Adidas has had the privilege of providing the World Cup ball since 1970. And up until 2006 they pretty did it without incident, after all a ball is a ball is a ball. Between 1978 and 1982 they didn’t even bother to change it, they just added Espana to the name. Then 2006 happened, all of a sudden we needed press releases talking about how it was the roundest ball ever, it was only made of 14 panels, bonded together instead of stitched. It was quickly followed by criticism, both from goalkeepers and outfield players alike. Things only got worst in 2010 with the Jabulani and Adidas couldn’t really stop the slide in 2014 with the Brazuca.
However in 2018 there hasn’t really been any talk about the ball. Do you even know what its called? Well it was called the Telstar, its allowed for some great football and has been completely free of criticism. While a ball can easily get panned it takes a lot for anyone to show the most fundamental bit of equipment some credit so respect where respect is due.
Before the tournament started I was very much on the anti VAR train. I thought it would be slow, overly interfering and inconsistent. It had been implemented in both Serie A and Bundesliga with players being in almost open revolt at its introduction in the latter. However my biggest fear was that it would remove the controversies, those bits of football everyone loves to argue about, the debates that go on hours, if not days after the game has ended.
After the 64 World Cup filled games I am a complete convert. I don’t think its perfect but I for one think that it added to the tournament instead of taking something away and, after a bedding in period, could perhaps have its scope extended. Eventually the UK broadcast media got their heads round what was going on and didn’t lose there mind at every instance and it quickly became normal. For me the benefits extended beyond improving decisions and had a positive effect on player behaviour in games. Just look at how few red cards were issued.
The United Kingdom is pretty shit at the moment. 8 years of Tory austerity, Scotland trying its hardest to escape and 18 months of daily infighting from the political class about how exactly we should Brexit. As a member of the Islington elite I feel pretty safe in saying that England is probably the shitest part of the UK right now and thats why for 3 and a bit weeks the English public got to tune out from how terrible our politics is and lose ourselves in our football team. Meanwhile the rest of the United Kingdom got to distract itself from day to day life by trying to snipe from the sidelines. Sorry, did I say sidelines? I meant back home after failing to qualify.
First of all, the sun shone, and that was always going to be a good start. But then very quickly a country rediscovered a love for its football team that has probably been missing since 2008. Wether it be great PR, a savvy social media manager or a genuine likeable bunch of young lads all of a sudden the country began to care again. In fact with Southgate as our leader the country began to dream. No, England didn’t win the World Cup yesterday but we did, qualify from our group after two games, beat a team by 5 goals, win a knock out game, win a penalty shootout and equal our second best result at the World Cup finals. Southgate talked about “attacking the tournament” and “writing their own history” in doing so this group have done something much greater than that. They have given a country its football team back.
The pre tournament press wasn’t great for Russia. There once great sporting institutions were being taken down by doping scandal after doping scandal. There human rights record was being attacked by every liberal person who didn’t like football (and those principled enough who did to not look the other way). And lastly it was pretty much excepted that their football team sucked. After seeing England circa 2010 Russia were for some reason completely surprised to see the Capello experiment not work and they entered the tournament with a new manager and the lowest FIFA ranking in the tournament. Excitement for an opening game was at an all time low as the two worst ranked teams faced off but Russia started like a firework winning 5-0. After a result against Egypt Russia made it out of their group and much like in England, the host nations public dared to dream. Not only was the tournament seen as a success on the field it seemed that all the scare tactics in the years and months leading up to the tournament were misplaced with UK sports journalists tripping over themselves to write the ‘what were you worried about?’ headline. All seemingly willing to ignore their own papers leading the campaign against Russia that, in part, resulted in England taking the smallest number of fans in living memory. Does that mean that Russia has cured it doping problems? Probably not. After all many eyebrows were raised at just how hard this Russian team ran throughout the tournament. Does it mean human rights issues aren’t a problem anymore? Almost certainly not. After all there were protests at yesterdays final. What Russia has been able to achieve if effectively controlling these protests and with that the message. Has FIFA allowed a powerful, misleading message about Russia to spread across the world? And could this be more dangerous in the long run as the eyes of the world divert their attention? Perhaps. But in the short term its impossible to say Russia and Putin are all winners here.
