Date: 18th November 2010 at 11:36am
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It can be great to watch a game of football as a neutral without much of an interest in one side winning over the other. I caught the Argentina-Brazil game yesterday simply because I`d hoped to be entertained. Brazil had lost Dunga who had somewhat stifled Brazil`s traditionally expansive game and there was the prospect of the new coach using the elaborate talent that nation has more positively. Argentina also has a new coach with Batista replacing Maradona following a disappointing World Cup for them given the array of talent they enjoy. The game was played in Qatar, some distance from the continent of either club. They had also played a game in the past at the Emirates. That`s the beauty of the game that these teams at their best play. Its appeal is global – the way you want to see the game played if you were more interested in the performance than the result. Watch your own side, whichever it is anywhere in the world, put in a particularly exhilarating performance and ‘it’s just like watching Brazil’ is as flattering a tribute as you could find. They can play a game against each other on another continent and expect people to turn out in their numbers to pay to witness the spectacle.

This game didn`t disappoint either. Two teams playing great one-two touch football, end to end with clever movement, great technique, little give and go`s, one-two`s in and around the box. They can tackle pretty often too but mostly while staying on their feet. Very little of the desperate lunging tackles we see so often in the PL. You might get your ankles or shins rapped, maybe your foot trodden on in these games but not with the force that might result in anything other than some temporary discomfort. Those concerned that football could become a non-contact sport should be made to watch a video of last night`s Argentina-Brazil game to see how untrue that need be while still clamping down on careless tackles.

There were enough Arsenal players set to perform for either side in the England-France game for me to watch that also, partially as a neutral though without quite the relaxed hope of being entertained as much as the earlier contest. Maybe because it mattered to me how the individual Arsenal contingent performed. All did well enough but Nasri and France provided the performance to appreciate.

Wenger`s philosophy has been to provide the entertainment that both neutrals and the committed can appreciate saying recently that ‘What I like is the idea of the guy who gets up on Saturday morning and spent 50 pounds to see a good game of football. If you get crap all season in the stadium and that your club wins a title, yes, yes, you have a day of great happiness. But you’re still bored all year.’

As a committed supporter though the beauty of the game is as much, if not more in the result than the performance. Winning, however it is achieved though is beautiful to the committed supporter. Even the 2005 FA Cup final had a beauty of it’s own – didn’t it?. George Graham`s title winning sides were supposedly dour and efficient but I didn`t see them that way at the time though I might not recall individual games or incidences quite as readily as I do some in the Wenger era. Graham`s titles were beautiful to me but not apparently to the neutral observer. Jorge Valdano`s notorious ‘shit-on-a-stick` analogy ruing the football on display in a CL encounter between Mourinho`s Chelsea and Benitez`s Liverpool sides of a few seasons back made much the same observation about committed support.

It shouldn`t matter as long as the committed supporter is getting what he wants but as football moves outside the narrower and purely parochial appeal of a club serving its neighbourhood the commercial reality is that it does. Broadcasting revenues are set to exceed matchday revenues at all the major European clubs and indeed does so already at some of the biggest clubs. But even matchday revenues depend significantly on the corporate hospitality market and its appeal to those international corporations. These revenues depend to a large extent on the appeal of the product being supplied.

Winning is attractive but the teams that can combine both do live longer in the memory. Brazil won trophies but are remembered for the way they won them as much as the fact they did while the Dutch sides of ‘total football` are still feted for their flair even though they didn`t win anything. But having a brilliantly entertaining team that doesn`t win anything is frustrating – not because it isn`t a brilliant team and watching them isn`t still wonderfully entertaining – but simply because that brilliance has to be rewarded to be accepted by others. As committed supporters we can feel we need that acceptance – the idea that superiority can never be complete without the validation of a trophy. Whereas a friendly between Argentina and Brazil, even with nothing at stake, can be played to a paying audience on an entirely different continent because they understand and appreciate the product they believe they are going to get.

That`s the problem with being a committed supporter it matters too much whether you win or lose and will all too often get in the way of truly enjoying yourself though the potential enjoyment levels are also magnified exponentially. The manager has to have the same level of commitment too and watching Arsene on the bench over the last few frustrating seasons you wonder how much enjoyment his job gives him at times. ‘I prefer to give pleasure and win the title. It is important that it happens to be remembered this Arsenal team. While we will not win, we will not have the recognition we deserve.’ he told L`Equipe recently.

I expect I`ll watch out for the next Brazil game, and probably the Argentineans plus the French on the basis of their first half performance last night. Brazil lost by the way though the result wasn`t really relevant as the performance was reward enough. I`m looking forward to the next Arsenal game too but I don`t care how well or how poorly we play as long we end up with the three points – this time, as it always does, it matters and I can only truly enjoy it when it`s over.

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