Look At Those Rhythmic South Americans...

Is it really 2014? Are we still referring to South Americans as 'rhythmic' and Brazilians as some kind of special breed of skilful? Surely we know better by now...

Last Updated: 02/06/14 at 10:01 Post Comment

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A World Cup is a time for some to indulge in national stereotyping, which, in these days of instant, self-congratulatory offence, seems often to be conflated with racism. It's different; countries are not races.

On Friday Clive Tyldesley proffered the notion that England were playing Peru to somehow get acclimatised to the 'rhythm' of South American football.

Obviously, anyone with any knowledge of football knows there are a lot of countries in South America and they don't all play the same way, let alone with a specific rhythm to which one could be acclimatised within 90 minutes. How do you acclimatise to a rhythm anyway?

Some of the dirtiest, most vicious sides ever to play world football were South American. Argentina and Uruguay have both turned out some ruthless teams who would have stamped on your neck before exhibiting any sort of South American flair or rhythm. Dance on your grave, perhaps, but not in your penalty area.

Did you notice any specifically South American rhythm on Friday? No, of course not. Even in the glory days of Hector Chumpitaz, Peru had no unique South American rhythm because, and I'll say this slowly, it doesn't exist. Even the 'samba' football' term so often, to the point of cliché, used about Brazil, totally ignores those who wouldn't have been able to dance if you gave them ecstasy, put 100,000 volts through them and played Sly And The Family Stone's Greatest Hits, most notably the 1994 side.

But Brazil are held in such high regard in football that it's almost as though they are now a conceptual myth. This uniquely 'Brazilian' football brand doesn't really exist except in the minds of marketers. They have no monopoly on high skill. We see players from all over the world exhibiting so-called 'Brazilian' skills. We even say, when a third division player volleys one in from 35 yards, 'if a Brazilian had done that, we'd all be going crazy'. Yet even now, there is a special hyperbole reserved at World Cups for Brazilian players as though what they do is special beyond any other special and, more than that, is uniquely Brazilian. It's all part of national stereotyping.

Southern Europeans, especially Spanish and Italians and, to a degree, the French, were for years characterised as over-emotional, play-acting wusses who would crumble under pressure - forever in a pram from which toys would be thrown if things didn't go their way. East Europeans were brutal overlords: strong of thigh, stiff of mullet and prone to psychotic behaviour. Any game against Bulgaria or Romania and the like was always described as tough or physical even though some of the most skilful players in world football such as Gheorghe Hagi and Hristo Stoichkov hailed from the region. No matter. The stereotype has been set.

When it came to Africa, until recently, most African countries were greeted with the 'isn't it nice that they're having a go?' patronising nonsense. These were certainly always countries that England 'should be beating'. When they got too good to be laughed at, their physique and athleticism was praised, but any talk of African football having rhythm skated too close to overt racism. Now we're content to assume they're all corrupt and much older than the age on their passports. Perhaps it's a progress of sorts.

We'd be rightly a bit annoyed if it was assumed that there was a northern European rhythm or indeed any common characteristic between nations. We'd get furious if some sort of dance was assigned to us because we know our geographical location does not mean Holland play in the same way as Norway, England and Germany. Greater analysis of world football and the huge variety of tactical approaches deployed has finally woken many up to the notion that actually, it's a global game, and trying to apply either national or continental definitions is utterly redundant and always should have been.

These days, foreigners are not exotic creatures to be treated as though they are rare beasts from distant lands, they're a familiar, welcome part of the cultural smorgasbord of everyday football life, so you'd hope that commentators, pundits and reporters might, at least, pull back from the traditional instinct for national stereotypes and simply look at each team for what they are, not where they're from. They won't though. Indeed, one look at the papers will tell you it's started already.

Johnny now writes superb northern crime novels. We love them. Check them out here: www.johnnicholsonwriter.com

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