Much like Michael’s pal Tex I’m sure a lot of you will have realised that our very own Producer Ross likes American things. Unlike Tex I didn’t meet Ross at a late night petrol station. Ross is a man who’s enthusiasm for football has dwindled until it was nothing but embers from an old fire (even if he did watch EVERY Leeds game last season). But as his Seattle Seahawks made it to back to back Super Bowls and his Leeds United continued to finish 15th in The Championship it was hard for Ross to avoid the pull from the Yank side.
However Gareth and our brave young boys have relit a fire in Ross that hasn’t been there since 2002. Add to that great football all across this tournament and all of a sudden Ross was all in. Lets see if this lasts when in October the NFL is back in full swing and Leeds are about to sack Bielsa but for now not only has a nation got its football team back, this football podcast has its producer back.
As a player on a one man quest to win the Balon d’Or Neymar proved why this is such a futile task in a team sport. After leaving Barcelona last summer as part one of this plan and to escape Messi’s shadow Neymar even took 3 months off before the tournament to ensure he wasn’t burnt out. While he may have been slightly off the pace as recovery from his ankle injury he was still more than willing to be full of flicks and tricks as he spent the group stages trying to compile his own individual YouTube highlights reel. But as the tournament progressed his route to the Balon d’Or opened up in front of him. Ronaldo and Messi (winners for the last decade) exited after the first knockout rounds and the stage was his.
Unfortunately much like in the earlier games Neymar used that stage to roll around on mainly. Exaggerating every flick, touch or tickle as if he were receiving general surgery without the use of aesthetic. When we wasn’t on the floor he was continuing his quest to win the World Cup on his own. Trying to beat every man on his own. Trying every flick, trick or step over possible. Not allowing Firmino to start because he impacted on the area of the pitch Neymar operates in. Netmar didn’t just show himself to not be in the class of Messi or Ronaldo but he also lost the battle of hearts and minds. Its a safe bet that, after this World Cup its much harder to find a Neymar fan who isn’t Brazilian or for now a P.S.G. fan.
With Russia universally regarded already of one of the best World Cups in modern times Qatar must be concerned that this could be a hard act to follow. They will be hard pressed to match the outperforming nature of a little expected host nation. Can anyone expect Qatar being a penalty shootout defeat away from a World Cup semi final in four and a half years time?
Lets not forget that they are changing so much for the everyday football fan for us to accommodate them. After all it will be four and a half years, not four. It will be the middle of winter yet we will probably be watching a bland slow paced tournament as players struggle with the heat. One plus will for Qatar will be the blind eye the world was willing to take to human rights abuses while the FIFA circus was in town. They best hope that they haven’t changed the status quo too much already for them to be allowed the same treatment. Im certainly not rooting for them.
Talking about another group I’m not rooting for, Germany. They managed to stink up the group stages while giving us so much drama its unbelievable. Becoming the forth holders in the last five tournaments to not make it out of the group stages, an achievement that manager Joachim Löw was all too arrogantly dismissive of even after they lost their opening game, Germany were not without their moments. Toni Kroos last minute winning goal against Sweden was one of the moments of the tournament. As was Manuel Neuer’s touch map as he was caught high on the left wing as Germany crashed out of the tournament.
As perennial tournament team Germany exited the tournament at the earliest stage the rest of the world finally fully understood the most famous of German phrases. Schadenfreude. We’re they under prepared? At the end of a cycle? Arrogant? Who knows. What the rest of the world needs to do is drink this in because frankly I am already terrified of Das Reboot 2.0.
So if we are willing to accept that football has come home we need to accept the home truth that its changed while its been away. Either that or it has picked up some disease while its been loose on its travels. Pint throwing seemed to be very in vogue for England fans this tournament. At first it was organic, as Harry Kane scored in injury time verses Tunisia I was one of the first victims of this scourge taking hold of the country as I faced a dry cleaning bill for my work suit as a packed pub covered everyone. However encouraged by the BBC especially we ended up with each region trying to outdo each other in behaving like idiots at outdoor screenings across the land. It was £15 to get into Box Park and £6 a pint. Why not drink it instead of using it as leave in conditioner?