Ik a lot of people disagree, but personally I think there is a huge decline of individual quality in football. People say it's only Serie A, because they have something to compare it too, but I think as a whole the great international football sides are declining.
Ok Neymar is a good player, but can you compare him to Ronaldinho? Can you compare Oscar to Kaka? As good as he is, he is never going to win ballon d'or. Fred to Ronaldo? Jo to Adriano?
Or Totti/Del Piero to Immobile/Balotelli?
Viera and Makelele to Matuidi? Henry to Benzema? Thuram to whoever they have at CB? Zidane to Valbuena?
Yes, I know, back then they had shit players too, but not as much as today. And yes, monster made a good point about romanticizing past players, but compare these international teams to 2006, and you can still see the big teams have taken a huge huge massive hit in terms of individual stars.
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I remember watching a Man Utd training video where Rooney was doing some crossbar challenges and shit like that. And someone in the comments wrote, "this guy gets paid millions and he can't even aim a ball at a bucket?", and the reply was "he doesn't get paid to put balls in buckets, he gets paid to play football". And he's right.
Fact is individual technique has been declining greatly while team work has been increasing. There are no great crossers anymore. Where are the Beckhams? Where are the amazing Roberto Carlos and Juninho free kick takers? All wingers pass straight to the feet or whip it in. Back then you had Ronaldo dribbling players, leaving them for dead, now today forwards can beat one guy and cross, and it'd be amazing. You can see how Messi and Ronaldo sacrificed their dribbling skills simply to be more "efficient" for the team (tap ins and penalties) *Im only half joking*.
I recall having a conversation with a family friend who worked as an engineer and said engineers back then were a lot more versatile than today because they had no computers (of course they weren't that good with computers : ) ). But in Math/Science they were a lot more rounded. You had guys who had graduated school 50 years ago, and still could do calculus amazingly fast. Today, they forget it in a matter of seconds unless they're involved with research.
Computers have made everything easier, and the tasks a lot more specific. PHDs are a lot more specific. Where we had amazing blacksmiths and craftsmen that built entire artifacts alone, we now have monotone factory workers that do 1/100th of a job.
And that's not to say that the stuff produced today is bad. It's actually way better. But it isolates the workers from the product. You have millions of people working towards one product.
However, the responsibility of each person is almost insignificant. Their personal tasks are very VERY specific. They lose their all-roundedness.
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Some people say BvB is the definition of modern football and I agree. Why that is, is because it's all about the system. Players all have a specific task, and are not expected to carry teams like Zidane and Maradona had done. Each player has a specific task/responsibility.
However, how many times have we seen players struggle to maintain their form out of Dortmund? or players struggle to retain their form out of Barca?
Look at Bojan. How well he looked in Barca compared to other teams? or how well Kagawa looked in BvB compared to now.
These are players trained to work well in a specific system. (Kagawa might work well in Japan/BvB but not Man Utd where he's expected to have a brain of his own). But out on their own, they struggle. They don't have the all roundedness.
Players today are designed to perform well in a specific setting with specific responsibilities, and struggle outside. They are trained to be excellent in very specific tasks.
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Clubs today are certainly stronger than clubs back then. What they lack in individual technique, they make up in stamina and most importantly chemistry.
The big clubs are not even affected by the individual quality crisis because they can simply buy players.
But these players that are so well trained in their club systems, to perform specific tasks (some are great at it), might have very different responsibilities at international side.
While Messi's task was to score a boatload of goals at Barca (even though he didn't start off as a pure striker), he never developed the all roundedness that Maradona developed. While Maradona might not have been as an efficient goalscorer, he was a lot more rounded as a player. He could create a lot better, and lead teams, something that Messi has failed to do.
Why I love players like Ibra is because they make players around them look better. Remember Nocerino goalscoring? What happened to that when Ibra left? Remember Boateng the great physical #10? What happened to him after Ibra left?
While this "specific task" style of play is beneficial to clubs, when these players go to their national clubs, they can't replicate the same performance, unless they play very similar styles to their club (Spain/Barca).
Clubs make up for that individual all roundedness with team chemistry, something that international sides don't have the luxury to.
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All in all, I think with time we are getting better athletes but worse footballers. Just like factory workers, we are getting footballers trained to perform very specific tasks within a great system. While the factory product is superior, in the way we are losing the great artists, the true blacksmiths who can develop amazing artifacts on their own. The true well rounded footballers like Ronaldo, Cruyff, Maradona, etc...