Brazil 2014 has captivated and delighted as stars twinkle brightly
Hankering after the old days and holding them up to the light as a shining example is based on a selective memory in most cases
Argentina’s Lionel Messi scores on a free kick during the 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match against Nigeria. Photograph: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini
It’s been a great World Cup so far, full of goals, excitement and top players actually living up to their billing. And it could get even better in the knock-out part.
So round about now the reaction should kick in: because with the inevitably of a doomy electron tailing a peppy proton, there has to be a contrarian kickback against this feel-good consensus.
It’s almost an auto-alignment thing, like tyres out of whack; and, by and large, good. After all there’s nothing to get acid corroding the intestinal wall quite like relentless “paaasitivity”. But that’s to tailor the media version of this trace-kicking impulse in a coat of sparkly jargon. In this game there is a sequential chain more predictable than anything Newton might have imagined.
Just as inevitable as the immediate outrage at Luis Suárez sinking his Freddie Mercury’s into an Italian shoulder has been the subsequent counter-argument about hypocrisy and Luis’s supposed psychological complexity, all of which is presented as commendable attempts at balance, but can actually be a consequence of little more than a mundane editorial requirement to say something different.
Exciting but ordinaryThus Suárez as disgrace has been followed by Suárez as misunderstood, crucified and by the end of the tournament there’s a chance of Suárez having been assumed. It’s a narrative thread so formulaic it makes Fair City look like Fargo. And it comes in a one-size-fits-all versatility for all topics, never mind something as malleable as football.
So no surprise then that there have already been contrarian rumblings about how most of us are watching the World Cup with a hopelessly straightforward two-eyed enjoyment and so lacking the mysterious third-eye insight required to recognise how in fact it’s all very ordinary.
Exciting, but ordinary: plenty of organisation and effort and energy, but a noticeable deficit of technical quality: and for those kept awake at night by such things, the early departures of Spain, Italy and even England signals something of a crisis in the overall shape of the world game.
There’s also been moaning about this World Cup lacking the excitement of new stars emerging from nowhere, or the exotica of something different, which in the hands of a fluent trace-kicker can sound persuasive but is really little more than an exercise in nostalgia and an example of how time can make even the rosiest of spectacles go an even deeper shade of magenta.
The World Cup did used to bring novelty in terms of players, and styles, and football culture, precisely because every four years really did bring something new. It was like football’s Gypsy Rose Lee, flashing a rare glimpse of South American samba or Mediterranean moodiness. Gypsy knew better than anyone that what excites is the suggestion of what you can’t see.
But the digital age has dispensed with suggestion in favour of overwhelming in-your-face exposure. If there’s a 10- year-old kid in Madagascar, Manchester or Manaus able to manage a couple of hundred keepy-uppys in-a-row, then there’s an agent somewhere prepared to hawk the video to a club. The days of an uncovered gem out of nowhere securing a dream move from the Bario to Barcelona are long gone.