Brazilians show way forward

Brazilians have decided poverty is too high a price to pay for football

Brazilians show way forward

It was around the early ’90s that Hollywood became briefly obsessed with making movies about making movies, an egomaniacal thirst for the self-deferential that gave us stuff like Barton Fink, The Player and Ed Wood.

Surprisingly, for a business that would go hip-to-hip with any in the ego stakes, Gaelic football analysis might only now be passing through that stage in its evolution.

For it would seem that most Gaelic football analysis recently concerns itself, primarily, with Gaelic football analysis.

That spell of ’90s navel-gazing might have been Hollywood’s way of comforting itself after the success of films like Pretty Woman, a sense that in profiting from an uplifting tale of fulfilment through prostitution, it had stumbled guiltily on rock bottom.

Like Vivian Ward, Gaelic football has tended to sell itself short. But the sport finally seems to be ready to embrace its own so-bad-it’s-good narrative.

The main casualty in all of this is Pat Spillane, who, judging by the uncharacteristically sanguine The Sunday Game punditry on Donegal-Down last Sunday, has been decommissioned.

In recent weeks, a burgeoning cottage industry has emerged in analysis of Pat Spillane. Eamonn Sweeney, in the Sunday Independent, called him an eejit. Telly’s Adrian Logan described him as a joke that wasn’t funny.

Football fugitive at large Declan Bogue dismissed Pat as a “fictional television creation”, which might interest Hollywood if the new Alan Partridge movie goes down well.

There is a common message in all of the intemperate Pat chat; it’s time to stop giving out and progress to the next phase in the lifecycle of GAA punditry — analysing each game on its merits.

And to an extent, the next phase has already begun. So we must watch Donegal and Down stage an interminable round of pass-the-parcel, punctuated by bouts of rooting and tearing like crows on an open black bin and we must, no longer, reach for easy verdicts like “boring”, “messy” and “God help us all”. Instead, we must admire “gameplans” and “turnovers” and we must decide that all we want to see are turnovers, as if there is very little out there to beat a good turnover.

And you could, if you wanted, detect in this a certain maturity. A sport growing up and settling into its skin. Or you could put it down to the inherent fatalism of a low-expectation people. For all the complaining, in the end, we put up with almost anything.

We haven’t yet heard a blast of that self-effacing old chorus; “It’s just like watching Brazil” at a Donegal match. But, in a way, it is — at least the Brazil of this Confederations Cup. A reliance on set plays, a full-court press with the safety net of an expedient foul whenever it is breached. An ability to meld instinctive talent into a rigid structure.

Of course it seems inappropriate to be coming down too hard on the Brazilians at a time when their own people have decided there are more important things to worry about. We have always been a little bit too keen to patronise the Brazilians about their bit of poverty — as if it was the oil greasing their conveyor belt of footballers.

The Brazilians seem to have decided poverty is too high a price to pay for football — particularly when, even after the bank is broken, they still have Fred up top. But of course it won’t be easy for them to stop spending money they don’t have on football now that Fifa have made sure, to borrow a phrase, they have skin in the game.

Two decades ago, a Brazilian team this prosaic would have had football gazing miserably at its navel. Indeed it did, before the howls of negative punditry that greeted theirs and other’s contributions to the 1990 World Cup persuaded Fifa to make fundamental changes to how the game was played.

When their sport was on its knees, Fifa — never great men for change — came up with something a little more creative than the black card.

Who knows if the Brazilians will now get the change they want from their own leaders? But unlike us, at least they are demanding it.

Wimbledon goes back to the old school

When it comes to changing sport, we must, of course, be careful what we wish for.

Back in those early ’90s, the good people at Wimbledon didn’t much like what they were watching either. They were growing weary of marvelling at the big numbers clocked on the radar gun and they tended to gasp in chortled amazement — the kind ordinarily reserved for a slip by one of the ground staff as he hauled on the covers for a rain delay, or any movement at all by Cliff Richard in the Royal Box — if a rally extended beyond four or five shots.

In the main, big men were regarded as procrastinators if it took three swings to put a point to bed.

Many tweaks and adjustments and evolutions later and the serve and volley merchant on centre court may as well be behind glass in a freakshow.

Which is why they got so excited this week about the work of Sergiy Stakhovsky and Dustin Brown. It wasn’t just that the pair knocked out Federer and Hewitt, it was that they did so with the urgency of men with cars double-parked outside.

John McEnroe said he had goosebumps it was so old-school — the sight of points being bluntly contested rather than teased out until someone lost interest. And most attractive of all was the contrast of styles, the kind of culture clash we rarely see since Sampras and Agassi wore each other out.

It suggested tennis would do well to rewind the clock a little towards some kind of happy medium.

Home and away, Aussies lost in limbo

In the week it was confirmed that Sally Fletcher would be returning to Summer Bay, wouldn’t the Aussies love if it was as easy to summon the legends back to their old posts? Eales, Lynagh, Warne, McGrath and the like. They’d have them all back now if they could. Just this week, they sent for Warney, the most Australian Australian of all time, to hang around with the cricketers ahead of the Ashes, to rub a bit of his old Australianess onto them.

After a disastrous Olympics, they have now sacked the cricket gaffer after the players wouldn’t hand in their homework. Robbie Deans will probably be next to go if they don’t muster something this morning. They have only two players left in the Wimbledon draw.

As Clive Woodward kindly pointed out this week, much of Australian sport seems to have lost its once-famous edge. Clive suggests it’s because they are too caught up in focusing on performance, when in the past they only cared about one thing.

“That is a brilliant excuse for coming second, which was never the Australian way. It is about winning, plain and simple.”

It could also be because they are staying up half the night eating burgers.

Although you suspect Warney and Co could have comfortably worked that into their winning schedule.

HEROES & VILLAINS

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

Millwall: No one likes them but they’re starting to care. Turned down predatory lenders QuickQuid to offer shirt sponsorship free to Prostate Cancer UK.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Slipped and tumbled out of Wimbledon, but unlike so many others, refused to blame the grass.

TO HELL IN A HANDCART

Sue Barker: Ruins Wimbledon. The “Royal procession” where she looked on enviously as Tim Henman engaged in inaudible chit-chat with the “Duchess of Cornwall” will not rank among BBC’s finest broadcasts.

Jeff Blackett: The judicial officer on the citing of Samoa full-back James So’oialo: “I determine on the balance of probabilities that the player did not intend to squeeze Strauss’s testicles, nor were his actions reckless.”

Grand so.

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