“Play beautifully” it meant. The term that was made famous during Nike’s commercial campaign that attempted to remind everyone of how football should be played. We often label the Premier League the best league in the world and in terms of a competition it may well be, but in terms of style and individual quality it falls behind in comparison to Europe’s other big leagues and even certain South American competitions, the term “Joga Bonito” is often forgot.
During the years of English club dominance in Europe the success was built on physical play. Being stronger and faster than your opponent was perceived as more important than being technically more gifted. That mentality has filtered through to the grassroots level and it has had a severe detrimental effect on the quality of youth players and the type of footballers they are, in turn the national team has suffered and expectations in tournaments have rapidly declined and there is a growing realisation that the players here just aren’t good enough. An issue was that there was a priority, primarily for success even at grassroots levels ahead of learning and understanding the game of football. The FA has recently looked to countries such as Germany and France who undertook a national review of the youth system and invested heavily into the future, in both scenarios it has paid off. In france’s case it was more clear with the World Cup in 1998 and European Championships in 2000, whereas Germany have failed yet to land the big prizes but now play a style of football that many dubbed as the best during the recent European Championships. Now, we all hope that a similar outcome will befall those who aspire to one day represent England in a major tournament or entertain us on a weekly basis for club teams across the country. Yet I fear this may never materialise and it may seem a strange reason to some but I believe the weather in the country plays a part in not producing players of the same standard as other footballing nations.
Name the best national sides across the world. The majority of people who answer will include the following teams: Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Chile, Uruguay, Mexico… The list could go on for a while but most of these nations have something in common and that is they play in a climate warmer and kinder than what we here in England are accustomed to. This may seem at first glance as just a minor coincidence, however if thought about carefully there is logical reasoning behind the argument and science can be used to help me explain.
Firstly, the sun itself provides us with Vitamin D amongst other helpful reactions that take place(photosynthesis for the plant lovers). It is also a natural mood enhancer, ever wondered why you tend to be happier when the sun shines as opposed to when it is dark and gloomy whilst the heavens decide to open up just for the period you are outside of your house? Sunlight accelerates the release of Endorphins which promote a sense of well being as well as general happiness. So what does this have to do with style of football? Without any study on the actual matter it would be difficult to definitively suggest one way or another but I believe people are more likely to play an entertaining brand of football if they aren’t miserable.
Just as the sun promotes happiness, rain seems to dampen the spirits of most. It is off putting when you just want to go to the park and kick the ball about and the weather is just telling you to stay inside. There are those that relish the prospect of getting stuck in during a heavy soaked pitch as we can all put in a slide tackle as endless as Sol Cambell’s but let us be honest here, it doesn’t help our ball retention or passing ability.
We’ve all heard the concept of letting the ball do the work, if this current Spain are the best at anything it would be that. Yes they have unbelievable work rate as well but their use of the ball and understanding of angles and knowing how minimise their efforts is key to their play and whilst anyone can do that if trained properly, I believe it was Gary Linekar who suggested that conditions here promote an idea of players wanting to run around, assuming that is to battle the cold. You all remember the P.E lessons on a cold rainy day and you were told to go run around a bit to warm up, the same sort of tactical advice you may receive under Harry Redknapp.
Local clubs don’t have drainage facilities. It’s all well and good when you make that big money move to a Premiership club and you play on a carpet like surface every game but the truth of is that those sort of surfaces only exist at the top flight. So, when it rains here and the park where you or your child’s football team play on the weekend has turned into a mud pit, it isn’t going to be easy to play a slick passing game along the deck, nor is it an easy feat to keep the ball under close control and weave through a number of players. This may be a reason as to why physically better youths are more successful at the younger levels their speed and strength covers up for poor control in conditions that don’t allow those with better technical qualities to excel. Instead of playing like you belong on the beaches of Rio with a samba band playing in the background, we are inclined to launch the ball as far forward as we can when we are in our own half, to try and play the long 60 yard through ball to the athletic forwards in hope they can out run the opposition defence. It is the “Have It” mentality and it was summed up during the famous John Smith advert. The problem may seem small at first but when these players appear to look better, they are the ones that grab the attention of scouts, now we can go into a long debate as to how the scouting system and the scouts themselves are looking at the wrong attributes but when the conditions we play in prevent those who would be naturally capable to play a more entertaining brand of football means it should be no surprise that this is the state our football is in. It doesn’t help that when we do go and watch professionals play we often see the defender who clears his line even when there is no danger around and gets the ball into row Z is given a warm round of applause for his outstanding play.
Staying on the idea of facilities, there are a lack of outdoor non-grass playing areas. Again like a lot of aspects of this article you may think the importance is minimal but we can’t exactly go out and kick a ball on the beach. Although beach football contradicts my previous argument of a muddy pitch preventing football being played on the ground, yet the beach makes it even harder to do so but it does promote technical play and quick feet which is core to the principle of joga bonito. I know we have beaches but again the rain and cold weather makes them less tempting to venture to and in the case of Brighton… You try and play bare foot on pebbles.
I’ve been told there are those in football that share my exact thoughts on this matter. I was informed that former Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli wrote about this issue in a book and that the reason Glenn Hoddle keeps his footballing academies in hotter climates is in part to do with central idea of this argument that footballers would prefer playing in a nicer environment.
It isn’t a exact science what I’ve said, merely a thought for all to consider. I know that I personally never enjoyed playing in the rain and the football you see at grassroots level is very untechnical and scrappy. Mirroring the weather we are submitted to on a regular basis. You may say that it is merely a result of my attitude that I did not play more personally but I will argue that my attitude is a result of this so called ‘summer’. It is simply a case that conditions here don’t lend themselves to the beautiful game being played beautifully.