The Blizzard: Issue Seven

Jonathan Wilson (editor), 2012
http://www.theblizzard.co.uk/product/issue-seven/

This issue of The Blizzard had a lot of interesting topics and interviews to present. The magazine starts with several articles around the start of professional soccer in Colombia which resulted in a pirate league which was not approved by FIFA and the Colombian FA but still was a magnet for the best players on the South American continent and filled the stadiums in the country. After their way back into the arms of FIFA soccer in Colombia quickly declined. That makes me wonder why not more pirate leagues are created throughout the world, especially in countries where the soccer game is not attractive anymore for the fans under FIFA’s stringent reign, like in Africa or Eastern Europe.
The second block of articles is dedicated to soccer in England in the Victorian Age. It describes not only how soccer as a game but also the players received more  and more acceptance and the game started to get portrayed in the newspapers at that time. The topic of the early days of soccer, before the official history started with the first World Cup is always very interesting to me and therefore that will not be the last time you will hear from it.
The interviews in this issue are really good, either because the interviewees are interesting characters or the questions of the journalists created a interesting conversation. Leo Beenhakker, one of the most successful globetrotter coaches can tell stories about his time as coach of Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago and Poland but also about the contrast of working for a clubs in Hungary vs. Real Madrid or Ajax. His answers show that it needs a lot of adaption to adjust to the local habits and culture on one hand but to have some influence at the same time to improve the status quo. I think in many cases the work of these globetrotter coaches is undervalued because usually a championship in their home countries counts more than qualifying for a world cup with a carribean team or installing some longer lasting structures for clubs or the national team in countries like Poland or Hungary.
Roberto Martinez is an interesting character as well, not only because he started to play in England when southern foreigners were still a rarity and he survived the culture shock, adapted and tried later to have some influence on how the game is played with the teams he coached. It is also interesting to hear from a coach that he values stability in the club and creating a legacy more than coaching a top ten team like Liverpool. Now, he changed his opinion one year later, going to Everton, but that might be the more stable and long-term planing club in Liverpool and therefore the right choice for him.
Another interesting character which was interviewed in this issue is Esper Baardsen, a norwegian youth international, who dropped out of professional soccer with 25, still a player for the Norwegian national team at that time. When he did not get a chance to play regularly in a first league team, he decided that a career in finance is more fulfilling for him. Not only is it unusual to a player decides so early to retire, when he still has a chance to earn money and excel, the interview also showed that even today the English soccer teams are no place for people who want to thrive and grow intellectually. His interest in something else than soccer and his will to learn more, in his case about finance and investment, was at least frowned at or in worse case he was bullied for it from other players or coaches. Maybe that is one of the reasons that the Premier League does not excel international. For success on that high level it needs more than good technical skill, it needs some intellectual skill to understand the game, to carry out complex tactical guidelines to succeed and to come up with new solutions when the standard doesn’t work anymore. Tactical excellence is missing now for years in the Premier League and it is not because of the lack of coaches who tried to bring it to the English teams. Maybe that is the reason, that Guardiola decided to go to Bayern München instead of Manchester City or Chelsea, because he found there players willing to learn from him. Quite the opposite happened when André Villas-Boas tried to teach Chelsea and Tottenham some new tactical knowledge and also Brendan Rogers and Louis Van Gaal have a hard time to teach their clubs something different than 4-4-2.
One person who went through all this and always was and still is constantly denounced for it is Arsene Wenger. With the article of Zach Slaton finally somebody appreciates the work of one of the best coaches worldwide, who is constantly underrated. Slaton shows by using similar statistics as in Soccernomics, that Wenger, even today when a Championship is far from happening, does an excellent job and over-delivers year for year based on the players he is allowed to work with. And by the way, this year it looked for some time at the end of the first round like they would drop out of the qualification for the international competitions completely and guess what, now, with eight games to go, they can still qualify for the Champions League once again. Well done, Mr. Wenger.

Biography: 1/3
History: 3/3
Background: 2/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3

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