The end is here. My last blog post of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in association with Marfrig and Yingli Solar. Now that I’ve done all the player and team assessment stuff, I thought I’d end with a few observations, in no particular order.
Firstly, the vanishing spray for free kicks is just a fantastic idea and was a revelation at this World Cup. The fact the English Premier League has rejected its use for next season is utterly baffling; it will though, I understand, feature in the Champions League. The best inventions are often the most simple and this is definitely one of them.
In all I thought the standard of refereeing erred on the overly lenient, sometimes to the point of idiocy. How Thiago Silva didn’t get sent off against the Netherlands I’ll never know, while Neymar should have been sent off in the opening match. Fernandinho completes that Brazilian triumvirate having kicked James Rodriguez round the park in the quarter finals and not even getting a yellow. It wasn’t just Brazil who benefited from that leniency though, and while FIFA tend to go a bit mad before World Cups and encourage referees to give cards for nothing, this tournament has gone too much the other way in my view. Skilful players need to be protected.
Speaking of which, the attitude taken by officials and coaches to player concussions in this tournament was incredible, and potentially life-threatening. FIFA need to sort this out and right soon, issuing some kind of edict that players with a suspected concussion must be substituted. Otherwise the potential for long-term damage is huge. Why Christoph Kramer played on for a few minutes last night when he was clearly about as self-aware as a Kardashian is an utter mystery, and there have been previous incidences involving Javier Mascherano and (particularly) Alvaro Pereira which were similarly absurd.
I’ve gone on about this previously, but once again the British media’s coverage of this World Cup was inconsistent to say the least. Undoubtedly the most unwelcome presence in the BBC line-up is Mark Lawrenson who in his co-commentary for the final, as Bob Mortimer so beautifully put it, “sounded like he’d have more fun repairing a photocopier in his loft” than getting paid to watch the World Cup in Brazil. Alan Shearer I also still can’t be bothered with, his main style of punditry being of the “say what you see” variety. I did think Rio Ferdinand was by and large very good (and I quite liked his double-breasted jacket last night…), providing some proper defensive insight and speaking to what he would have done and the challenges he could see from a particular situation.
The inclusion of Tim Vickery was an obvious step, but such a welcome one. The man’s wealth of knowledge, charisma and eloquence are practically unparalleled in modern football journalism, and it was fantastic to see him being unleashed on a mainstream BBC audience, having listened intently to him on the World Football Phone-In for the last seven years. Tim was also well used on Five Live, and the BBC did try its best to include expert journalists as well as former players, with Fernando Duarte, Sid Lowe, Rafael Honigstein and Mina Rzouki on various BBC things over the last four weeks.
ITV, meanwhile, continue to hack me off. Fabio Cannavaro was fine and pretty handsome, Gordon Strachan’s rant about football having no morality was a breath of honesty and Martin O’Neill having a go at Cannavaro and Patrick Vieira for not knowing who he was despite his two European Cup wins was hilarious. Again though, Adrian Chiles has all the charisma of a broken fridge on a piece of urban wasteground, while Andy Townsend is just a waste of language. As for their “beach cafe” which forced us to watch Chiles sit about in his sandals while Glenn Hoddle’s 2010s era mullet flapped about in the wind, the words “Tactics Truck” leapt to mind.
Finally, to the guardians of the beautiful game. As in 2010, FIFA have taken billions of dollars in revenue from a country which is still developing. Brazil could have developed its infrastructure as well as building some stadiums – in the end it just has some stadiums, some of which will prove to be largely useless. One would at least hope that the feel-good factor remains till at least after the 2016 Olympics in Rio (where a few of the World Cup stadiums will be used in the football tournaments).
Where FIFA did get one thing largely right was in their treatment of Luis Suarez. A 9-game international ban and a 4-month ban from football feels about right. Biting is weird, but it won’t end a player’s career, nor would it be likely to get him banged up in the real, non-football world. However for a third offence, the suspension meted out feels right.
Finally, it was heartening to hear Mr Blatter being enthusiastically booed while the trophy was being given to the Germans. FIFA’s goal is to make money and keep its sponsors happy, not really look after football. Sensible rule changes (like goal-line technology) move at a glacial pace, efforts for internal reform move even more slowly, while the news that Blatter intends to “do a Havelange” next year and go for a fifth term is soul-destroying. If that happens, continue to expect players and associations to receive bigger fines if they promote the wrong solar panel provider, rather than if they or their supporters have been responsible for racial abuse. FIFA needs leadership and reform – Blatter will not and will never provide it. That’s all from Brazil 2014 from me – normal service is about to resume as we all try and work out what to do with our lives without the World Cup.