In an opening salvo in the guff wars to mark this year’s World Cup, Quinninho thinks that Irish football should be played in a style that reflects something essentially Irish, but, as is his wont, fluffs it, and does not elaborate on what that essentially Irish something is. This is is a principle he thinks should apply to all national sides, albeit with an implied caveat: if there is a more effective way of getting the ball in the back of the net, you should do that instead. So England are right to appoint Felipão because he is, among other things, a ruthless pragmatist.
The idea of a national footballing style is interesting and seductive in so far as it allows endless chin-stroking about the ruthless efficiency of the Germans, the chiaroscuro of the Italians, the French fusion of joie de vivre and esprit de corps, or whatever. For instance, IIRC, a certain Irishman’s Diahorreaist mused at the time of the last European Championships that Portugal’s style of play reflected its long tradition as a maritime nation.
At first glance I’m inclined to think, disembodied internationalist that I am, that this is a bit silly. If Portugal’s collective experiences as a nautical nation influenced their style of football, why not their history as a colonial power in Africa or the Salazar dictatorship? Is Spain’s failure to get it together at international level a product of its internal regional divisions? Any connection between the establishment of an Assembly in Wales and its recent mild resurgence under Mark Hughes? Israel’s defence was pretty tough in the last round of qualifiers: any connection there? You can take this to some rather nutty conclusions.
But there are lots of people who buy into this idea, so much so that it holds a certain motivating power. On Brazil, Quinn says:
Someone explained to me while I was out there that for a Brazilian performing a
trick on the pitch, especially if it involves outwitting a European, it feels
like a small liberation.
And this, I think, is where the idea of a national style does count: as part of psychological conditioning. Just as the idea of being an underdog, or being naturally superior, can be another way of tipping the scales to your advantage, so too can that of playing Brazilian-style, or English-style. I sense that most ideas of national style are essentially variations on this theme.
If Brazilians can go out onto the pitch with the idea of the glorious possibility of outwitting and bamboozling their European adversaries, then they’re more likely to do it than if they were just to say ‘ah sure we’ll go out and see how we get on’. So if, say, Irish football teams go out onto the pitch conditioned to see themselves as an amalgam of rebel fighters and underdogs, they are more likely to do well than if the manager was to say to them: we come from a proud nation of forelock-tuggers, cute hoors and alcoholics, so get out there and do your stuff.
The point, then, is not that you can have a style that reflects something essentially Irish or English, but that the idea of possessing such a style is a very powerful one. Authenticity doesn’t really come into it.
Either way, the Northern Ireland team is fucked.