Sunday, April 30, 2006

All That Matters

This is nothing new, but it's something that's been on my mind afresh since Arsenal's victory over Villarreal this week. Lots of people agreed that Villarreal played the better game, but everyone more or less said the same thing, which was that, in the end, all that matters is which team won.

Back during the 2002 World Cup, Bruce Arena defended the US team with a remark to the effect of (and I am thoroughly paraphrasing from memory here): it doesn't matter if we play ugly soccer; all that matters is that we win.

Really? Really? I honestly don't believe that I am the only person left on the planet who would be less than perfectly satisfied if every football match ever played was ugly, defensive, brutish, conservative, uncreative, and boring so long as one's team produced results. Obviously, I am taking this to its absurd extreme--but so do some managers and some teams.

I am wary of the kind of thinking in any situation that insists that "good enough" is as good as something ever needs to be. Winning isn't everything . . . and it isn't the only thing. On the other hand, matches must be won, money must be made, managers and players must show some success and no fan wants to endure a harrowing season like Sunderland's or a slaughter like the 5-0 defeat of the Timbers last season--but when results are that poor there's little competence (let alone beauty) on the pitch; it's not as though those are examples in which we were dazzled all the way to the abysmal end. There needs to be a balance. I'm not quite sure what that balance is or where to find it, but I know what I want to see: attacking football, creativity and joy, flair, romance, personality, derring-do, risktaking. People say: You must be realistic, after all. But isn't that what we have occupations like, say, tax accountant and actuary for?

It's not beauty, per se, that I expect all the time and from every team (the USL, after all, is rarely beautiful). But I don't like the sentiment that getting the job done trumps all. There are plenty of sports in which that is sufficient. If it can't always be the beautiful game, I still want it to be a game worth watching.

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