England Must Prioritise The Collective Over Individuals

This World Cup has demonstrated the potential for a team to be greater than the sum of its parts. Now England must learn that vital lesson, says John Nicholson...

Last Updated: 23/06/14 at 09:25 Post Comment

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These days, there's a lot of talk about hipsters in all walks of life. As far as I can tell, Hipsters largely seem to be men with beards, sleeve tattoos, buttoned-up checked shirts and unpleasant, ill-fitting trousers who live in a couple of specific parts of London and regard themselves a part of some notional, non-mainstream, creative counterculture. More traditionally, these would be the people everyone, everywhere else would know as a 'typical London wa*ker'. Hipsters in Paisley, Penzance or Peterlee are a far less common sight, I'd imagine or hope.

So far, so annoying, but the good news is, according to this weekend's Guardian, that the hipster is dead, or at least out of fashion now. Thank Christ for that. Embracing individuality and a quirky off-beat lifestyle, as well as a beard, is so earlier this year, apparently. So we can expect that the fashion will pass, along with the facial hair, vinyl records and the interest in obscure coffee, leaving behind the genuinely different, creative people who'd had their lifestyle co-opted and colonized by shallow, faddish types who believe a shirt maketh a man.

In its stead is something called 'Normcore.' Thank god something has filled the void. How could we live if we didn't have someone telling us how to be? Normcore seems to comprise of being, well, normal. That's rad, man.

A Nathan Barley-type who run something called The Future Laboratory (a place also full of absolutely awful trousers, I'm guessing) and who, I also imagine, relentlessly begins all his sentences with the word 'so...' is quoted as saying, presumably without irony, that "Normcore moves away from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity that opts into sameness." Hopefully after he said this, someone hit him in the face with a bag of organic quinoa.

Using words more designed to convey meaning rather than inflate a sense of self-importance, I presume he is saying being an individual is out. Being part of the collective is in.

However, anyone who has been watching the World Cup could have told him this was already the case. Teams seem to have mattered much more than individuals. Big players seem less big and the less heralded have been more important. Isolated acts of individual brilliance have taken a back seat to team work. So much so that when Lionel Messi won the game for Argentina with a brilliant goal, it seemed out of step and almost retro, especially in contrast to the group heroics of their opponents, Iran. We've seen so many teams work as a unit and not as an aggregation of individuals.

But England has always been a team predicated on the importance of individuals, they have just lost to teams more predicated on collective effort. I listened with a mixture of rage and amusement to Harry Redknapp saying that both Italy and Uruguay are 'average' sides and that none of Uruguay's back four would get into a Premier League side, as though that is the gold standard against which to be judged.

On many levels this is typical insular, narrow and frankly reactionary thinking which helps to hold us back but, perhaps more importantly still, insults our intelligence quite profoundly. The evidence is before our eyes. We should not ignore it in favour of thoughtless notions pre-conceived without reference to reality.

For too long in England we have thought that the best individuals make the best team and thus to leave out one of the best players is to weaken the team. We have a press corp dedicated to being outraged if any of our best players are even considered as being potentially excluded. As a consequence, we've always found a way to accommodate the best players even if they don't fit in the side, can't be played in their preferred position, or if they're off form. Then, to compound the problem, when they don't perform well, the same people that insist on their presence in the side, berate them.

It is perfectly possible for a team to be greater than the sum of its parts, surely watching this World Cup proves that to even the most blinkered observer. Thus it is extremely dumb to point at the Uruguayan centre halves and say "Well they wouldn't get in a Premier League side's back four, so we should be beating them."

It is this narrow thinking that reflects how obsessed with the cult of the individual we are. Over the years it became impossible to think of dropping some players regardless of their form or their fit into the side. In the 80s it was John Barnes, in the 90s it was Alan Shearer, then David Beckham and now Wayne Rooney. Great players all, on their day, but England didn't fail to win anything with them in the side for no reason. And one of the reasons was that at certain times, they should not have been playing.

Perhaps it's part of a post-Thatcherism philosophy that glories in the individual rather than the collective, but what is so hard to understand about picking players who work well together first and foremost? Players who compliment each other, who counter-balance each others weaknesses and strengths? If this World Cup has any lessons to teach the blinkered traditionalists, it is that they are out-of-date, out of fashion, out of style and out of ideas.

In football, as in life, let's have more Normcore and much less hipster. We're in an era 'post-authenticity', after all. And England are nothing if not a post-authentic international side.

John Nicholson - he's on Twitter

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