The Complacency of the Beautiful Game
Posted on May 2, 2011 6:46 pm
Saturday: Chelsea defeat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1, coming from a goal down. Their first wasn’t over the line. Their second was offside.
Sunday: Arsenal defeat Manchester United 1-0. During the game, Arsenal are denied a definite penalty when a handball is missed. Man Utd are denied a definite penalty when Michael Owen is brought down in the area.
Two clutch games. Four incorrect decisions shape the title race. It’s hard to become too incensed by the United non-call as it cancelled out one in the opposite direction. I’m also past being mad at referees. Collectively, we sit around our televisions, squinting at the fifth, close-up, freeze-framed camera angle saying something like “Is it…….? Is it……………..? I think just might be…….. hmmm……….yes……YES!! That ball is FRACTIONALLY, NOT OVER THE LINE!!!! AWFUL DECISION!!!!! TERRIBLE REFEREEING!!!!! USELESS!!!!!!”
Refs simply do not have the tools to provide the level of accuracy we now demand. Sepp Blatter and FIFA have paid lip-service to goal-line technology and replays following a number of contentious decisions at the World Cup. I for one, envy anybody who takes this news at anything close to face value. That level of optimism is surely reserved for the most deliriously oblivious members of the human race. FIFA have already used such time-tested excuses as preserving the ‘human element’ of refereeing and keeping the game ‘the same’ whether it be played in in the hugely-funded Premiership or the skint Imaginary Amazon Rainforest Ameoba League.
This got me thinking about Football’s place at the pinnacle of the sports world. Right now, the game looks bullet-proof. However, I have to ask if the beautiful game hasn’t become a little complacent about it’s position.
This week should have been a feast for fans of the game and an opportunity to convert the unbelievers. Aside from the two crunch Premiership ties, we also had the small matter of Real Madrid and Barcelona, facing off for a place in the final of Club Football’s biggest competition. Across the globe, hordes of fans fantasised about the jinking runs of Messi and Ronaldo, the slick passing of Xavi and Iniesta, thirty yard lobs by Xabi Alonso, one of the games great rivalries unfolding on the biggest stage. Sadly, we were instead “treated” to two sets of grown men bickering, scrapping and performing amateur dramatics in a manner that would make the cast of the Jersey Shore blush.
Meanwhile, preperations for upcoming installments of the game’s showpiece, the World Cup, are decending into farce. Apparently when awarding the 2014 World Cup, FIFA just took the Brazil’s word for the fact that they were well placed to build 12 new stadiums and that an infrastructure groaning under it’s own population could accommodate 600,000 visitors in one summer. Than again, these are the same people who just handed the 2022 to a tiny nation who don’t have anything right now that they’d need to host a major tournament and whose suggestions for coping with the searing heat in June and July include outdoor air-conditioning and as-yet-uninvented, mechanical “clouds”.
Heavy questions are being asked of the game’s governing body with regards to it’s motivation, with a cynical public growing more and more suspicious of it’s members. Speculation about corruption and favours is in rapid circulation among fans and observers.
Then there’s the perpetual, unspoken threat of Europe’s biggest clubs breaking free of UEFA to form their own competition. This has led to greater opportunity for the bigger clubs to make the Champions League and a bigger slice of the financial pie by virtue of the “Market Pool” prize money allocation – an absurd portion of prize money that is awarded based on the team’s TV market. This particular wad of cash ensures that for example, a Belgian team could (theoretically) win the Champions League next season and walk away with significantly less prize-money than an English club that reached the semis. It’s okay though, because Michel Platini has jumped into action and installed new “Financial Fairplay” rules. This means that teams will only be able to spend revenue generated by the club to spend on wages and transfers. So just in time to protect such helpless victims as Barcelona and Real Madrid from having to contend with teams receiving external investment. It will also clamp down on teams carrying debt. I’m hoping that it won’t be just any debt. After all, it would be ironic for a club like Man Utd, whose only source of debt is a leveraged buy-out, to be banned from Europe. I’m sure if it comes to that, Alex Ferguson and David Gill will simply perform the G14 secret nipple-flash and get that Euro Superleague back on the table post-haste.
I’m not saying that football is on the brink of disaster. While I’m sure that the attendances for NFL games in London and pre-season NBA tours or Europe are encouraging for the organisations in question, it’s worth noting that famous football clubs are filling 80-90,000 seater stadiums in the US on a regular basis. The game is also seeing increases in popularity in the few places where it has played second-fiddle to things like Rugby and Cricket, such as Australia and South Africa.
However, FIFA mustn’t rest on it’s laurels. We live in a world of increasing technology and people are growing less tolerant of increasingly visible, avoidable mistakes in officiating. The world is already highly intolerant of corruption and FIFA must take steps to clean up it’s image and if applicable, it’s act. The World Cup must remain a showpiece for the sport and be organised as such. It cannot be a token gesture, passed around to nations for shallow PR reasons, with too little emphasis on logistics. Major club competitions should be about the prestige of the trophy ahead of familiar names taking part. Clubs, while having the freedom to generate competitive and financial success, should no longer be given free reign to gather so much wealth and talent that they become perpetually unreachable.
As ever, match-fixing, hooliganism and racsim must continue to be stamped out and punished wherever it occurs.
Right now, our favourite game rules the roost. But right now is fleeting. The game cannot ignore the chinks in it’s armour. Right now they appear inconsequential, but we cannot allow them to grow into serious flaws. There is time though. There is breathing room. For the next couple of decades at least, our position is most probably safe. But then again, maybe I’m just being complacent…