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Losing with class more memorable

TRY this little experiment with yourself or with people who you'd consider to know a little bit about football. Firstly, name five players from the Netherlands team who took part in the 1974 World Cup. The chances are if they were over the age of 10 at the time they could list off the entire team, but even those who weren't born would probably get close to Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Arie Hann, Johnny Rep and Wim Jansen without resorting to Google.

Next, do the same with Brazil of 1982 except this time reduce the number to three. In the tightest of tight shorts in the heat of Spain, memories of Falcao, Zico or Socrates come to mind, if only from watching videos of their brilliance after the event.

Then ask them who won Euro 2004 and, if they remember that much, get them to name just one player. It should be easier to cast the mind back seven years rather than 37, but it's revealing that Greece are more of an awkward quiz question than a team remembered for winning a tournament which a country as rich in tradition such as England has never done.

Angelos Basinas, Stelios Giannakopoulos or Theo Zagorakis might pop into the memory bank from their forays with mid- to lower-tier Premier League clubs (if you got all three, go to the top of the class) but there certainly won't be any future generations in their back garden practising the Giannakopoulos-turn.

The three Greeks probably don't even have compilations of their best moments in their own home, never mind on YouTube, but, for all the esteem in which the Dutch team of the 1970s is held, the Greece team have something tangible to show for their efforts -- a winner's medal. Had Twitter or Facebook been around in the 1970s or '80s, the Netherlands and Brazil teams would have been labelled as chokers whose pretty patterns were in need of more grunt and less guile.

Rinus Michels would have been derided as an idealist, whose club management style couldn't translate into international football against the might and know-how of Germany.

Players who chose to put themselves onto social networks would have been tagged as having no bottle by people who were never fit to lace their boots but who can fit plenty of poison into 140 characters. Even for an industry which can change direction faster than a taxi driver with an innocent tourist in the back seat, football and its pundits are currently in danger of meeting themselves on the way back around when it comes to deciding the way the game should be played.

Ideally, it would be a mixture of pace and skill where passes are pretty, strikers are clinical and defenders start attacks from their own penalty areas rather then simply smash it as far away from their own area as they can. And, if you are playing on a computer or on the pages of a newspaper, this is eminently possible. Unfortunately, once an opposition, a real pitch and a real ball are thrown into the mix, things become a little more complicated.

At 7.0pm last Wednesday, Jose Mourinho was bordering on a genius having beaten Barcelona in the Spanish Cup final, got inside their heads and come up with tactics to prevent them from playing majestic football.


Three hours later, from the same mouths, Mourinho was the enemy of football who set his team up to nullify the opposition and play on the counter-attack as they had successfully done the previous week, rather than go toe to toe against superior players. The last time they tried that, they lost 5-0 but that's just a minor speed bump to ignore on the motorway to the moral high ground.

On that patch of hallowed turf, you will find the people who thought Arsene Wenger was a magician, then a lunatic and, after yesterday, probably a genius again. Or those who insisted Chelsea were falling apart at the seams and Carlo Ancelotti had lost control of the dressing-room but, if they manage to beat Manchester United next week, all that will be forgotten as though it was some sort of masterplan.

And, after Real Madrid's defeat, they'll be the ones talking about how Mourinho isn't the man to take over from Alex Ferguson citing some guff about Manchester United tradition or the way that Mourinho blames referees for defeat and has a strained relationship with the media. If they are the two main reasons for not having somebody at Old Trafford, Ferguson would have been sacked before Ryan Giggs made his debut.

'Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser' is a regular mantra used in favour of those who won't accept defeat and, in this regard, Mourinho and Ferguson are two of the best or worst culprits depending on your viewpoint.

Both will always get unyielding loyalty from their players because they help them to win medals but the notion regularly peddled at this stage of the season that winning is all that is remembered is ridiculous.

In one of Mourinho's finest hours, his Chelsea team took on Barcelona in a game that Ronaldinho scored that stupendous toe-poked goal from the edge of the box which nobody who saw it will ever forget.

For the final piece of the experiment, ask the person to describe the Ronaldinho goal, which they will probably do in detail, and then ask them the final score of that game. It was Chelsea 4, Barcelona 2.

Winner's medals might endure in a trophy cabinet but, like Holland 74, Brazil 82 or Ronaldinho on that night at Stamford Bridge, sometimes being a loser can be far more memorable.

Irish Independent