James Lawton: Brilliance of Brazil's three Rs adds up to hope for the future of the beautiful game

Rooney could almost alone make England competitive in Germany
Click to follow
The Independent Football

However, we shouldn't forget there are issues which go beyond the question of whether the tumbrils will roll again for Eriksson and his jaded aristos at still another major tournament. The most exciting of them is the possibility that four years after one of the poorest of final series there will once again be footballing brilliance to irrigate the mood of the world's most popular game.

Perhaps it is inevitable that the greatest hope is the development of another magnificently expressive Brazilian side.

The prospect of the first Brazilian triumph in Europe since 1958, one fuelled by the genius and finishing power of Ronaldinho, Robinho and Ronaldo, promises something more than was achieved in Yokohama in 2002. Then the Brazil coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, after bitterly antagonising much of the most fervent football nation on earth, rode home on the nascent splendour of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo's revived scoring instinct, the last of Rivaldo as a major performer and a patchwork of sometimes rough and honest effort.

Diminishing the meaning of the triumph, which in human terms did represent a marvellous story of redemption in Ronaldo's march back from the disaster of his final in Paris four years earlier, was the paucity of serious opposition.

Germany, the beaten finalists, were typically German in a non-vintage year: dour, pragmatic competitors right down to their bones. South Korea, marshalled brilliantly by Guus Hiddink - heaven knows, we should have gone Dutch - invigorated the action superbly.

But major nations like France, Italy, Argentina, Spain, and, ultimately, England fell so far off the mark of putative world champions it was embarrassing. The disappointment, starting with France's laboured opening defence of their title on a drizzly night in Seoul against Senegal, who promised so much more than they delivered, was so crushing at times you had to wonder about the long-term future of the great tournament.

You had to speculate on the extent of the damage to the international game caused by the pressure to perform in the circus of European club football, and not least the Premiership. Patrick Vieira, still the lion of Arsenal then, plodded through that keynote game against his native land. Thierry Henry was the merest shadow of the great artist of Highbury. Zinedine Zidane, who a few weeks earlier had been god-like in Hampden Park when winning the European Cup for Real Madrid with one of the most astonishing, volleyed goals ever seen in big-time football, was not much than a wreck as the World Cup action unfolded.

Now, though, those worst fears appear to be on the ebb. The Brazilians, yet again, promise to be the light of the world, just as they were in Sweden 47 years ago when they unleashed a miracle of precocity in the 17-year-old Pele, and in 1970 when Pele, again, Tostao, Gerson and Carlos Alberto defined all the beauty, and the majesty, of football.

Can the three Rs write a similar hymn to the glory of their game and the Brazilian genius to define all of its best qualities? It's a matter of legitimate, excited expectation, as is the potential of Argentina, Italy and the Netherlands to make a serious challenge while the German hosts galvanise themselves as only they can for action which takes them so far beyond their individual parts

The most encouraging point of focus here is that while England have been involved in another desperate search for some kind of unity and rhythm, they, too, have been reminded of the power of football to remake itself by the extraordinary play of Wayne Rooney. Talk of the potentially great Brazilian triumvirate would be a lot more intimidating if Rooney had not shown last year that these islands are still capable of producing individual talent of the highest quality.

When Rooney first made the England team, the coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, was praised for the boldness of his selection. But Rooney didn't join the England team, he invaded it, and it is not too fanciful to imagine that he could almost single-handedly make England competitive in Germany.

Meanwhile the great Brazilian tradition stretches seamlessly towards the Fatherland. Their triumph would represent a full circle of football. In the year of England's triumph in 1966, Brazil were kicked cruelly out of the tournament by Portugal and Hungary and when they returned to Europe, four years after their Mexico tour de force, they armed themselves with the least artistic team in the nation's history. They had died by brutality and they though they might now survive by it. Of course they didn't.

Next summer such atavism will be, as it should, the most distant memory. It is something to lighten our agonising over whether or not Rooney will prove to be Eriksson's vein of gold, as is the certainty that the pull of the World Cup sooner or later carries us beyond the most narrow of self-interest. Indeed, this one, more than any other in 35 years, promises to turn most of the world Brazilian for at least a day. England may be struggling, but at least the game itself could not be in better or more healing hands.

The unforgettable compassion of a true master

Examples of what sport is supposed to be about are not so frequent that we can skip by the expression that crossed the face of Tiger Woods when John Daly three-putted away what would have been one of the most spectacular redemptions seen this side of the Sea of Galilee.

The pot held £4.2m as the big man blew his chances of landing the American Express title on the 17th hole.

It was in the play-off, though, that we saw the unforgettable face of compassion and sadness on the Tiger. He is widely seen as the smug, relentless over-achiever, a man who has constantly stripped down his own humanity in pursuit of victory. Yet when Daly's short putt rolled past the hole, Woods' regret was palpable. It wasn't, he explained, that he was on a charity mission. The fact that Daly has visited most sections of hell since winning his majors had not interfered with Woods' desire to win in any situation. No, said Tiger, he was still happy to win, but it was the way that happened that concerned him.

As Daly confirmed when he marched off the green locked back into some of the old torment, this would have been the victory that would have flooded him with new life and conviction. He remains a much loved figure in the galleries, but inside him is the draining fear that he may never win again.

This sense may well be heightened by the searing knowledge that in the end it was not Tiger who beat him but himself. That was the reality that Woods instantly grasped. That was the man who has not only mastered his sport but who truly understands it.

Folly of Kerr's charge against the green shirt élite

Sven Goran Eriksson may be in a tight corner but he still has much to teach his Republic of Ireland counterpart Brian Kerr (right).

The most basic Eriksson lesson is that however you may despise your critics privately, you do not declare open war. Still less do you say, as Kerr has, that some Irish football "pundits" want their own team to lose.

Kerr's sensitivity to criticism has been building for some time, and apparently much of it is to do with the reluctance of his employers, the Football Association of Ireland, to renegotiate his contract before the World Cup qualifying campaign is settled. Some would say this suggests an acumen not shared by the FA, whose generosity to Eriksson has known no bounds.

What isn't in doubt is the folly of Kerr's charge against the "pundits". Most notably they are thought to include John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy. All of them, unlike Kerr, wore the green shirt. Giles and Brady would go straight into any élite of the Irish game. Dunphy took on Jack Charlton at the peak of his popularity as a World Cup and European Championship qualifying coach. Kerr's mistake is twofold. One, he took the insulting liberty of impugning the patriotism of fellow countrymen. Two, and just as seriously, he has stepped out of his class.

Comments