Too young to understand
Among the features we put together every month for the Arsenal magazine is a fairly standard profile of an Academy youngster. Alongside the spiel sits a questionnaire, handed to the kid a week or so earlier for completion, of the ‘This or That’ variety beloved of matchday programme editors since time immemorial. Most of them prefer Beyonce to Cheryl; a crushing majority picks Eastenders over Corrie. A sizeable number would murder a curry ahead of a chow mein. While I’d take issue with at least one of these trends, it’s a fourth one that I’m drawn to checking up on before any other. Eyes drift down to ‘World Cup or Champions League’ and in, I reckon, eight cases out of ten it’s not the venerable old Mundial that’s grasped affections and ambitions.
Each time, an answer that adheres to this pattern elicits a faint and almost intangible sense of defensiveness, indignation nearly, in this writer’s clearly underemployed little mind. I’m a child of Italia 90, a 27 year-old whose ardour for football bloomed just a few years before Those Magical Nights of Champions League football became affairs of brow-fissuring seriousness. It was still just about ok to be an incurable romantic, and the World Cup became permanently set atop a shiny pedestal surrounded by the strains of Pavarotti along with visions of a touchline-dashing Bobby Robson and the naggingly menacing (is this just me?) visage of Rudi Voller. Sixteen years after Italia 90 I saw it all for myself in Germany and concluded that, in my football-experiencing life, nothing could be this good again. So to read that the stars of tomorrow, mostly born within 18 months of USA 94, place the World Cup at least one notch down on their tablet of career goals feels like a kind of abasement, really, of something that should really matter.
I won’t turn this first substantive post into a hand-wringing examination of international football’s waning status – it’s well chronicled, and a bit early in this blog’s life to meander too greatly. Perhaps it’ll be something we return to along the way, and I’ve certainly had illuminating conversations with various protagonists that would provide plenty of food for thought in a longer piece. So for the moment I’ll just go with my strong belief that the 2010 World Cup is a critical one for the health of the competition itself. Leaving aside the pressures on viewing figures, attendances, monies made and compelling storylines I think that, rightly or wrongly, it’s going to have to justify itself to those competing in it to a certain extent. Absurd? I agree. Impossibly chicken-and-egg? Almost certainly – which makes the situation both empowering and precarious, depending on your take. Let’s hope players and tournament prove to need each other something approaching equally this summer. I think it’s a delicate balance.
I promise to come back to this, and show my working – not that much of it would be rocket science. The World Cup still holds primacy in terms of viewing figures, history, tales of wonder – but this summer it needs to confidently assert itself as a paradigm for everything that is, on the one hand, enduringly excellent and, on the other, fresh and vital in the on-pitch side of the game. That’s going to be down to its 736 participants. Let’s hope they’re ready for the challenge – I certainly can’t wait to find out.
Maybe I’m being mawkish – but below is the first goal I ever saw, in the first live match I ever paid any real attention to. I was seven. It wasn’t a bad early schooling in what the World Cup can offer. Cheers Dragan.