“You could be in the far corner and I’m plying up front on the halfway line – I’m sprinting all the way back and I am swiping your legs, 100%.”- Michaill Antonio.
Reactions trailed, as former Everton star, Richarlison was blasted by Jamie Carragher for showboating during Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Nottingham forest in August. The Brazilian was hacked to the ground by Forest’s Brennan Johnson, as he juggled the ball while the minutes ran down at the City ground. Johnson earned a yellow card for the challenge, but Carragher, who was on-commentary duty, took an exception as he criticised the Brazilian’s antics.
While the incident has drawn a fair share of controversial takes from past and present football players, pundits and fans inclusive, there seems to be a clear trend of subduing the little-remaining entertainment aspect of football.
Atleti star, Koke when quizzed about Vinicius Jnr’s dances ahead of the last Madrid derby, warned there’d be trouble should the Brazilian score, and celebrate in front of the Wanda Metropolitano fans – “There would be trouble, for sure,” he said.
Is there a hidden agenda to make football devoid of entertainment?
Putting up respectable numbers on the board is just one part of the beautiful game, the other which cannot be statistically quantified is the entertainment value. And to many, South Americans especially, entertainment is what makes the game whole, memorable and exciting for onlookers – the flair.
Flair is an inherent football ability to play the game in an elegant and stylish manner. The step-overs, feints, turns, chips, flicks, roulettes, rabona, panenka, and others, made certain football players stand out from the crowd and win over fans in the last generations. There seems to be zero or little tolerance for excessive trickery amongst the current generation of football administrators, managers and fans.
Flair as an art is on the decline, as the few naturally skillful players in this crop are forced to apply a little of their skillset in a game. Expectations have changed as the game evolved. New generation coaches prefer a more tactical approach to games, the hype around players with flair has reduced (with an exception to those who still produce good numbers), they are no longer protected by the referees, can be booked or booed by fans for being over dramatic.
Of course, there is a fine line between a dribbling trick and showboating. One is necessary to get past a player, the other, excessive in a bid to massage ego and disrespectful to the opposition player and fans.
In the 2015 Copa del rey final against Athletic Bilbao, with the score 3-1 and in the 88th minute, Neymar Pulled off an Audacious rainbow flick which infuriated Bilbao players and led to a confrontation. He was booked, and wasn’t spared even by his then manager, Luis Enrique who insisted he would have reacted the same, or worse if he was a Bilbao player. Then Bilbao manager, Ernesto Valverde, who later went on to coach the Catalan giants didn’t fail to give some stick.
“When the game is won, we are very well aware to maintain certain respect for the opponent. There are things that he will learn with time.”
Perhaps he hasn’t learnt with time, as he showed support to Richarlison following criticisms by Carragher at the Forest game. Richarlison hit back in a typical social media style, replying – “Cry more,” with two laughing emojis. He was backed by Neymar who added two more laughing emojis in response.
Players like our dear Jay-Jay Okocha would have had an unbearable career if he played today. He scored just 14 goals in over 120 premier league games, but he’s one of the best entertainers to ever grace the premier league. Who cares about entertainers in this age, when you don’t score or assist? Jack Grealish hasn’t had a good start to life at City following his big money move from Villa. His flair is seen as a waste when it can’t directly influence games.
The business aspect of modern football demands efficiency in delivery, but let’s shun the fun police, and enjoy the beautiful game as it should. Perhaps, in a way that it doesn’t make foolery of an opponent.