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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Season of Hope For European Soccer

First a word of warning. All you rubber neckers, sensation seekers and ghouls who normally read soccer columns in the hope of finding a few dirty deeds in the otherwise clean, decent and healthy world of sports might be a little disappointed this week.


Every effort has been made to unearth some drugs, sex, hooliganism and corruption, but the plain fact is that this is the fleeting part of the season when hope springs eternal and the stage is temporarily occupied by those who believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, peace, the Lost City of Atlantis and a thousand points of light.


Normal service will no doubt be resumed next week, but for now it is the time for dreams; none more so than in the hearts of the little teams who found themselves in the draw for the European competitions alongside more famed opponents. Zhalgiris Vilnius may not actually beat Feyenoord of the Netherlands, any more than Tatran Presov of Slovenia or Sligo Rovers of Ireland will reach the finals, but for the moment they can fantasize.


And why not? The other good things in the game are largely denied them. The chances of Anorthosis Famagusta of Cyprus, for instance, being able to afford a tempting offer to a top Brazilian striker like Jorginho are, to say the least, remote. He is far more likely to go, as he did, to Japanese club side Nagoya Grampus Eight.


These smaller sides can, however, buy lesser names and they are doing so, thus participating in the move towards multi-ethnic teams -- the best thing in world soccer since the invention of the round ball.


The most obvious benefit of this is as an antidote to the brand of numbskull nationalism that is never far from the fans' lips at so many European cup matches. It would be a bit difficult for the more simple minds of, say, Sporting Lisbon's home crowd, to claim their side represented the flower of Portuguese manhood when their goals are habitually scored, as they were last Saturday, by a Polish striker from a cross by a Serbian defender.


This is even happening in England, whose fans' notorious bad behavior abroad often owed as much to yob-nationalism as it did to drink. Despite the secretary of the players' union somehow wangling himself into a position where he is actually advising the Government on which foreign players' work permits to grant, there are more imports performing in Europe's largest league than ever before. American Cobi Jones and German Juergen Klinsmann are just two of the better-publicized cases.


Elsewhere in Europe, the trend is further advanced. Serb is passing to Croat, Brazilian to German and Dane to Russian. Here is the second plus -- the creation of a melting pot of playing styles. We are only at the beginning of this process, but already the old cliches about Dutch total football, British kick and rush and Italian catanaccio obscure more than they reveal.


More significant than even the importing of foreign players is the increasing tendency for coaches to cross borders. There is former England manager Bobby Robson at Porto, Portugal, Yugoslav Safet Susic at French side Nantes and Giovanni Trapattoni who has joined Bayern Munich from Juventus. They bring different skills, new training methods, original tactics and, above all, refreshment.


But before we all get too carried away with the idea of borderless soccer and want to join hands and start singing a Michael Jackson song, consider this cautionary tale. Last week a Singapore court charged Michal Vana with accepting $250,000 in bribes to fix matches in a regional league tournament. Vana, you should know, is a Czech import for the Singapore national side.





Offside will be appearing weekly throughout the soccer season.