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Winning means nothing, beauty is everything

History is written, or at the very least it is influenced heavily, by the winners. The Romans are remembered as Empire building heroes – bringing roads, wine and civilisation to the barbarians. Whereas the Gauls, Celts and Numidiums were merely people whose place in history was merely to submit to the mighty rule of the peninsula. Little is said of the Gallic wealth that was plundered, nor the Greek intelligence that was treated with suspicion.

Netherlands denied a place in 1998 World Cup final

Netherlands denied a place in 1998 World Cup final

In football the accusation is frequently made, ad nauseum that it’s pointless playing beautiful football if you don’t win anything. The usual protagonist here is none other than Arsene Wenger. The criticism was thrown at him again from certain quarters following Arsenal’s humbling defeat to Birmingham in the League Cup final.

It is a point which was briefly touched upon by, Spanish Football journalist, Sid Lowe in a recent interview with Beyond the Pitch as well. Lowe spoke of the contrast in views between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, both of whom are men that are incredibly driven. The Barcelona coach’s comments speak of building a legacy, one that will be remembered beyond any results. Mourinho on the other hand makes his feelings on the matter very clear, for the Portuguese coach results and trophies are the bottom line.

I put it to you, that this simply isn’t the case.

Many sides have based their legacies by winning trophies. But there are also those who have broken records and made innovations in the game, but fallen short winning trophies and titles. Those sides that have fallen by the wayside haven’t all been forgotten, great losers have littered the archives for decades.

Tactical wizardry

The Mighty Magyars were a side were heavily tipped to take home the World Cup in Switzerland in 1954, and yet they went home empty handed. The Hungarians went on a 36 game unbeaten run between 1950 and 1954, they won Olympic gold in 1952 and they humiliated England, twice. They boasted a forward line including Ferenc Puskas and Nandor Hidegkuti that plundered 27 goals in 5 games at the 1954 World Cup.

Ferenc Puskas holds one of the greatest international scoring records

Ferenc Puskas holds one of the greatest international scoring records

Arguably, the most important contribution this side gave us was the withdrawn centre forward. Used to devastating effect against England at Wembley, to suggest that they have been forgotten would be utterly laughable.

Occasionally you get a team of great individuals who fail to play as a team, or a team of average players that combined are greater than the sum of their parts. In the early 1970s Rinus Michels took charge of the Netherlands after a magical spell at Ajax.

The Netherlands football team that took part in games in and around the 1974 World Cup were a side made up of stars and played as a team. A lot of their interplay should be attributed to the fact that a majority of the players were team mates at Ajax and Feyenoord.

Michels’ side announced themselves internationally with performances that were full of speed, vigour and an incredibly intensity. Their pressing was something that had never been seen at International level, you could be forgiven for feeling sorry for the opposition as they were hounded and lynched by oncoming orange shirts.

This intensity changed football forever. The gentlemanly stroll that had been seen in Mexico City 4 years previous was gone, and it was being replaced by a fast paced game that demanded that players work more as a team.

Fairy tales

The two sides mentioned above are memorable for the way they changed the sport. Foggia in the early 1990s were being managed by Czech coach Zdenek Zeman, he took the Puglian side from the Italian lower leagues into Serie A on a tiny budget and discovered some stars of the game.

Foggia brought through such names as Beppe Signori, Ciccio Baiano, Gigi Di Biagio and Dan Petrescu. The side finished 9th in the league in 1991-92, a miracle, and their best players were sold to the circling vultures in Italy and abroad.

Instead of spending the money bringing in other experienced Serie A performers Zeman chose to scout relative unknowns from Serie B and C. He was able to instil his philosophy into these players, his tactics remained unchanged – as they do to this day – and he got them to play with a high tempo and squeezed every bit of work rate out of his players while he chain smoked on the sidelines. This was a contemporary fairy tale that lacked a happy ending.

Foggia was eventually relegated but the excitement Zeman created has not been forgotten, owing to the frenzy when he returned to coach the Southern Italian side in July.


