The Confed Cup Final gives me hope. It gives me hope because now, when any coach in the PSL tells us that entertainment and results can’t co-exist, we know that they’re frauds.
That Brazil and Spain, two of the most entertaining teams in the world, two teams that have captured the imagination of the world with the beauty of their play, beat off all comers to get to the final of the Confed Cup, is proof that the tsamaya, the shibobo and the heel extension still have vital roles to play on the world football stage.
That Spain are the current World Cup holders and Euro champions, that at youth levels Spain are lighting up the world shows us that an entertaining brand of football can dominate against the direct, percentage brand that is permeating South African club soccer.
For many years South African players were likened to a poor man’s Brazil. Many of our own players seemed to have the same inner desire to entertain with a soccer ball at their feet as their Brazilian counterparts. They seemed to feed off the same energy as the Brazilians did. Energy that came to them from the fans when they did something with the ball that wasn’t in the coaching manual, when they expressed themselves.
Yes, the world fell in love with Pele, the kid who captured the imagination of the planet with Samba football, and whose trickery and dribbling ability fascinated the universe. But we had Ace Ntsoelengoe, Teenage Dladla and Jomo Sono. We had Zane Moosa, Tebogo Moloi and Doctor Khumalo.
In the early days, teams like Moroka Swallows, Orlando Pirates and later Kaizer Chiefs, won millions of supporters because of the ‘way’ they played the game. Fans fell in love with them because firstly, these teams allowed entertainers to entertain and then secondly, because winning was expected, and delivered, but it was done in a certain way. A way which made the community that these clubs represented able to say, ‘Ahhh, this club of mine represents me in a way that makes me proud. Expresses my passion, my joy, my dreams. Aligns with the rhythm in my heart, the music in my soul.”
The Mamelodi Sundowns team that won three PSL titles in a row will go down as one of the greatest because of the kind of football that won them those titles. More recently, Orlando Pirates won a treble and back-to-back titles with a pleasing brand of football. Happy People like happy football. And if you look at the stands in the PSL, it’s quite clear that the way victory is achieved is just as important as the mandate that demands that victory is achieved.
I think coaches see the extravagances of the entertainer as unnecessary, self-indulgent, and of no use against the ‘enemy’ come match day. I say entertainers and their entertainment tools can be deadly. The fact that they make winning look like fun, the fact that they take the tussle and the toil, the sweat and the grind and turn it into a smile, is what creates the aura of something ‘different’, something invincible.
Mohammed Ali, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods will all go down as greats of their respective sporting codes and all were besotted with winning, but they also wanted something more. They wanted perfection. They wanted respect from the fans, not just for what they achieved, but for how they achieved it.
Tearing apart an opponent with the flair of a matador, the way that Spain do to most teams is what really captures the attention. Each pass another sword in the ‘bull’ that stands before them, until it can no longer move, and the killer blow is administered... Ole!
The truth of the matter is that the ‘smile’ of the beautiful game is vital. The fact that Brazil can take the Samba rhythm, allow it to permeate their football, and use it to toy with their opponents - make them look silly, make them look average - is a huge psychological weapon in their armoury. It’s not the speed, power, viciousness of the tackle or the abundance of ‘hard men’ in the Spanish team that makes them such formidable adversaries. It’s the simple short pass. It’s the ability to take a basic element of the game and master it, disguise it, and use it to destroy teams. A body feint, the drop of a shoulder, the no-look pass... these are the elements that terrify their opponents.
In recent years, I would say that the one team that looks very similar to Spain in terms of keeping possession, in terms of a short passing and moving game, in terms of speed of thought and guile rather than power and physicality to carve out chances is our very own Bafana. I think if you compare our possession stats when last we played Spain in the 2009 Confed, you will see that we actually fared better than most so-called top European powerhouses. If you look at how the Brazilian player needs to entertain, it is not too far off the need for our own entertainers to show off their skills. I see bits of us, in bits of the very best, and I smile.
It’s for this reason I have hope for South African football.
Follow Clint on Twitter: @SoccaClint