With the recent passing of Dutch footballing legend and fabulous soccer philosopher Johan Cruyff I want to bring up a debate on whether Toronto FC should win ugly or not. I am going to argue that TFC should strive to play the game the "right" way rather than just be simply pragmatic and seek to only play for the win.
The Corinthians Football Club was a London based team formed in 1882 that refused to join the professional Football League in England due to idealistic reasons. Instead, Corinthians F.C. went on a globe-trotting tour promoting the game of soccer around the world. The missionary like club showed off their skills during the early part of the 20th century making stops in South Africa, Canada, USA, South America and the rest of Europe. Through these international tours, Corinthians F.C. played in a very beautiful and friendly style. This style embodied the purest attitude of the beautiful game.
When playing a match Corinthians F.C. would refuse to take penalties because they were deemed "ungentlemanly". When an opposing team lost a player through injury or by being sent off the Corinthians would take off a player of their own voluntarily. Playing football the right way was the goal. This spirit of just play inspired people all over the world. S.C. Corinthians Paulista in Brazil was created after a few workers saw Corinthians F.C. play an exhibition match in Sao Paulo. The reason that Real Madrid wears white shirts nowadays is because of the Corinthians.
The reason why I brought up Corinthians F.C. is because soccer was spread around the world through a philosophy that encouraged the masses to play the game the right way. The purest essence of soccer requires the game to be played fairly and gorgeously.
Now why should TFC strive to play the game pretty, rather than just win ugly? The negatives of trying to play the game do not exist within the MLS, unlike most other leagues around the world TFC cannot get relegated. Trying to set up a system where passing is crisp, assignments are understood and kept concise, takes a long time to master. It is hard to make things click with the possibility of dropping down to a lower league exists.
Another reason why Toronto FC shouldn't be trying to win ugly is because playing the game as simply as possible is not necessary for the club. Teams try to win ugly by trying to overcome their limitations. Think of Stoke City F.C. in their early years in the Premier League. They had to play negative football in order to overcome their players' skill limitations, compared to other teams in the Premier League. TFC is not in the same situation as Stoke. Toronto FC has some of the best players in their respective positions in the league.
Toronto FC has a great roster which does not require a negative style of play. Some of the current players on TFC include full-fledged internationals and solid MLS veterans. This current season a lot of teams around the world have chosen to take up a more pragmatic approach to games. Many "big" teams have chosen to play to win by not seeking to keep possession of the ball and only looking for a breakthrough through an opponents mistake.
In a biography written by Diego Torres about the ultimate footballing pragmatist Jose Mourinho, Torres summed up Mourinho's managing philosophies through 7 points.
1. The game is won by the team who commit fewer errors.
2. Football favours whoever provokes more errors in the opposition.
3. Away from home, instead of trying to be superior to the opposition, it's better to encourage their mistakes.
4. Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake.
5. Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake.
6. Whoever has the ball has fear.
7. Whoever does not have it is thereby stronger.
These points show a fearful approach to the game. Fans should want their players to want the ball and have fun. Hopefully, TFC can rekindle the spirits of the Corinthians by learning to play soccer beautifully. As the great Johan Cruyff said, "There is only one ball, so you need to have it."
The soccer ball isn't there for everyone to avoid it. Toronto FC should try to play the game to the levels of the Corinthians, not the scared and mind numbing play that is creeping up in modern football. Soccer is known as the beautiful game, hopefully TFC plays it that way.