Football nostalgia ain't what it used to be
FOR those who are determined to live in the past, there is nothing in the present that will ever be good enough. The creaking health service will be described as "third world" by those who've never seen what a third-world country actually looks like, while there'll be a lament to the halcyon days of education when, unlike today, there were enough teachers to go around but some of those teachers could batter any student who stepped out of line.
They may have been black and blue several times during the course of the term but, ah sure Jaysus, they were happy.
The hackles of the 'nostalgia ain't what it used to be' brigade are particularly raised by sports stars when someone comes along that could threaten the icon of their era's status as the greatest of all and, last week, football got its annual dosage.
The return of the Champions League over an unnecessarily elongated period of a month to complete the last 16 followed by a dull FA Cup weekend doesn't show the game in its best light, but the conclusion that almost no player and no team is good enough to win anything is becoming boring.
Barcelona might not win because they are defensively weak; Real Madrid have the anti-football manager in Jose Mourinho but, despite him, the team has 79 goals in 23 La Liga matches; Milan are too old; Chelsea's manager too young; Bayern aren't the force they were and the list goes on until those who watch football -- and aren't paid to do it -- could justifiably wonder why they bother. If teams aren't standing still, they are in decline.
If such harsh criticism was around decades ago, what we currently view as football's historic certainties might look very different.
Hungary's 'Marvellous Magyars' would have been dismissed as losers who couldn't hold their nerve because they didn't win a World Cup. Ferenc Puskas' drag-back goal in their infamous destruction of England at Wembley would have been seen through the prism of England's shocking defending.
The Dutch team of the 1970s might have given us a legacy of Total Football but, like Hungary, they'd be dismissed because they won nothing. These days, apparently, it's only winners that are remembered. Even the Brazil team of 1970 might have drawn criticism because they struggled to beat Romania 3-2 in the group stages and, although they beat Uruguay and Italy in the semi-finals and final, we all know that there was a malaise in Uruguayan and Italian football compared to the great days of the '30s.
Even the joy of Carlos Alberto's goal would have been drained by some commentator pointing out it bobbled perfectly for him just before he struck it.
As a sign of good parenting, there are some players whose names are passed on to the next generation who weren't born when future legends were strutting their stuff. But, in the context of modern-day criticism, most greats would be viewed differently.
Gerd Muller would probably be dismissed as someone who "only" scored goals; Johan Cruyff's famous turn would be put down to bad defending and his decision not to play in the '78 World Cup would have tarnished him forever; Pele wouldn't have proved himself in Europe and in today's light Diego Maradona's dalliance with illegal drugs would have been seen as slightly more serious than the small character flaw it is now remembered as.
The truth is that the game is more or less where it always has been, with four or five truly great players, a strong layer of very good ones just below and the rest trying to keep up.
There is certainly more money around, which creates the unfair scenario of mediocre players earning far greater sums than better players of the past, but that phenomenon is hardly unique to football. Nobody slaughters Adam Sandler for earning $31.5m in 2009 when Humphrey Bogart and Laurence Olivier wouldn't have earned that in their lifetimes.
The likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cristiano Ronaldo would be great players in any era and history is likely to look at them favourably compared to say, Allan Simonsen or Kevin Keegan, who won three Ballon d'Ors between them in one of the supposed glory eras of the game, the late 1970s.
At a certain point in life, the mind seems capable of recalling youthful days when crime didn't exist, everybody got on with each other and it never rained in the summer. There's a simple solution to those who have similarly deluded memories when they crankily compare football of the past to the game of the present.
They could just stop watching it.