figure of 68,346. About thirty thousand Argentine supporters were delayed by fog over the river and could not make it to the stadium. Some political rivalry was evident as Argentina was a military dictatorship while Uruguay had a democratically elected coalition government. The referee John Langenus, a Belgian was quite worried about the safety of his life and demanded a safe evacuation route to the ship. He even demanded protective policemen as bodyguards during half time. A ten feet deep moat had been constructed around the field to prevent pitch invasion. There was a drawbridge to connect to the VIP box from the pitch. These are the small examples of the passion that the sport brings out in people, which is still evident today.
Line Up for the Final
Even before the kick off, there was a major problem. Both sides wanted to have the match played with a ball manufactured in their respective countries. Langenus suggested that a different ball be used in each half. A toss decided that the one manufactured in Argentina was to be used in the first half whilst the one made in Uruguay for the lsecond. Such an episode may sound like a matter of disbelief during the age of the ‘Teamgeist’ or the ‘Fevernova’, but this was more than a match; it was a clash that ‘mattered’.

The pitch was dry and dusty, and the Celeste and the Albiceleste fought the battle which would change the history of the game. Both teams started with a 2-3-4-1 formation with Héctor Castro and Guillermo Stábile playing as the lone forwards and Lorenzo Fernández and Monti playing in the centre of the three-man midfield for each side respectively. The hosts drew first blood in the 12th minute when the inside right, Héctor Scarone’s shot was blocked by the Argentine left back Fernando Paternoster, the rebound was picked by the centre forward Castro, who pushed the ball wide right. The outside right, Pablo Dorado charged in like a locomotive and shot underneath the goalkeeper Juan Botasso’s body and past Juan Evaristo who was on the line(1-0). Incidentally Juan’s brother Mario Evaristo was playing as the right out in forward line. Argentina replied eight minutes later with a picture perfect goal. Juan Evaristo, their right half, very recognisable because of his pale beret, took a return pass from Monti and found Farreira, the Argentine captain and inside left, who released Carlos Peucelle, their outside left. Peucelle the predecessor of the present day left wingers beat the opposition left half Álvaro Gestido with a burst of speed and took a fierce shot which left the goalkeeper Enrique Ballestrero standing, high inside his left-hand post(1-1). Gestido was trying to cover for his right half José Andrade who was absent in the left wing. Argentina then went on to dominate the game with their skillful passing and crisp movements with the ball. To add to this they had a world class forward in Stábile. It was now a question of not how Argentina would score but when? The answer came in the 37th minute. Monti hit a hopeful long ball which drifted over the Uruguayan captain and right centre back José Nasazzi to fall to Stábile who scored from close range with Andrade stranded on the line(1-2). Andrés Mazali, Uruguay’s star goalkeeper from the two Olympic Games triumphs had been dropped for breaking curfew. He was caught sneaking home for a conjugal visit. Those were not the days of the WAGs. His replacement Ballestrero who played for this tournament was not of the same class. Andrés Mazali might have saved this goal as Ballestrero was hopelessly out of position.  Nasazzi led the claims for offside but the ball was in the air for a long time. Argentina’s flair and skill was proving its superiority over the hosts’ organisation and industrial style of play. Then came the half time interval and everything changed!

In the second half the hosts started to impose themselves physically. The Uruguayans believed that they were much stronger in constitution than their neighbours and it began to show. The inside right of Argentina, Francisco Varallo re-injured his knee and was sent out to the right wing where he was completely neutralised by Ernesto Mascheroni. At this time Monti seemed to take the death threat to heart and did not play in his usual manner. What put the final nail in the coffin was the highest goal scorer of the tournament; Stábile missed a golden opportunity to put them two goals to the good in the 49th minute. The wind came out of their sails. Now Gestido and Fernandez, the halves of Uruguay were linking up in attack and Argentina were under pressure. In the 57th minute, a free kick by Fernandez reached Scarone in the right hand channel and he passed the ball to Castro, the forward who had one hand. Castro who was a carpenter by profession had lost his left hand from the wrist working on an electric saw. He received the ball with his back to the goal, chipped a clever overhead lob from that position which took both the opposition defenders José della Torre and Paternoster out of the equation and reached José Pedro Cea, the inside right who hit a ground shot past the goalkeeper Botasso(2-2). The equaliser had arrived and now Uruguay pressed forward for the winner. Ten minutes later Mascheroni dispossessed Varallo and ran forward on the left side and passed to the outside left “El Canario” (The Canary) aka Victoriano Santos Iriarte who ran inside and took a snap shot from outside the area which flummoxed Botasso who dived late (3-2). The stadium erupted with joy as the hosts had their noses in front. Argentina had a few chances when Stábile hit the top of the bar with a shot from ten yards out on the 72nd minute. In the 80th minute, the limping Varallo managed to beat Ballestrero who characteristically was out of position. The goal was averted when Andrade, the right half cleared the ball off the line by means of an acrobatic volley with his entire body off the ground. Uruguay made the game safe in the last minute when Dorado received the ball around the centre line in the right side and ran ahead and crossed for Castro who leapt above Della Torre and sent a looping header above Botasso’s flailing fingertips (4-2). It was game set and match. Langenus blew the final whistle and made it to his ship safely. Strangely Nasazzi, the captain fantastic of the winning team did not receive the trophy as Rimet presented it to Dr. Raúl Jude, the Uruguayan FA President.
A few more facts about the finalists which make for an interesting read: Eight of the Argentinian players were never capped again. Stábile, one of the stars of the tournament only played those four matches in his entire international career. Alberto Suppici, the Uruguayan coach similarly managed the team for only the four matches in this tournament and till date, at 31 years is the youngest manager to win the World  Cup. José Nasazzi was captain of the Uruguayan national team for all his 41 international matches. The day following the final match was declared a national holiday in Uruguay. On the flip side, the Uruguayan embassy in Buenos Aires was stoned by a mob. The two football associations broke off relations, the major reason why no further Copa America was organised till 1935. It was hailed as win by Uruguayan democracy over Argentine dictatorship; the triumph of Uruguayan organisation and industrial team game of commoners over the skill, finesse and individualism of the Argentinean elite class. All this was more of media hype than reality, but has added to the mystique of this great tournament.
It was the beginning of a new era in power football where FIFA elevated the game to a higher pedestal. The cup would soon come to Europe and become a tool in the hands of dictators and governments who were racing towards war. But for the moment it was football which was basking in its success and reveling in its glory.

