Tag Archives: Borussia Dortmund

“Any goal’s a goal”

23 Aug

Do good things come to those who wait?  Or should I strike while the iron is hot?  Should I be wary of Greeks bearing gifts?  Or would it be foolish to look a gift horse in the mouth?  It’s funny how these titbits of advice so often come in polarising pairs.  Hindsight can be a virtue, but ex post rationale is unhelpful at best and actively misleading at its worst.  If I attempt a delicate chip shot and end up duffing it into the keeper’s arms, history may remember it as more prudent if I had just whacked it low and hard.  But this presumes my execution would have been any better with a low blast.  Believe you me, there is every chance I’d have shanked it wide.

I mention this because there seems to be an increasing trend in analyses that some goals are more important than others.  Specifically, the goals that prove decisive to the result.  These are the goals we should value above all others, prevailing wisdom suggests.  These are the golden nuggets of truth in an otherwise opaque world.  

The case in point is Gareth Bale.  In the 21 league games that Spurs won last season, Bale scored in 14 of them (nine of them proving to be the winner). Gareth Bale’s goals win football games.  Gareth Bale’s goals must be important, then.

This is all very well.  But did that make Bale’s goals any harder to score?  Does anyone know at the time which goal in a game will be the most important?  When Borussia Dortmund went 4-1 up against Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League semi-final, which was the most important goal?  The first?  Or the ultimately decisive fourth?  History would have little remembered Gerrard’s “consolation” goal in the 2005 Champions League final were it not for the two more that followed it up.  Now it forms part of one of the greatest comebacks ever.  

Any goal’s a goal.  Making sense of their importance after the event forgets the context that they were all scored in the instance of being.  Nobody knew ahead of time which egg would prove to be golden.  For every team that ran away with a game 5 or 6 nil, there were many other games where a team went 3 goals down then battled back. 

Orator and former goal-hanger of considerable esteem, Gary Winston Lineker, noted that, while the glory often lay with strikers, it could also be most dispiriting position on the pitch.  Even a great striker, averaging a goal every other game, essentially spends 179 minutes not doing what he is supposed to be on the pitch to achieve.  And anyone who’s ever tried to chat up a staunchly Christian girl in a bar will know exactly what three solid hours of failure looks like.

There’s a reason why people go utterly loopy after scoring a goal[1].  It’s because they’re all bloody hard to score.  They’re all, in the words of a famous shampoo peddler, worth it.  Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

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That goal you scored in 5-aside last night? Jennifer’s very proud of you.

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A Ryder Cup for football?

29 Apr

As popular boy band JLS found to their cost, power shifts can be fast and brutal.  One minute you are kings of the kennel, the next you’re whimpering in the corner as One Direction become the new daddies of the dogs’ home.  We might be on the cusp of a similar changing of the guard in European football.

The football teams of Spain have been the undisputed alpha-dogs for some time now.  Yet Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund tore into the Spanish top two like they were week-old puppies.  Did the manner in which both Barcelona and Madrid were brought to heel by German foes, with such unquestioning obeyance, represent a wider shift in supremacy?  The new breed of Bavarian thoroughbreds certainly had tongues wagging.

National pride is at stake when arguments turn to who has the best league.  Even in countries with little home-grown talent, football fans delight in asserting that their teams are the strongest.  Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife, as Arsene Wenger once put it.  In the first flourishes of the 21st Century, the English Premiership had good claim to being the pack leader.  This is palpably no longer the case.  The spin-doctors at Sky Sports tacitly acknowledged as much by revising their claim of the Premiership being “the best league in the world” to now calling it “the most exciting league in the world”.  A subtle tweak in vernacular that New Labour would be proud of.

From my perspective, the last 20 years has seen the crown perched a-top four different heads:

1993 -> 1999 Italy

2000 -> 2004 Spain

2004 -> 2009 England

2009 -> 2012 Spain

2013 – Germany…?

If I were to relent to the demands of argumentative geriatric, Ray Winston, and have a bet, I would wager that 2013 will be seen as a blip in the continuing Spanish reign.  The Cromwellian Bundesliga will push La Liga close but, ultimately, not relieve Spain of its hegemony.  This is only my opinion, of course.  And opinions, as they say, are like arseholes (everybody’s got one).  Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way we could empirically assess which league was the strongest?  Well it just so happens I have a suggestion…

Introducing the Platini Plate: “the Ryder Cup of Football”.  Europe’s top leagues compete against each other – 1st plays 1st, 2nd plays 2nd, right down to 20th plays 20th.  A win scores one point and a draw gets you a half.  Football schedules are already more cramped than Ricki Lake in a 2-door Jag, so let’s keep it biannual, taking place during the pre-season of every odd year.  Rather than the frankly unwatchable friendlies currently in situ, you would have Bayern Munich versus Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund versus Manchester City, right down to the grudge match of Reading versus Greuther Freuth.  It could work on either an invitational basis (the Premiership could challenge a different league every two years), or the country of the previous year’s Champions League winners could play the defending champions of the Platini Plate.  The title of “Europe’s Strongest League” would pass back-and-forth like a boxing belt.

The beauty of the Platini Plate (I’m working on a better name.  Suggestions welcome…) is it’s no use having one or two powerhouses in a league otherwise full of carthorses.  The criticism, unfairly in my view, that La Liga comprises of Real Madrid, Barcelona and 18 whipping boys could be put to the test.  Would Norwich beat Athletic Bilbao in the battle of 14th place?  Are Valencia really going to struggle against their 6th place counterparts, Everton?  Champions League teams are, in reality, outliers, rather than indicative of a league’s strength in depth.  This tournament is more interested in the mean average than the cream of the crop.

Would the viewing public be interested in such a contest?  I think they would lap it up.  The match-ups could be staggered over 4 days, building up to a crescendo as the last two teams do battle in a potentially thrilling finale.  Since games would overlap with each other, the red button would be your friend.  Think of the excitement as Martin Tyler announces “there’s been a goal at the Britannia…”.  Cue cheers across the nation as the screen-within-screen shows John Walters firing Stoke into a 2-0 lead against Real Vallodolid.  A point safely in the bag there by the Potters.

As for the players, I can’t help but feel that they would be stirred by a mixture of patriotism (for some, at least) and a desire to demonstrate that they play in the best league in the world.  Everyone likes to think that they work in the most demanding environment.  Here is a chance for players to prove their league is pre-eminent.  You would think Rickie Lambert would jump at the opportunity to show he can score goals against defences across Europe.  And, with Liverpool looking like an absentee from Europe next year, Luis Suarez would presumably be dying to sink his teeth into, well, you get the picture.

So what do you think, Mr Platini?  I’ll not charge a penny for the idea.  It’s yours to do with as you wish.  In lieu of payment, I ask only that you take a flexible attitude to Manchester City when the Financial Fair Play Rules come into force next year.  Do we have ourselves a deal?

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You’re so manly, Ray.  I wish my Granddad was as cool as you.

CORRECTION:
After much brow-furrowing and some careful use of the Too Good abacus, it became apparent that there are only 18 teams in the Bundesliga.  In the spirit of the Ryder Cup, Germany are therefore allowed two wild card picks.  Welcome to the party Eintracht Braunschweiger and Hertha Berlin.  The Spanish, Italian, French and English teams all have 20 teams in their top-flight at the time of writing.