Monday, 12 July 2010

The Golden Balls Of Diego

Well, after a comment here and now that Forlan has (deservedly, I think) won the Golden Ball, I'd better make my position clear...

When I said: "If he'd scored a few for Man U he'd be a real star now, I think."

I meant this not as a part of my "Bloody typical English delusion" (though I do have plenty of typical English delusions and I'm trying my best to deal with them - the English Optimists Support Group are still awaiting my adoption of a power animal so that my membership can be complete) but as a comment on the devastating capital power of the Premiership. Forlan was a good player at Manchester United, very unlucky (I seem to remember he hit the woodwork a lot) and would no doubt eventually have done really well... if those shots had gone in (the striker really must score goals) he'd have been seamlessly assimilated into the Man U megadeath narrative and would have thus become a Global star. He'd be on the Nike adverts. As it is, even despite crushing English club hopes in Europe and generally slamming in goals all through the last two or three seasons, he was still regarded as somehow below the top tier, as a club player, as an almost star.

The notional status of star, of Golden Balls, is only marginally related to actual ability and it's the margins that work wonders. It's not just scoring that counts but when and how and where and who against. Goals in the 'big three' leagues are more than goals; they are immense cultural artefacts and thus expert pitches to advertisers. And goals in the Premiership are arguably the biggest pitches of all.

There are no stars in the other leagues? Well, perhaps. Certainly, we never notice how individually brilliant some of the Bundesliga playing Germans are until they turn up at the World Cup and then we look surprised that they're doing so well. Idiotic perhaps, but a consequence of the star system that we need to shake.

And yes, Anon, you're right: the Premiership has been largely irrelevant during this World Cup and this is it's real narrative arc - the stars have gone out, the team has prospered. Even Spain's collection of stars are arguably more about the way the team play than the players per se. This has proved mesmerising to the TV pundits - "they keep making substitutes and you can't tell..."

Somewhere, not far into the future, the Premiership is shuddering; could the days of the star be numbered? Is it even appropriate to try and build a team of individuals, rather than focus on the collective whole? Let Man City decide.

For that reason, Forlan is a worthy winner. He was bigger than his team, played bigger but still remained a part of Uruguay's team-spirit. Every look was a stare into the abyss. He could see the stars collapsing and he knew his team's place in that collapse. Forlan was elemental at times but grounded. You can see him on a mountain top in a Caspar David Friedrich Painting, apart from and immersed into the Uruguayan Nature. And he was playing his heart out on the most difficult stage of all.

The only other individual performer in the running (but not in the running) would have been perhaps Muller who showed his worth by his presence (and more importantly by his absence) in a Germany team that was perhaps only bettered by Spain at the level of substitutes. I'm glad he got the Golden Boot. He's also not a star. He was much better than that.

A final thought on where all the stars went:

The World Cup has it's critics. They argue that the Champions League is where the true class football resides. Hiding inside the moneypits, where it's really difficult for the stars to get dwarfed before the knockout stage. But The World Cup is an especially pressurised (and thus dificult to win) tournament - it's football upscaled, as near as we're ever going to get to a universal fixture, a match that everyone watches. The pressure of your fans' expectations must be immense (it's killing Liverpool, for example ) but it's less than the pressure of the Nation's expectations, or even in Ghana's case, the Continent's.

It's in this (occasionally literal) furnace that stars falter and new ones are born. Has there ever been a World Cup where this has been more apparent?


  1. "they keep making substitutes and you can't tell..." -- this reminds me a lot of what American football innovator Bill Walsh did for the 88-89 Superbowl winning 49ers, namely, creating a "nickel and dime" system of short passes and rhythm patterns which effectively took the star out of the mix and benched the 70s ideal of long, slogging running games. This is why Steve Young could replace Joe Montana at QB with little change in the system: the system was the star. I think Spanish football may be an evolution in this direction.

  2. Perhaps we néed to substitute the tv 'star' pundits--linekar (walkers crisps), hansen--morrisons, shearer--mcdonalds, another super market, with the blokes who do interviews at pitchside at half time. The pundits have been humbled by the Spanish and German 'team' aesthetic but will be back to praising the star qualities of premership players in a few months time when motd is back.

  3. Liverpool don't come out this very well, do they? Perhaps the only 'Big 4' team which scoring against regularly doesn't ensure star status. Pity the poor scousers.

    But is Forlan really not as big a 'global star' as, say, frank Lampard? How do you judge this and what's the criteria? While it seems *intuitively* true, maybe in South America he has always been huge. But is that the same as, say, Africa? Obviously in Spain he's thought of as exceptional so...

    It's funny that the Premier League's global reach and present stranglehold on the ability to create stars is so taken for granted. Not so long ago the opposite was the case - no player would really be a star unless they proved themselves abroad (or was Brazilian).

  4. I'm hoping this isn't an anglocentric viewpoint but I'm, in part, only guessing (can't seem to shake my cultural referencing) and would be interested to see if the Premiership really isn't the worldwide marker I think it is...

    perhaps it's only regarded as such in markets not dominated by their own local football leagues? In which case, which ones?