Attack Wins Games, Defence Wins Titles

The concept of sound defense winning titles is preached in almost every sport, from the junior game right up to the professional level and one which can help mould a style of football on the pitch. However, with the likes of Barcelona creating ‘a new breed of football’, can the foundations of defence over attack be applied in today’s game?
The principles of defending haven’t changed since the sport became what it is today, but what has changed is the game itself. The modern game is visibly quicker, more fatiguing (an average of 32% more games played now than 15 years ago) and some argue, more psychological. What this implies is that traditional tactics are changing, and with that, the type of players who fulfil various roles.
Is defending the sacred ground for winning championships? The statistics would have you believe they are. If you look at the last three years of clubs winning in their respective countries of England, Spain, Italy and France, you will note a ringing truth, fewer and fewer goals are being conceded.
So what’s the cause for this? If we were to look at the tactics, then the answer is not so simple. The traditional 4 – 4 – 2 required little to no attacking play from the centre backs. Attacking if any, from the back would come from corners, where a defender’s general height and strong heading ability would come into play. Movement was mainly lateral with only the wing backs bringing play forwards directly from the keeper.Today however, a defender has to be as versatile as a Swiss army knife. Comfortable with the ball at his feet, he needs athletic ability to bring the game forward, quickly and consistently from the keeper. Fullbacks are used more frequently providing runs, crosses and overlaps, and centre backs are no longer the nose bleeding sufferers if they venture past the 30 yard mark. Possessed with greater physical and technical ability they are makeshift playmakers on counter attacks.The partnership of the Milan centreback duo last season was a pleasure to watch. Both Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva contributed to this level of play. In the final Milan Derby last season, they played a high line to nullify the threats at ease and to launch easy counter attacks.
What about goalkeepers? They are after all the ‘extreme defender’. Gone are the days of ‘vanilla’ goalkeepers, now you have to be a ‘sweeper’ goalkeeper. Distribution is the key and releasing the ball quickly and accurately, both with hands and feet is even more important today than when the back pass rule was introduced. A good release and you allow the team to quickly build momentum, retain possession and expose space. A late or misplaced pass can come back to bite you. One may consider Víctor Valdés, Edwin Van der Sar or Iker Casillas as the best exponents of the quick pass.
To conclude, the modern game leaves gaping holes in defensive capacity rather than add to them.
The Bigger Picture
Defense doesn’t end or rather begin with the players nearest the keeper; if you analyse any match in the modern game, the defence begins in the middle of the park. If you don’t believe me, think of the space between midfield and defence, and ask yourself, why are midfielders more exposed to overloading defensive duties?
The modern approach to allow the full backs full freedom to go up and down the pitch as much as possible requires that you have at least one midfielder providing suitable cover that opens up when either central defender goes to cover the full back, effectively creating a fifth defender, but one that evens the playing field when faced with a counter attack.
So the conclusion is defending has become something of a united focus rather than a single tactical instrument in a match. The question then remains, ‘does a good defence really win you leagues?’
If we go back to my earlier example of all the teams in those 4 leagues, yes, they all had a low number of goals conceded, but they also had very high goals scored. So strikers, creative midfielders and yes, even defenders are earning their money in getting the goals to win the coveted titles at the end of the season.
But this is where the beauty of the modern game lies. No longer are talented defenders limited to clearing attacks. They are becoming responsible for them. They can dictate rhythm, pace and orchestrate movement throughout the game. The technically able can provide passes through the middle of the park. The physical defenders can provide further attacking options whilst possessing the ability to track back and stop play from building and the tactically minded ones can read the game from the back and implement changes.
So does defence win leagues? Yes, a disciplined defence can win you leagues, but by being better in attack….if that makes sense!

Gino de Blasio studiously analyses Italian and English football. He has recently become a qualified coach and talks tactics until the cows come home. You can follow him on twitter @ginodb