It is the biggest sporting event in the world, more focussed and more dramatic than the Olympics, which are a bit like a coalition government having to carry a few partners along! To be fair, the Olympics have different objectives, many of them noble, but the football World Cup transcends almost all barriers.
Even in India where for six weeks football moves from being a small, vocal, passionate community to one that embraces all. It is interesting that the World Cup isn’t a gathering of the top thirty two footballing nations, or indeed of all the greatest contemporary footballers. No Ibrahimovic or Bale for example. But it is fascinating to watch for reasons beyond spectacular goals or meltdowns. And I have been interested to see it from two specific points of view, both related to some extent.
There are stars at this World Cup playing at a level far above that of their current teammates. Or, as with Didier Drogba, who recently did. When Drogba played for Chelsea, and was one of the finest finishers in the world, he was surrounded by players of equal or comparable ability at what they did; whether it was tireless midfield play, goalkeeping or just sending through passes for the strikers to convert into goal. He was a great finisher but the quality of the supply was often outstanding too.
Then he plays for Ivory Coast, a team with a fair sprinkling of talent, but inconsistently spread. You look at him and you want to see Drogba of Chelsea muscling his way into the box and powering shots into goal. But you don’t see that too often because now Drogba is a product of the passes he is getting, of the openings created for him. And these are not good enough anymore.
A different beast
That is probably more dramatically true now of Cristiano Ronaldo who is a different player for Real Madrid than he is for Portugal. Or is he? At Real, Ronaldo is the jewel in the crown but it is a crown studded by fine diamonds. Yes, he creates openings but more often he is the finisher; capping an outstanding supply chain. With Portugal that doesn’t happen. So when the supply is lacking does he move further back in search of it? Does he scrap around and try to create openings for himself? And if he has to do so, is he Ronaldo any longer?
More important do elite players, like Drogba was and Ronaldo is, become slaves to their supply? Are they now capable only of dazzling in a certain environment? In a sense then, when they soar, are they being propelled, in some fairly significant part, by the skill of others? So then, should we really expect to see continued…