I love football. Actually, that’s an understatement. The truth is I am crazy about football! My love for the beautiful game started in 1989 as a seven-year old in the United Arab Emirates. Despite having a small population, the UAE were on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup and football really gripped the nation. As the team got closer to the dream, I found myself wanting to watch more football than just the one or two qualification matches every six weeks or so.
The golden age of live sports on television was yet to arrive, so I managed to catch the hour-long highlights shows for the Serie A and the English First Division (as it was known then) on the local English channel, the much-loved, albeit rather oddly named Channel 33. Despite getting exposure only through highlights, it took me only two months to be familiar with all the teams in Italy and England. By the time Italia 90 came around, my excitement was not limited to just the UAE, but to see all the big teams with the stars of Serie A and the English league.
That jamboree of football in Italy made an indelible impression on my young mind. The likes of Milla, Valderrrama, Prosinecki, Klinsmann, Gazza and many others were now my true sporting heroes. This obsession with football was quite peculiar for a boy growing up in a South Asian social dynamic. At home, my dad, uncles and cousins were avid followers of cricket and so was the case almost universally among my friends at school, with the exception of a few acquaintances who hailed from Goa, where football was more popular than the gentleman’s game. Of course, I loved cricket and still do to this day, but football brought something more visceral out of me. The fact that nobody else really cared for the game except during major tournaments, made me even more passionate about finding avenues for the beautiful game.
Before the days of the internet, the newspapers were the best source of getting results. I use to eagerly await the arrival of the paper on Sundays and Mondays so I could read scores and reports from the weekend’s matches in Europe. Without ever having watched a league game, I even became a fan of the Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and La Liga, simply through reading reports and editorials. It truly was an addiction and remains so till this day.
Fast forward to 2015 and access to the game has never been easier. In fact, some would argue that coverage of the game has become too saturated with so many mediums to not only watch matches, but also to get breaking news, insights, opinions and much more. Like most other things in the social media age, this can get tiresome, however I remain a committed fan, especially because what happens on the pitch still enthralls me.
As a Canadian, I have to say, we have it better than most when it comes to watching live football. It’s no exaggeration to say, that if you are willing to spend a little, you can actually watch every match of the top 5 European leagues and the Champions League, all of it legally. I am one of those that takes advantage of this. The beauty of watching football on Canada’s Eastern coast is that you can watch the majority of it on weekend mornings and afternoons enabling one to have a normal life in the evenings. Of course weekday Champions League matches are a challenge, but strategically planned working days where possible, along with a PVR, certainly help.
This unfettered visual access to the game has contributed significantly to me developing an in-depth knowledge of football, its vicissitudes, its stories, its teams and its players. It is this knowledge and understanding that I want to demonstrate through this blog.
So, why name the blog “The Through Ball”? Football constantly provides us with breathtaking moments, be it in the collective or through individual skill. A well-worked set piece, a last ditch-clearance, a spectacular fingertip save, a bicycle kick flying into the net. These are but a few examples of instances that make us jump off our seats while watching the game. Nothing however, enchants me like a goal scored after a pinpoint through ball.
My reverence for this passage of play should not be mistaken for the final pass on the break that is becoming ever more prevalent in today’s game. Goals on the counter do contain an element of thrill that can be admired, however, they are ultimately an ode to efficiency rather than beauty.
A goal from a through ball against a tight defence that is doing everything possible to prevent you from scoring has a charm and importance of its own. In its purest form, the through ball combines two opposing dynamics perfectly – simplicity in execution and complexity in imagination. The final act catches everyone except the finisher by complete surprise. One wonders why we don’t see one more regularly? The answer is simple – variables. Starting the process of a through ball is probably the most cerebral act in football. Before the player releases it, he has to consider the opportunities for his teammates, the positioning of the opposing defenders, the probabilities of being caught offside and he has to bet that one of his teammates will actually attempt the desired run. All of this has to be computed in a split second. Hence, we see plenty of faulty attempts at the through ball and in fact, the vast majority of managers chastise their players for even attempting it. However, when executed perfectly, the coming together of joy and artistry brings about unparalleled satisfaction.
It is the taking into account of variables that I want to bring into the analysis on this blog. Of course like football itself, there will be times when the variables demand different types of analysis. There will be a good mix of previews, reviews and quick summaries, but even these will always aim to comprise an element of depth in them. However, at least once a week, you will get to read an in-depth editorial style piece that will look at something topical in football. Tactics, technique, stories, managers, players, clubs, countries and the whole gamut can be expected on this blog. I hope you join me on this journey and in time grow to love and treasure The Through Ball!