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
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.