2-10: Three Lions and a Funeral

[00:00:01] David Goldblatt: Okay are we going to play some music or should I just go for it, yeah. 

[00:00:03] Raja Shah: I got some music for you. 

[00:00:07] DG: What are you playing? What is that music? 

[00:00:09] RS: I just typed in sad cello music. We'll go with our usual upbeat stuff. 

[00:00:20] DG: Welcome back to Game of Our Lives. I'm David Goldblatt and I am recovering from England's 2 1 defeat to Croatia. And you know I've done a lot of England defeats in my time and an awful lot of disappointment. But I don't feel disappointed today. I don't feel let down. I don't feel like I've wasted my time watching England. I feel like for the first time really in a quarter of a century it was an absolute joy. Fortunately to help me recover, investigate and interpret the disaster that was England's semi-final, I've got Al Jazeera's Tony Karon and producer Raja Shah. Hello Tony. 

[00:00:55] Tony Karon: Hello David. 

[00:00:57] DG: Hello Raja. 

[00:00:59] RS: Condolences David.

[00:01:02] DG: And of course the leading man of the Anyone But England brigade on this show, Kanishk Tharoor.

[00:01:04] Kanishk Tharoor: My commiserations, David.

[00:01:06] DG: Kanishk, what went wrong for England yesterday, what went right for Croatia?

[00:01:10] KT: Well you know I think we all underestimated the energy in that Croatian team. They had just played two really draining long games and we just didn't think that this older team could keep up with a young English team. But I guess we were wrong. And I have to say that second half performance by Croatia where they summoned all sorts of levels of craft and guile and belief really underlined the gulf in experience between the two teams. I think Southgate, the manager, the English manager, wasn't able to sort of bend his tactics to the Croatian possession game and we had Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić by far the two class players on the pitch just dictating proceedings. 

[00:01:53] DG: And England actually looked tired, didn't they? I mean I thought in the second half in extra time, Harry Kane looked a little jaded. Dele Alli was definitely tired. Whereas the Croats were absolutely full of running right to the end. 

[00:02:04] TK: But also I think to underline what Kanishk was saying I think it's more than the gulf in energy I think this was really a gulf in quality. Mandžukić was absolutely superb in this match. Perišić was amazing, Rebić was amazing, and Vrsaljko the right back was amazing and Modrić was just absolutely stupendous. 

[00:02:23] DG: Yeah totally bossed the game. There was no one in the middle who knew what to do about it. 

[00:02:28] KT: That's the problem. 

[00:02:29] TK: Exactly. 

[00:02:30] KT: That was the problem. 

[00:02:31] DG: There just wasn't a plan. Did we go to him? Did we follow him? Did we try and close him down? There just wasn't a plan B from the standard 3 3 2 2 formation was there? 

[00:02:41] KT: Isn't that one of the joys of watching Luka Modrić? He's the sort of figure who's impact on a game, his physical impact on a game, is completely belied by his stature, right? He is this sort of fairly lithe, small midfielder, and yet I mean just by his movement, his intelligence, his positioning, his bursts of acceleration. He just can take a game physically by the scruff of the neck. It's quite remarkable to watch. 

[00:03:06] DG: And he can really rock an alice band as well. 

[00:03:08] TK: England ran out of ideas very early in this game. 

[00:03:10] DG: For sure. 

[00:03:11] TK: England didn't have any equivalent of Modrić. Nobody runs that England midfield. There's no playmaker. There's no there's no central processing unit. There's no player who sets the tempo, who shapes the team. There's no Xabi Alonso there's no, well you know Modrić is a perfect example either from the deeper position or the more advanced number 10 position. 

[00:03:31] DG: And yet there was a moment wasn't there in the first half where England were piling on chances having already scored a goal. They could have gone in two or three nil up. And it would have been a very different game at that point. What did you make of England first half? We know what you think of them second half. 

[00:03:49] KT: I listen, I loved Kieran Trippier's free kick. Often there's nothing better than watching an immaculate free kick and that was a peach. But you know when Harry Kane hits the post in that comical way, that's the kind of theatrical moment in football where you feel sort of destiny balanced on the edge of a knife. Harry Kane hits the ball against the post. It sort of bounces precariously around the line. I felt that Croatia might still be in it. They go in at half time and that's when everything changes. And you have to think that we've been singing the praises, as we should justifiably of Gareth Southgate, but it might be that some tactical reconfiguring then, some estimation of what could happen in the second half, had to happen in the English dressing room. But it clearly didn't. 

[00:04:34] DG: And let's not take anything away from the Croats. They really just were the better team in the second half. You know in every in every conceivable department. I mean I wasn't sensing that they changed their game that much. They just started playing it properly no? 

