Buried away in a press conference ahead of Friday night's A-League match between Sydney FC and Adelaide United was a sizzling laser beam of a quote from Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold.
"Arnie" was in a belligerent mood, which is when he's most effective as both coach and speaker. He didn't take kindly to suggestions that his team -- which currently lies fifth on the A-League ladder despite scoring fewer goals than any serious contender -- was not entertaining enough.
"It’s a load of crap," Arnold said of his side. "You tell me one A-League coach that's ever been sacked for not entertaining."
Arnold's inference was clear. Boring is fine if boring gets results. What matters is that you win, not how you do it.
The background to all this is that soccer is still trying to win Australian hearts and minds by not being seen as a boring sport. Our three best-attended national sports (Australian Rules football, rugby league and cricket) are all high-scoring games.
There's an unspoken pressure from Australian soccer administrators to provide a "good local product", which is management speak for high-scoring matches that appeal to fans beyond the diehards.
Arnie thinks that's a load of bollocks. And as he showed in a gloriously old-school outburst, he has no time whatsoever for any sporting ideology which places anything above winning.
"When I got brought up as a kid, it was all about winning. When I got brought up as a coach, it was all about winning. The last five or six years, or maybe longer, kids have been taught that it's OK to lose, so when they lose it doesn’t hurt."
That, right there, was the biggest slap-in-the-face to the modern sporting ethos we've seen from a public figure in ages.
This writer has written often about his own son, and how the kid was frustrated playing junior AFL where they didn't keep score. The "every child wins a prize" attitude works for three-year-olds, but not for kids who can add up in sixes. Win or lose, the kids just wanted to know the score.
More recently, I wrote a piece about the same kid's experience in junior indoor soccer, where after losing every match of an entire season, his team miraculously came back from 2-1 down to win the last match of the season 3-2.
You couldn't buy the emotions that day. But you know what? All that losing beforehand didn't hurt him a bit. He knew the other kids were better and dealt with it emotionally. His ego survived the trampling, as had the egos of countless earlier generations of kids before the psychobabble weirdos took hold of junior sport.
Graham Arnold has touched on this overnight. It started with a rant about his right to play whatever type of football he thinks is right for his senior professional team. But it morphed into a wider commentary about the new sporting culture that has filtered up from junior ranks
“When I went overseas to play [Arnold, now 52, played in Europe and Japan in the 1990s] the reason the clubs bought Australian players was because of their winning mentality," he said. "We were like Lleyton Hewitt. But now, it’s fine to lose."
Arnold wants a little bit of the ugly back in sport. Not the ugly as in bad sportsmanship, but the ugly as in ruthless competitiveness, and dull play if required.
“I won’t apologise if I put 10 players on the goal line and we win 1-0," he said of his not particularly entertaining team which just happens to have conceded the fewest goals in the A-League.
“Do you reckon the Melbourne City fans were happy to lose 4-3 to the Wanderers last week?" he said of the high-flying Melbourne club which lost a fabulously entertaining match.
Graham Arnold was talking about senior football and junior football overnight. But both subjects were a subset of the same thing. Winning, believes Arnold, is not such a terrible thing to aim for.
And just quietly, half of the parents at those junior AFL games where no kid wins or loses were the first to enroll their kids in private schools. You know, just so they could get ahead.Suggest a correction