Five Ways World Cup Soccer is like the Performing Arts
By Liana Arauz
Nope, I’m not referring to the dramatics displayed by a certain Dutch player that left a whole Mexican nation heart-broken, and many more thinking he is more deserving of an Oscar rather than a Ballon d’ Or nomination.
For many, myself included, soccer (or football as it is known almost everywhere else on the globe), is a magical, passionate sport, and the World Cup is the ultimate celebration. I look forward to it every four years the way a kid counts the days towards Christmas, knowing perfectly well that my heart will summersault every time my team scores. And I know I will be crushed if they lose, even more so if I feel they lost unfairly.
BUT, I understand that many people still don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Why all of a sudden for an entire month virtually every social media outlet – Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter – is filled with comments about games, goals, and player commentaries.
So for those of you immune to football fever, let me demystify it in terms that, especially those here in LAla land, should understand. Think: Movies and the Arts. You like those? Well football is not that different.
1. IT’S A TEAM A EFFORT – Any one that works in arts, whether a dance troupe, theater company or TV film production, will tell you that it takes a village. In movies or plays you can have a wonderful cast, but if the script is no good, it goes nowhere. Any decent director or producer knows that without great cinematography, sound, and designers, the project can’t get made.
Football is the quintessential collaborative sport. It is not a one-man game, or even an eleven men. There might be only eleven players on the field, but all the possible replacement players are crucial. There are injuries, games that go over time, and players who get kicked out. It’s imperative for the whole squad to be strong.
Scoring a goal in football at the World Cup level is extremely difficult. It takes a collective effort, not just having one good striker. No team has ever won a world cup without having effective forwards, a strong, cohesive defense, a skillful goalkeeper, and of course a great coach that “directs” or puts it all together – sound familiar?
2. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CASTING – This is a point to which both a director and a coach would agree. My former teacher,ACADEMY AWARD® – winning director Mike Nichols, would say 90% of percent of the movie is casting – choosing the right person for each role and then giving them space in which to create. A technical director in football feels the same way. They agonize over which combination of eleven players to put in the field for each game, what the lineup should be, what changes to make and when to make them. Just like a good director has a vision of how the movie should play out, a coach designs the overall strategy, game plan, and motivation for each selection. That is why Luiz Felipe Scolari blames himself completely for Brazil’s catastrophic defeat in their final two games. But like a good director, once the choices are made they just have to trust and let the players do their thing and create football magic.
3. PREPARATION IS KEY, BUT YOU HAVE TO LEAVE ROOM FOR IMPROVISATION – Movies and plays have months of preproduction, research, and rehearsals. Most producers would say that preproduction is when the movie is actually made. It is the same in football. National teams spend months training, studying their opponents, perfecting shots, but at the end of the day the true winners are the ones, who, on game day, can adjust to what is going on and what the opponent is doing. Similar to any good and dedicated actor. No matter how much research and rehearsal has taken place, during their performance they stay in the moment, are open, and react to their fellow actors, knowing that beautiful things are discovered and created in those moments.
Great teams know how to play when they are winning but also when they are losing. The master performer of this feat is Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo, “The Architect”. No one reads the field and makes adjustments to push his team as well as Pirlo does. It’s too bad World Cup 2014 was probably his last.
4. PLAYERS NEED TO BE INSPIRED – This one comes from friend of mine that actually played professional soccer in South America. I’m not referring to a financial motivation (German players were offered a bonus close to half a million euros each if they won the cup, but most countries that attend to the World Cup don’t have those kind of resources). Players play for the love of putting on a shirt to represent their country against the best teams around the world. Many games are lost, not because the players are not capable, but because they are morally defeated. Again having a coach that knows how to reach them and bring out the best in them – just like a director does with his cast and crew – is crucial to win.
5. IT HAS THE CAPACITIY TO MOVE PEOPLE – According to CNN close to 3.8 billion people watched the first game and for at least 90 minutes, almost half of the Earth’s population was fixated on the same event. The drama of football, like the arts, creates connection and inspires others. A beautifully executed goal is like watching a prima ballerina perform a very complex routine. The precision and creativity required is outstanding, and most times, cannot be rehearsed. Re-watch Van Persie’s first goal against Spain. Some football enthusiasts – like my father -compared it to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.
What I enjoy the most about World Cup are the surprises, drama, and underdog stories. Everyone likes it when the unlikely hero wins against all odds. During FIFA 2014 there were quite few heroic moments: the US for the first time beat Ghana, the country that in the last two consecutive World Cups had eliminated them in second rounds. The mighty Germans were pushed against the ropes when a humble Algeria almost repeated their feat of 1982 and eliminated them in the second round. My favorite and probably one of the biggest surprises is how the tiny Central American country, Costa Rica, went on to defeat four former World Cup champions, and made the Dutch, one of Euro strongest football squads go to penalties kicks. Not too bad for a country that everyone thought would not make it past the first round. They won their game against Greece, with five consecutive expertly executed penalties kicks, surviving to 120 min with one player out, and a referee that was clearly not in their favor. No script writer could have come up with that drama.
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And now – it’s over! No more World Cup till 2018. The next one will be in Russia and then 2022 is slated to take place in Qatar. The chances of attending for those of us on this side of the planet will be slim. So instead of being fed up, next time around why not grab a beer, a shot, a football-loving friend and join in the fun along with all screaming and shouting. Even if you end up with a little heartache in the process, it will be over before you know it. Just like in any epic film. Like “Saving Private Ryan.” Perhaps not all the heroes make it to the end, but the camaraderie and acts of bravery are beautiful.