Why Artists never Win

From flair to success, the yardstick of footballing brilliance has gradually shifted over the years. While the modern world of football is adamant that to win is everything, Debjan Sengupta argues why it is perfectly alright to set aside the result win as long as the football in display is aesthetic and pleasing, here at GOALden Times.

Football is played by eleven professional athletes who are bound by contracts to play the sport in order to win and compete.
And we are talking about an incredible amount of money. Think about it, Cristiano Ronaldo gets paid 1.6 Million USD per week to win. Not to play beautiful football.
Finance has suddenly become the all important factor in football. Also, the price tag starts to bind the player’s neck like a leash.
His performance loses the essence of joy, flair, enjoyment and freedom. He is instructed to go out and win and not enjoy himself.
Why play beautiful football when you can grind out results and clinch the league consequently saving your job!!
Football is called the “beautiful game”. Here, we must accept that some people will play the game more aesthetically. They grace the game with the intention of creating something beautiful. They uphold the aesthetic ideals of playing football that is pleasant to the eye, even at the cost of a guaranteed win.

The Juventus legend, Giampiero Boniperti, once said, “Winning is not important, it is the only concern”

It is true. Winning is a concern. However playing beautiful football is more important.
Greece won the EURO 2004 but we cannot really say they played eye catching football. It is a fact we must admit but not a characteristic that we can always appreciate. Playing with 10 men inside your half and scoring only from corners is hardly something one can call beautiful. It is more like falling in love with a successful person whose ideals are ugly.
Football has a history of over 100 years. Every generation has blessed us with a genius or a legend who has elevated the game into something more poetic and beautiful. To see them play would bring back memories of football in the backyard.
These people played for fun.
Their intention was to express, liberate, create and inspire. One could call them artists of the game, men who after making a sport look like a piece of art.
Winning has become a mad obsession. It is gnawing at the foundations of football and snapping at its aesthetics. The demand of trophies and the weight of transfer fee is making football less appealing. The philosophy, art and creativity of the game is being eroded gradually.
In this article we look at 5 men who by current parameters of judgement would be termed as underachievers. They have played for the desire to create art and hence considered winning an inferior motif.
And when one plays beautiful football even when the World’s greatest prize is almost within the reach-it cannot be termed as suicidal or stupid.
It is just that some men consider winning less important than playing beautiful football.
And it is perfectly okay to do so.

Ferenc Puskas and the Magical Magyars

It is not a coincidence that FIFA Puskas Award goes to the player who scores the most beautiful goal in a calendar year.
The Galloping Major was short, stocky and one footed. Yet, he was nick-named “The Field Magician” for his exemplary vision and poetic left foot. Ferenc Puskas was the captain and talisman of the Magical Magyars; the chief of their magicians.

Teammate Nandor Hidegkuti later said, “Of all of us, he was the best. He had a seventh sense for soccer. If there were 1,000 solutions, he would pick the 1001st.”

On the pitch he seemed a wizard on the ball-gliding through lunging tackles with grace then conjuring a thunderbolt of a shot that almost always seemed to end up in the net. Ferenc Puskas and the Hungarian National Team of the 1950’s would go on to dominate the world for four years and a month.
Between 1950 and 1956, the team recorded forty two victories, seven draws and just one defeat which deprived them of their biggest glory.
The only loss came when it was least expected, in the final of the 1954 FIFA World Cup. In the pouring rain, Hungary took a 2-0 lead within the first 8 minutes.
But a spirited German side made a comeback within the first half and tied the score. With the rain lashing down, Helmut Rahn took the lead for the Germans six minutes from time.
In the end, the underdogs prevailed and that is probably from where the saying “Never write off the German’s“ originates.
For Hungary and Puskas, the loss meant the end of their unbeaten run and the last chance of winning a World Cup as two years later, a revolt would break out in Hungary which would be crushed by the Soviet Union and Hungary would go into the Soviet Block.


Two minutes from time in the World Cup Final, despite playing with an injury Ferenc Puskas seemed to have level the score at 3-3 but he was ruled offside in a controversial call by the Welsh Linesman Benjamin Griffiths.
Underachievers Curse? Perhaps !

