Next time for Africa

Published: August 6, 2010 - 14:39 Updated: August 6, 2010 - 14:47

African footballers are jazz musicians, they play by ear. They don't need a written score, just the array of chord progressions and scale they are born with
Hartman De Souza Pune

While Spain gets down to kicking its feet in the air, and just as in the days of Generalissimo Franco, gleefully using football to prove to an unhappy middle class that all is well with the world, those who continue seeing it without vuvuzelas and bullshit may need to get down to the serious business of figuring out why they're crying into their glasses. 

To aficionados doing the needful in a quiet village bar in Benaulim (Goa) - or a noisy dive in Malappuram (Kerala), or a similar den in Santoshpur (Kolkata) - it is grievous that 96 hours played in South Africa may see $12.4 billion injected into the South African economy, 4,15,000 jobs created, and 3,00,000 visitors expected, but barely manage six hours (if not less) of proof that football can actually be beautiful. 

That just four delicate but deft touches of a ball between two players in the same team, smiles on their faces anticipating the joy of bulging a net, can slice through a supposedly impregnable defensive wall of four or five burly full backs banded together like the fingers of a bright plastic glove, as easily as a hot knife cutting through butter; and there's not a single shirt-tug, elbow in the face, kick on the ankle or stamp on the instep standing in the way of the sheer bliss of the moment. 

Those that genuinely love the game as just a game know beyond doubt that individual and team philosophy, style, flair and flamboyance need not cave in to the cold-blooded pragmatism that makes winning more important than 'playing'.  There are many, not just old football drunks, who will willingly attest to the intrinsic beauty and joy of the game even though this won't stop their tears.

Pretty young anchors wearing flower-embossed frocks and outfits that even Auntie Mary would not wear to Sunday morning Mass at Varca can join the entire bevy of pundits on our insipid, hysteric TV channels to wax eloquent on the beauty of the game, but when push comes to shove, old football lovers know this is just that magic word 'marketing' coming back to haunt them. 

They know that these are people paid to love the game and make it sexy, and get those watching (or buying) to do the same. The older truth is that beyond the predictable vagaries of South Africa 2010 lies the aesthetically-bereft English Premier League 2010-11, ready to be hocked to a gullible public, with every industry with something to sell, from toothpaste to whitening cream to motorcycle, primed to book mid-week and weekend slots. 

Through all this to be then told that such a business creates happiness, wealth, contentment and will even improve the quality of this beautiful game, is enough to drive even Auntie Mary in Varca to drink. 

In 1970, universally accepted as the World Cup ever thanks to an effervescent Brazilian team, those old enough to know may have been found in vaddos in Goa, or padas in Kolkata, huddled around a three-band Sony transistor with a copper-wire aerial climbing into a chikoo tree in the wee hours of the morning. They would be tweaking the knob and hoping to catch the BBC World Service commentary and facing heartbreaking static, and then, catching a station broadcasting a crucial match in Arabic. 

But who cared when the names of the players on both sides were common? Who needed a specific language to know that the match was tight and that the English were well-drilled, or, that one's imagination need not be determined by reality? 

Guttural sounds can turn gentle, as in recording the move that began with Tostao, the famed Brazilian 'white pearl', that had the 'black pearl' Pele ahead running off the ball and creating confusion in the English defensive line, and the tall, lithe Carlos Alberto lurking ominously, ready to leave his back line and surge ahead. 

Except for those in West Asia with their ears to the set, who is to know that Arabic stops being Arabic and turns into the incoherent but universal sound of anyone urging the ball into goal when Pele receives the ball, makes a feint here, a feint there, and as cool as you like, with a quick pivot and a single touch, puts the through ball to Jairzinho, who, galloping like a horse, cuts in from the right flank, arms poised like a matador in flight, and hammers the ball along the ground, into the corner of the net, past the brilliant Gordon Banks in the English goal. 

Miracle of miracles, the word for 'goal' in Arabic is the same, worldwide!

Between 1982 and 1986, spared the ruthlessness of private channels, the first World Cup televised may have been watched on a small black and white TV with a blurred screen that needed a hit at the back before it behaved, people bunched around the set, listening to anchors who followed the diktats of All India Radio for pronunciation and the ability to end consonants with a sibilant but cultivated hiss. Who actually wept when Italy squeaked past possibly the most brilliant Brazilian team ever, marshaled by the majestic and scholarly Socrates; or how, when the telecast changed to colour in India, and France with Platini, Giresse and Tigana did the same again to an equally scintillating Brazilian team. 

