Teamwork and a chip on the shoulder: This World Cup proves you need both

This debate has been going on for a while. Why do these so called superstars, Ronaldinho, Sheva, Luca Toni, Lampard, Henry, and Roberto Ayala, all show up to play league matches but when it comes to the World Cup their performances are extremely deflating? Don’t get me wrong- they are all great players but their performances have been pretty mixed.
Granted the World Cup with it’s very limited time period distills the amount of time to precious little to prove talent and skill. The league games being 30-40 games is better at showcasing your talent but the limited margin of error that the World Cup provides separates the exceptional from the good players, Pele, Maradona, Beckenbauer, Platini, Muller, Cruyff, and Zidane.
It is true the exceptional player that rises to the occasion. These players have performed magnificently for not just the club but their countries too. Those days soccer players played well for their clubs so that they would attract the attention of the national selectors. These days given the gruelling league schedule over the year and the unreal amount of money involved with these superstar transfers and the subsequent expectations, in retrospect, the World Cup seems to have become a nice break for some. In fact, this World Cup has proven one thing, having superstars in your team is a burden.
The teams that have played and done well have played without relying on any of these superstars. In fact, the whole team has shown up to play.
Portugal did without Deco and Costinha against England, and during their matches showed that it really did not have to rely on Figo and Ronaldo to score goals. There was Simao Sabroso, Tiago, Maniche, and Miguel who took up the burden and defended solidly too. They have thrown up Ricardo as their hero. Who had heard of Ricardo before this World Cup?
Out of the 9 goals that Italy have scored, eight of them have come from different strikers. Luca Toni scored his first two goals in the quarterfinal. Italy has found a way to score goals without leaving it entirely to their frontline strikers.
The Germans are the hardest tackling team. Till the beginning of the quarterfinal round, the Germans had the most number of elite tacklers amongst the 8 survivors. There were 11 Germans with more than 9 tackles, and even Miroslav Klose had 10. The Germans totaled 150 tackles and the rest of the seven have about 500. Podolksi is much more effective when he combines with Klose as we saw in the Argentina match, when both went their separate ways.
France in the beginning relied exclusively on Thierry Henry for their attack and they made heavy weather getting out of the first round. But Henry’s burden was made lighter by the opportunism of Patrick Viera and the real find of the tournament, the little dynamo Franck Ribery, a speed machine and a ubiquitous presence everywhere on the field. Ribery, Viera, and Zidane have their names stamped on all the French goals whether scoring or in creating one. Zidane and his aging compatriots, retirees Thuram and Makelele, have provided a midfield that has played unselfishly. Willy Sagnol and Eric Abidal have been pillars in defence.
Another unifying theme in these four national squads is the enormous amounts of distraction and detraction that they have undergone at home and at the World Cup. The Italians have had to deal with the unfolding Serie scandal and possible players indictments with their clubs future in jeopardy along with the Pessotto tragedy. The Germans have had to endure widespread skepticism on the part of their public with their performance in this World Cup and the German establishments dismissal of Klinsmann as California Klinsi, the party boy surfer, who was considered a lightweight. Most expected them to fall apart in the second round. The French have gone through a similar situation, with Raymond Domemech, and his players selection and the choice of substitutes, criticized. His reliance on an aging team and an investigation into his acceptance of money from a cellphone company for an interview. Soccerblog did not believe in the French team altough it had argued that as a team it had unmatchable talent. Felipe Scolari had to fight with an interventionist Portugal soccer federation for his selections and succeeded, a federation notorious for cronyism in selecting the players for past World Cups. Scolari has given a toughness to each of his players that was so evident in the England match, in their tackling of Rooney, Crouch, and Cole. Miguel, Carvalho, Tiago, and Nuno Valente have more tackles than the entire English team.
With superstars in every team, the team that most understands that the total sum of the team effort is greater than the sum of their individual parts, has done best. And an intangible like a chip on the shoulder can be an additional motivating factor for teams to rally around and give their best. England would have been better off without Rooney and Beckham, it unfortunately took them an injury and a red card to find out, and not a stroke of coaching genius.

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2 comments on “Teamwork and a chip on the shoulder: This World Cup proves you need both
  1. While the larger point that you have made is well-taken and very pertinent and should be heeded by several teams, not least England and Brazil, your inclusion of Ayala in the category of players whose showing have been ‘extremely deflating’is completely unjustified.
    Ayala has been a rock in the Argentine defence in this competition. His positioning and the way he competed with tall centre forwards with his immaculately timed jumps was outstanding. With Heinze struggling to shake off the rust from his long lay-off, it was Ayala’s assurance which inspired Argentina to its heroics upfront in a tough first round.

  2. Saurabh
    Agree that he was quite the pillar in defence but on the moment that he was supposed to score with the PK, he choked. Inexcusable!

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