  5. My understanding, largely secondhand, is that La Liga is bigger than the Premiership throughout Latin America and the Spanish speaking world, but in 'new markets' (i.e. South East Asia, Far East) Premiership is much more popular, and thus has bigger viewing figures overall.

    There are some caveats not least that the majority of networks that show the Premier league are owned by News Corp (which helps explain the dominance).

    The bigger caveat is that La Liga's viewing is less evenly spread due to indivdual clubs benefitting from their own TV rights, so Real Madrid and Barcelona are as big (if not bigger) than any premiership club, with a strong-ish second tier including Atletico, Valencia, Sevilla etc competing but the rest suffering from a low profile.

    Then again how big are Wigan, West Ham, Bolton etc?

  6. I think there is a definite trend of the PL being popular in developing countries but I don't know *quite* why. The idea of 'Englishness' just seems so desirable there - the Pakistan/Indian kid studying accountancy long-distance is 100 times more likely to support an English team/the African desperate to get to the UK to have a Chelsea poster on the wall. (Yes, dodgy ground here.)

    Perhaps this is largely explained by media, but media can be rejected. The Premier League is actively embraced there and England seemed to be the universal 'second team' for all Africans at this WC. A legacy of colonialism/empire perhaps, with your actions/legacy constantly being reappraised and contrasted favourably to the French/Dutch/Belgians (and now maybe Americans)?

    But any time I try to engage someone on this, thinking that they will mention the English sense of fair play etc. it really does descend into 'wow, Drogba's so good, like a Chelsea lion'. But if Drogba leaves, he'll just be replaced by someone entirely different yet who'll fulfil a similar role/effect (I *think*, maybe the PL really can't afford to lose any more 'marquee names', time will tell I suppose).

    And this universal adoption of *love* for the English which I'll argue exists, it's definitely *new*. It usen't be there at all.

    (As a side note, in Thailand I went to watch El Classico to find they were showing Fulham v Bolton. When they switched over at the end to catch the final 30 mins, everybody left! Tourists, locals, the waiters all disappeared. I suppose thinking of it as 'new markets' does seem more valid and would highlight the media factor.)

  7. Good points in the above, but on that note, does the overwhelming majority of foreign nationals benefit the viewing figures and popularity?

    The fact so many countries have individuals to engage with, that each country has a representative to get behind - a narrative. So in Ivory Coast Chelsea will dominate, in Ecuador Man Utd's popularity is rising and in S.Korea its sky high, and Peruvian's still have a soft spot for Newcastle etc

    People aren't fans of Man Utd because of Scholes, Neville etc the links are established by individual players and their nations (the history of scandinavian players at Liverpool solidifying their popularity there).

    It's worth adding that Beckham, a rising publicity football star no doubt, finally achieved his worldwide sales potential with Real Madrid, who have actively choosen to sign the highest profile players to market the club - mutually beneficial cycle of publicity.

  8. I cannot decide if the star system is something being pushed by merchandising -- C Ronaldo is always going to sell more stuff than Muller -- or if too many people in the game really believe in it. When Argentina were eliminated, I was surprised to hear Maradona commenting about how in his day stars would put the team on their back and carry them to victory. And while watching the NBA Finals here in the US, I was repeatedly annoyed to hear Magic Johnson talking about every game as being the time when stars come to shine. Maradona and Magic might believe in the importance of stars given their accomplishments, but it's far more usual for a team to beat a star. And that has been true for many years. Yet with this kind of glorification of the star system, I'm sure it will have many believers for years to come.

  9. "The fact so many countries have individuals to engage with, that each country has a representative to get behind..." Yes, this is definitely important. But I *feel*, and perhaps this is what the OP was saying, that everyone would prefer their own 'representative' to be playing in the PL than in any other league. If this is true, why?

    It may be a dumbing down, that the PL is easier to appreciate with little effort/awareness (or maybe it is just more bloody exciting). Or maybe global participation *has* to be experienced through the English language nowadays. But it could be down to an appreciation of the history/venerability of almost all clubs (the age, the old stadiums, the *importance*). I hope it's for well considered reasons for some reason (Borat's going to support an English team, isn't he?).

    I wasn't of the opinion that Beckham really came into it after joing Real.(For me, Beckham, and now Ronaldo went off the radar screens a little, seemed a little out of place, when they went to Real.) If this is true than it is probably only my prejudices/outlook causing me to believe that the PL is so powerful.

    But if Drogba went to Inter, would the Ivory Coast really follow? I think they *might* just turn Kalou into the star.

  10. This is why Steve Young could replace Joe Montana at QB with little change in the system: the system was the star. I think Spanish football may be an evolution in this direction.

    It seems to me that it is in fact the German system that is predicated on a lack of stars - players who were relative unknowns or not star performers in their sides, with due exceptions of course - hence the comparison to Chievo I made a few days ago. Spain is actually packed with stars, and needed Villa to do special things to win them tight games.

  11. Spain are packed with stars - but they are all interchangable. No one dominates. Fabregas for Xavi, Silva for Iniesta, Torres for Villa, Reina for Casillas, Mata for Silva, Martinez for Alonso/Busquets, Llorente for Torres, Navas for Pedro etc etc Individuals stepped up but the system is the only star