Yesterday the British daily the Guardian published an interview with Romain Saiss, a Moroccan international who plays for the Championship League side, Wolverhampton Wanderers. The interview was quite enlightening to say the least.
Saiss, who now plays regularly for both Wanderers and the Moroccan national team, started his professional career at the age of 22. In an era when professional footballers come as young as 17, it would be appropriate to call Saiss, a late bloomer. But, the more interesting point in the interview was that Saiss saw Barcelona's Sergio Busquets as his idol, a player who could be the least popular among Barca's starting line-up. Now, in my opinion, Saiss' story illuminates a new era in football, the age of reason.
Of course, Saiss is not the first late bloomer in football history with most recent and successful examples including Jamie Vardy, Franck Ribery, Miroslav Klose and Luca Toni. But the difference in Saiss' story is that unlike these players, he does not have a skill or game style that is obviously talented.
As he explains his idol's style, we understand his mentality more clearly: "Busquets is very important to his team even though you don't always notice him because of the extraordinary things are done by Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, and Andrés Iniesta. But I've always enjoyed watching him: his positioning, the simplicity of his play. I really hope I play against him at the World Cup."
Now, the kind of players like Saiss is also a late bloomer phenomenon, this type of simple but crucial players arrived in football in the mid-2000s. The very first examples of players like Saiss who were very prominent and had profound effects date back to the 2008 World Cup.
One of them was Marcos Senna, who played a huge role in Villarreal's success in the mid-2000s, and carried the Spanish national team to the trophy with coach Luis Aragones. His role in the team was very simple, he was supposed to build the bridge between defense and midfield, and do the chores in the midfield like pressing and helping the defense.
However, what he actually did was to make the defense join the offensive build-ups and settle the game into the opponent's half. This was the initial usage of "neo-total" football, which was perfected by Guardiola over the following years, appearing in full force for the first time in that tournament.
The 2008 World Cup, Marcos Senna, and the later Barcelona revolution brought groundbreaking changes to football. Once seen as a game played by individuals among eleven players, turned into a game played out by a coach and his eleven players working together. This required players like Senna, Busquets and Saiss, players who can follow the orders of their coach and meet the needs of the game without selfishness. Their existence on the field was the evidence of a new wave in the search of truth in football, becoming the reflection of an idea on the field, becoming the one and the same with the game. This turned football into a completely new game.
The new challenge was making the game itself more intelligent rather than putting some talented players on the field. And the only way to achieve that was to have players everywhere on the pitch with Busquets' mentality but with a different set of skills.
I do not mean to say that there should not be any unpredictable moment in football that is against the physics of this game. But, in terms of the philosophy of the game, one has to get rid of all the unnecessary parts that prevent football from taking its purest form.
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