Domestic leagues and national teams : The connection

Spain. Barcelona. What do we infer from these two words? Football-wise?

Excellence. Supremacy. Brilliance. All these can be one-word answers to the said question. Similarly, if we stretch our time frame to the last 20 years, we would arrive at Germany. Spain have caught our imagination over the last 5 years, whereas Germany have been the epitome of consistency for the last 2-3 decades. Let’s have a brief look at their record at major tournaments for the last 30 years.

World Cup 1982 : Runners-Up
Euro 1984 : Group Stage
World Cup 1986 : Runners-Up
Euro 1988 : Semis
World Cup 1990 : Champions
Euro 1992 : Runners-Up
World Cup 1994 : Quarters
Euro 1996 : Champions
World Cup 1998 : Quarters
Euro 2000 : Group Stage
World Cup 2002 : Runners-Up
Euro 2004 : Group Stage
World Cup 2006 : 3rd place
Euro 2008 : Runners-Up
World Cup 2010 : 3rd place
Euro 2012 : Semis

Staggering, no? Except three blemishes in 1984, 2000 and 2004, they have at least reached the quarters. The German core football philosophy can be related to the Spanish one. No, not their playing styles, but their squad-building. Both these teams rely on home-bred players to make up most of their squad. You would find very few players in either team who play outside their respective domestic leagues. Spain haven’t been half as consistent as Germany, but they’ve always had most of their squad from La Liga. The same cannot be said about any other major international team right now. Maybe England, but they hardly achieve anything at the international level, so no point considering them. Italy have always had a good mix of players who play at good teams in the Serie A and those who have no idea what they’re doing on the pitch. The Netherlands, as of now, are a pale shadow of their ‘total football’- playing predecessors. The Brazil of the 70s and 80s were one such brilliant team. Most of the players were playing in the Liga Do Brasil, and hence, when they turned up in the famous canary-yellow jerseys, there was a sharp Brazilian style about them. Come the 90s, Europe started luring players away and the samba football was sacrificed for a safer, more subdued, European style. The 4-2-4 gave way to the 4-4-2 and the 4-5-1. Same with Argentina. Seriously, when was the last time a Latin American team consistently displayed the brand of carefree football which that part of the world is known for? Uruguay in World Cup 2010 maybe, but then that was an exception. The point of this post is, it’s very important for a team to have players from their domestic setup if the nation’s traditional philosophy of football is to be stuck with. Like Spain are doing now, and Germany have been doing, for the last 3 decades at the least.

I have been a die-hard Brazil fan since I started watching football. Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Denilson would appeal to me like no one else. But I never quite got to see the samba football Brazilians are famous for. I mean sure, there would be moments of absolute magic, but those were few and far between. Most of these players played in Europe for the whole year. It’d be unfair to expect them to suddenly start playing a Latin American style of football. Which is why, it’s very refreshing to see most of the present Brazil youngsters sticking to their domestic setup. The Santos’ and the Sao Paulos suddenly have some outrageously talented players who don’t want to leave them. I cannot believe Neymar, Lucas Moura and Ganso are still playing in the Liga Do Brasil. They’ve been stealing headlines for a couple of years now. Suddenly, the world is taking interest in the Brazilian league again. I’m sure there will be some capital investment which helps the teams pay their players better and keep them home. Mano Menezes is a daft coach, for he consistently ignores someone of Ramires’ calibre, but he has some brilliant players to pick from. Sure, Brazil were poor in the Copa America 2011 and their recent friendlies against Mexico and Argentina, but there were moments which were of tremendous promise. This side looks to play with flair and passion. For a very simple reason, honestly. They’ve grown up playing that way. It comes naturally to the current crop of players. The Neymars and the Mouras don’t shy away from that extra step-over which will make a few thousand fans in the stadium rise up to their feet. I agree that right now, this side is a long way away from being a serious contender for the World Cup, but then, two years is a long time in football. From what I’ve seen, this team is capable of making some serious damage to defenses worldwide. Just some tough polishing is needed, and they’re good to go. And I haven’t even started talking about home support.

If you’re a Brazil fan, chin up. Things look good. Come 2014, I’m sure the Samba shall return. The players have grown up playing together and with flair, and in two years’ time, the perfect execution can be a fair expectation.