I’d like to put forth a very philosophical question that is almost Talmudic in the asking of it:
Is it right to criticize your team when it is winning?
I cheer for England. I cheer for Canada. I cheer for Liverpool. All three sides have taken myself and millions of others to the depths of despair… or at least, to the deep end of disappointment. But all three have been winning lately. So why am I seriously underwhelmed?
England pulled out the win on Tuesday and have almost booked their plane tickets to Poland/Ukraine. But Wales could have beaten the Three Lions, as they played with purpose and aggression and without fear. This was a different Dragons squad from six months ago, with Gary Speed giving the captain’s armband to 20-year-old Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey. Speed also had a fit Gareth Bale on the wing… and both players ran the hell out of the English backs all game. My mate wondered aloud what the Welsh could have done if only Craig Bellamy hadn’t been suspended, and I had to agree.
England got the win but it wasn’t pretty: it was boring. So I thought perhaps the country of my birth would play more exciting football than its colonial fathers.
How could I have been so naïve?
In fairness to the reader, I missed the first half. In fairness to me… I missed nothing. I turned on the match to see a Puerto Rican pitch that was in worse condition than the field at my under-funded elementary school. Neither team could complete a relay of more than three passes, even if their lives depended on it (which in some nations, it would. Colombia, I’m looking at you). Canada went on to win 3-0. But it still irks me that the Canucks have been forced to play tiny Caribbean nations in World Cup qualifiers while Third World backwaters like Honduras flourish internationally.
On the professional side, Liverpool has emerged from the financial ashes to spend over £100M pounds on fine young talent, most of it British. Yet only two players — Luis Suarez and Charlie Adam — have been real game changers. The club has no debt, they have a living legend as their manager, and the team has yet to lose a competitive match in this young season. They have even won two major trophies in the last six years. Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe… but a drunk and bitter Jiminy Cricket sits on my shoulder, nagging at me with doubt.
The reason for my skepticism comes down to the words of the great, er, scholar Dr. Phil who espouses this idiom: “The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.” All three sides have monumentally underwhelmed in the past. Why should the near-future be any different?
Volumes have been written about why England’s national side has not won a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup. Spoiled players. Too much pressure from the support and media. Too many club fixtures. Too many friendlies. Yesterday, the manager added mental fragility to the list.
Meanwhile, Canada’s problem is that the players are simply not good enough. Don’t get me wrong: they try. They try hard. But when you only have three players on the pitch who belong to top-flight clubs, the writing is on the wall.
It blows my mind that Canada is one of the richest nations in the world, yet it is still not competitive in one of the biggest sports in the world. I don’t buy the “ice hockey is everything” excuse. Sweden, the Czech Republic, Russia and the US are all hockey powers and have all managed to find ways to build successful national soccer sides. Sweden and Russia have thrown the “cold weather” excuse out the window as well. The Canadian Soccer Association has a lot to answer for.
As for Liverpool, the club is only now recovering from two decades of Rip Van Winkle-itis: not paying attention to the New Business of football until it was too late. The once-mighty club was too loyal to managers and players who did not perform, while failing to keep up with the Manchester Uniteds, Chelseas and Manchester Citehs until now. Over the last eight months, Liverpool has spent over £100M. Time will tell if it makes them a contender, or if it has bought more disappointment for their painfully loyal fans.
Perhaps I am being too persnickety, too willing to focus on the negatives in order to ease my mind when I am eventually let down. But I’d like to think that I am making educated assumptions as I watch these teams play, seeing repeated errors and thinking,”this could be trouble.”
Maybe it’s just to cover my arse so when my team(s) finally lose, I can say, “I told you so.” In the briefest of instances, I will have slid down the moral gradient from being “right” to just being “self-righteous”.
Because these days… isn’t that what being a football fan is all about?