In the 1982 World Cup, Brazil had a great team packed with flair players such as the lanky bearded captain Socrates and legend Zico. They played what many considered to be the best football but lost out in dramatic fashion to eventual winners Italy.
This team were said to be, had they won the World Cup, the greatest team ever. This set of players returned home empty handed.
This Brazilian team is just one of many that enter the folklore of great teams that never won.
The Dutch sides of the 70s, at the peak of Total Football, also mesmerised the world with their sheer genius, but, as the Dutch always seem to do, they failed to deliver. On reflection, they did deliver but just plainly failed to win.
At the last World Cup, two years ago, Argentina received plaudits for scoring possibly the best team goal of all time, despite eventually losing to Germany in the quarterfinals.
To add insult to injury the following year in July at the Copa America, Argentina, as expected, continued to be faithful to their football playing style and their performances received praise round the world.
However, in the final against Brazil they lost to sucker-punch goals 3-0; Brazil defended in numbers and were over-committed in that area, only going forward on the break. The Brazilians attacked scarcely yet ended victorious by a large margin.
The score was harsh and a little misleading in the sense that it implied Dunga's team were by far the better side, when in truth Argentina had the vast amount of possession and had many spurned chances.
There is a trend here that teams who commit to pure football lose matches. With this folklore, great teams tend to lose; they play superb football, get spectators off their seats, exhilarate the world and receive plaudits, yet they lose.
In my opinion, this is a form of romanticism. The defeat despite having played fantastically well, is an art form in itself. It is a little humorous and sublets humility, showing that players are humans and that no matter how great they are they too can still lose.
I view this form of football folklore of great teams who never won as football’s answer to fairy tales.
Pure football itself is a fable. There is a moral story here, that winning isn’t everything. In the case of Brazil’s win against Argentina, to put it in a metaphor, Brazil was a big bully, hell-bent on recapturing its throne whereas Argentina was a little darling set out to rescue a lost cause, winning the hearts of many in the process.
So for a pure team to lose is part-and-parcel of the game and one that is a trait within the romantic cause; that you value art over result. It is also far more heart-warming when a pure team loses; it gains everyone’s sympathy as well as plaudits.
Last year, Arsenal’s season crumbled at the last hurdle and ended up empty-handed in what had been a glorious advert for aesthetic football throughout the season. In recent years, Arsenal are probably the team most familiar with this syndrome.
But every now and then there are those that slip through the net and silverware is duly rewarded. Of course, the perfect example would be last month’s victory for football in Euro 2008.
For once, a team destined and almost forever connected with this folklore finally won playing beautiful football. Spain put to bed this myth.
There is somewhat a ghost of pragmatism that hovers above every pure team. It is this demon of fate that decides whether these great teams do grasp the trophy or not. Spain defeated the demons.
Let’s hope Cesc brings the very same magic wand into the coming season for the purest team on the planet—Arsenal. God knows we need it.
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