[00:004:48] TK : Yeah I mean I think that basically we are dealing with a situation where the quality player for player of that Croatian team was superior in most positions. So at the same time as you said at the beginning this England team has dramatically over performed. Given where the expectations were at the start of this World Cup. So what do we learn from that? In my opinion what we learn is the negation of this idea that there are too many foreign players in the English Premier League and that they're crowding out Englishmen. On the contrary, this is a generation of players who have been playing alongside top drawer foreign players for a number of years. So what you have now is a situation where Southgate relative to the coaching demands of the top tier hasn't maybe caught up as much as the English players have. That basically English coaching may be the next frontier to develop from that foreign influence to embrace it and to learn from it. 

[00:05:42] DG: Gentlemen, a quick thought on France versus Belgium before we move on. How did that game go for you guys? 

[00:05:49] KT: It was one of those matches which is not necessarily full of incident but is incredibly engrossing. You know? It can be dull, somewhat dull, and exciting at the same time. You know this French side demonstrated that despite the fact that it's stuffed with talented players, it can play a very organized, careful, cautious and clever game against the attacking flair of Belgium. It's interesting Griezmann, Antoine Griezmann, France's sort of talisman, told the press after the match that you know it was it was great. We played just like Atlético Madrid, his club team. Which is to say that they played a very determined, organized, somewhat defensive game and squeak past a more talented attacking team. 

[00:06:30] DG: Can you see how Didier Deschamps in a similar black suit, black shirt, black tie look that the coach at Atletico, Simeone tends to sport. 

[00:06:40] KT: No that's Simeone’s property. But it's interesting the French press described Deschamps as a carpenter and they say that if he's given titanium and diamonds, he will still just make a table. And that's kind of what we saw, we saw a table, a very well constructed table, made of titanium and diamonds. 

[00:07:00] DG: Is that how you saw it, Tony? 

[00:07:02] TK: Of course. Jose Mourinho might call the table a bus at times. But no I don't think the French park the bus but I agree with Kanishk they played an absolute, what can only be called a pragmatic form of football. And of course they neutralised, they completely neutralized Lukaku, they completely neutralized Eden Hazard who still looked like the best player on the pitch. But they, you know they were very compact, they never lost their shape, and they were never very adventurous. So yeah-. 

[00:07:27] DG: And Paul Pogba played a fantastic game, no? You know within the limits of of that style of football and the role that he was allocated. I mean he barely put a foot wrong through the whole thing no. 

[00:07:39] TK: Right exactly. I mean you know Deschamps must be happy for the year that Pogba spent under Mourinho’s shackles because you know that's the way he used him and he was very effective in that. 

[00:07:49] DG: And what happened to Belgium guys? 

[00:07:50] TK: Yeah the Belgian yeah the Belgians actually also seem to run out of ideas. There was almost like a mentality issue I think for both Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne who seemed to get more and more frantic as the game went on. More and more sort of you know trying to win it all on their own, being more willing to shoot from distance, you know trying sort of Hail Mary passes. It's almost in marked contrast to the calm that Croatia showed when they had to play themselves back into the game. There was that real you know experienced professionalism of like, we've done this. We've won crucial games all the way across Europe in the top leagues. We know what to do here. It's okay we know we have the means to beat them and we're going to do it. It's just you know the psychology of that moment. I think that Belgium team despite their age still lack that kind of winning mentality. 

[00:08:43] DG: We'll look ahead to the final in a bit. But first I need to do something about my own misery and the best way to deal with one's own misery is check in with someone else's. And so today's fellow sufferer is Marcela Mora y Araujo. She's a writer, a reporter who specializes in South American football in general, but focuses on her native Argentina. And with no South American teams in the semifinals at all, and a deeply disappointing Argentina, there's an awful lot to be miserable about. I wanted to see how Latin America and Argentina were coping with defeat. So I caught up with her on Skype at her home in London earlier this week. And as you can hear from the tone in my voice, it's just an hour before England are due to kick off against Croatia. 

[00:09:31] DG: Marcela. Welcome to the show.

[00:09:33] MA: Hello, it’s a pleasure.

[00:09:34] DG: We've reached the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and they're all from Europe. How is South America reading this World Cup and the state of play of global football just at the moment? 

[00:09:45] Marcela: Well I think it's really interesting. I mean there's two main currents of thought. One is, is this evidence that some kind of massive inequality has been maximized? Uruguay's manager Tabárez when he was asked the same thing and he said well there's a limit to how much we can compete equal to equal. Just look at the resources. It's incredible that we've got this far. And so that kind of inequality-. 

