'Artists' paint circles around England
Are artistry and insanity points on the same continuum?
As usual, that's a rhetorical question, though it's probably one that's been much debated down the centuries. But I'm not thinking about artists per se here, nor the sensitive subject of mental illness.
What I'm thinking about, as you'd expect me to be if you'd read this column a bit, is football. Naturally.
I know the beautiful game isn't everyone's cup of tea. It would be a boring old world if we diehard football fans had no one to cast disapproving glances in our direction or go on about how boring it is. If anything, and I'm speaking mainly for myself here, I think that might contribute to our enjoyment.
I see football as the beautiful game because, at its base level, it is such a simple game, and such an accessible game - all that's really needed for a game to break out is a ball. And yet, it can be the vehicle for some truly breath-taking skill.
If you've been watching the World Cup, chances are you've seen the advertisement, made by the "official restaurant" of the tournament, which features a range of ordinary people demonstrating a series of remarkable footballing skills.
They range from a youngster in a shopping mall flicking a ball into a laundry basket perched on a moving escalator, to a young woman in high heels juggling a football with her feet, both standing and sitting.
The most amazing sequence shows an elderly gent who pulls up in a mobility scooter, alongside the Copacabana Beach, and performs amazing tricks, one involving a handstand with the ball held in the crook of his bent knees. Somehow, I'm not sure that's actually his scooter. I am sure he was a really good player, though, quite possibly at the highest level, in his day.
To a degree, that's the kind of artistry I was thinking of in my opening question. Except on a global stage, with global recognition, and adulation, as the prize. Not to mention piles of cash, though many of those on display in Brazil are already fabulously wealthy.
In reality, I need to focus on just one man to answer that question in the affirmative, Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez.
If you watched their win yesterday morning over England - who have surely now supplanted Spain as the game's great underachievers, despite Spain's shock early exit - you couldn't have failed to be struck by the footballing artistry that pours forth from the feet of the buck-toothed Liverpool striker.
Against Roy Hodgson's English side, it came in two exquisite moments. The first, in the first half, displayed the artistry of awareness, of teamwork, and of the measured touch.
With Uruguay's Edinson Cavani making a run to the left hand side of the English penalty area, there seemed minimal danger, with four white-shirted England defenders and goalkeeper Joe Hart in attendance.
But Suarez picked his moment to make a run into the English box, and Cavani waited until the last possible split second to lift in his sumptuous cross without Suarez drifting offside. The result was that the striker found himself in the clear and with the chance to direct his header carefully past the advancing Hart, into the net. There were two artists in action in those splendid few seconds, and they painted circles around the English defence.
But late in the second half, after Wayne Rooney had pulled England level, Suarez went solo. A long clearance from Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera saw a player from each side go up for the ball in midfield. Had it come off a teammate, Suarez, waiting deep in England's half, would have been offside, but instead it glanced off the head of his club captain, Steven Gerrard, putting Suarez onside as he raced after the ball, with the jump on central defender Gary Cahill.
The artistry of anticipation, opportunism, and ultimately assassination all unfolded in less than two seconds, ending with the ball bulging the England net as he blasted home the winner. But viewed in slow motion there is a moment, following his blinding sprint in pursuit of the loose ball, where Suarez is in perfect balance. Leaning slightly to his left as he flies in from the right, eyes riveted on the ball, knowing no defender could have matched his speed, he sets himself, before burying the Brazuca in the England goal. That was the beautiful game summed up right there.
But, of course, this is the same Suarez who has spent time on the sidelines for biting one opponent and racially abusing another since his arrival in England, who was sent off in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal for handling a goalbound shot on the line.
Is it just that his sheer passion runs away with him? Perhaps. There have been moments of insanity in this World Cup from others; Uruguay teammate Maxi Pereira, who hacked the legs of Costa Rica's Joel Campbell out from under him in frustration, and Cameroon's Alex Song, who drove an elbow into the back of Croatia's Mario Mandzukic.
The beautiful game seems to bring on such brain explosions and Suarez has had more than most, though not, thus far, in Brazil.
Hopefully he can take his rightful place among the tournament's artists, alongside Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Neymar, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Lionel Messi, and avoid joining those whose momentary lunacy has ruined their tournaments.
The Timaru Herald