Monday, November 16, 2009


I watched the Brazil match. I know, I know, it was an England second team and we 'held' them to 1-0, but even so. Brazil were not just better, they were fundamentally better. Looking back, they've always been fundamentally better. It doesn't matter if the manager's not so good or the team is not quite their best, they play football in an entirely different and more effective way. This has been true for at least fifty years. How is it possible? It must be semantic. The word 'football' has a different definition in Brazil. I wonder what it is.


  1. No you're right - they really do have a fundamentally different approach from the off. Their children develop skills and expression; ours learn competition and strategies to minimise the risk of defeat.

    A Brazilian football hero dribbles past six defenders and backheels it into the net. An English football hero has blood soaking from a headband as he boots it into row Z to hold out for a heroic 0-0 against Italy.

  2. They wear a better class of underwear which allows them greater movement about the hips.

  3. You should also take into account the fact that England have never really been that good either - from Belo Horizonte in 1950 to Germany in 2006. After Chile in 1962, England didn't qualify on merit for a World Cup Finals again until 1982. We've always been a bit limited. Tough maybe, but limited. My theory is the climate and our wet pitches don't help us -teams from hotter climates usually do best in summer World Cups. Brazil were crap in '66 when based in the damp North West.

  4. It's true that Brazil are much better than England at football. It may have something to do with the mysteries of race or culture but, on the other hand, it might have a teensy bit to do with:

    Brazil pop 160 million
    England pop 50 million

    Who knows?

  5. More likely no underwear Willard - but you are right about the hips. The word is not football Bryan, the word is Samba. Watch any dance floor in Rio, and you could be watching the Samba Boys. Watching them the other day, the silky steps, the loose hips, above all the suggestion of a smile at the edge of the mouth - all of this gives a clue to that intoxicating 'movement', that leaves most opponents open-mouthed

  6. Not that much to do with it, John, or China and India would be considerably better at football and New Zealand considerably worse at rugby and cricket.

  7. I must take issue with you, Spongebob.

    England of '66 was a very good team, with four world-class players in Charlton, Banks, Moore and Wilson, and a fifth, Greaves, not even making the side. The team of '70 was, arguably, better, but was beaten by Mexican heat, Banks' illness before the Germany game, Bonnetti's awful performance in goal in that game, and Ramsey's premature substitution of Charlton. England, even without automatic qualification for '66 and '70 would surely have qualified through group stages involving any European teams of the time.

    Brazil in '66 was literally 'kicked out' by the outrageous assaults on Pele in the early stages. But I still believe that England would have beaten that side if they'd met.

    I think a major turning point in what was a rapidly developing English footballing philosophy (driven by Busby and later Nicholson) died in the wreakage of Munich. Prior to then Busby's young (predominantly English) team played with a skill and freedom of expression rarely seen before or since. They were perhaps only a season away from winning the European Cup with a style of football only matched at that time by a very experienced Real Madrid, such was the pace of their development. If that team had gone on to maturity, it would have had a mighty powerful influence on the style (and success?) of the England team in Chile in '62, and may well have changed the whole way domestic teams developed young players.
    So, lets get it right, Spongebob, the period 1950 to 2006 was not as bleak as you make out

  8. According to he-who-chews-gum it's all down to the Ref. According to the Ref he-who-chews-gum should-keep-his-mouth-shut. According to he-who-flogs-crappy-trainers-at-exorbitant-prices it's all down to the name above the door.
    According to the fans of the club that needs a new name above the door, he-who-flogs-crappy-trainers-at-exorbitant-prices should eff-off-and-leave-them-alone.

    Now we are expected to believe that football is-about-players?

  9. "Not that much to do with it, John, or China and India would be considerably better at football and New Zealand considerably worse at rugby and cricket.2

    There is a little bit more to it, but not much. Brazil has a population of 160 million football fanatics and that makes a difference. That is why they don't figure much in ice hockey. If India or China ever gets football crazy, we will see a change in the power balance in the sport.

    England does internationally just about as well as (or very slightly better than)anyone would predict based on population and level of interest in the sport within that pop according to every staistical analysis I have ever seen. And there have been quite a few. Wasn't there a new book just recently making this point ('why England lose' or something?).

