Why even Brazilians are nuts about the Premiership

Ken Jones says what the English game lacks in finesse it has more than made up for in its excitement and commitment
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The Independent Online
Next season's European adventures may have a sobering effect on those who are presently hailing the restored virtues of English football but not even the most prejudiced foreign coach can deny its capacity for generating excitement.

If a thrilling finale that saw Manchester United move within reach of becoming the first English club to repeat the Double was set up as much by Newcastle's faltering stride as their own thrilling surge to the line, and every game has not lived up to Sky television's incessant hyperbole it is difficult to imagine that any league in the world has provided more entertainment.

When Croatia's coach, Miroslav Blazevic, focused recently on the technical shortcomings of English football, arguing that it remains blind to the progress being made internationally, he was missing the point.

To suppose that England's top league is the best anywhere has always been a dangerously glib assertion more in tune with Sky's promotional frenzy than reality, but the merits of commitment and verve are admired internationally and not only in northern Europe.

Premiership matches are regularly shown live in Brazil, fed through by the American cable sports channel, ESPN, with commentary by Jose Werneck, who built a big reputation as a football columnist and television pundit in Rio de Janeiro before moving to the United States.

"Even though the style is different from our own there has always been a great deal of respect for English football in Brazil, but television interest was confined mostly to big games like the FA Cup final," Werneck said. "Interest has grown this season and not simply because Juninho and Branco are turning out for Middlesbrough in the Premiership."

In Rio some years ago, I recall the great Brazilian, Zico, bringing a hand down from above his head and mouthing the whine of a dive bomber to describe the English game even before it entered the wasteland of route- one football.

Most of the successes achieved by English clubs in Europe were more the result of discipline, physical strength and tactical acumen than flair, a never-say-die spirit not technical leadership.

Blackburn's woeful performance in the Champions' League is conveniently overlooked in some quarters, nevertheless there has been plenty to encourage a notion of intelligent progress.

"It looks as though we've finally come out from all the rubbish that became horribly fashionable here,"the West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, said. "For a while, anybody with true feelings for the game had to despair. The big boot. Playing for free-kicks, corners and long throw-ins. It was awful and the sad thing was that because it worked for some people, others followed. Now more and more teams are passing the ball and you only have to look at attendances to understand that it's what the public want."

Liverpool failed to last the pace but only admiration can be held out for Roy Evans who has restored the values for which his club are justifiably famous, gaining some compensation from an appearance in the Cup final next Saturday. However, the most stirring examples have been set by the men in charge of the teams who became embroiled in a climactic Sunday.

In remaining true to principles that were put at risk by mindless support for an ugly method, Alex Ferguson and Kevin Keegan have excitingly raised the perception of English football. It may have been naive of Keegan to suppose that Newcastle could win from the front but the gamble entitles him to our admiration.

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