Friday, July 16, 2010

Coaching priorities take a dive

The World Cup is over. The best team (Spain) won, despite Dutch attempts to kick them into submission in the final. This was the most violent final in World Cup history, with the Dutch alone committing 28 fouls and receiving 7 yellow cards (the previous record for cards in a final was 6 COMBINED by both teams). The Dutch were also eliminated from the previous World Cup, literally kicking and screaming, in one of the most infamous matches in the tournaments history. Their previous reputation for beautiful soccer is surely now in tatters.

In the opinion of some, the shame of the final was not Dutch anti-soccer or violence.

Take this blog entry by Jeff Tipping, technical director of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

In it, Tipping blasted the behavior of players who dove and brandished imaginary cards at the referee.

While Spanish players do have an annoying propensity to "play act," there was no mention by Tipping of the anti-soccer and pure thuggery on the part of the Dutch players.

This point of view is widely held in Britain (where Tipping is from) and in most countries that are heavily influenced by English soccer, like the US, Australia and Canada.

This hypocrisy is quite breathtaking.

Players cheat in so many other ways, ways that are more serious, ways that ruin the game in a far greater fashion.

Holding.

Shirt grabbing.

Hacking.

Elbowing.

General mugging.

This sort of cheating is not only tolerated, but often praised, with adjectives like "robust," "getting stuck in," "tough," "sophisticated" and, my personal favorite, "well-organized."

And yet when a mugged player takes a dive or to even out these assaults, it's an international incident.

Dutch thug-in-chief Mark Van Bommell nearly broke a Spanish player's ankle with a horror tackle. Dutch deputy thug-in-chief Nigel de Jong nearly broke the ribs of Xabi Alonso with a kung fu kick that would've made Bruce Lee proud. Yet, Tipping and those like him don't say a word about this MMA-style garbage that could potentially end someone's career. But a guy who rolls around a few times? Send him to the electric chair!

Apparently, it's far more acceptable to inflict injury than to complain about or fake it.

You wouldn't have players brandishing imaginary cards or taking dives if horror tackles like Van Bommell's and de Jong's were actually punished appropriately (with red cards in both cases) rather than the "tsk tsk tsk" treatment (yellow cards) that both got.

Sometimes a player just flops for no reason. But often, a player exaggerates a fall in order to get a call that he actually deserves but would never get if he didn't fall. Referees generally only call fouls when a player goes to ground. If the refs actually blew the whistle when fouled players tried to stay on their feet, they would have an incentive to do so. As it is, players who try to stay on their feet (and generally don't get the call) are punished for being honest and the defenders who fouled them are rewarded for breaking the rules.

Cheating is cheating is cheating. To make a distinction between intentional fouling or injurious cheating and play acting cheating is just intellectually dishonest.

But I suppose that fetish with the "robust" at the expense of the technical is why youth development in both the US and England are in such a sorry state of affairs.

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