CAPE TOWN – The human spine is the line of bones that runs down the centre of your back. It is essential to the manner in which we function, controlling movement, feeling and acting as the link between the brain and the rest of the body. If you have problems with your spine, expect the quality of your life to be affected.
The point I’m trying to make is that a football team, like the human body, relies heavily on the spine.
The spine of a team refers to the positions from goalkeeper to central defence, to central midfield and centre forward: in other words, the line that runs right through the middle of the team. This is the core of what makes a side successful. Get the spine right and, invariably, the team plays well.
For example: Manchester City: Ederson (goalkeeper), Vincent Kompany (centre-back), Kevin de Bruyne (midfield) and Sergio Aguero (forward); France’s World Cup-winning squad: Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane, N’Golo Kante and Antoine Griezmann.
Cape Town City have struggled for form since winning the MTN8 last month. For reasons including injury, suspension and rotation, coach Benni McCarthy has had to chop and change his starting team - and, as expected, the flow and rhythm of their game was affected. On Saturday night at the Cape Town Stadium, however, with everyone back in contention for selection, McCarthy was able to get his spine on to the field and the City engine was purring again; in the end, they were far too strong and classy as they swept past AmaZulu 3-0.
But it was the return of the spine that was at the heart of the victory: reliable Dutch goalkeeper Peter Leeuwenburgh, uncompromising centre-back Taariq Fielies, dynamic, indefatigable Austrian midfield man Roland Putsche and the powerful Siphlele Mthembu in attack.
* On the same day in which there was much disappointment about the attendance at rugby’s Currie Cup final between Western Province and the Sharks at Newlands (around 27 000), football’s Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates (about 90 000) proved that rumours about its demise was greatly exaggerated. Having been in the doldrums for a while, the occasion lived up to the hype as Chiefs and Pirates produced a pulsating, entertaining match.
Gone was the caution and defence-first attitude of the recent past; in its place was an attacking approach that was really good on the eye, with Pirates trio of Vincent Pule, Justin Shonga and Augustin Mulenga an absolute treat to watch.
* Regular readers of this column will know that I’m an ardent Liverpool fan. But, and especially with my son being obsessed with Arsenal, I have to keep a close eye on what happens at the Gunners. And, boy, have they looked good in the post-Arsene Wenger era. New manager Unai Emery has breathed new life into the team and they are currently on an 11-game winning run (this was written before yesterday’s away game against Crystal Palace).
Mesut Özil is again looking like the world class player he undoubtedly is; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are on fire up front; Alex Iwobi and Héctor Bellerí* have been revitalised; and the addition of the exceptional Lucas Torreira has infused the team with much-needed midfield solidity.
The scary thing is that Arsenal will get even better with time - and I’m just bracing for the banter and tension which is about to be ratcheted up in the Liverpool-Arsenal rivalry in my home.