Peter Young
14 May 2001
England Football Online
Contact Us Page Last Updated 14 May 2001
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Comment: The Foreign Player Deserved Credit, Too

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England's Football Media Miss the Ball in Reporting the Cup Final

The English newspapers on the web have been crammed with praise of Liverpool's Michael Owen for his two-goal performance against Arsenal in Saturday's F.A. Cup Final.  Much of it has a nationalistic bent, noting how much better Owen did than Arsenal's French forwards.  

The football writers can celebrate Owen all they want--we suppose it makes them feel a bit better about English football after Continental European teams have exposed its weaknesses once again and after the Cup Final has been played outside England for the first time between two teams loaded with foreign players and led by two foreign coaches--but the fact remains that Owen and the rest of the Liverpool team did not become a serious scoring threat until Czech midfielder Patrik Berger came on as a substitute in the 78th minute.  

Apart from Arsenal squandering several scoring chances, what won the game for Liverpool was not simply Owen's finishing, but the substitution that brought on Berger to join an earlier substitute, Gary McAllister, in the midfield.  The entire complexion of the match changed once both of them were on.  Liverpool's passing game began to flow, the Arsenal defenders began to retreat and to fall apart (just as Adams and Keown all too often have in the face of a skilful passing game when wearing England shirts), and Liverpool's forwards, including Owen, began to find opportunities they didn't have earlier on.  Without those two substitutions, Liverpool--Owen--never would have scored.

Yet the media almost universally failed to give Berger any credit for, among his other contributions, the wonderful ball that freed Owen to exploit his speed afoot for the only time in the match and score the winner.  Most stories didn't even mention Berger.  Others merely mentioned that he made a "pass" to Owen before the goal.  Well, there are passes and there are passes.  This one was better than Owen's finishing, and the finishing was superb.  It reminded us of one of Roberto Rivelino's specials, those perfectly-weighed deliveries over distance with which he used to free Jairzinho, Tostao, Pele and the other Brazilian forwards of the 1970's.  There have been very few footballers since Rivelino who have had both the vision and the skill to deliver a beautifully-flighted ball over distance under the pressure of match conditions.  Moreover, anyone who's played the game knows how much more difficult it is to weigh a long-distance pass that is delivered straight ahead, as Berger's was, rather than diagonally.  When it dropped 50-plus yards from Berger, it landed with barely a bounce and almost sat there, just waiting for Owen to run on to it.  It was a magnificently placed and a magnificently weighed ball, worthy of more than passing mention.  

Yet the Press Association's player ratings gave Berger 5 out of 10, noting only that he came "[o]n for Murphy with 15 minutes left."  With an exception or two, the rest of the reporting in the English press wasn't any better as far as Berger went.  England's leading football journalists continue to write, in the main, as if they're terrified of foreign influence on the English game.  We think most of them are and that their fear colours their reporting.  By all means celebrate Owen's talent, but also give credit to others where credit is due, even if it means praising a foreign player.