[00:010:12] DG: But when he says resources Marcela, forgive me for interrupting, when he says resources what kind of things is he talking about? He's talking about like what's available for youth development or medical science? Where do you think those inequalities are really biting if they are? 

[00:10:29] MA: I don't want to put words into Tabárez’s mouth. He just left it at that, infrastructure and resources. But I think there's a lot to be said for that. I mean you asked me about South America specifically but what I noticed and I found particularly frustrating was that there was no non European teams involved. And that's I think really sad. And the demise of the World Cup as we know it in a way. Because the whole point is that it's a festival of world football. So if only Europe, who already have more participating nations, are gonna go through then it's just the Euros again with guests in the early stages. So I mean I really love to explore that idea of inequality because I think its fundamental to the world at the moment. But there's another current of thought which I want to mention because it's funny. 

[00:011:23] DG: What's that? 

[00:11:25] MA: And that’s that in fact South America are still in it because of Pochettino’s influence on the English team. Africa is still in it because of the French players. And just that there's a kind of new order to the world where the nationalities are defined in a different way. And the football itself-. 

[00:11:47] DG: Well I think there's a lot to be said for that. I think there's a lot to be said for that. I mean what Europe is these days is not the Europe of 20 or 50 years ago. I read a lot of stuff where people are kind of aligning themselves or taking sort of pleasure or naches as we say in Yiddish, from the presence of Afro French and Afro Belgian players, as well as of course Pochettino. The Tottenham Hotspur supporters of course are particularly enjoying the influence of Pochettino. I believe nine Tottenham players amongst the four semifinalists. 

[00:12:17] MA: That's right. And not just Tottenham players but also his entire kind of legacy because he's been a kind of quiet pioneer of developing and nurturing, rather than buying expensive. And so it's not just the current Spurs players but the years of a particular orientation. You can just see from the English players that their relationship with the ball, if you like, is completely un-English. Even if their game is actually quite- it's not even England, the whole World Cup has been a much more physical and set piece and organized and heavily defended World Cup than the flair and skill of Latin American dribblers of yesteryear. But I think it's not just now that this has happened. 

[00:13:16] I think it's a few years of the influx of otherness into English football, European football. But what is interesting and perhaps something that we need to address as a society looking forward is that we haven't dried up the football of other places outside Europe. So the rhetoric is rich Europe has enriched itself more by importing all our talents. And the exporting nations have been left with nothing. And that is something that we need to really look towards because it's- I think it's to the detriment of the World Cup and of football generally that it just becomes a Euro Cup halfway through the tournament. 

[00:14:02] DG: Is there an appetite to ask some of those more difficult questions? Which, surely, are there an Argentinian football as you say, the state of the domestic league, the fact that Argentina is this extraordinary exporter of football talent has been unable to reap financially or institutionally any of the kind of benefits of that great big export trade. Is there any debate going on in Argentina that's looking that stuff in the eye? 

[00:14:28] MA: Well if there's one thing that's there's a lot of it's debate. Whether or not it's focused in the right places remains to be seen. I mean there's been all these rumours about the players mutiny, telling Sampaoli what, who to play and what formation to use, which is clearly nonsense I think. Because those players did not look comfortable, they did not look like they were doing what they wanted. 

[00:14:51] DG: Yeah the Argentinians did not look like they were enjoying it. Di María did not like a happy man most of the time. Messi as ever looks like death warmed up. 

[00:15:03] MA: Yeah absolutely. 

[00:15:05] DG: As part of the post-mortem back in Argentina, what are people saying about Messi? What are people saying about Maradona's performance? Which I would say once again managed to upstage him. 

[00:15:16] MA: Maradona upstaged everyone. In answer to your question, Messi notably absent from all conversations, from all analysis. I think there's just this kind of quiet hope that he sticks around. You know the whole debate about how Argentinean is he, has kind of quieted him down. 

[00:15:38] DG: Marcela you've covered a lot of World Cups in your time. And one thing I would say about this World Cup is although there's definitely some change on the horizon it remains, in the press books, in the commentary booth, relentlessly masculine. I'm wondering what do you make of this World Cup in terms of the arrival of women commentators, women in the press box, women in the audience? Is there real change? Is there something you've seen? Or are we still in the same old place that we were before. 

[00:16:11] MA: I think much worse than being in the same old place. We've actually regressed. 14 percent of the 16,000 accredited journalists this World Cup are women. 14. 1 4. And when I went to France in 1998, which was my first World Cup there, we were two thousand women out of 12,000 journalists. So we've actually gone down in 20 years. I think that's really shocking and we can't put our finger on why that is at all. 

