Modern day football. Now that is a word we hear a lot nowadays. Maybe because football is believed to have grown immensely from the past to the present. Football has grown from being a game where a single man could carry the burden of a whole team and achieve miraculous heights to a game where all 11 of the players playing together do whatever is needed to win the game. It sounds bland and bereft of reward, but that win is even more hard-fought today than before with the amount of quality in every single squad. But even then, why is there still something missing ? Being in an era dominated by Spanish Football, let’s concentrate a bit there. Guardiola’s FC Barcelona was the only team that was seemingly invincible in the recent times. And even they have deteriorated over the last season. Even the most loyal of Barcelona fans would feel that the quality of Pep’s squad is just not there in the present one. So what is it that has gone missing ?
The biggest title contenders in the 2011-2012 UEFA Champions League were Real Madrid and Barcelona. They both had the most star-studded squad of the era. They each had arguably, the best two players of the time ( Never mind who the best among the two is ; That is an argument I will never get into) . But it is widely agreed upon that these two are the two best in the world. But are they really as good as the past greats that have dribbled and tackled and scored on the green field that we all love?
Every Spanish El Classico today is not just a question of which spanish giant is the best, but more of a one-on-one contest between the before-mentioned two players. Just considering the match of 7th October 2012, each of them scored equally a brace of goals, all four of them exquisite finishes. But leaving that, the glaring misses from the players other than these two in either squads werethe reason for the stalemate. In a match were you play the best rival of your league, country and era,when you have possibly the best opportunity of your career and lifetime to be a hero, there was a seemingly dead lack of inspiration. All each of the teams wanted was to win, never mind the method. There was a visible lack of a true leader. One person who not just plays well, but makes each and every teammate want to put the best they have into the game just so that they can win the game for him. That person, who you truly love to play with and respect from your gut was just not in that 22 men on the field.
Andres Iniesta is one of the few players who is just impossible to be disliked by any. Player or spectator, rival or teammate, you just can’t hate him. That he is among the most consistent among the players today, not just for his club, but his national squad as well is just one the many reasons for that. He does what he’s best at, with minimum fuss, no hard feelings. He was awarded the European player of the year award recently. But even he is unable to be the inspiration of his squad. The only person who could do it for Barcelona was their captain, Carlos Puyol. He might be a defender, he might not score any goals, he might not have record statistics. But once he is wearing his boots and he is on that ground, he is an absolute monster. Not a striker who has played Barcelona will forget the snarling, ferocious spaniard. He is not technically or physically the best the game has ever seen. But yet, he is up there, among the greats. Just one simple reason, he gives everything he can when he plays. He jumps the highest his body can, he runs as fast as his legs can carry him. He never leaves his marker and he tackles the hardest. And when his team falls behind, he does whatever he can to inspire them. When your captain, who is a central defender, dribbles past the players with strength and speed like a charging bull, there is just no way you can stay uninspired. He, just like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho, Cantona, Shearer, Ronaldo, Riquelme and countless many before, is a true leader.
There aren’t many at present who fit in the same mould as Carles Puyol or the rest. There arent many players who can stand a head and shoulder above the rest , not literally, but on terms of commitment and mentality. Didier Drogba did it for Chelsea in the 2011-2012 season before deciding to move on. Ronaldinho did it for Barcelona in the 2005 season and still remains the only catalan player to have got a standing ovation from the Madridista at Santiago Bernabou. Once a person does that for his team, then it does not matter what he was before. He could have been the most inconsistent of the players, but it matters not. And that is why, coming back to the original suggestion, the greats of today in the game are not upto par. Andres Iniesta might have won the player of the year award, but the fact that he chose to dive down and try to win a free kick when he could have gone on and fought and made something of it just makes him a lesser player than he’s capable of being. Same is the case for Messi, Ronaldo and Co. They do not give all they have, they do not give all they can, and thats why they still have eons to go before they can command the same level of respect and devotion from not just their own fans, but the whole of footballing world. They have to start living in the game, enjoying playing football, fighting for it and keeping it. After all, football might be played using your legs, but it is won only with your heart !!