Johan Cruyff and Total Football

Okay. This man has a football skill named after him (The Cruyff Turn). The “Pythagoras in boots” was the chief playmaker behind the Clockwork Oranje in their captivating run to the finals of the 1974 World Cup in Germany.
He had balletic skills, blessed sense of timing for a pass, an extraordinary technique and exemplary vision.
The Dutch National football, using Total Football and led by their inspirational captain Johan Cruyff reached their first final in 1974.
The tactical theory of Total Football was basically no tactical theory at all. The approach was simple; no player had a fixed position in the game. If one went out of position, another would take his place to keep the structure.
It was like a group of polymaths and their chief conductor was Johan Cruyff.
In the final, the Dutch were up 1-0 even before a German player had touched the ball.
14 touches on the ball and a solo run by Johan Cruyff led to a penalty which Johan Neskeens dispatched with ease.
But what set them apart cast them down. Their blind arrogance in playing free flowing attack based football ultimately was the end of them.
Going into the final, the Dutch were supremely confident of a win. Being 1-0 up, they started being complacent and toyed with the German for the next 20 minutes.
But this was the Germany of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Paul Breitner and Wolfgang Overath. And as they had vindicated time and again earlier, it was foolish to write them off until the whistle blew. They equalized through a Paul Breitner penalty, gradually came back into the game and led by half time through a Gerd Muller strike(his last ever goal) following a goalmouth scramble.
The Dutch laid siege to the German goal in the 2nd half but they survived. Johan Cruyff was marked out of the game by Berti Vogts and with his influence limited the Dutch lost the midfield to the ever dominant Kaiser and the elegant Overath.


This time Germany had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside and Johan Cruyff would not go on to participate in the 1978 World Cup as they finished second.
For Total Football and Johan Cruyff the title of “People’s Champion” had to suffice at the end.
Underachiever’s ego? Well !!

Socrates and the greatest team to have never won the World Cup

Socrates the Footballer was as important to Football as was the Greek man to Philosophy. The tall, bearded and charismatic player was a revelation on the pitch and a revolutionary out of it.
His trademark was the back heel pass. His graceful running and skills on the ball were added bonuses but his imaginative range of passing and vision encapsulated the world.

As the man puts it himself, “Someone who thinks doesn’t run, someone who runs doesn’t think”.

Famous for smoking 2 packets of cigarette a day and being a lover of alcohol, Dr. Socrates was a man who spoke of Democracy in the face of dictatorship. He was the first to understand the power and beauty of football. With his club Corinthians he practiced something called “Corinthian Democracy” in which every person associated with the club had an equal say in the day to day running of the club.
He was the captain of Brazil in 1982, a team that did not even reach the semi finals but are still regarded as the best to have never won the world Cup.
In a match where two distinct football philosophies (attack and defense) crossed swords against each other-Italy needed a win to go through while Brazil only had to manage a draw. The match was later dubbed as the “Sarrià Stadium Tragedy” by the Brazilian Press.
In the game, the Azzuri twice took the lead; Paolo Rossi was at his opportunistic best, while Socrates and Falcao equalized for the Selecao. At 2-2, the scoreline favored the Brazilians as it would see them through to the semi-finals.
But Brazil pressed for a winner playing attacking football, paying no attention to the defense. The outcome was imminent, rather it was unavoidable. Late in the second half, Paolo Rossi completed his hattrick. Italy led again. Skipper Dino Zoff then won the game with a spectacular save from an Oscar effort in the dying moments.
In one of the greatest upset of the tournament’s history-tactics and organization once again triumphed over creativity, fluidity and flamboyance.
Socrates later said that the squad of 1982 “may have been the last side to represent Brazil in a World Cup that epitomized the country. It was irreverent, joyful, creative, free-flowing.
Underachievers Fate? Absolutely.