Since the World Cup of 1990, coinciding with the decade that would herald 'globalisation' and the supposed demise of ideology, football, thanks to emergence of a worldwide 'entertainment' industry, has been more about the sport as a study in political economy and far less the subject of sociology and culture. 

(Those interested in fresh Indian takes on this post South Africa 2010, are advised to read Dr Sudhirendar Sharma,, and Dr Ash Narain Roy,

To come back to football as a beautiful and simple game, there is pressing need to demystify thinking around it and reclaim the inherent subversion of football strategies from 'telestrator' - using men whose ridiculous speculations rob the game of its philosophy of the here and now.  

Right through the 1950s, football was governed by the British 'system', one fully in keeping with the colonial mindset driving the nation - five forwards, three halves, two backs and the goalkeeper. If one sees the goalkeeper and backs as the cannon, the halves as smaller artillery and tanks, and the forwards as infantry, this was football played as 'war'. 

The first successful 'revolution' in the game was Brazilian and it is no surprise that commentators of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden dubbed the four forwards, two halves, and four backs formation the 'Samba' way. Enlightened commentators of the game have constantly stressed the analogies between football at its best, and jazz or dance. Brazil brought this to the fore with the flexibility of actually dismantling the idea of rigid placement. The game was a stage and one played on it. 

In 1962, one saw the coming demise of this style, with Brazil going to Chile with a talented and gifted team but leaving their music behind. In 1966, Latin America in decline, morale hurt by dictatorship after dictatorship propped up by western economic imperatives, the Samba was put to death and Pele left to weep, blanket draped over his shoulders, as the Portuguese brutally hacked him out of the game. 
In 1966, the English refined their militaristic approach to the game, bringing in three half backs and three forwards, another war-like template they foolishly continue with, and fittingly played the Germans, who were traditionally schooled on the same lines. 

In 1970, we saw the second 'revolution', the seeds of which continue to grow, the second coming of the Samba and an attitude to the game that translated simply into the maxim that if the other side scored against you, then one just had to score one more goal against them. It is this quality of openness that makes football beautiful. 

To save the game, a revolution in style and a reiteration of flair is long overdue. In 1990, when the Cameroons with Roger Milla, Oman Biyick, Emil M'Bouh M'Bouh and the rest of a great jazz band, ran rings around a very good Argentine team and almost dismantled England if, as television replays will now show, Gary Linekar hadn't dived twice and got those two penalties. It was as if Africa had come to Italy exultant that they could break the rules yet again. 

Since 1990, African teams have not been out of the picture that demands a new celebration of the game's style. This is largely due to their somewhat colonised take that they need a European coach to bring discipline, system and strategy, because that's not where their strength lies. African footballers are jazz musicians, they play by ear. They don't need a written score, just the array of chord progressions and scale they are born with. 

So do the drunks in the bars stay with their tears and brimming glasses? Certainly not! 

The seeds for this revolution have been well and truly planted in South Africa and came from two totally diverse styles, such that had the two teams met in the final, both winner and loser would have won the game for football's sake, and endorsed the camaraderie that imbues the game. Asamoah Gyan and teammate Ayew have given interviews saying the Ghanaians had 'fun' playing, and making parallels with the time they spent singing and dancing. The young Thomas Mueller, long before the silly controversy of the German team being 'gay', had already, after decimating the English, spoken about the English team being too 'uber male'. 

If one thinks about it, both approaches, through attitude, are non-macho, and grounded in an enjoyment of the game that goes beyond winning and losing. 

Had Germany met Ghana in the final, the Germans winning 3-2 against the Spanish, and Ghana beating the Dutch 2-1, the world would have seen something truly beautiful, a game with few yellow cards, players smiling and helping each other up, quick parries between mid-fields and thrusts towards goal that were balletic in their precision. We would have had goals, heartbreaks and maybe even penalties if God had chosen to leave with the Brazilians, but we would have all discovered the joy that football demands and which both the Germans and Ghanaians seemed to have in plenty.  

Perhaps the last truth between glass and lip may be that the denizens of a village bar reject the dichotomy that comes with having players on one side and 'spectators' on the other. In junking this cold, impartial term, they add to the list that of 'audience', 'eyewitnesses', and a host of other synonyms, preferring to use the holistic 'participants' instead and harking back to the immediacy and intimacy of the game as it is played in more spontaneous spaces - a pavement with a stuffed ball, a concrete school yard with a small rubber ball, a village park, even in a field after the rice has been harvested and the goal posts are just bamboo poles with rope tied across.

African footballers are jazz musicians, they play by ear. They don’t need a written score, just the array of chord progressions and scale they are born with
Hartman De Souza Pune

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