The Pakistani cricket team is the most compelling on the planet. A side always full of indolent match-winners, always as capable of losing a game as they are of winning it. Dropped catches, missed run-outs, batting collapses: the history of Pakistan is one of incompetence illuminated by occasional brilliance. For every success, there’s a failure: Imran Khan’s cornered tigers of 1992 undercut by an aborted Misbah Al-Haq scoop for six in 2007, defeat grasped when victory was in reach. A certain arrogance, volatility, an appetite for provocation: these are the key ingredients at the heart of every Pakistani side.
Making the fantastical appear mundane is part and parcel of watching Pakistan, and it contributes to a general feeling of unreality, of unease. You can’t trust your senses, your eyes, your logic, because the side you’re watching has defied probability over and over again. The team is no longer a concrete thing, instead resembling a vapour, a mood, a collection of moments that provoke deep emotion. Being held captive by that mood is central to the condition of being a Pakistan fan. It’s a feeling given a name in Osman Samiuddin’s excellent 2018 essay in Wisden, ‘The Haal of Pakistan’.
Osman describes the chaos of watching Pakistan play as a tamasha, a self-generating energy that begins on the pitch but sweeps up the crowd in its wake to overpower the opposition. It could be a sudden act of skill, a magical bit of fielding or bowling or batting, and the frenzy builds, the opposition starts to crumble, and the team and crowd work in concert to overwhelm them.Intoxicating, maddening, bewildering: it’s like being on a roving pirate ship where no one quite knows who the captain is. It’s the sort of head rush that only a small subset of football teams could hope to replicate, teams that can tap into that primal source. It’s never the best side or the most successful, rather it’s usually a collection of individuals who become agents of disorder, able to immolate either themselves or the opposition. Tamasha is fun yet riddled with danger; not all teams can handle it.
Below you’ll find some of the most tamasha sides football has ever seen. Strap in and buckle up; it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
You saw it all. You saw that he won Manager of the Month after his first six games in charge, and then you saw him having to get the spreadsheets out on the whiteboard to explain why he was having lads hide in bushes to watch Frank Lampard’s Derby County train.
You saw his Leeds side give Liverpool an almighty fright in their very first game back in the Premier League at Anfield, oozing tamasha, that infectious, acidic, Bielsa brand of energy. His Leeds side played like electric rodents on some particularly poky amphetamines. They assaulted your senses; they were everywhere, everything, and all at once. The game was like a yo-yo, both sides giving in to the moment, pressing and counter-pressing at a frenzied pitch. Liverpool score, Leeds equalise, Leeds score, Liverpool equalise, and on and on. It seemed like both sides were content to do this forever, even enjoyed the hyperbaric torture chamber they had created for themselves.
Everyone seemed settled and ready for the Eternal Game, right up until Rodrigo clumsily upended Fabinho in the 88th. Mo Salah converted with minutes to spare, and the spell was broken. Everyone looked around in a sort of stupor. Yes, they nodded to themselves, this is silly, and it is about time everyone went home to have a long lie-down.
How do you recover from being emotionally shattered on the biggest stage in football? You run off and spend time in a convent, sharing the routine of nuns in the daytime while having your nights consumed by thoughts of football. He’d be back; he just knew it. Indeed, Chile came calling in 2007, looking for a man who could revitalise a squad wounded after a 6–1 defeat to Brazil in the Copa America. There were some teething pains, including a 3–0 defeat against Brazil on home soil, but Bielsa largely succeeded in transforming the mentality of the Chilean squad.
He reshaped the spine of the side with young talent—Alexis Sánchez, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Bravo, Gary Medel—players who could bend games to their will, casting aside all timidity.
2010 was the year Chile decided to shake up the world. After dispatching Honduras in their opening game in South Africa (a 1–0 thrashing), Chile took on Switzerland, a stout defensive side that had just beaten eventual champions Spain. It was the kind of fixture Bielsa’s Argentina side would have bottled. Not so Chile.
These two are from the Bielsa section, and there are 12 other teams in the full list and Nigel Pearson makes an appearance, but you will have to pay money to read that... which you can do here.And if you're not ready to spend any money yet, sign up to our free weekly newsletter here.