Alistair Burt is MP for North East Bedfordshire and is a former Foreign Office Minister.
With the World Cup at a midway point between Group Stages and the Final, it is a good moment to take stock once again about what football tells us about life, and why it is almost everyone’s common language once they have torn themselves away from a decent ward function.
Who’s doing well in Brazil? Interestingly, two of the usual favourites are only having mediocre tournaments, that is Money and Cheating. Whilst lots of money in the form of talent is on display, pride and commitment are more obviously in evidence from some of those paid huge sums by their clubs but comparative peanuts by their countries. Money has reared its head in the controversy surrounding Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan banned from the tournament, and for the next four months from all football, for biting an Italian opponent.
The modern dilemma in the game, and possibly in other fields of high stakes is what to do and say if one’s star player is prone to this sort of thing, as Suarez appears to be. Should such behaviour lead to any decent team simply refusing to employ him, as both a bad example in the game and a liability? Or do teams and their supporters take anyone, no matter what the character, if a player is likely to lead them to on field glory, rich rewards and risk off field controversy? I confidently predict Suarez will be back on a first class football field immediately after the ban. What does this tell us about ourselves?
The most blatant cheating is alleged to have been Arjen Robben’s successful bid to obtain a penalty in Holland’s game against Mexico, but apart from that there has been very little of note. Whilst some might call it cheating to bite to intimidate, cheating implies something hidden and a bit subtle to obtain advantage. Suarez might have been more subtle if he had taken the field carrying a huge stick with nails in it, so we cannot claim it as serious cheating.
But two unlikely candidates are emerging as potential winners – Equality and Brilliance. It is the unfancied who have caught the eye, suggesting that the gap between football’s elite and the rest is perceptibly closing: shades of the BRICS phenomenon elsewhere, perhaps. There have been sensational performances from Mexico, Algeria, Switzerland and the USA. Costa Rica turned out not to be the whipping boys of ‘the group of death’ but actually won it. They and Greece gave an exhibition of penalty taking which should have shamed more notable teams and players. The USA’s performances have produced the biggest live streaming audience of a sporting event ever there, indicating a new generation there is becoming captivated.
A sad measure of soccer’s new equality is that England is not missed, and no one is commenting that the tournament is diminished by our absence.
But its Brilliance for me as the big winner from World Cup 2014. Unlike some recent tournaments which do not linger in the mind, this one has produced something to watch in virtually every game. There have been late goals, dramatic turnarounds, high tension penalty shootouts, heroic goalkeeping – of which the USA’s Tim Howard – was merely the latest and most breath-taking, and exceptional, memorable goals which most fans want to take home to live with them: Robin van Persie, Tim Cahill and James Rodriguez. Out of nowhere, this World Cup has claims to be so far the best ever.
It is this brilliant exposition of the simplest and best game in the world which will ensure that a billion of the world’s population are likely to catch part of the final live, and that a staggering proportion will know who has won within twenty four hours.
Catch what you can of the rest if you haven’t already. On a doorstep before May 2015 you are going to be asked what you think is the best goal, save or game from Brazil 2014. You are going to have no excuse for a wimpy ‘don’t know’!