When many of us were discovering our love for football, it was clips of talismanic forwards controlling the ball in seemingly impossible ways and pulling off out of this world skills which we could then go and spend hours trying to replicate in a back garden and with our friends in the school yard. Back then the beautiful game lived up to its name.
Now though, the newest generation of football fanatics find themselves largely deprived of that joy. Largely gone from the game are the elasticos, rabonas and rainbow flicks in place of raw pace, athleticism and stamina. The star players of the modern generation are work horses, ruthlessly efficient and assured on the ball with a 70-yard cross-field ball now in the back pocket of the top centre backs.
That newfound technical proficiency has seen the modern game adapt from the wild, unorthodox era of the entertainer into this modern, risk-free style. High pressing, constant movement and rapid passing moves have created little opportunity for forwards and wingers to unleash these eye-catching skills on the regular and instead it has often divulged into a simple foot race or off the ball movement which opens the spaces and breaks the defensive line of opposition teams.
As much as a player running rings around his opponents and turning them inside and out with a drag back here and a spin there, the risk of losing the ball associated with that kind of play these days isn’t stomached the same way by coaches most concerned with keeping the ball, controlling the match and striking at the optimum moment. For every time a maverick play may break the line, it equally risks giving away cheap possession.
That’s not to say the modern, somewhat more plain, style of football isn’t full of truly great players. The athleticism of the modern day elite is a world class quality in its own right, but the flying full back doesn’t quite excite the terraces in the same way as the likes of Ronaldinho slipping past his man with an unreal piece of skill on the ball. Flair players still exist, from the likes of Neymar to Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin, but they find themselves becoming increasingly endangered.