Fat Tuesday and the Paradox of the Post-Season
John Ray reviews yesterday’s matches
It’s a funny paradox: when the season ends there’s just more and more football. I was looking forward to a brief moment of stasis after the weekend’s full slate of friendlies, World Cup qualifiers, and U21 action, but the Americas would just not listen. There were fewer matches, but the ones that occurred had moments of brilliance and absurdity. Let me help you separate the meat from the bone.
Jozy plays on
Jozy Altidore was abused with ‘monkey chants’ during AZ Alkmaar’s match by some FC Den Bosch supporters. The game was temporarily suspended for the chants and ice balls being thrown at linesmen but Jozy let it be known that he wanted to continue the game. The match resumed with the American international leading AZ Alkmaar to a 5-0 win.
It’s strange, in a sort of good way, how a song can remind you of someone, their image instantly etched into your mind. ”The Saints Are Coming” (Green Day/U2 version), is one example, the goal music at De Grolsch Veste – home of FC Twente – now forever associated with Luuk de Jong, largely responsible for many of its airing last season, now plying his trade in Germany he’s hoping for a similar amount of encore performances.
His departure last summer, along with Bas Dost who moved from Heerenveen to Wolfsburg, confirmed the long-held view: one of the Netherlands chief exports is ‘number nines’. Both are the latest in a long line of Dutch strikers, a lineage as decorated as Italian defenders, but what excites most onlookers is not their records (which speaks for itself) but their gradual evolution: getting better, more uncanny in front of goal, both – notably De Jong – determined to be become renowned for scoring in the unlikeliest of situations. Ultimately to attain the title of number nine par excellence.
After conquering the Eredivisie a logical step would be the Bundesliga. A league equally synonymous with great strikers: Gerd Müller, Uwe Seeler, Klaus Fischer and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to name but a few. Those illustrious figures of the past serve as a inspiration just like compatriots Henk Groot, Willy van der Kuijlen, Marco van Basten and Ruud Geels. On arrival it meant three Dutch numbers 9s in the same foreign league. The other, is already a household name and last season’s Bundesliga golden boot winner – first Dutch striker to do so – Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
As time move so do trends, today for most up-and-coming strikers Huntelaar is their reference. Though the striker many still attempt to emulate is Van Basten still held as a beacon, ultimate example of near perfection, technique and finesse intertwined in unadulterated ruthlessness.
By Steven Green
Another year and another transfer window. Throughout the month of January clubs all over Europe frantically try to conduct business, and whilst some gain significant firepower, others lose crucial cogs in their machine. It’s a brutal month for managers and fans alike, but there is a certain type of club that it usually spells doom for: The selling club.
Like a baton that nobody wants, the notion of being a selling club is usually placed on small to midsize provincial sides, which after a short period of sustainability in their domestic league have been deemed ripe for the harvest as larger sides cherry pick the highest performers (it’s also worth noting that any team can be classed as a selling club, but for the sake of continuity we will go with this definition).
There’s an old adage in football that there is no time for sentimentality, and for fans of selling clubs this couldn’t be truer. No sooner has the club shop run out of a player’s name for the back of the replica shirts, the player is subject of a big money move to another club. It’s a harsh reality, but for a term that is usually considered an insult, is it really so bad?
Jim Collins, in “Good to Great”, wrote the secret of long-term corporate success lies in cultivating a distinctive set of values. For all the talk of diversity and globalisation, this usually means promoting from within and putting down deep local roots. Boris Groysberg, Harvard Business School, affirms companies are too obsessed with hiring stars rather than developing teams.
Both theorists have an ally in Frank de Boer. The difference is that he’s not concerned with Wall Street but the future of AFC Ajax. In essence the former left-back’s vision, to make the Dutch giants top of the food chain again, is the one perpetuated by Johan Cruyff, who championed De Boer to succeed Martin Jol. The legendary number 14 distinctive management model has been proven a success at FC Barcelona. De Boer is hopeful Ajax can enjoy similar riches. “Whether his vision can lead to a utopia in these times remains to be seen.”
After months of upheaval, the Amsterdam club are now restructuring around Cruyff’s philosophy with him in a new role overseeing the transition. Despite his departure from the board he still pulls the strings. With a historic back-to-back Eredivisie won, all eyes focus on the next phase: making an impact in Europe.
Europe is once again the final frontier. A club rich in tradition, decorated with success on the continent, knows the reality is different from years gone by. To once again conquer they will require luck and in the words of De Boer, “sheer belief”. As well as accelerating the individual development of his players. Their ‘daring’ brand of possession-based football, reminiscent of the period between 1986 and 1997 should hold them in good stead. But they will need to be braver, compact as well as clinical. It might not get them far but it’s a start. A presence in the latter stages of European competition is the first objective of a long-term goal.
By Eric Beard
"He’s been waiting for this moment his entire life. He’s just minutes away from hoisting up the trophy of his dreams. Holland has stayed up all night to watch their beloved Dutch maestro make history. They said it was impossible. Hell, I said it was impossible. Well, we’ve all been proved wrong by Mr. Cruyff. He has been absolutely phenomenal all series and is showing no sign of slowing down. My goodness! I’ve never heard the chants of "Johan" sung quite like this. It’s deafening! And there’s his last warm up pitch. He’s ready to go. Just look at that smile. Folks, it’s the World Series. It’s Game 7. It’s 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th here at Yankee Stadium and you better believe the world is watching…."
When you mention the Ajax team of the late 1960s and early 70s, there’s no denying that geniuses ran rampant throughout Holland and Europe for the better part of a decade. But what if I told you that Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens weren’t born to play the beautiful game? What if I told you that some of Holland’s finest athletes may have wanted the opportunity to pursue a career in another sport they adored?
The final of the 2010 World Cup. Your country has never won the tournament despite being universally acclaimed for a football philosophy that has developed over the course of time. Your side has knocked out heavy favorites Brazil in the quarters, and survived an absolute battle against Uruguay to make it to the final, and now you find yourself in a match that has been hard-fought to say the very least. Both teams have been flying in with increasingly violent tackles, and referee Howard Webb may develop arhtritis from all the names he has taken down. All of a sudden you’re free through on goal in the 83rd, and a horrible tackle which would easily result in a straight red for last man back is thrown in by Carles Puyol, who is already on a yellow for an enthusiastic tackle on you earlier. What do you do?
By Gordon Fleetwood, writing from New York
Tomorrow in the Serra Dourada Stadium in Goiânia, these two juggernauts of world football will clash once again. Their last meeting just under a year ago in the World Cup in South Africa was not a classic, but it was memorable for the Dutch fight back which saw them book a place in the semifinals. Now, Brazil have a chance for revenge - albeit one that is sugar-free - on home soil.
Since that heart-breaking loss to the Dutch in Port Elizabeth, the Selecão has gone through a number of changes, the most important of which was the appointment of Mano Menezes as the new coach. Menezes’ first priority was to replace Dunga’s dour, defensive, counter-attack based football with the smooth passing game that the world has come to expect from Brazil.