KEIR RADNEDGE: TURNING BACK THE CLOCK

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Nostalgia is one of the most evocative emotions to breathe life into sporting endeavour.

Heroes of yesteryear stand proudly frozen in time, their achievements – grand victories and brave defeats – represent an immovable iceberg of stability beneath today’s fast-melting, snow-tip headlines.

Hence the shock when Jose Mourinho described West Ham as playing 19th-century football. Some mistake, surely? Football people should look back with delight not derision.

Of course the briefly Unhappy One was speaking in frustration. He regretted Chelsea only drawing when they had been expected to win; a stalemate which saw them drift off Manchester City’s startlingly contrasting goal-laden pace.

He was summoning up the spectre of an era when football lacked what he would consider the modern sophistication of today’s professional elite: sculpted fitness, honed skill, money, technology and all-seater stadia.

For this is an era which paints football in all the high-definition colours of the rainbow. Not black and white, the palid tempura of old faded photos, jagged-cut films and television infancy.

Looking back in angst rather than anger is a theme beloved of UEFA president Michel Platini and another Frenchman in would-be FIFA president Jerome Champagne.

When Platini first considered pursuing the leadership of European football it was with a vision of returning the Champions League to those romantic early years. Black and white knockout nights. When the luck of the draw might see Real Madrid exit in the first round yet Spora Luxembourg reach the quarter-finals.

Along the road to Nyon someone took Platini aside and explained the financial facts of life. Hence his revolutionary dream was diluted into a helping hand at entry level for the minnows and middle class.

Platini’s pan-European scheme for Euro 2020 involves a further step back in time.

From 1960 to 1976 the European finals were staged in one country; they involved four teams, two semi-finals, a losers’ play-off and a final. In 2020 the competition regains such a climactic format (minus the third-place play-off).

Champagne, campaigning to return to FIFA one way or another after his enforced exit in 2010, also looks to the future from a foundation of past delights.

Like Platini he frets over a financially-driven imbalance in the game: between confederations, between countries, between leagues, between clubs, between the fading bravura of national team competition and the greedy juggernaut of the club game.

But is it possible to turn back the clock? Is it even desirable?

More than a century ago the poet Francis Thompson penned an ode to sporting memory, entitled ‘Lord’s’ with a cricketing recollection of “my Hornby and my Barlow, long ago.”

Imagine football turning back the clock. Where then would we seek our nostalgia . . . our own “Di Stefano and Puskas long ago”?

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