Forget The Football, Feel The Narrative

Best ever? Worst ever? Should we copy Germany? Or is it still Spain? The World Cup finished a day ago and it already feels like it's been analysed beyond measure...

Last Updated: 14/07/14 at 10:59 Post Comment

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It's over. The World Cup goes on forever. What a long strange trip it's been.

The group stages now feel almost like they were a different tournament. Remember when England played? It feels like that was 2012, not just a month ago.

So how was it for you? That is the crucial question. That is the very modern question. Was it the best ever? Who was the best player? Who was the worst? Hippest? Coolest? What is or was the narrative? Ah yes. The bloody narrative. This weird idea that you can shape life into some more easily digestible, more easily understood storyline. The random chaos of existence reshaped and redefined for absolutely no greater good at all other than to make those who invent narratives feel good about themselves. There is no narrative in football or in life; stuff happens and then some more stuff happens and then some more and that's it. Life is not a marketing exercise.

Inevitably, with the proliferation of media, there is much contemplation about the World Cup. However, what seems newer is the ongoing desire to somehow define what it is as it's actually happening. People were calling it the best tournament ever after four or five days and then were retracting that idea two weeks later. Suddenly, as the knock-out stages became more cagey, it was boring. Then it was epic as Germany put seven past Brazil. And the final? Well, it wasn't a classic was it? Or maybe it was. It was something, damn it. Where does it fit in the narrative? The desire to put a ruler up against the tournament, to measure it and rank it and fit it into the pantheon of history even before it was anywhere near over, never seemed greater or more all-consuming than it did in Brazil 2014.

In a very illustrative incident, at one point 5live's coverage of Australia's game against the Dutch became weirdly self-referring and self-congratulatory as at half-time they replayed the commentary of the Tim Cahill goal, which featured Robbie Savage making his trademark warblings and ravings in celebration of the wonderful volley. Instantly, they were telling us what a great moment of commentary it was. Indeed, Robbie himself was insistent about this point of view, seemingly delighted with his work. It was no longer a great moment of football, but a great moment of commentary. It was only ten minutes old, the game had 45 minutes to go and it was already being packaged up and sold back to us with a big label on it saying 'look at what we done'.

This was emblematic of the greater World Cup media culture where everything was being seen with an almost detached, post-modern eye which could not longer see a great moment of sporting genius or drama without immediately beginning to repackage, shape and place it in history.

This is why there was so much talk of that dreaded word narrative - a word not previously used in conjunction with a football tournament. It feels like the sort of word deployed by self-conscious men in their 20s who have those beards which manage to look like stick-on facial hair, men with their top buttons fastened and poorly fitting jeans. Men who want to look like they don't care, but care far too much about that. Sometimes it felt as though those people, when witnessing something happening on the pitch, had a first thought of 'and what does this say about me?' or 'how can this make me look clever?'

The search for clues to the competition's place in a greater story seems limitless. Everyone from global media organisation to readerless bloggers seems to want to understand what we have witnessed, to make sense of it, to understand what great truths it has told us. Is Louis Van Gaal a genius or just lucky? Did it prove that Messi is not a true great because he hasn't done it on the highest stage? Does Germany's win prove the primacy of the team over the brilliance of individuals? Has their football development over the past 12 years shown England a lesson? Should we copy them? Can we copy them? Or is it just another fashion spasm the way trying to copy Spain was?

The runes are being read, the autopsy already performed by a billion scalpels. The degree of shaping and moulding of events as they unfolded has been quite amazing and one is left with a feeling of having been standing in a hurricane for a month. Everyone has had their say. So much so that one day after it has ended, there already feels like nothing left to talk about the 2014 World Cup. It has already been assessed, measured, ranked and filed away.

But when the beards are shaved into the sink of time and the top button of destiny is finally unbuttoned, there is really only one truth about the Brazil 2014 World Cup. Some football happened. It was bloody good fun.

John Nicholson - he's on Twitter

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