Argentina were eliminated from the World Cup in the Round of 16 by eventual winners, France. PDP Lead Researcher, James Vaughan examines some of the cultural questions we’re left with on the back of a disappointing campaign from a traditional football heavyweight.

Cover Image: By Alexander Hassenstein

While Phil Neville’s mansplaining was trending on Twitter and Neymar’s spaghetti haircut was splattered all over Facebook, there were some World Cup stories unearthing deeper questions. Deep questions with hidden connections.

Wading through the catchphrase cliché’s provided by many pundits, moments of insightful questioning caught the eye and some particularly reflective occasions, questions were posed and answers avoided.

In one particularly reflective article Jorge Valdano* asked:

*Jorge Valdano scored for Argentina in the 3-2 win over West Germany in the 1986 World Cup final and managed Real Madrid 1994-96) 

“What’s wrong with Argentina? We now value ‘balls’ more than talent”.

Valdano wrote:

“There is no identifiable moment when it all started, nor one place where it began, and there is no dominant theory. What is true is that bit by bit we got further away from the ball, the one thing we loved more than the game itself. We got further from a style that used to draw us to the stadium, where we longed to shout “olé!” every time we saw someone dribble, trick an opponent, tease them; every time we saw a lightning one-two or some expression of cunning, that astuteness – that was our life. There was talent of the highest quality and in the greatest quantity and we allowed ourselves an act of genius once in a while.”

Valdano gives insight into the values that once shaped this Argentinian style of play:

…We longed to shout “olé!” every time we saw someone dribble, trick an opponent, tease them; every time we saw a lightning one-two or some expression of cunning, that astuteness – that was our life. There was talent of the highest quality and in the greatest quantity and we allowed ourselves an act of genius once in a while.”

Highlighting Argentina’s style of play, Valdano astutely talks about something potentially lost in the past; he says ‘that was our life’. He recognises the dynamic nature of culture and forms of life, he’s seen that they change over time.

Valdano then identifies a movement away from pure enjoyment and toward an obsession with winning.

“… an imperious, almost delirious need to win overcame the enjoyment of playing. The desire to win at all costs sweeps away your values. Dividing the world into winners and losers is an illness that infected football at a formative stage.”

Has a shift in values swept away integral elements of Argentina’s form of life and changed the football culture to the point whereby it no longer promotes moments of “olé!”?

Will Argentina ever nurture another generation of Messi’s or Maradona’s?

Valdano continued:

“At the same time a passion for football was overcome by a passion for a team, as if a society that has become ever more individualistic needed something to reconnect it with tribal feeling. Turning clubs into mini-nations constructs an identity, a community that must be defended as a matter of life and death. In the stands violence took over; on the pitch, we said goodbye to the olés and welcomed in a world where huevos – balls – are more important than talent.”

 

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James Vaughan
James Vaughan
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
James Vaughan is a Co-founder of Player Development Project and currently based in Stockholm where he is coaching at AIK and working towards his PhD in Creativity & Motivation in Football.
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