germany won the world cup but did football lose?
Opening night - football being played in its spiritual home of Brazil. On the pitch, a cracking game lined up between two top sides. Outside, protesters occupied the streets protesting the country's extreme lack of spending on its country's welfare. Already the dichotomy of the 2014 World Cup was developing.
The hosts are shocked by an early goal from Croatia - who in truth deserved it after an impressive start, even if it did come from an own goal. Before half time Brazil level it to set up an exciting second half.
Brazil stay on top, but Croatia were handling them well - neither team looked liked winning. And then the first controversial event on the pitch. Dejan Lovren of Croatia puts a hand on the shoulder of Brazilian forward Fred. No doubt about it, he makes contact. Next thing we know, Fred theatrically falls to the floor - in the penalty box. The referee points to the spot and Croatia fall foul of the football gods. Brazilian wonder kid Neymar duly puts the ball into the back of the net and sets Brazil on course for their first victory. Fred thanks the football gods with a salute to the sky. Brazil win 3-1.
And so the spectacle began - we saw the best and worst sides of football. There were sensational games with the underdogs doing well throughout, we saw the Dutch 5-1 demolition of Spain, minnows Costa Rica upstaged football superpowers one after the other and most games featured goals galore - with attacking football triumphing over negative football (sorry Mourinho, no parking of the team bus - this World Cup was about free flowing football).
I can't imagine my childhood without football. Some of my fondest memories are of days down the park kicking a ball around. In the morning I'd be lining up with my best friends pulling on the yellow jersey of my local side, in the afternoon I'd be down the Vetch Field with my dad watching my hometown team Swansea City. Then at night I'd settle down to watch Match of the Day - dreaming of Swansea one day featuring in the Premier League.
To understand the importance of football to many people's lives is to understand the importance of community and passion. The best side of football is bringing people together from different backgrounds and nationalities - uniting them in a love for something bigger than themselves. I recently met a young Polish man in Berlin - our first topic of conversation? What football team do you support? Instant connection!
All over the world football provides a way out of poverty for talented players and a diversion for working class people to get through their day. In many nations it's part of the national psyche.
I'm not naive enough to think that football has ever been perfect. In the 80s - the decade of my birth - there was the scourge of 'football hooliganism', levels of violence that scared families away from attending games. In the 60s and 70s English football was dominated by teams who had more desire to kick lumps out of each other than to pass the ball and play football. But until the last 20 years football was honest. It was decent. It didn't pretend.
Fast forward to 2014 and football is completely dominated by money. My dream came true - my hometown team of Swansea City plays in the Premier League and does very well. I'm especially proud that my team is one of the only financially well run teams in the UK; no mountains of debt, no oligarch owners, no extortionate wage bill - it even manages to make a profit! That's a rarity in the modern game.
Something else that dominates football now is dishonesty. Indeed dishonesty is cultivated and rewarded.
For an obvious example we only have to look at the France vs Honduras match. France were electric from the beginning, playing crisp, beautiful, fast football. Honduras were committed, perhaps a little too committed.
Paul Pogba, the young French captain, is on the ground, the Honduran captain Wilson Palacios standing above him. For reasons we'll never know or understand, Palacios stands on Pogba's leg, and then stamps on it halfway up his shin. A potential leg breaker.
In instant, furious retaliation Pogba lashes out, catching Palacios with a petulant - but understandable - kick. Palacios throws himself to the ground, rolls around theatrically and is stretchered off the pitch. Predictably, when he reaches the sidelines he jumps back onto his feet and runs back on the pitch.
Palacios' sideshow was enough to evade a red card for his horrendous offence moments before. The play-acting worked.
A day later Germany played Portugal. Muller is running with the ball and the Portuguese player Pepe catches him in the face with a flailing arm, but not enough to justify Muller's exaggerated reaction, flying through the air as if shot by a submerged sniper and rolling on the ground 'nursing' his face. Pepe presumably not impressed with this display of theatrics walks over and head butts Muller who is still on the ground.
