Saturday, 12 June 2010

Edward G. Robinson's banana kick


Having watched the first three matches of the World Cup, I've got a "little man inside", like Edward G. Robinson's in Double Indemnity, and he's starting to whisper that there's something here that doesn't square.

It's not the schedule-shredding kick-off times – "No, dear, I'm afraid I can't do the weekly shop; aren't you aware that dark horses Greece are up against ever-unpredictable South Korea?" It's not the aural migraine of the "atmosphere-enhancing" vuvuzelas. It's not even the flying FIFA logo that announces, with all the elegance of an Allied Carpets advert, the eighth ultra-slomo replay of a ball trundling disconsolately into touch three minutes into the first half. No, it's none of that.

Deep, deep breath.

It's the football. It's not very good, is it? In the second half of last night's lifeblood-vacuuming France-Uruguay match I placed my hand over my heart and asked myself a question. Is this really any better than watching Coventry City versus Everton (or, more likely in my case, its equivalent: Mallorca versus Racing Santander)? Unless I could say "Yessiree, Bob!" faster than Thierry Henry falls over clutching a random body part, shouldn’t I be doing something more satisfying, if not productive, with my time?

But I stuck with it to the miserable nil-nilly end. Of course I did.

I'm convinced that we have an image of the World Cup that's not unlike our image of our body shape: burned at some point in the increasingly distant past into non-editable ROM in our brains. For me - someone who'd be pushed to describe himself as even a late-summer chicken - that image consists of a bunch of Thornton's-fudge-coloured men wearing bleedy yellow and blue on an even bleedier Subbuteo-green pitch, strolling rings (running was a development that would only come much later) around an abject shower of lumbering Europeans. What exotic planet did these marvellous creatures come from? What was this strange magic that they wove? Did you see that free kick? It actually curved in the air! Did you see that move? Five passes and the ball never left the ground!

Of course Pele is the greatest player of all time. How could he not be? We only ever saw him play for three weeks every four years. We had to imagine all the rest while we were watching Sunderland in the mud.

Now, the world's half-decent players are so familiar to us we're sick of the sight of most of them. We're terminally over-Tevezed and all Drogba’d out. And, let's face it, not even los supercracks – those inhabitants of football's Mount Olympus who are usually referred to by TV pundits as "the likes of yer Messis and Ronaldos" - are, while playing with a group of semi-strangers, likely to come up with anything that we don't see them doing for their European clubs twice a week.

That's what Edward G's little man inside has been saying, anyway. But he's not alone in there. He has to compete with that little lad and his gaudy, bleedy blues, greens and yellows, like a watercolour in the rain. And that's why, hope against hope, I'll be there for Algeria-Slovenia tomorrow, on the off chance it might unveil, to a world enraptured, a 21st-century equivalent of Rivellino's banana kick.


Tim Footman said...

I think part of the problem now is that the whole money thing has made players obsessed with winning at all costs. Obviously they wanted to win before, but they didn't allow fear of losing to cramp their style; remember that one of Pele's greatest moments was a miss.

David Hepworth said...

Know what you mean but I shall report back after Argentina-Nigeria. And, as the person on the receiving end of more nit-picking comments than most, that your Edward G. is too young.

Archie Valparaiso said...

Spotted that, did you? My only defence is that it's a picture that's the visual equivalent of what is usually called a "chooooon", while the only actual Double Indemnity stills I could find were whatever the 1941 equivalent of "meh" was.

Terence said...

Hmmm yes, but opening games are often cagey, and Argentina looked quite hot.

We'll see...

Mark JF said...

People complain (rightly) when things get dragged down to some lowest common denominator level. But I suspect what we see now is what happens when players are routinely pulled up to some advanced minimum level. What was once exceptional becomes ordinary and our expectations are raised way beyond any realistic level. We want to see sublime genius every week, even when this week's sublime genius quickly becomes the norm and so raises the bar for next week. And now we expect defences to be as good as those exceptional attacking talents of yesteryear so it all cancels itself out.

Me, I'll be glad to see 3 or 4 good games. I reckon it's as much as you can reasonably expect from a tournament where so many people expect so much from teams with - if we're honest about it - so little between them and so much at stake.