Where are we as to the football common denominator
It is less than two weeks since the passing of Johann Cruyff revered as one of the greatest footballers who have graced the game. He died at the age of 68, remembered as the definitive proponent of the wave of comprehensive football by the Dutch national team, known popularly as "total football" emerging in the early seventies. And it was not only for his pioneering effort with regard to a style of team performance for which he might be remembered. Brazilian Pélé gave football the immortal moniker "the beautiful game". However, Englishman Gary Lineker, one of Cruyff's contemporaries was moved to say: Johann Cruyff more than any other player made the beautiful game more beautiful. Lineker was referring to the quintessential beauty with which the Dutchman moved with the ball, and distributed it.
Cruyff did not manage to win the World Cup but he certainly helped define an era, the legacy of which we still see today. It made legislators in the game go some way towards providing added protection for skillful manipulators of the ball. Players before, like Pélé and Eusebio suffered harsh treatment by opponents minded to stop them at all costs. Thus, the unconscionable repression meeted out to these two in the 1966 World Cup in England. After the controversies of that tournament were sensationally highlighted by football journalists – Cruyff then only 18 and still to make it to the world stage – was enabled in due course to benefit from an appropriate culture among referees allowing his star to shine rather than be snuffed out by the cynical.
I have taken the trouble to pinpoint in oblique fashion the influence two of the games fabled players may have had on the thinking and stylistic development of Cruyff, one who in his demeanor and leadership urged that every player in his team had to be able to play everywhere. Such assertiveness of the all-round technical ability reminds me of Alec Reid in my boyhood days was noted for taking the ball down field out of defence and in a few strides neatly slotting in a goal for Notre Dame in retaliation for one scored against them. That was in the year 1948 or thereabout when Cruyff was not more than a year old.
Those were days when playing equipment was radically different as to primitiveness literally unfriendly to players. Boots made of leather became heavy with water and so did the ball whose menace featured a leather thonged lace causing many an otherwise stout hearted character to duck out of a bold header. Not to mention, our referees were brought out of a lengthy tradition of a fierce shoulder charge designed to patently abolish all courage in the recipient.
All that has preceded in this piece has been intended to usher the fact that the modern player has for some considerable time enjoyed the protective comfort of non-violence in the atmosphere of the field of play. To this extent practically everything Messi, Ronaldo etc do can be emulated by every John Quasshie. So to speak, the ball is still round and the playing field level. Whether you believe it or not, it cost me fifteen dollars to witness the Caribbean Cup match at Windsor Park on the night of Tuesday 29th March between Dominica and visitors Martinique. Forgetting the enormity of my having to pay, it is easy to assess the gross entertainment value was hardly above two dollars!
My contention is not really with the admission fee – more really with the quality of the football. Martinique won 4-1 after being up 2-nil at the interval. In no uncertain terms the visitors were the only ones engaged in actual play. Dominica was restricted to booting the ball up field with the very predictable response of the Frenchman exercising easy control before mounting generally unchallenged attach followed by attack. Almost all of our play occurred in our own defensive quarter and very little of it was meaningful.
Among the close to one thousand spectators was a lone voiced incessant entreaty of "let's go Dominica" which consistently fell upon very deaf ears. Alas, it was not before the second half a shot was taken in anger at the Martinique goal – that is if we ignore the fact of the opening goal having resulted from a grossly miscued attempt at clearance by one of our defenders!
Anyone given to identifying the poverty of our local football will note the effusiveness of the ignorance simmering from our crowds when a semblance of possession by the home team encroached into their opponent's half. There is no allowance for the prospect of good graces in systematic attacking combination, as if the only thing patently desired is a straightest of straight lines to goals.
Needless to say, the straight line was again and again rendered obstructed by Martinique who moved faster, moved better and were always one or two steps ahead. There was the ugly imbalance in the record that revealed a previous win by Martinique by 3-nil over Tortola as against 7-nil by Dominica against the same opponents. From what we saw at Windsor Park it remains starkly evident that we never learn. It is to effect that our vision is through wooden glasses refusing to accept there is no substitute for skill. There is no replacement for fitness, for without it skill cannot surface or survive. From the opening whistle Martinique looked as if they were the ones familiar with the field and our players were strangers to Windsor Park. Maybe there is something realistic in this. Do we have a decent field to train on and prepare for engagements against foreign teams? This could be an important consideration as to where we feature in the common denominator in global football.