The ethos of South American football

There is something so magical about South American football that it never lets you down. It is no secret that football is the most popular sport in the world and the South American continent has always had a major role to play in that.

Be it the quality of players it has produced generations after generations or the sheer passion with which people from the region approach the game, their enormous contribution to football is just unparalleled.

The game, at times, almost becomes synonymous with the very existence of most of the countries, with Brazil and Argentina being the frontrunners. So, for South American people, football has always meant more than just the World Cup trophies they have lifted or the immense fan following they have enjoyed all across the globe.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez once rightly said: “If it wasn’t for Fidel Castro, the entire Latin America would be speaking English today.” What he meant was that for the people of that region, their language has always proved to be a decisive tool to hold on to their distinct identity and a sharp weapon against American capitalism. Football, also, serves as a similar weapon for the people of the continent. It is more than just a game for them. It weaves another dimension into their identity, adding exuberance and hope to their tumultuous lives in the midst of anguish, placing them firmly on the global map.

Football, over the years, has seen two distinct ways of playing- the South American style and the European one. The South American style is definitely ‘more raw’ and direct, as compared to the more polished (too much at times) and calculated European style. The European style, especially in the recent years, has often lurked on the verge of being extremely plastic and lifeless. But the South American nations, even the ones who are fairly less gifted as compared to the giants, have managed to keep the true nature of their game intact.

The ongoing Euro and Copa America have been a great testament to that. Whereas on one hand, this particular edition of the Euro Cup has been remarkably disappointing, apart from the underdogs rising above their inbred capabilities to exhibit some awe-inspiring football; Copa America, on the other hand, has been as eventful and engaging as it always has been. Unfortunately, Euro always walks away with all the attention, mostly because of the extravagant stadiums, ornate broadcasting and also the timing of the matches in our country. But no one can refute that it is actually Copa America which has carried the burden of keeping the true essence of the game alive.

South American style is much more result oriented, with end-to-end football at its best; the through balls and the key passes are far more menacing and the intent of the teams is always forward moving. It is also more physical, which definitely is an inevitable manifestation of the passion with which the players go about their game. Another inherent trait of the South American style is dribbling. The continent has gifted world football some of its greatest dribblers, with the likes of Maradona, Messi and Garrincha leading the way. There have been a bunch of others also who could easily unnerve defenses with their resolute runs; such as Pele, Zico, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo (Brazilian), Rivellino to name a few.

Dribbling has always been an innate part of the South American brand of football, which results from the forward moving mentality of the players. But that’s not the case with European football, even though they have also had their share of some great dribblers such a Zidane, Cruyff, George Best etc.

Football: South American Vs European style

With time, European football has gotten bigger and bigger in terms of the limelight and money involved. The brightest talents from South America nowadays play mostly in the top leagues of Europe, which wasn’t so much the case back in the day. The European clubs not only buy the talented Latin Americans, but also there are scouts employed in grassroots who keep an eye on the young talents right from the beginning. They are then brought to Europe and groomed to perfection in the sports academies most of the big clubs have nowadays. Arguably the finest player of our generation, Lionel Messi, is the prime example of such ventures.

European style has become all about perfect nourishment and grooming of talents right from an early stage, whereas South American football springs up directly from the soil. This major distinction between the two actually is a direct corollary of the stark difference between the socio-economic conditions of both the continents.

Even though the contrast between the two styles of playing is narrowing down with time, South American football still bears the smell of the street. European football is racing more and more towards machine-like perfection, making football bland and dreary bit by bit. But South American football has somehow managed to retain that pure soul of football- the soul that actually made us fall in love with this beautiful game.

I sometimes wonder where South American football could have reached with the kind of money involved in Europe. But then, probably it would have lost its true ethos. Who knows! Probably South American football wouldn’t have been so magical if socio-political scenarios were different. As they say: “The mean streets of South America always produce the greatest of footballers.”

About Adhiraj Kashyap

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Adhiraj Kashyap is a filmmaker. He is currently studying film direction at Film and Television Institute of India (FTII)

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