  10. What was interesting about the Brazil game is that the individual players shouldn't be frightening anymore: they're all familiar throgh the Prem or Champions League (a couple of below-average ex-Arsenal players, some in the Bundesliga etc) and, apart from Kaka, none are exactly superstars (as, for example, Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney etc are). Yet when they get together as Brazil they just, well, ... play like Brazil.

    The Germans always play like the Germans, no matter the personnel, the Dutch always play like the Dutch, the Italians like the Italians etc. Oddly, this has survived into the age of the multinational superclubs in the Champs League. It must be a culture thing, how else to explain?

  11. I disagree with you John about 1966. They played all their games at the biggest stadium, in the capital city with a fervent home crowd. The third goal in the final didn't even go in. And the wingless wonders were dull, dull, dull.

    England usually has around three world class players in it's side - today it's Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard (I'd also include a fit Ferdinand in that list). Over the years we've had Robson, Hoddle, Lineker, Shilton, Keegan, Barnes etc to draw on.

    As for population, Italy, France and the old West Germany have roughly similar populations and all do better than us (France v Brazil has become a classic world cup rivalry with the French a better match for them than England). Argentina and the now fancied Spaniards have fewer folks to draw on.

    I don't think you can seriously include Uruguay in the modern era but relatively small Holland are often excellent (their playing surfaces were always superior to ours at every level of domestic soccer).

    I am English by the way, and wish them well, but the English national team have always been like a team of son-in-laws - something of a disappointment.

  12. Brit, but don't you think it would be confusing if the Germans played like the Spaniards, the Dutch like the Mexicans and the Italians played like Russians?

  13. The porridge scoffers know a thing or two about standing in the gutter and looking at the stars, perhaps they should be consulted.

  14. It's an interesting question Brit, the influence of culture on sporting style. I'm better versed in rugby and know the Welsh culture best, where there's an emphasis on art, cunning and craftiness as expressed in all the various 'footballing' skills.

    This is why the fly-half, the playmaker, is elevated above all other positions, having almost mystical significance. All this is absent in the English game.

    The inference is pretty obvious I think - a small, weak, but sometime insurgent nation is bound to value these attributes. How else can they ever expect to win?

    That's why the samba parallel is probably on the right lines. As for population it's obviously the most important factor after all the others.

  15. You'll be happy to know that their glory days are numbered! Football to be banned on the beach ...

    No more keepie uppie

    Make the most of it, it won't last ...

  16. Sounds about right, Gaw. Interesting question, the extent to which population is a factor. John states the case confidently as usual but it seems very oversimplified.

    In some cases, population appears to be no factor at all. England (pop 50m) are playing New Zealand (4.3m) at rugby imminently. Anyone got any money on England?

    Or for an extreme example, cricket: NZ (4.2 m and it's not even their main sport) can play India (1 billion and it is) and, though they won't often be favourites, they can reasonably hope to win.

    I've read about those studies that John mentions, about how we perform overall approx as you;d expect given the population. Immediately I was suspicious, since performing overall has bugger all to do with sporting success, which is primarily about winning one-off things. Denmark, Greece, Holland and Czech Republic have all won the Euro championships. We haven't.

  17. (Note that I haven't mentioned the word "Australia". Well it's a painful word. But that word alone should be enough to destroy the notion of a simple link between sporting prowess and population. The bastards.)

  18. A few interesting points (to me anyway):

    - a study showed that per capita NZ was the most successful sporting nation on earth (can't remember which study but it took into account individual and team performances)

    - Samoa, with a population of 182k - about the same as Portsmouth - has reached the Rugby quarter finals twice

    - Japan has the greatest number of rugby players in the world but has never reached a quarter final

    The first fact can come in useful when the Waynes start banging on about their sporting prowess in spite of their being smaller than the UK.

  19. ... and we need all the facts we can get our hands on since, let's face it, they have rather more od them to bandy about.

    The really painful thing is that all their best lads go into Aussie Rules and Rugby League, meaning that their world-beating cricketers, union players, swimmers, tennisers etc are the dregs.