Manuel Veth –
The kicker’s verdict was clear: Arturo Vidal, who had been categorized as world class by the magazine, was voted, as the best defensive midfielder in the Bundesliga. He was, however, not the only Chilean defensive midfielder categorized by the magazine: The kicker believed that Arturo Vidal’s Chilean teammate Charles Aránguiz, who plays for Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the Bundesliga and who was caregorized by the magazine as international class, the second highest category, is currently the third best defensive midfielder in Germany.
Aránguiz, however, missed most of the 2015-16 Bundesliga season after he raptured his Achilles in the summer of 2015. Bayer had paid €13 million for the defensive midfielder, who had shown his international class at the Brazilian club Internacional Porto Alegre. The injury, unfortunately, meant that Aránguiz only played seven games for Bayer Leverkusen this season.
In those games, he managed two goals, and two assists, and had an average grade of 2.40 (with one being the best and six the worst). Yet, the seven games in the Bundesliga are technically not enough for the critical watchdogs of the German magazine to include him in the ranking (a player must have played at least nine competitive matches in a season to be included).
Indeed, when the first part of the ranking was published on July 13, the kicker pointed out that Aránguiz’s ranking was primarily attributed to his performance at the Copa América Centenario where he played eight matches in which he scored one goal, and played alongside the above mentioned Vidal and was one of the key components in Chile’s successful title defence.
In the Past Copa América Performances Were Often Overlooked
In the past, such a performance at the Copa América would not have been enough to convince the specialists from the German magazine, as the Copa América has lost much of its allure in recent decades, and has had a secondary status to the European Championships.
The extraordinary Copa América in the United States—where the tournament was held to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the competition—was also viewed critically because corruption allegations had almost led to the cancelation of the tournament. Another criticism was the fact that the tournament had just been held last year, and finally many football romantics accused the United States of cultural appropriation, as they believed that the celebratory Copa should have been hosted in South America.
Then, before the tournament, Brazil opted to send a weakened squad to the competition because the Brazilian football federation (CBF) decided to focus on the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro instead—Brazil has never won a gold medal at the Olympics. Brazil’s performances may very well go down as the biggest disappointment in Copa América history, as the country failed to escape the group stage, after losing to Peru 1-0 after a clear handball goal.
Some Stars Were Not Fully Fit for the Tournament
Meanwhile, some stars, such as Lionel Messi (Argentina), and Luis Suárez (Uruguay), were not fully fit when the tournament started, and indeed Uruguay was one of the early victims as the team failed to survive the group stage of the tournament. Messi, meanwhile, struggled throughout the tournament with minor injuries, and didn’t start a match until the semi-final.
There were also doubts as to whether Argentina would actually be able to travel to the tournament, for the Argentinian Football Association was without leadership, and there was talk that the AFA could withdraw the team, or be banned by FIFA. Regardless, Argentina did take part in the tournament, and managed to reach the final, which was lost dramatically to Chile after a penalty shootout.
Following the loss, a seemingly worn down Lionel Messi announced his retirement from international football. There have since been suggestions that he could return, but his lack of success with the national team, and the poor organization of the AFA will mean that Argentinian football will never be the same. Hence, while Chile were celebrating their title, it was Messi, who left a final negative mark on the tournament.
Organization and Homophobic Chants Were the Big Negatives
Lastly, there was criticism about the organization of the tournament. FutebolCidade experienced the tournament in Seattle, and Chicago, and what was noticeable was the fact that the tournament had little to no presence on the street. Those who have visited countries during major tournaments will know that cities often fly tournament flags in the street, host public screening events, and welcome visitors with banners which point out that they hosting a major sports tournament.
Furthermore, tickets were too expensive, which explains the under-capacity crowds in soccer markets such as Chicago and Seattle—the average price for a ticket in the group stage was $144, and some matches saw an average price of $236. Another failure was the decision to sell the majority of the games to the Spanish language station Univision, which meant that many viewers in Canada and the United States could not access the vast majority of games, or chose not to because of the language issue.
Of course, some of this can be attributed to the fact that the tournament had to be organized at the last minute, as the FIFA scandal had jeopardized the event, and it was not until October 23, 2015 that the tournament received a final go from all organization committees involved.
In addition, Mexican fans also showed an ugly face by continuing to introduce homophobic chants to North American football culture and, while questions have to be asked about the on field performance, the Football Federation of Mexico (FMF) will also have to fight homophobia on the stands.
Indeed, the chant in question could also be heard in matches that did not include the Mexican national team—one example is the match between Bolivia and Argentina in Seattle.
Copa América Centenario – The Positives Outweigh the Negatives
But, aside from the negatives, there were many positives about the tournament in the United States. While many matches were not sold out, which again could be attributed to the fact that the USA failed to generate enough of an event character for the tournament, the average attendance was 46,370, which was almost double the average attendance of the 2015 edition in Chile (25,227 per game).
Including the United States and Mexico also proved to be a success, as both national teams were able to draw large crowds. Yet, while the United States managed to reach the semi-final and finished the tournament fourth, Mexico once again disappointed at a major tournament, as they were defeated 7-0 by Chile in the quarterfinal.
Allowing Central and North American countries to participate in the Copa was perhaps the biggest improvement of the tournament, as the countries from those regions significantly helped to improve the level of play. It is, therefore, no surprise that there have already been talks about merging the North American Gold Cup with the Copa América on a permanent basis.
The German kicker magazine believed that this year’s Copa América proved exceptional in terms of the level of play. Those who watched both the Euro 2016 in France and the Copa América, will have noted that the American continental competition offered much less in defensive tactics and, instead, many games were a goal scoring festival.
This is also confirmed by the goal scoring average of both tournaments, as there were only 2.12 goals scored on average during the Euros, opposed to the 2.84 goals scored at the Copa. A big factor in the goal scoring difference was the format of the tournament. UEFA’s decision to expand the tournament to 24 teams has meant that four third placed teams reached the quarterfinal and, as a result, defensive tactics dominated many group stage matches at the Euros.
The Copa was Often More Entertaining than the Euros
The Copa América Centenario, meanwhile, utilized the Euros’ old format with 16 teams, which meant that only two teams from each group could advance. Hence, teams were more inclined to play offensive football in order to secure a win, rather than playing for a draw or narrow loss (as Northern Ireland did against Germany at the Euros).
FutebolCidade was in the stands during Argentina’s 4-0 victory against Bolivia, and it was noticeable that Bolivia, despite already being eliminated from the tournament, actually attempted to play attractive offensive football. In the end, the Bolivians paid a bitter price, as Argentina took the Andean nation apart to win the group.
The football aspect, especially, shows that the tournament in the United States was a success and, if US Soccer takes the necessary lessons from hosting such a tournament, the United States would be a fantastic host for another Copa América, or even the World Cup.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London. His thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be available soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.