• Tuesday, 15 May 2012

    Fail in England, fail in life

    As league titles are decided, thoughts turn to the next season. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Barcelona who have lost not only their league title, but also their scion of Johan Cruyff's Dream Team, Pep Guardiola. His successor Tito Vilanova has, according to the gossip and rumour pages recently, identified David Luiz as a key signing for his first season in charge. Cue much hilarity from the British press. "Ha ha ha, he's terrible at defending". "Tee hee hee, he done a blunder a couple of times this year". So it goes.

    This isn't the first example of such a phenomenon. Juan Sebastian Verón copped much the same after not being at his mercurial best in spells with Manchester United and Chelsea. Diego Forlán was written off as failure on the back of his time with United despite scoring absolute bucketloads of goals wherever else he's been in his career. Indeed, whenever he's featuring in a game on UK TV, hearing mention of the fact that 'he failed to set the Premier League alight' is rarer than not, presumably because someone feels that that's the benchmark by which all careers should be measured.

    Luiz has his faults - that much is clear. But to focus on that does the man a disservice and blinds the observer to the things that a club like Barcelona see in him. In a back three, he's absolutely ideal. Like Gerard Pique, he's very accomplished on the ball, has a bit of pace and can pick a pass. That latter point is absolutely crucial in the Barcelona system where Pique is as much a quarter-back as he is defender. With Carles Puyol approaching the end of his career, it's a move that screams sense.

    If it does go through, expect him to be labelled in the UK as a Premier League flop for the rest of his life. He could win countless trophies and personal accolades, but if he comes back to this country for a European fixture or an England v Brazil friendly, expect the phrase to appear before the anthems are over. The appointment of Roy Hodgson to the role of England manager was the same - his entire 35-year career overlooked for nine months at Liverpool, a basket case of a club at the time and one which £120m of players made appreciably worse.

    Yes, you can file this under S for 'stating the bleeding obvious'. It's still worth saying though and is a reason why we in this parish watch so much football from abroad and will watch the Euros with the sound down. We want an appraisal of the football we're seeing, not speculation as to how much one of the Manchester clubs will offer for the genius that is Mats Hummels. We wonder, though, if it is the same elsewhere. Was Dennis Bergkamp known as a 'Serie A flop' by the Italian media after he left Inter? What of Gary Lineker at Barcelona, where Rinus Michels played him as a winger? Or is it just the British that are willing to write people off on the basis of a tiny proportion of a career with no appreciation of the rest of it? A genuine question.

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