1. The vanishing spray works
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a Premier League match and complained about the referee’s inability to keep the wall back the required 10 yards. It’s a chronic problem and almost endemic to the English game at this point. Every match you will see players jostle, cajole, and creep forward once they do settle. Sometimes it’s so bad and the referee is so weak that he will march off 10 steps and then just allow the wall to set up 2 yards in front of him. By the time the kick is taken, the wall is sometimes 6-7 yards back.
But with the vanishing spray, the referee draws a line in the grass and the players can’t really encroach beyond that line. It’s brilliant and has worked in almost every case.
The one time it didn’t work well was when Holland were defending free kicks. They would constantly send a man to charge the ball down before the kick. Major League Soccer has been using the Vanishing spray for two years and it has worked wonders.
An odd side-story about the spray. The spray was invented by Heine Allemange, a poor Brazilian who gave up his family life in order to make this dream come true. He owns the patent for the mixture of butane and vegetable oil that makes the spray disappear. He joined forces with an Argentinian entrepreneur named Pablo Silva and formed a company called 9.15 Fair Play.
If you know anything about Latin American football politics then you know that Brazil and Argentina hate each other. The fact that the two countries joined forces to make Vanishing Spray has to be the feel good story of the World Cup.
Here’s hoping that the old farts who run the FA find a moment of clarity in their dark lives and approve the use of vanishing spray in the Premier League.
2. Technology has a place in football
Did you know that the average amount of time it takes to settle the wall and take a free kick is 48 seconds? And did you know that Vanishing Spray has decreased the amount of time between placement and free kick to just 20 seconds?
I say that mostly for the people who believe that technology will “slow the game down.” It won’t. Technology will speed the game up.
Another example is the goal line technology. There is no longer a need for referees to have a confab on the sideline whenever there’s a question about whether a goal should be awarded or not. With the new goal line technology, the referee is simply signaled on a watch-like device if there is a goal.
This is a major reversal from FIFA who, prior to world cup 2010, announced
The International Football Association Board is of the opinion that football will remain, for the time being, a game for human beings with errors on the field of play. We will try to improve referees but you will never erase errors completely.
I’m sure Bleater will say that the technology improved to the point where it made sense to implement it here in this World Cup. Maybe that is the case. I don’t really care. I really care that FIFA approved a technology that simply works and their old argument that “football should be the same no matter what level it’s played” has gasped its last fetid breath and expired.
3. Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world
Sorry, Timmy! Sorry other guys. But Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper the world has ever seen. The amount of space he had to patrol in the German defense was mind boggling. He was exactly the kind of keeper that Arsene Wenger wanted Szczesny to be a few years back when we were playing our high-line offense. Szczesny did his best but never approached Neuer-like abilities. I’m pretty sure Neuer is a Teutonic god.
4. Germany understands football in a way that no other country seems to get
The German team landed in Brazil and immediately went to a purpose-built compound. The purpose of the compound was to build teamwork and judging by the way that the team earned their World Cup trophy, it worked a charm.
It wasn’t all sunshine and puppies, there were a few bumps on the road. I wrote about how Özil had been frozen out of a few games early in the tournament but Joachim Löw persisted with Özil in the lineup, to the detriment of Götze.
Watching the whole tournament it looked like Götze hated Özil. Perhaps that is a bit harsh, but there was clearly a problem playing the two of them together. And Löw dropped Götze instead of Özil. However, the young Bayern man got the last laugh and after a late substitution scored the game winning goal and probably goal of the tournament. It was a lovely goal as well.
But that whole team played as a team. Every player was played out of their natural position at some point in that tournament. Özil was shunted off to the left wing and still led Germany in Key Passes. Schweinstiger started his career as a number 7 and wore the 7 for Germany but he played defensive mid when Khedira, normally a defensive mid, came on to play box-to-box. Müller isn’t a center forward but he was simply amazing up front. Lahm played in three different roles as far as I could tell. Mertesacker was dropped when the team wanted to play a high line against speedy opposition, and then reintroduced at the end of the final in order to head balls away (which he did!).