In the studio at halftime, Pundit and French legend Patrick Viera attempted to justify the player's behavior by saying 'this is football.' No Patrick. This is not football. This is not the beautiful game. This is ugly and repulsive. And it's not OK to justify and accept this.
We have had players protesting the referee's decisions with disrespectful and bullying behavior - like the Croatian players in the opening match protesting the penalty awarded Brazil and the Portuguese players in their match with Germany protesting that a penalty was not awarded to them. The replays show the ref in the moment probably got it wrong, but match officials being verbally abused and feeling threatened by players is not part of the game.
What kind of role models are today's players? I can understand the frustration and have done plenty of shouting "PENALTY" at the TV when it's my team playing, but that's life. That's football. Controversial talking points are part of what keeps us hooked.
More importantly, why doesn't international football's governing body FIFA punish the players who carry out this despicable behaviour? They just need to look at rugby to see a sport that has got this right. In rugby only the captain is allowed to approach the ref. And you will never see him screaming or using aggressive language towards him. If he does - he's sent off. Plain and simple. In football any aggression shown towards the ref should be shown a red card. That would soon end it.
From the opening match and throughout the tournament, the examples of cheating, diving (The Netherlands' Robben even apologised for it once, but it didn't stop him repeating his theatrical antics in later games) and cynical behavior continued. (Witness Tim Krul's confrontational tactics in the penalty shootout against Costa Rica).
It wasn't all bad of course - we saw fantastic attacking flair shown by the South Americans (in contrast to the often cynical tactics employed by most European teams). And Germany were worthy winners. But for me, the bad has overshadowed the good in this World Cup. It's turned off potential fans from other sports and further disconnected the average person from football.
I haven't even discussed the deplorable decision to hand Qatar the 2022 world cup and the squalid living conditions of the workers building the stadiums, where people are dying every day. Or whether it's right for Brazil to spend £7 billion on hosting a World Cup when people in their country still don't have access to basic human necessities. Or that the corporate sponsors don't pay taxes to the host (£250 million this World Cup) and FIFA, supposedly a non-profit, and therefore non-tax paying, organisation have a spare£4 BILLION in their bank account. Or the endemic corruption and scandal that has gripped football - excellently summed up in this very funny video by John Oliver.
Want to know what's wrong with society right now? Look at football - it only reflects the world we live in. A world where bankers can legally bankrupt entire nations, where food companies can get away with the extreme abuse of animals and mislabeling of products, where pharmaceutical companies suppress research about drugs like Vioxx - research that would have prevented the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
Thankfully, people are finally fed up. We want change. And many are working on changing things for the better. Football can - and should - assume its role and responsibility in this, because have no doubt about it - football does influence us all.
Football right now is a prime example of ill health. A game that has suppressed its dark side. A game where egos rule and emotions are left unchecked and out of control. An important part of being healthy - and in my opinion the most important part of being emotionally healthy - starts with self-awareness. Being honest with ourselves is key to this. And with self-awareness brings opportunities to change things and to heal. It gives us a chance to look at ourselves and ask - are we being authentic and honest?
A healthy person is a balanced person. A healthy person treats others with respect, compassion and kindness. It's an important aspect of being healthy that's often ignored. By this definition, football is way out of balance.
A big influence on our health is our environment. An unhealthy environment will lead to an unhealthy individual. Football is contributing to an unhealthy environment. Humans need a kind, compassionate and fair society in order to thrive.
What we need now are leaders. Leaders who are brave enough to say this is not OK. Being and inspiring the change they wish to see. Football can be in the vanguard movement of this change or it can be the trailing ship, slowing down the fleet.
It's time for football to choose. And if it doesn't it may find itself left behind - a game from a bygone era where inflated egos and selfishness were tolerated.
As John Oliver ingeniously puts it, football fans like myself face a massive dilemma. I still love the game of football, but I deplore what is happening to it. The corruption. The cheating. The lack of humanity.
It's time we cleaned up the beautiful game.
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