[00:16:40] DG: So that's a really interesting statistic because it's completely counterintuitive to the kind of stuff people have been writing about the sort of feminization of the World Cup. 

[00:16:50] MA: There are women involved in football and we don't see them. And there are women working as crew, as experts, as producers. You see one person standing by the pitch, but in fact there's two lorries full of maybe 20 40 people involved in that and often they are women. But we don't see them. So I think it's kind of counter-productive to focus on the very few women who are actually front of camera or signing bylines and also still discuss it as a novelty that they're there at all. By now it should be half women on all jobs that aren't the actual athletic competition. But you know this should all be completely normal. We should expect the World Cup to see people of all color, of all gender, of all age, and just see them as a natural thing. It's ridiculous that we still have to go, oh you know there's a woman working on the BBC. And all go, oh hoorah. 

[00:17:50] DG: Marcela, we do have a long way to go. And I have a long way to go to get in front of my television. Forgive me, we are less than one hour away from the semi-final of England versus Croatia. Thank you so much for being with us. I have to go and watch the television. 

[00:18:05] MA: Go with God, dear. 

[00:18:07] DG: Love you people! Bye! 

[00:18:12] MA: I've just got, I still got um, David. The camera on David. I don't think he's turned his Skype off. 

[00:18:21] DG: To be frank, as we now know, I really didn't need to be in quite such a rush. But don't let any of this stop you from following Marcela on Twitter. She's fantastic and she's at Marc underscore Cart. That is, and I'm going to spell it out for you, M A R C underscore C A R T. That's M A R C underscore C A R T. Kanishk, was there anything for you in that interview? 

[00:18:50] KT: Quite a bit David. You know I grew up in the United States in the 90s and early 2000s at a time when most of the football I could watch was actually South American football. So my brother and I grew up watching the Argentine domestic league. And I loved watching it it was a great product back then. But it's noticeable how it's declined. And you can see now in the last 10 years how that imbalance between Europe and South America is really tilting. So many young players get siphoned off at such an early age into the European leagues. But I was curious, my consciousness of this really dates back to the 90s, but I mean has it always felt slightly imbalanced between South America and Europe? Going back to previous decades? Or is this something really new? 

[00:19:36] DG: Well what a good question how on earth does one measure it? I mean you know the teams were playing each other so rarely and we actually watched each other's football so little that it was extremely difficult to make a comparison. And so I think it's very hard to say. And well we can sort of measure these things by how many World Cups won and so on and so forth. But it seems to me too small an indicator, too small a set of data to really tell us convincingly about it. So I'm not sure is the answer. What I would say is the gap financially was definitely smaller. 

[00:20:09] KT: Right. I mean you have a team, sorry go on Tony. 

[00:20:14] TK: I just was wanting to sort of throw in there the idea that perhaps what we're looking at now is a situation where the top two three or four European leagues, domestic leagues, are kind of a global elite system. They're the kind of NBA of global football. And so with the satellite television capacity, meaning everybody can watch the same thing in real time, you know I go into my neighborhood in Brooklyn and the guys who work in the butchery are all Colombian. And they're all watching La Liga on a Saturday afternoon. Watching players they identify with like James. But you know the idea that this is all part of the spectacle of the elite leagues in Europe is now a global one in which Latin America has a very very strong stake. I think is the way to measure that now. 

[00:21:02] KT: But at the same time the sad thing is that we're getting, people's consumption of football is getting distanced from that more visceral, communal, collective pageant. That is so much a part of say, those South American leagues. I remember when I was growing up what captivated me about watching Argentinian football was nothing to do with what was really happening on the pitch. It was the displays in the stands. It was the songs, it was the barra bravas. It was, it was, it was these, it was the whole maelstrom and carnival around the match. And that experience of football is just going to disappear if we head in this direction of a completely concentrated elite watched on TV. 

[00:21:50] DG: Much more to discuss on globalization and the hollowing out of peripheral football leagues. But before that, there is one serious game left to watch at this World Cup. Raja, give us the bumper. 

[00:22:01] RS: Are you sure David? I mean I think we're good now. It didn't seem to do its job last game. I think we can retire it if you want to. The much maligned what to watch bumper. 

[00:22:10] DG: You're going to retire it? You got a new one for me? 

[00:22:12] RS: I have a few options. I think this one is my top choice. Let's give it a whirl. 

[00:22:17] (Sad music plays). 

[00:22:23] RS: It's catchy. 

[00:22:24] DG: Ah chocolate. It's music for chocolate adverts. Or insurance companies. 

[00:22:29] RS: We need to remix it I think in order for that one to be usable. 

