Ken Jones: South Korea's success presents unrealistic blueprint

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The Independent Online

The theory that success in the World Cup depends on how well the coach devises strategy and alternates tactics when matching wits with the licensed genius across the way has not lost momentum this week, despite the elimination of South Korea and Turkey. If we have been spared the thought that because there is so little going on the coach has time to call home or book a table for dinner, it is still his game.

The theory that success in the World Cup depends on how well the coach devises strategy and alternates tactics when matching wits with the licensed genius across the way has not lost momentum this week, despite the elimination of South Korea and Turkey. If we have been spared the thought that because there is so little going on the coach has time to call home or book a table for dinner, it is still his game.

Whether this is good or bad for football in the future is anybody's guess, but I fear the latter. For all the excitement generated by astounding results no great team has graced this World Cup, not one irrefutably great player. Never mind the impact made by South Korea, all the wild talk of a new order in the game. Think on. When has the World Cup seen so many feeble efforts?

Shortly before Brazil inched into their seventh final yesterday, I fell into conversation with Turkish people who were preparing to suspend work in the dry cleaners they operate with efficiency and good humour in order to watch the greatest football occasion in their country's history.

"We can win because our team is well organised and has great spirit," one of them said. His optimism was strengthened by the reckoning that Brazil are not up to standards that made them unique in the game and were as vulnerable as any of the established forces for whom the World Cup turned out be a bleak experience.

"Even if we go all the way you have to admit that there hasn't been much quality," he added. An Arsenal supporter, he was thinking about the exquisite football often played last season by Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp and Fredrik Ljungberg.

This fellow did not speak about Turkey being part of a new order in the game because he does not believe it. Following the departure of Argentina and France, one of the questions asked here, one that Sunday's final will not answer, is whether there has been a levelling up or a levelling down of international football.

It grew in importance with the progress made by South Korea, whose loss to Germany in the semi-finals disappointed not only their marvellous supporters but their fellow toilers in this trade, who had convinced themselves that the future of football rested with the example set by a team that achieved quite extraordinary fitness levels, played without fear and diligently followed instructions laid down by their astute Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink.

I imagine that everyone who came up against the South Koreans must have gratefully accepted any moment to pause for breath while muttering: "For goodness sake, give us some peace."

South Korea have some neat players who combine well as a team but the vital elements in their style are energy and speed, terrific qualities but sustainable only over a short period. For instance, any team asked to follow South Korea's example in the Premiership would be exhausted before the onset of winter.

Not many World Cups have inspired practical emulation. Although ultimately thwarted by West Germany, the innovative swirl of Dutch football in 1974 was a notable exception. On his return from the 1970 World Cup, deeply disappointed by England's loss to West Germany in the quarter-finals, Alf Ramsey remarked that he had learned nothing from the Brazil of Pele, Gerson, Tostão, Rivelino and Jairzinho. If clumsily put, this sounded eminently sensible. Brazil were out on their own, practically unbeatable, although England ran them close in a marvellous group encounter.

One thing leads to another. It is many years now since the first of England's managers, Walter Winterbottom, prophesied that an African nation would win the World Cup in the 20th century. It did not happen. May never happen. Now Asia is taken up as the continent of the future. Carrying the torch of unflagging teamwork, will Asia lead football away from the cult of the individual and give coaches even more prominence?

Neutrals might ask themselves this question. What fires your enthusiasm for football, neat and speedy collective effort or the promise of dramatic spontaneity? The future of football should lie somewhere between. After Germany put paid to South Korea's widely supported dream, the midfielder Park Ji-Sung said: "We will not be satisfied with reaching the semi-finals next time." Well, he can bet with me. His currency or ours.

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