Reasons to remember

We are constantly reminded by the world of finance that past performance isn’t an indicator of future outcomes. Though it seems unthinkable to imagine a future where only the winners are remembered.

A Cassanata from Cassano, no change there!

A Cassanata from Cassano, no change there!

When we look back at sides from yesteryear, we have to rely heavily on secondary sources. For those who didn’t live through those times we are left at the mercy of hearsay and witness accounts from those that were there. We have to scrape around for newspaper reports or perhaps have a few poor quality newsreels to consult from decades gone by.

Today there is so much more material available if anyone wanted to revisit an entire game or see a few highlights. Certain kind folk are now even uploading pre and post match press conferences to YouTube so that we don’t have to take the papers take as gospel. Games are now written about from all angles and archived by the interweb.

As well as video there is also an endless stream of statistics now available. Chalkboards and average position charts for the majority of games in the top European leagues already exist and more will no doubt be added.

Jack Wilshere distraught after Carling Cup loss

Jack Wilshere distraught after Carling Cup loss

The archives will grow and grow and the list of non-winners above will remain in them – as well as Mid-90s Newcastle, Roma in the mid 00s under Spalletti, Ghana in 2010 and 1982 Brazil, the best loser of the lot. Even the current Arsenal era, if Wenger were to leave without winning anything, will be incorporated into the ill-famed roll of honour. They will be a side remembered for their youthful and thrifty approach in a time of gluttonous spending.

From this point, and indeed earlier, onwards football’s history is not just a list of classified results. Indeed it can be looked back on and re-imagined, the Zeitgeist will be captured through multimedia. Our losers will not be forgotten.

  • 2nd Yellow

    Nice post. The obsession with winning has only grown as the years have past, yet without losers football would be nothing. In fact, winners are the minority.

    For most clubs, many great moments can often be defined as moments of failure – for my team, Brighton, there was the 1983 FA Cup final, when “and Smith must score” (he didn’t, Brighton lost the replay 4-0) defined the history of the club for a generation.

    Winning is important, but only because it is fleeting and occasional.

  • Damon

    What baffles/galls me at the moment is that the obsession is to ‘win’ 4th place in the Premier League, or 6th place in the Championship at the expense of winning Cup baubles. Winning isn’t actually about winning the trophy anymore, it’s about winning access to a bigger pot of money. We all know that, I know, but still it baffles.

  • Rocco

    Internationally especially, winning a tournament requires the aligning of the stars as well as all earthly matters falling your way. Winning can’t be considered the be all and end all.

  • Rocco

    I’m never really sure how to feel about this. I don’t think it’s as big an issue in the Championship given the tiny chances they have of getting close to a trophy.

    Arsenal’s greatest quantifiable achievement at the moment is their consistent qualification for the Champions League. Leaves me feeling a little empty if I’m honest. All football everywhere seems to be turning into a chase for relatively large pots of money.

    The playoff final seems to be bigger than finishing 2nd in the Championship, bizarrely.

  • Tom Goulding

    But 4th is so much more than a sweet payday. As a Spurs fan I would rather us have finished 4th than won the FA Cup. Winning the FA Cup means a great day at Wembley. Finishing 4th mean great days out in Italy, Germany, Holland and more. It means mixing it with the elite, attracting exciting players (RVdV) and keeping your best players. It means playing great sides and having the world’s best at your own ground. This season has been the most enjoyable ever as a Spurs fan.

    Doing well in a league format is also more impressive than in a cup format.

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  • Football Alchemy

    Agree – especially with the way managers seem to be judged more favourably by club owners if they win a couple of meaningless trophies than if they lay the foundations for a new generation of footballing talent at a club.

    Wenger is a great example. Thankfully, Arsenal are loyal to him. Only one team can win a competition each year, 95%+ of entrants won’t. There are other criteria for judging success and a job well done (in addition to winning).

    I wrote a similar post on my site (accessible via profile), centring on Arsenal.

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