Recently I asked the readers of Weekly Soccer Magazine why the fun was being taken out of football so often these days…
After the euphoria of the Nadeshiko victory and the sheer enjoyment and excitement of that tournament, watching Paraguay and Venezuela kick, moan, shove and bore their way to a 0-0 draw and their own penalty shoot-out in the Copa America semi-final was hugely depressing.
Paraguay managed to book their place in the final despite the fact that they won none of their games in the tournament, and thankfully they were eventually made to pay for their negativity as Uruguay swept them aside 3-0.
The day before that game a UAE player had made headlines after a penalty incident of his own.
Awana Diab spun around as he reached the penalty spot before backheeling the ball (rather tamely, I’m not sure what the goalkeeper was doing) into the net. He was immediately substituted by his coach and threatened with fines and possible expulsion from the national team.
Then Mario Balotelli of Manchester City suffered a similar punishment after showboating instead of simply scoring in a pre-season friendly against David Beckham’s LA Galaxy.
I don’t really understand all this. Why is football suddenly supposed to be so serious? It is a sport that is meant to be enjoyed by players and fans alike, and if an individual has the ability (and the guts) to try something a little different then why not?
Neither of these games were especially important (UAE won 7-2 against Lebanon, Man City were trying to “expand their brand” in the USA), and football players have always had their own way of dealing with opponents (or teammates) who try and show-off.
Tricksters are fully aware of the fact that a kick from a defender – or, as in the famous picture of Vinnie Jones and Paul Gascoigne, a more painful attack – or a bollocking from a colleague if it doesn’t come off are the justifiable punishments they run the risk of receiving.
It is with this over-emphasis on seriousness and winning at any cost in mind that I for one say ‘no, it’s not’ to Kazushi Kimura’s question, “Is it ok to win this way?” after Yokohama F. Marinos beat Vissel Kobe 1-0 in Round 6.
At some point last season – when I had learned enough Japanese to start making some (bad) jokes – I began to refer to Kimura’s side as Tsumarinos (mixing tsumaranai – boring – with the team’s name).
This was because the team rarely offered up any particularly exciting football, sat in the no-man’s-land of mid-table mediocrity and, most importantly, played their home games in without doubt the worst football stadium in Japan – Yokohama International Stadium.
Through absolutely no fault of the fans – of whom there are often upwards of 20,000 – the place is a soulless vacuum, and perhaps if they played every match at Mitsuzawa then my initial impression of the team would have been different.
Marinos started this season brightly though – winning three of their first five games, scoring ten goals in the process – and in Yuji Ono they have one of the most exciting young talents in the J.League. After his explosive cameo in the rollercoaster 3-2 win against Avispa back in May it looked like I was going to have to re-arrange my position on the side.
But then things took a turn for the worse.
In recent weeks the team have maintained their strong form and returned to the top of the table for the first time in years, but they have done so by playing some fairly uninspiring football – usually sealing the three points by one-goal margins.
The best example was perhaps their game against Montedio Yamagata at Mitsuzawa (great atmosphere) when they scored within 15 seconds and then tried to bore poor Montedio into submission for the next hour. Yamagata persevered with their quick passing style and found a way back into the game though, only for the point to be snatched cruelly away by Kim Kun-hoan’s 95th minute winner.
Of course, the fans and players probably couldn’t care less how the wins come about – and last-gasp winners like Kim’s certainly bring excitement – but I personally like to see a team playing to their full attacking potential and winning games – or losing them – with a bit of bravado.
Tsumarinos have the potential to do that, but do they have the guts?