Here in Australia we are longitudinally-challenged. No-one ever thinks of us when it comes to scheduling things and so, to get our fix, we sit through the wee hours to see the great sporting events. We do this because we love all the games – some more than others.
And so, we are preparing for Wimbledon – inasmuch as you can prepare when you’ve hardly slept for the better part of a fortnight thanks to the World Cup, and our footy side’s coming off a nasty loss, and who knows whether they’ll get back.
But the true sports fan will push through the weariness, especially when the money’s on – an 11-leg multi of $1.02 favourites where you’re trying to keep your concentration to ride home the umpteenth seed from Uzbekistan (you’ve never heard of) against some Japanese qualifier (you’ve also never heard of, but is up a set and a break).
Because, as a punter, you know your performance on the couch has an impact on the success of a wager – there is no doubt about that.
Anyway, you go to work routinely – whereas Wimbledon only comes around once a year, the World Cup once every four.
Maintaining consciousness and focus in front of the Rank Arena (which has served you faithfully since you pulled it out of the styro-foam to watch the ’84 Olympics) can be a bit of a chore and, after a while, the prospect of watching some defensive European unit inch its grid slowly up the pitch in the hope of getting within sight of a goalmouth protected by nine hairy (and tattooed) defenders loses its appeal. The Ruby Red gets the better of you and you’re asleep on the couch.
The beauty of soccer, though, is that the roar of a goal is enough to wake the dead.
The pattern began early in the tournament, having drifted into the Land of Nod at the start of the Spain-Netherlands match. Only to be woken half a dozen times!
And the pattern has continued. What is going on at this World Cup? It’s end-to-end stuff. It’s late-season EPL, when there is no cause for caution; players looking for long, speculative passes to team-mates making space. Attacking, glorious football.
There is a new orthodoxy. A new world order. And one which I would never have picked.
Orthodoxy is a fascinating element of sport. What has currency in a code and what doesn’t? Who dictates approaches, tactics, styles?
Back here, at the end of the earth, the indigenous code is also pushed and squeezed by orthodoxies. In recent years the Cult of the Coaches has driven the orthodoxy. It can be a players’ game (I wish it were), but in an effort to preserve the need for two half-back flank coaches and three boundary throw-in on the wing (offensive and defensive) coaches, and to make the head coach seem like an absolute guru, we are constantly told (by most coaches) that their role is crucial.
Listen to the language. Coaches talk about teaching the players how to play the game. As if they hold the keys to unlock the secrets of the footy universe. As if players come with nothing – not even potential. It’s player as blank canvas. The gurus even talk about un-coaching stuff.
Or, on ABC radio yesterday, the analysis before the Melbourne-Kangas game was whether Paul Roos would be able to get the Dees up after their meritorious win last week. Get them up! What about the players! Wouldn’t they be itching to get out there and take it right up to the opponent? Don’t they have personal motivation and pride?
A lot of the language is about the things that happen to players. As if they have little control. What about what players can do?
Is this an orthodoxy? What are its origins? What sustains it? Is it because the most-spruiked clubs – such as Carlton and Richmond (and even the Pies this weekend) – are being found out.
Leigh Matthews reckons that coaches win reputations on the back of good players, and warns not to overstate the significance of the bloke with the clipboard. “I can tell them where to stand at stoppages, and that’s about all,” he once told me.
He was underplaying his own role in developing players and developing club culture. But he was making a point.
At the moment, I suspect, if given a choice of teams to coach, Lethal would choose one of Gold Coast or GWS. Both are brimful of talent and are maturing in a way which is starting to concern the rest of the competition. (Wait for the bleating from the Victorian clubs this week – and to a degree the compromised draft gives some weight to their argument). They have great talent, having been handed some systemic advantages.
But also look at how the emerging sides are playing their football. The way of the best sides is to base their approach on solid defence, and free-spirit in attack. Quick ball movement has always been near-impossible to defend. It defies any countering orthodoxy. It should be the orthodoxy. And it probably is. All else is damage-control and self-preservation.
It was hard to watch my Cats up there at Carara, as the talented Suns ran away with the match in the final quarter. They were simply too good, and the victory goes a long way to securing that spot in the eight. It also helps them prepare for Collingwood’s visit in a couple of week’s time.
Meanwhile, the over-coached and under-confident, plod away down here in Melbourne.
Again, the season’s plot thickens. There are three battles: top four, sneaking into the eight, and the time-honoured wooden spoon. All will have their complications no doubt.
The results will come to those who are positive; who genuinely try to play the game.
I’m still with Port, off the Swans, and think that the World Cup is anyone’s.
John Harms is editor of footyalmanac.com.au