I have been keenly following the proceedings at various European clubs during this summer break and all I can say is that am worried for the future of soccer. Why? Because soccer as a sport is no longer what it used to be. Soccer used to be a sport of the common man; the various forms of it, from the paperball kicking school kids of third world Africa and South America to the world cup conquests of the likes of West Germany and Brazil.
As a sport soccer heralded national pride and fostered community. Soccer was a unique community identifier. Take the vicious rivalry between the once famous Gor Mahia and AFC leopards for example. Back in the 60s to the early 90s these two teams were predominantly Luo and Luhya respectively. The Nyanza - Western province rivalry contributed a great deal to the supremacy of these sides. Back then it was a cardinal sin for a player of either team to switch sides to the opposition. The rivalry however did not hinder national unity; on the contrary it provided the unique motivation that eventually raised the standard of the game in Kenya. Evidently, the vast majority of the national team players were drawn from the squads of Gor and AFC. Next door in TZ we had Yanga and Simba which have since faded of. Further a field in Spain, the different regional identities and pride found its expression in the soccer arena. The Catalans and the Iberians have over the generations fought hard battles on the soccer pitch under the banners of Barcelona and Real Madrid. This perennial rivalry has been the special ingredient in the wonderful cocktail that Spanish soccer is.
So what has changed? A great deal has. The only thing that motivates players in today’s soccer is money. Players switch sides randomly when money is flashed with no regard to culture or identity. I must admit that my beloved Real has been a culprit in this by luring players with pay offers that few can say no to. Am convinced that this trend is dangerous for soccer and is what has largely contributed to the emergence of certain attitudes in the game. For example winning has become the top most and only agenda in soccer. Well it has always been priority but in the past, how you win was also very important. The unique playing styles that largely were expressions of different cultures are fading away. We see more speed & power than skill in soccer. It’s sad that speed and power is winning most of the titles at the expense of quality.
My thesis is that we need to redefine soccer. We need to inject that missing ingredient of identity. I am hopeful that all is not lost. Spain’s recent victory at Euro Cup proves that tradition still has a place in soccer. Spain did it their way - the same way they have always played. Hope lives on!