IL Divin Codino and the heartbreak of 1994

Roberto Baggio came from the land of super-efficient defenders and outstanding shot stoppers. Yet, Il Divino Codino went on to influence a generation of attack minded Italian midfielders.
On the field he played like a painter-inspiring a sense of awe and beauty in the fans with every touch he took on the ball.
His former President, Gianni Agnelli, once called Baggio an artist, comparing his elegance to the painter Raffaello. While, Alessandro Del Piero (then an emerging talent himself) was described as his student Pinturicchio.
Playing in a position known as 9 and a half he thrived on the “free role” which in Italian is known as the trequartista, he lit up the 1994 World Cup where he singlehandedly dragged an ageing Italian side to the final playing beautiful football along the way. Out of the 9 scored by Italy, he scored 5. Baggio was at his glorious best during the knock out stages specifically.
In the finals, the Brazilians were waiting. But this Brazil was different. Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira had opted for a more pragmatic approach, emphasizing on the defense, unlikely of the free flowing Brazilian philosophy. Although he had a super talented Romario at his disposal.
The match was uneventful with limited attacking scopes and the game went down to penalties.
The first final ever to go into the penalty shootout saw three misses(Brazil 1, Italy 2) from 8 spot kicks before Roberto Baggio had to walk the long way from the centre circle to save his beloved Azzuri.
The tired and worn out Italian painter missed. His effort went sailing over the bar to leave Taffarel jumping in joy. A stunned and forlorn Roberto Baggio stood silently as the world witnessed one the worst heartbreaks in football. The romantic affair had ended. Beauty died with a dramatic penalty miss that day.
The man who had saved them throughout could not do it when they needed him the most.


Roberto Baggio would eventually break the duck, scoring a penalty against France in 1998. But the Italians lost anyway. Another thing, even if Roberto Baggio had scored Brazil would have still won if they scored with the next kick as both Daniel Massaro and Franco Baresi had missed before him.
But he was made the scapegoat and the lamb for slaughter Underachiever’s misinterpretation? Can’t say!

The Paper Man and the Austrian Wunderteam

Known as Paperman for his slight build and stature, Matthias Schindelar was the first artist-athlete in football.
He was the captain and talisman of a team that went undefeated for 14 games from 1931 to 1932.
Also called the “Mozart of Football”. He would waltz past opposition players, and his ball control made him look like he had glue on his boots.

Friedrich Torberg, a fan who regularly saw Matthias Schindelar play had to say, ” He had no system, to say nothing of a set pattern. He just had… genius.”

The Wunderteam with Matthias Schindelar qualified for the World Cup in 1938 but even before they could set foot in France, Nazi Germany integrated the Austrian state into their fold via Anschluss. For reasons purely political, German officials wanted players from Hitler’s home state to play for the German national team and the Austrian FA subsequently withdrew from the tournament.
The Wunderteam had played its last match as an Independent team against the Germans. For Schindelar, the Anschluss turned his world upside down. He lost his Jewish friends and the streets of Vienna drowned to the sound of boots of marching German soldiers. A self-confessed Social Democrat, Schindelar took part in the game fixed to end in a draw with reluctance.
After missing a hatful of chances which made it look like they were not willing to score, around the 70th minute, something snapped. Schindelar scored off a rebound and as the German officials and Nazi dignitaries looked on, Der Paperiene walked up to them and celebrated wildly by dancing.
Ten months later, he was found dead in his apartment with his girlfriend Camilla Castanogli. Reports blame a faulty chimney but there are many who believe that he was silenced by the Nazi’s. The Gestapo Report on Matthias Schindler said, ‘Social Democrat, pro-Jewish and not sympathetic to the party.”


Matthias Schindelar had also refused to be part of a “Greater Germany” team in the World Cup in 1938 citing old age as retirement reasons. His performance in that infamous game probably sealed his fate. It only seems fit for the greatest artist in the game, the first of its kind to pay the debt in the most brutal way possible, death.
Underachiever’s honesty? Let the readers’ contemplate.

Concluding, which is more important? Winning at any cost or playing spectacular football? The debate will go on forever. Trophy matters, definitely . But sacrificing creativity for them, perhaps can be compared to taking away the entire root of the tree, the heart of a lover, the pen of a poet. Cruyff, Puscas, Socrates, Zico had never triumphed at the world cup. But history will remember the Hungary of the 50’s, the total football of the 70’s. That is their success. Underachievers do leave an indelible mark, which is very difficult to erase.