14 July 2012

Enthralling, yet boring

Spain/Barca are not boring, their games are. They’re boring. But it's boring in a sense because it's contrary to what the ideal for football is. Beyond football really, it's boring because it's anti-sport; or at the very least, anti-my concept of sport. 

The uproar has been hilarious. Perhaps that is overstated, but the disenchanted and delirious attacks and defenses of Espana/Barcelona, have made for some ridiculous reads, and even some soul-churning rethinking of ideologies from many a writer and football fan. Spain is boring? Explain ten-man Italy being crushed then you wanker!? Armed with Opta stats, factoids about La Masia, and many a Xavi-op-ed, the hipster twitterers riposted in disgust at any suggestion that their fetish was in ‘fact’ a dull perversion. “You don’t understand football”. “You don’t grasp what the game is about”. Pictures of Spanish players surrounded by opponents represented vindication. Fans are all of a sudden lost in a muck of entitlement, and hapless narcissism. The superiority of Spain meant that opponents had changed; resulting in this natural, non-random, evolution, that those lacking in acumen couldn’t see; natural selection at it’s very finest. The end suddenly justifying the means, for something which was once about no such pragmatism.

The frenzied responses littered with straw-men made me reflect a little too. I found myself reading about confirmation bias, and other selective biases. How could people that once waxed-on about anti-football, and style versus pragmatism, actually write dissertation-esque pieces defining and defending ‘control’ of games? Why was the matter at hand; entertaining vs boring, becoming about the result or the approach being necessary for that result? How could a writer have closed so powerfully once upon a time with

I don't want Hallmark moments, I don't want "hugs or lessons." But I do want entertainment, and any football supporter who states otherwise is deluding themselves

 Then re-appear some years on with this?

You take beauty when it comes, but don’t be silly and expect it, tapping your watch like a tourist

I was beside myself. Not really. But it was interesting watching it unfold. Arsene Wenger chimed-in with his articulate bad English. As-expected, so did Jose; that devil. Everyone either unwilling or unable to address the entertainment value. I kept trying, to articulate for all these lost sheep. Even on this blog, I never accepted the Barcelonafication, rife like zombies on bath salts, choosing instead with caution adjectives such as expansive rather than attractive. How could something be enthralling, yet boring?

In the first aspect, this Tiki Taka was enthralling in that, at least in my lifetime (and apparently in all lifetimes), there had never been such a conglomeration of talented players that actually worked. It was enthralling in that, I was watching a team of men all so gifted, that their football seemed effortless. They rendered other professionals impotent, and whatever the opposite of fortresses are. The way you would attempt to play as fun and artful; an expression, they would do it in a competitive match. They toyed not with amateurs, but with teams with prestigious histories, and fabled greatness. Sure, they can do it to Numancia, but Real Madrid? NEVER. They could. And as sure as Cruyff talking for absolutely no reason, they did. They did it all while sticking to a doctrine. A war of attrition; but attrition never was this emphatic, and war was never this enchanting. Whether 1-0 down or 5-0 up, the approach never changed. Homages appeared; rightly. Some choosing to detach the system from the players, others were identifying players emblematic of it. The means needed no justifying; this was the way it had to be.

But the boredom quickly set in for me. Unlike many (apparently), I am not a sadist. While I personally enjoy playing on a team of players on my level (I’m insinuating that I’m really good), that joy is diminished in the face of a total lack of matched quality from my opponent. All of a sudden I was Bill Murray in that horrible movie. The same script; written in Catalunya, with a different cast. Every weekend. What was once fascinating, turned into a sordid gimmick. A team that controlled the ball, recovered it quickly if they lost it, or otherwise often feigned injuries to regain it. Could it be? I was watching Keep Away/Piggy-in-the-Middle?? A team of players that are so gifted that their tactic was to exercise their superiority by excluding the opponent from playing? Was I really being entertained? The answer was/is a vehement no.
"Like watching a bag of ice melt"
No, not because of any underdog mentality. The discussion is boring in itself because people seem incapable of separating how great they are, from how dull watching their greatness is. Even bullies stop playing keep away at some point. How do I justify watching one team dominate another in such a way that it feels like a possession exercise in training? Do I really want to watch a team practice? Am I supposed to console myself from its banality with stats that indicate an undeniable quality? No. Advocates of any sort of uninhibited domination bother me. Seriously. I consider enjoying the manner of these Barca/Espana games, to any degree, the same way I consider ‘opponents’ of affirmative action. Ok, not really. But it reeks of some sort of complex.

Opponents need to get better. Barcelona/Spain don’t have to apologize for being this good. But unless I am a fan of this doctrine in the manner that Cruyff/Xavi are ‘fans’, or fawning over talent as a groupie would, then it’s challenging to see their games as entertaining, even if they are, as history will remember, the greatest team of all time.  

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