The very much-anticipated comeback of Roy Keane has been here and gone as the injured Keano was forced to exit United’s FA Cup win over Portsmouth. Liverpool is on the verge of collapsing out of the top six in the EPL and it seems it has happened overnight. Out of the blue, Rangers have made it clear that Celtic will not run away with the Scottish Premier League. Even though the Old Firm has been neck and neck at the top of the table, many a punter expected the Gers to wilt under the dominance of Celtic boss Martin O’Neill. However, over the weekend, when Henrik Larsson left the field injured after he scored in a 1-all draw with Aberdeen, it was obvious that confidence for the Hoops is not the same without the Silky Swede.
It just doesn’t stop. Before we know it, the Champions League will be on top of us and who cares that Bayern Munich are out of the competition? There is no time to reflect on what was or what could have been in the game. It’s full steam ahead for ’03 in search for the soccer stories like Keane’s that interest us, stories like Celtic, the Champions League, the EPL. As we look ahead, we are also reminded that the game could be in for drastic changes, for better or for worse. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, for example, has once again brought up the idea of the Gunners leaving the EPL for a super league. On a broader scale just where is soccer going? Sure, we can tap away with our favorite stories that will get us by, but what about soccer’s future around the globe. Before we kick into the New Year with our everyday stories, which, by the way, was Shrewsbury beating Everton in the FA Cup, perhaps we should ponder where soccer went in the year 2002.
It was a fairytale fluff for FIFA and world soccer when Brazil lifted the World Cup in Japan/Korea. It was almost dream-like for Ronaldo when his goals led Brazil to a fifth World Cup title. The truth of the matter is that Brazil won the World Cup on the shoulders of their two central defenders with a little help from their goalkeeper. Ronaldo played well — he took his goals brilliantly — but he was stale from lack of play before the tournament. In the end, Brazil deserved to win the tournament and isn’t that what football is all about? Isn’t it fitting that everyone’s favorite team to watch should be world champions? After all, they play the beautiful game.
The same could be said for Real Madrid when they won the Champions League, it was meant to be. We all accepted and agreed that the two footballing giants were where they belonged, on top of the soccer world. We even accepted Luis Figo as world player of the year as Ronaldo joined him at Real. So where did football go in 2002 except on the doorstep of where is should be, Brazil and Real Madrid? However, there seems to be something missing in the glory for both club and country. For Real it’s probably the fact that they can buy anybody they want and have done exactly that with Zidane, Figo and Ronaldo on board.
As far as where club football is going, it sure looks like it’s going to the clubs with the most money. We now more than ever expect Real to win the 2003 Champions League and if not, there is only a handful of clubs that may dethrone the Spanish giants. The small-time clubs simply do not get on the same platform as the elite clubs. Few or no clubs can steal the spotlight from clubs like Real, Man. U., Bayern and AC Milan. One cannot say that clubs from this country and that league will take control and compete with the best. Few club stories, if any at all, can outshine the top clubs, even in their respective leagues. And even if there is an upset in the league, no worries, second and even third place will gain CL qualification.
It can be said that Brazil is doing the same on the national level or at least when it comes to the World Cup. And if it isn’t Brazil winning the honors, it’s either Germany, Italy or Argentina. But the 2002 World Cup in some way didn’t belong to Brazil, it belonged to upstart nations such as Korea, Turkey, USA, Senegal and the like. For many years it has not gone unnoticed that the little footballing nations are catching up and the gap has narrowed significantly on the international scene. For many countries it’s not a matter of participation, it’s a matter of making the final stages. The fact that only 10 coaches from 32 teams have kept their jobs since the ’02 tournament indicates that countries are more ambitious than ever to win the World Cup.
African nations have been tipped as one to watch for the future as Turkey flew the flag for Europe. The host nation Korea stole the hearts of thousands as they moved around the field with unexpected speed and grace. For soccer to move in the right direction, the 2002 World Cup may well have been the springboard for the smaller nations to realize they are the future of soccer and it’s globalization. And who would have ever thought that a New Yorker would be right in the thick of it all making history and finally putting his nation on the soccer map?
Bruce Arena led the United States to the quarterfinals of the World Cup and along the way gained the much-needed respect from world football. While the nation is still far behind on the passion for the game, major steps have been made toward making the U.S. a force to be reckoned with since hosting the WC in 1994. The States are very much focused on making a serious presence in World cup competition, as they know full well it is their steppingstone toward a better domestic league. Even with all the resources, the U.S. has without the nation behind them domestic soccer plays second fiddle to W.C. football, for the moment. Converting a nation that prefers to watch sports that use their hands is not going to be easy. But take heed, Landon Donovan made the cover of Sports Illustrated and Brian McBride is on a three-month loan deal with Everton. It has become apparent where the future of soccer is going and it can only go forward with the W.C. For many countries, poor or rich, the World Cup is the platform for making domestic football more successful across the world. Soccer Scene expects to keep track of familiar stories while the World Cup continues to be the foundation and evolution of the modern game of soccer, the greatest game on earth.