During a recent conversation with my friends during a lunch break of an otherwise grueling weekday, I said in passing that “I do not crave watching soccer anymore.”
“Are you kidding,” blurted out one of my friends, knowing how crazy my love for the sport is.
“No, I’m not,” I replied.
I still watch parts of a soccer game every now and then, but I do not have that irresistible urge to watch the games as I had in the past. I do not go to bed at night anymore being excited about the fact that that next day there is a crucial soccer match and I am going to watch it being glued on my sofa.
“You need Prozac,” said my friend. I chuckled and the conversation deviated to a different topic.
I think my friend was serious about his Prozac comment, alluding that something must have been wrong with me if I were not feeling enthusiastic about soccer anymore. It bothered me for months until recently on one day, in one sparkling moment, I got the answer: Nothing has been wrong with me; If anything has been wrong, it is with soccer. The soccer that I grew up with, the soccer that I fell in love with, the soccer that I was crazy about and had found more attractive than any woman in my life had changed — not a little, but significantly. The soccer I grew up with and fell in love with is completely different from the soccer played today.
The soccer I grew up with was inspired by individual brilliance and was characterized by:
I. Dribbling past a number of opponents with relative ease.
II. Long, solo runs by midfielders down the middle.
III. Sudden and completely unexpected defense-splitting passes, creating a goal out of nowhere.
IV. Thirty-yard runs by fleet footed wingers along the flanks, beating the defenders by sheer footwork and speed, before curling in a perfect cross for the striker to nod it in.
Remember the goal by George Best against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers? Remember the turns by Johan Cryuff completely catching the opponent on the wrong foot? Remember the through pass from Maradona to Burruchaga against West Germany in the 1986 World Cup final, or the one by him to Caniggia against Brazil in the 1990 World Cup?
Remember the goal by Roberto Baggio against Czechoslovakia, the long solo runs by Garrincha, John Barnes, Luis Figo and Denilson, accompanied by dodges and body faints that looked so spontaneous?
Finally and most importantly, remember the goal of the 20th century by Maradona, dribbling past five defenders, against England in 1986 World Cup?
There are thousands of similar examples, but the few above mentioned ones are enough to make the point. There is an important connection among all the above-mentioned players as well as among a number of other contemporary skillful players: They all led a generation of soccer where individual brilliance was appreciated and encouraged. Sadly but true, that doesn’t exist anymore in world soccer.