It seemed to me like every single player sacrificed something for the betterment of the team. You have to credit Löw for that. He played this tournament and this collection of egos and talent about as perfectly as could be played.
5. Brazil need to rebuild
Brazil was a disaster. They were shockingly bad. If the Germans were organized and sacrificing everything for the team, the Brazilians were disorganized and selfish. They were the perfect foil for each other.
David Luiz was absolutely insane for the entire tournament. He would go wildly forward to charge down a man in midfield, bound forward to join the attack, and abandon his duties as a center back at almost every opportunity. He was also dirty, filthy dirty, running around kicking people and elbow smashing people at every opportunity.
The perfect illustration of this was his first 10 minutes against Netherlands in the 3rd place game. He kicked three people and intentionally elbowed Robben in the chest at one point. And while Silva gets the blame for fouling Robben which gave away the penalty (which shouldn’t have been a penalty but also shouldn’t have been just a yellow card) it was actually David Luiz who made that play happen. See, he came running out to challenge (read “foul”) Robben in midfield for an aerial ball. Consumed with playing the man and not the ball, Luiz lost the header and Robben smartly turned and joined the attack. Luiz then turned and jogged back as Silva was forced to foul Robben to prevent the goal.
Brazil reminded me of Arsenal about two years ago where we were disorganized and often wild in defense. Arsenal would routinely send both fullbacks forward and when we weren’t doing that then Vermaelen would come charging out of defense and try something crazy. When that happens, you get huge defeats. I’m not suggesting that Arsenal are perfect or that we’ve somehow overcome that problem, we still get beaten on occasion when we lose concentration and discipline at the back.
I wonder if there is an emotional component to this. For Brazil there is no doubt that their emotions got the best of them. Against Germany they were nearly in tears when they sang the national anthem, holding up Neymar’s shirt.
Football demands discipline and punishes rashness. Defenders should stand their man up and stay calm, rather than diving in to try to win the ball back. Forwards need to have composure on the ball in order to score. So on. If you make a rash decision in this day and age, these players, who are blindingly quick and technically almost perfect, will eat you alive.
That lack of discipline and tendency toward rashness seems to me to be the reason why we are getting such big scorelines all over the world in world football.
6. Özil needs to learn how to be more ruthless
I love Mesut Özil and I am not intending this as someone who is joining the Özil bashing party happening over in England right now. I do not believe Özil is “nicking a living” nor that he’s overrated. I want to be very clear: as he stands, Mesut Özil is a fantastic footballer and worth every penny he’s paid. He has a silky touch and a vision of the game that almost no one in world football has at the moment. Even the dour Mourniho, known hater of beauty, had nothing but praise for Özil:
Ozil is unique, there is no copy of him – not even a bad one. He is the best number 10 in the world. He makes things very easy for me and for his team-mates with his football vision and the decisions he makes. Everyone loves him and sees a bit of Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane in him.
That said, I think we can make observations about players that doesn’t tear them down but instead builds them up. No player is perfect, not even Messi. The mark of a great player is that they work on their weaknesses and the one thing I’d like to see Özil work on is his ruthlessness. He’s too ruthful. Put through one-v-one with the keeper he lacks that sort of killer instinct that Zidane had. He lacks that thing inside Figo that made him take over games and try audacious stunts.
Now, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: perhaps that’s our fault. By which I mean our expectations might be for Özil to be something that he just isn’t and never will be. Perhaps we want him to be more like Bergkamp and maybe we just need to accept him as the silky smooth operator in midfield rather than the hardened killer that we wish he was. Perhaps Özil will always be the guy who can and will win you games by simply laying on the right pass but who will never take over a game with an audacious strike from distance.
But maybe, just maybe, Wenger can and will encourage him to come out of his shell a bit. To not be afraid to try something crazy and to be ruthless in front of goal. If Özil elevates his game that way, well, then £40m would have been a bargain.