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Stoke City & Greece: Why Should ‘Pretty’ Success Matter?

The European Championships 2004. Ah, what a tournament. The Greeks told every single one of us that fairy tales can come true. They defeated France and Portugal along the route to triumph and won a major International tournament for the very first time as rank outsiders.

Unfortunately, what came with their ascent were the usual accusations of ‘ugly successes.’ They were criticised for playing a defensive game, for lacking ambition on one of the grandest stages of them all, even being accused of not deserving the title of European Championship winners, merely on the basis their play was not ‘pretty’.

What is clear to me is that success, ‘ugly’ or ‘beautiful’, should be celebrated equally.

Is passing it around ordered by Guardiola himself in the football version of the Ten Commandments? Is there some kind of rule whereby success must be based on intricate triangles, eye of the needle passes and 50 yard, cutting-the-defence-open sprays? Should every club base their football ideology on the ‘fact’ (as some football moralists would have us believe) that ‘pretty’ football is the only road that must be used for success, and any other form of triumph or any other effective style of play is ‘wrong’ and a disgrace?

Of course they bloody shouldn’t. This snobbery exhibited by fans of teams whom play ‘proper’ football is incredibly tedious and condescending. First off, how can any form of ‘ugly’ success exist? Isn’t any success inherently beautiful and failure inherently ugly? What possible beauty can there be in failure?

Think about it – if you lose the Champions League final playing tippy-tappy passing then is that not an ugly sight, regardless of the style of play you employ? And if a team like Stoke were to, in the future, win a domestic trophy or break into the top four, wouldn’t that be beautiful regardless of what style of football you play? Well yeah, of course it would. There is nothing ugly about success and there is nothing beautiful about failure.

Determination and capitalising on your strengths is beautiful. Displaying an unbelievable amount of heart and refusing to compromise your principle in the face of calls for a passing game is beautiful. But then, that is my opinion. ‘Beautiful football’ is a subjective statement to make – one man’s trash is another’s treasure; beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so on and so forth.

I, for one, like Stoke. I like Barcelona and Arsenal’s football as well. Some disagree but that is the wonderfulness of football – there is no ‘right’ way to play. How could a tika-taka hater look at Barcelona losing a Champions League final and say they should have won on the basis their football is better? He couldn’t because there is no definitive way to play our game.

So what right do people have to look down upon the likes of Stoke, or the more cautious tactics of Jose Mourinho? Football can be played in many ways. It is based upon the preference of the manager and the ability of the players you have. How can Stoke be expected to play like Arsenal? Are they to try and play like Arsenal and face relegation, or keep their current ethos and stick to whatever style which suits them? The latter, of course. Why attempt to fix an unbroken side? On the basis of what other people think; on the basis of ‘the right way to play’?

Bollocks to that, you stick with what you know. What bearing does it have on those who dislike Stokes ‘bullying’ (when statistics show their alleged violence is a myth)? It is not their job to comment on others – if they prefer triangles and passing then fine. But to try and confine football to one singular way of playing is not right at all. It’s arrogant, narrow-minded and it opposes everything football is about: subjectivity, individuality, the element of surprise.

Besides, to reiterate the earlier point about only the end product being important, why should it matter ‘how’ a tournament is won; surely all you would care about is the tournament ‘was’ won, no? If England won Euro’s playing hoof ball I would love it. Sure – it’s great if you triumph playing ‘sexy’ football. Good on you and well done for exciting the people who enjoy that style. But the actual success should always be more important than the way in which success is achieved.

Imagine if Greece had attempted a passing style: it simply wouldn’t work. So what would have changing their style of play got them? A pat on the back; an injection of moral righteousness?

The style of football must never compromise the excellence of triumph. Football is about winners – the Greeks triumphed and the Portugeezers lost, that’s it. Brownie points are not handed out for those who play intricate triangles that don’t work and similarly attacks should not be thrown around when ‘ugly’ football is proved more effective than a passing game. For Barcelona, as an example, the triangles work  – and great for them. They found a method to suit them down to the ground.

Yet for me the engraved name on the trophy is the only thing which should be held in high regard.  Greece won because their game plan outsmarted Portugal’s. Portugal had a style and Greece had a style – Greece’s defence was more effective than Portugal’s methods of attack.  Just because their play was not as technically gifted as their rivals does not mean they are any less deserving of the trophy, and it does not mean Greece should try and copy Portugal’s style to please the voice of the sodding football moral authority.

That is unbelievably condescending to their endeavours and, ultimately, the beauty of success matters more than the ‘ugly’ style of your football.

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