[00:22:32] DG: I think this is music to slit your throat to. That's certainly not one to herald in the World Cup final. 

[00:22:38] RS: Here's another option for us. 

[00:22:40] (Monty Python: Bring Out Your Dead plays) 

[00:22:47] DG: The melodious tones of Monty Python and the Holy- not the Holy Grail. Is that the Holy Grail? I believe it is. 

[00:22:51] RS: That is the Holy Grail. 

[00:22:52] KT: Yeah that's the Holy Grail. 

[00:22:53] DG: We'll go with that. Maybe the bit that says, "Now we see the violence inherent in the system." 

[00:22:58] RS: Yes. 

[00:22:59] KT: Help help I'm being repressed. 

[00:23:00] TK: I am your king. I didn't vote for you. 

[00:23:04] DG: And talking of kings, Tony Karon, you are going to start us off. France vs. Croatia. What should we watch? Who's going to win? 

[00:23:12] TK: Well if there's one point of vulnerability I would identify in that French team it would be the full backs. They both look pretty decent going forward but they both look a little inexperienced when defending. And I think the Croatians are going to look to exploit that. They have fantastic front three Ante Rebić and Perišić in particular are going to look to to exploit that and to overload those full backs and create defensive problems for them. That said I think you know Croatia would perhaps fancy their chances of doing what they did to England but I think you're dealing with a very different midfield organization. And I would say in the way basically that French midfield the defensive midfield the Pogba, Kante, Matuidi combination absolutely neutralized the threat of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. Ultimately. I don't think that Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić are going to be too much for them. I think that France in the pragmatic style that Deschamps brings will basically manage to contain Croatia and win by a goal or two. 

[00:24:24] DG: Kanishk. 

[00:24:26] KT: I think France are the favorites but we shouldn't forget about the incredible tournament that Croatia have had so far. I mean remember they came, they soared out of an incredibly difficult group, right? With Argentina, Nigeria and a very organized Iceland. The match they played against Argentina was really amazing. Beating them 3 0. And it's interesting that that match actually, in Croatia it reminded people of the quarterfinal they played against Argentina in 1990 as Yugoslavia. And it was a kind of revenge for that loss. And then in the knockout stages they came behind in all three games, slogged it through through extra time and in two cases won on penalty shootouts. And against England they won in extra time. There's a kind of determination and steel and again as we said before craft and guard to this Croatian team that cannot be discounted. And I think that battle between the class of Ivan Rakitić and Modrić against Kante and Pogba and to an extent Matuidi that battle will be so enthralling, so engaging to watch. But I agree with Tony I think in general Croatia's coming up against a team where man for man, unlike against England, the quality is probably slated on the French end. So it'll be a much tougher game for them. 

[00:25:55] RS: I was gonna ask, David what do you make of this game? And who you're gonna be rooting for? 

[00:25:58] DG: Oh that's very very easy. Obviously I'm going to be supporting France. I mean partly because of the result of the semifinals. Partly because I just prefer, I prefer their style. I love it that they're another diverse team that represents you know the best of the consequences of migration in Europe. Partly because I've got money on France to win this at 9 to 1. Which is a jolly good bet I can tell you. 

[00:26:25] KT: Those are good odds when did you make that bet? 

[00:26:26] DG: I got that bet, oh just before the tournament. Special odds from William Hill. Nine to one each way so I'm already quids in people. 

[00:26:36] KT: Drinks on David! 

[00:26:38] DG: At least I got one prediction right in this tournament. Touch wood. We'll be back on Tuesday to wrap up this season of Game of Our Lives and the whole of the 2018 World Cup. This show is a production of Al Jazeera's Jetty Studios. We're recorded at the Sound Town Studios in Bristol UK, except for today, where we're in my hotel room in the Shankly Hotel in central Liverpool. The music as ever is from Bang Data. Subscribe to the show if you haven't already. Apple Podcasts or where ever you get your podcasts. If you like it please leave us a review. Follow us on Twitter at at Game of Our Lives. It just remains to say thank you very much Kanishk Tharoor. 

[00:27:21] KT: Thank you David. 

[00:27:22] DG: And thank you very much Tony Karon. 

[00:27:24] TK: Condemn me. History will absolve me. 

[00:27:27] DG: Thank you Raja Shah, who no one will be condemning. 

[00:27:31] RS: Thanks David. 

[00:27:33] DG: I'm David Goldblatt. We'll see you on Tuesday. Enjoy the final. 

[00:27:39] RS: Oh Tony do you have your headphones on?

[00:27:41] TK: No I’m going to put them on. I have them on but do you want me to plug them in too?

[00:27:45] RS: Yes.