Rugged style in the football arenas: Lots of ouch and ouch

Top-flight football re-enters an era of super-tough duels. The Barcelonaization of the game is a thing of the past, kicks are trendsetters.

Hard and uncompromising: Daniel Carvajal (above, Real) brings Jack Grealish (City) to the ground.

Hard and uncompromising: Daniel Carvajal (above, Real) brings Jack Grealish (City) to the ground Photo: Reuters

It could well be that the time of bone-breakers in football has dawned again. The semi-finals in the Champions League showed that. The reputation that Andoni Goikoetxea, Roy Keane, Emilio Butragueño and Vinnie Jones (“The Axe”) once earned is being heard again today – and found to be good. For a good decade and a half, continental football went in a slightly different direction.

Almost disembodied one-touch football, FC Barcelona’s notorious Tikitaka, prevailed, but only because the successes of the Stafettenpassler and Seidenfüßlein spoke for themselves. The pattern has been copied countless times. Two generations of coaches were almost exclusively concerned with measuring ball contact times and length of ball possession.

In this phase of technology primacy, the kickers also seemed to be getting narrower and gaunt, the robust striker threatened to die out because the nimble little ones combined up to the goal and then pushed in (powerlessly and relentlessly). But now all of that is more or less obsolete: the paradigm shift in top-flight football towards a mix of radical robustness and zack-zag effectiveness has been completed. Interestingly, it is Real Madrid, this supposedly aging team, that has become the pioneer of the current style, to which others like Manchester City are adapting.

Due to national competition, Real Madrid never went along with the excesses of FC Barcelona, ​​which makes them all the better for the footballing era. Spectators trained in aesthetics and bodilessness sometimes turn up their noses at the gladiator fights. They castigate strategic kicking, nasty fouls and intentional clearing away.

wrestling and wrestling

And yes, it’s not nice to watch when, for example, Real defender Daniel Carvajal acts like a revenant of Uli Borowka, slams his opponent Jack Grealish into the advertising board or massages his shins blue – and doesn’t even see a yellow card for it. Similarly Antonio Rüdiger, who wrestled with Erling Haaland and was praised so lavishly, as if he had found a solution for world peace.

Some time ago, the royal press would have criticized the referee for boldly intervening, but after years of football becoming Barcelonaized, football fans are obviously in the mood for rowdy, uncompromising professionals who do not shy away from physically and verbally intimidating their opponents. And they want referees who turn a blind eye or two.

A few years ago it was considered outrageous that Real professionals like Sergio Ramos, who were really well-versed in all things, brutally attacked the opponent (see Mo Salah and Loris Karius), now a different wind seems to be blowing. The referee almost always got good grades, the experts were full of praise for laisser-faire. And Real is considered savvy and sly.

Teams with the old Barça gene can only try to adapt to this. And Manchester City did that, almost made a 180 degree turnaround. With Haaland there is a balancing bolt in front. The team, if they don’t want to fail again in the Champions League, are doomed to accept the physical, sometimes unfair game.

And this is probably also the reason for the renaissance of Italian football. Of course, there is not only robustness and the intrinsic catenaccio moment, no, the Serie A teams around Inter Milan or AS Roma embody modernity: a variety of game interpretations, as was implemented so successfully by the Moroccan team at the World Cup in Qatar became. So there’s a lot of ouch and ouch for the super earners at the moment. This clash-crash-kick is always entertaining.

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