George's played the beautiful game
From the Sports Desk
AT the height of their prowess decades ago, Brazilian football fans embraced the concept of 'the beautiful game' -- a term attributed to the legendary Waldyr Pereira, popularly known as Didi.
Their individual brilliance, nonchalant passes, deft dribbles, studied off-the-ball movement and fluid teamwork vindicated this moniker and earned universal admiration and respect for the many-time world champions.
Now diluted, perhaps through an exposure to European coaching philosophies consequent to the transfer market, recent Brazilian teams are bereft of that magical formula that appeared so indigenous. Thankfully, however, the Spanish national side and Barcelona FC have 'reincarnated' the aforementioned splendour that mesmerised the world from the 1950s through to the 1980s and are deservedly ranked among the best that ever played the game.
For decades, Jamaicans not only revered this short, snappy style (punctuated with the occasional mesmerising dribble from midfield or down the flanks), but also strove to emulate that flair whenever they played. With its emphasis on ball possession, this system is aesthetically pleasing and more importantly, simplifies the game for players and fans alike.
Not surprisingly, before the emergence of Diego Maradona and the Argentina national side of 1986 split Jamaican loyalty for good, local football watchers rooted en masse for Brazil at the World Cup. Likewise, a mood akin to national mourning would accompany an early exit.
Ironically, the thrust to cultivate the traditional Brazilian style in Jamaica has been lukewarm. Diverse coaching philosophies, a lack of will, or Brazil's lengthy World Cup drought from 1970 to 1994 are plausible reasons.
For, one recalls that the popular notion during this period was that this method was outdated — tactically naïve, impractical and defensively unsound (the latter generated by Paulo Rossi's 1982 goal-poaching heroics that netted him a hat-trick and early tickets home for the Brazilians).
The tangible deterrents are, however, headed by poor quality fields that encourage bad habits in controlling the ball, discourage the short passing game and make it risky and impractical to practise ball possession in one's own half of the field.
In this vein, Neville Bell, the coach of Manning Cup champions St George's College, last week bemoaned the poor state of football pitches in the island and called for urgent improvement in this area. Not the first to make this impassioned plea, Bell's timely utterances came within the delicate context of schoolboy football where the local game is presumably nurtured.
As a former national player who has always been involved with the game in various capacities, Bell is not naive to the requirements for producing top-class players and lifting the general standard of the game. In fact, all season long he, through his charges, has preached this gospel of possibility whenever the facility presented itself.
The most recent occasion was last weekend in the Urban Area Under-19 final against Hydel High at the National Stadium where, for the first time in years at this level, one witnessed a classical passing game that gave hope for the future.
Blessed with the individual ball skills to facilitate their preferred style, the 'Light Blues' stood head and shoulders above their rivals in all aspects of the game. By possessing the ball and moving it from player to player, both laterally as well as up-field, the opposition never stood a chance against the proponents of 'the beautiful game' and the contest ended before the half-time break.
The psychology of this approach should not here be lost, as apart from the truism that the opposition cannot score if they don't have the ball, the team dominating possession has already imposed a huge measure of control on proceedings, with only the inevitable left to come.
At the schoolboy level, the crippling effects of this brand of football on young opponents are a loss of confidence and sheer panic, especially within the context of a final where one is expected to play his best game. As with the game of cricket, where it is crucial for a batsman to put bat to ball early on in his innings, footballers need constant touches of the ball to ultimately thrive in a game.
Further, Hydel suffered the illusion of two previously drawn matches against their illustrious rivals in the preliminary rounds and with some luck, could even have won on both occasions. Crucially, however, none of these matches was played at the home of the champions, with the first being contested at Catherine Hall and the second at Hydel's Caymanas home ground.
As such, they were never really tested against a George's outfit that gradually came into its own.
As they did against Wolmer's in the semi-final, and as is required by their chosen style, the North Street boys were patient in their build-up and demonstrated the ability to play in small spaces. Impressively, too, they always created the proverbial 'triangle' among their players, thus enhancing their passing options.
Notably, some six or so players from this St George's championship side are members of the National Under-20 setup, which augurs well for the future. The great irony is that while the former outfit was a picture of teamwork this season, the latter was shambolic in its recent CFU World Cup Qualifiers and would do well to emulate the style of St George's.