Posted by: davidjmarlow | 27/06/2014

World Cup 2014 – It’s a small world after all…

Another argument that size doesn't always matter, and charging around like a rhino doesn't get us very far

Another argument that size doesn’t always matter, and charging around like a rhino doesn’t get us very far

With so much rotten in the world of soccer – even leaving aside the very sad ‘biting’ psycho- pathologies; it is rather refreshing when the World Cup in Brazil gives us some positive pointers to ‘success’ in our contemporary global community. One can only hope that our government, or the new one next year, pays these pointers due regard.

Perhaps the first point to make is the ability of soccer to command a pervasive global audience when, notwithstanding PR to the contrary, it patently isn’t a global game – at least at elite levels. If one looks at the ten countries with the largest populations, five with a combined population of 3.15bn (45% of the global total), including the two largest – China and India – failed to qualify for the competition in Brazil. With Russia and Japan’s elimination, this figure rises to seven of the ten largest countries with around 50% of global population failing to be represented in the last 16.

Correspondingly, Uruguay with 3.5m, Costa Rica with 5m, and a further five countries with under 20m population (Chile, Netherlands, Belgium, Greece and Switzerland) made it to the last 16 – representing collectively around 1% of global population. Size, really doesn’t matter all that much in terms of global success.

An openness to the global community does, however. The squads for the 32 qualifying nations play in 54 different countries (51 leagues). Of the R16 qualifiers, the aforementioned Uruguay and Costa Rican squads have players from 11 and 12 different national leagues respectively. But even bigger nations have multiple leagues represented in their squads – Brazil and USA (9 each), Nigeria and Algeria (10 each), much fancied Belgium, Columbia, and Chile (8 each). The R16 qualifiers with the lowest number of leagues represented are France (5), Switzerland (4), and Germany (3) – but even these put the England squad with 22/23 England-based players (and one from Celtic!) to shame. In this respect, I always considered the recent FA Chairman’s England report missed serious consideration of as important a factor as the influx of overseas players to the English leagues – i.e. the unwillingness of English talent to learn and ply their trade overseas.

Global openness is also a characteristic of R16 team leadership with 7/16 managers coming from outside the country they are managing; and all three teams managed by an Argentinian making R16.

The primacy of the English Premier League (EPL) as the strongest global soccer entity is also challengeable on the basis of R16 qualification. Four of the sixteen qualifiers have no EPL squad members (but interestingly do have a small number from the Championship); and a further eight have five or less EPL representatives. However, to be fair, the EPL is the largest contingent of the Brazil, France, Nigeria and Belgium squads – albeit as minority contributors to very diverse teams.

As regular readers of this and my other blogs know, my passion for a cosmopolitan, open globalism finds little resonance in the current ‘little Englander’ agendas of UKIP and their Conservative apologists in government. Similarly, much of my career has focused on championing the strategic leadership ambitions of ‘regional cities’ and progressive communities. These can have as much merit as (and sometimes more deliverability than) those of much larger metropolitan cities or patrician counties.

Finally, I suppose I should return to Luis Suarez, and his exit in disgrace from the competition. Self-evidently, biting has no place on the soccer pitch. But sometimes supremely talented individuals are more than a little crazy. Is Suarez a case for draconian punishment or supportive rehabilitation? As a Spurs fan, I might welcome his absence from the WHL fixture at the start of the 2014/15 season. As the rest of this piece suggests, though, I am also drawn to understanding and rehabilitation of his psychoses.

I would have quite liked Costa Rica and even Uruguay to go further in the competition. We have a lot to learn from the two smallest nations with the most diverse squads (in terms of where their squads play). And, if we are in learning mode, then there is as little place for a knee-jerk judgmentalism about Suarez, as there is for the UKIP/Tory ‘little Englander’ views on foreigners. Like this blog’s argument on Huhne/Price last year, I hope Luis uses the next four months well.

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