Notwithstanding the fact that this company’s web presence is home to a fast-moving blog, we at Mediolana generally try to resist the (sometimes acute) temptation to lurch into instantaneous and ultimately ‘thin’ reactions to world events. Nevertheless, the astounding advance of the England national football team to the quarter-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup merits serious and speedy analysis.
The crux of the matter: at this tournament, England have done nothing less than author a new, postmodern school of football. Up to now, soccer teams have generally tried to score goals from passing the ball to each other in such a way as to create space in which goalscoring chances might be converted; failing this, they resorted to a more physical interpretation of the sport, playing direct balls into dangerous areas and hoping to gain possession from knock-downs and inadequate clearances.
However, England are eschewing the open play routes – and in fact, any semblance of what has traditionally been construed as ‘football’ – by using the inevitable hurly-burly of the penalty box at set-pieces to induce what can plausibly be perceived as fouls; these incidents are then vociferously brought to the attention of the referee and, indirectly, his video assistants.
That these types of fouls are not merely often ambiguous but rarely awarded to any other team has – true to historical form – scarcely registered with most of the British media. But some extraordinary existential questions lie ahead for the beautiful game if this curious hybrid of staged wrestling and pseudo-litigation succeeds in propelling the English beyond the last eight; FIFA’s decision to introduce VAR is acquiring an invidious dimension.