Former Real Madrid boss Jorge Valdano made use of his column in Spain’s Marca to blast the hell out of the recent Liverpool / Chelsea Champions League semi-final.
“Football is made up of subjective feeling, of suggestion – and, in that, Anfield is unbeatable,”.
“Put a shit hanging from a stick in the middle of this passionate, crazy stadium and there are people who will tell you it’s a work of art. It’s not: it’s a shit hanging from a stick.
“Chelsea and Liverpool are the clearest, most exaggerated example of the way football is going: very intense, very collective, very tactical, very physical, and very direct,”
“If Didier Drogba was the best player in the first match it was purely because he was the one who ran the fastest, jumped the highest and crashed into people the hardest. Such extreme intensity wipes away talent, even leaving a player of Joe Cole’s class disoriented.
“If football is going the way Chelsea and Liverpool are taking it, we had better be ready to wave goodbye to any expression of the cleverness and talent we have enjoyed for a century. “
Taking slight umbrage, the Guardian’s Barney Ronay responds thusly in Wednesday’s paper.
Valdano is an unusual figure. He occupies a unique role as football’s philosopher-critic. He played in Argentina’s 1986 World Cup-winning team. He published a book of epigrams called Apuntes del Balon (“Notes of the Ball”). He once compared criticism of his tactical approach to “the time they dared ask Borges what poetry was for”.
So, he’s a footballer, a philosopher, a name-dropper. But is he right? The answer is that in some contexts – such as trendy east London – “a shit on a stick” can indeed be art. Like art, football arranges itself in different genres. When Valdano was sporting director at Real Madrid, his team was a travelling sideshow of back-flicks and nutmegs, in contrast to the pragmatic styles of Liverpool and Chelsea. This is clearly a case of the baroque versus the brutalist.
The obvious riposte is that our football may be a shit on a stick, but it’s a successful shit on a stick. Three Champions League semifinalists: count ’em, Jorge. More likely, it comes down to different notions of beauty. We don’t produce extravagantly skilled Maradonas. We produce tough John Terrys and tall Peter Crouches. We run around a lot and, occasionally, we forget to take the ball with us. Which, in the right light, can be just as lovely.