DAVID SHONFIELD: Global game in fine health

THE MAESTRO: Lionel Messi was still the one player (with due respect to Arjen Robben) who looked capable of producing the moment of true brilliance that could transform a match. Argentina would not have reached the final without him.

1. You reap what you sow — eventually
Germany deserved to win their fourth title, but it hasn’t come easily.

Humiliated in the European championships in 2000 and 2004, they restructured their entire training system, invested systematically in developing homegrown players and after the agonising defeats of 2006 and 2008 have finally reaped the reward.

By contrast, Italy — winners in 2006, beating Germany on the way — continued along the same old path, and eight years later were humiliated.

2. Well-prepared tactics can make the difference

Louis Van Gaal is one of the best in the business, Jorge Sampaoli is — or rather was — almost unknown. Both devised strategies that within the space of five days left the then reigning world champions Spain reeling. Van Gaal changed his formation just a fortnight before the tournament, and they very nearly made it to the final. Sampaoli’s group of Chilean journeymen and one or two stars came close to knocking out the host nation. In both cases the players evidently trusted the manager and understood his thinking. Luiz Felipe Scolari then demonstrated exactly what can happen to a team when its manager discards even rudimentary tactical preparation.

3. Latin American football thriving, while reform long overdue in Brazil

As expected, Argentina were strong and had Angel Di Maria not been injured, could well be champions. Colombia were unlucky not to reach the last four, even without Radamel Falcao. Chile over-performed, Costa Rica were a revelation.

Whatever Brazilian pundits may claim, going abroad does not stunt player development or erode team spirit. Brazil’s need for reform eclipses historical results. The country has a backward management going back decades, corrupted competitions and also third-party player ownership where outside investors and agents benefit to the detriment of clubs.

4. Goalkeepers are still absurdly undervalued

Manuel Neuer could well have been chosen as best player as well as best goalkeeper. Coaches have talked about goalkeepers evolving into outfield players for years, Neuer is the first to have done it in a major tournament.

By contrast the collapse of Iker Casillas was painful to witness: it was almost as if you could see the confidence draining away.

This World Cup provided a marvellous parade of goal-keeping skills, from familiar figures and from virtual unknowns, such as Keylor Navas.

As the old guard such as Julio Cesar and Gianluigi Buffon start to bow out, there is a new generation coming through, and they are still absurdly undervalued in terms of transfer fees.

5. Leo Messi deserves iconic status

You can argue whether Messi deserved to be voted player of the tournament, but he was still the one player (with due respect to Arjen Robben) who looked capable of producing the moment of true brilliance that could transform a match. Argentina would not have reached the final without Messi. He could have gone on to win but for the strange substitution of Ezequiel Lavezzi. This was of course to be ‘his’ tournament, but like Cristiano Ronaldo, he showed the effects of an unusually tough season in La Liga. Comparisons with Maradona or Pele, or indeed Di Stefano, are pointless: he is who he is, one of the true greats.

6. Evolve or die

This was a World Cup worthy of the name: good teams were found out, most notably Spain, caught between two stools tactically, with Diego Costa up front. In their third game, when they were already out, they showed signs of recovering some of their past panache, but without pressing, the tiki taka formula was exposed, as it was at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Successful evolution in football does not have to be innovative, but at this level, with tests coming thick and fast, to stand still is fatal.

7. Football the one global sport

Football is said to be the one truly global sport. This World Cup proved it. An obvious example is the US. Less obviously the TV audience in India, at an estimated 83 million, swamped previous levels. Judging by this tournament, football crowds are also more middle class than ever, especially in Latin America. But as its global reach is confirmed, the question is whether the game can retain the diversity that gives it such appeal. The past month gives grounds for optimism.


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