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FLAGS OF CONVENIENCE
By Phil Thornton
As an internationalist (OK that's the polite way of saying Trotskyite), I hate all displays of nationalism, whether that's English, Irish, American, Russian or South African. I hate flags and national anthems and I hate international sports events. The Olympics? Never watch it. The World Cup? OK, I admit, I watch the world cup but only with a bemused sense of detachment. Now that SA2010 is finally over, we can finally see FIFA's tawdry charade for what it is. As a symbolic gesture awarding the world cup finals to South Africa felt the right thing to do, a reward for Mandela for not allowing the ANC to seek vengeance on the murderers and torturers of the old apartheid regime. Truth and Reconciliation is a bit of a one way street but hey, Sun City was along time ago and old Nelson's forgiven his jailers so let's draw a line in the sand eh? The political message was clear; Africa as a continent may still be trying to recover from a thousand years of exploitation but they've got some boss footballers these days. That's a new resource to be mined as players from the dark continent fill up the squads of most leading club sides (those that haven't been 'naturalised' that is).
The World Cup likes to pretend it's the 'ultimate' arena for the 'best in the world' to showcase their talents. Yet what we end up with is a slanted system that allows global minnows from around the world to compete against the usual European and South America super-powers. These super powers are themselves comprised of a handful of truly gifted players and a large number of mediocrities and journeymen. Take England for example. Which players would get into any leading club team (and that means the 15 or so English, Italian, Spanish and German clubs who dominate the Champions League)? Rooney. Lampard. Gerrard. Maybe Terry. All of them had a terrible world cup not because they're not talented players who just failed to perform 'at the highest standard' but because they are surrounded by incompetents. Even the best squads have their fair share of clueless whoppers and yet the media attempt to convince the watching billions that they are being treated to the greatest show on earth. Any player who is not playing regularly in the Champions league cannot be 'world class.' The best South Americans, Europeans, Africans, Asians, Meerkats and muggles go to the teams who pay the most money and in the end that economic imperative to preserve their 'assets' will eventually outweigh any bogus notion of patriotism.
The World Cup has always been a glorified shop window for players and managers to showcase their talents. The FIFA big wigs have a vested interest in keeping up the pretence of the world cup as the ultimate footballing spectacle but sooner or later when the likes of Inter, Man United, Barca or Hamburg decide that risking a 60 million Euro investment in a friendly or even a full international game is a no go, they will have to reconsider the whole shape and set up of the game. It's already happening ofcourse. Once Newcastle began to issue threats of insurance claims on Michael Owen's England related injury, the writing was on the wall. Alex Ferguson has also persistently upset various England managers by withdrawing players through 'injury' which is his right as the man responsible for selecting his team and ultimately paying their wages. Players themselves have also ruled themselves out to a typically bigoted media reaction. Roy Keane famously 'walked out' on Ireland then walked back in again once Mick Mccarthy was out of the way. Often it's players who have personal beefs with the managers or players at the end of the career such as Paul Scholes or Jamie 'I've reconsidered' Carragher who decide the jib the national team. After this world cup it'd be refreshing to see one of the younger 'star' players like Rooney or Ronaldo decide to 'concentrate on their club' the Reals and Uniteds who allow them play at the highest level every season and who pay them very handsomely for the 'honour' of putting on their team shirts. It's through club football that stars are really nurtured and developed. Rooney is still a star performer and can attract millions in sponsorship deals whether or not he had a shite world cup.
In the end the World Cup was a let down as it almost always is due to the poor qaulity of football on offer. All world cups are dull but this one was duller than usual. Usually its the temperature or the timing that gets blamed for 'jaded, exhausted players' when infact what's really to blame is the often abysmal standard of football being played. I wanted Spain to win for two reasons; one- their style of football demonstrates the triumph of art over practicality and two; none of the squad sang their national anthem. Not once. They will retrurn to Spain as heroes and as politicians and powerful people do, the most will be made of their victory in an attempt to cover up the various regional, ethnic and political differences that all nations struggle with for a brief moment of 'national unity.' The same futile soul searching will take place in England, in France and Italy as the respective media of each country look for easy scapegoats. The problem however is the same; the best English French and Italian players are surrounded by the best South Americans the best Africans, the best Asians. the best meerkats and muggles when they play for their club sides. That is why they shine.
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