Why I find professional football (aka soccer) so unfortunate?

I am mortified when I see the values of the highest paid and most watched football players and managers.  It’s a disgrace.  Watching the most recent Euro 2012 tournament which winds up tonight, I have been reminded about the way professional football is just not good for society.

Professional Sports a Source of Inspiration

At a professional level, sports are entertainment, an industry vying for attention and consumer dollars. Sports provide an outlet for unbridled testosterone. They buffer empty spaces and minds with conversation topics. They fill the minds of the youth with dreams. And, more importantly, provide role models to inspire us mere mortals and amateurs.

Professional Football a Source of Deep Frustration

It is for this last reason that I tolerate little professional football (aka soccer), especially since it is the single most popular sport in the world and, certainly, the most mediatized. On the positive side, you have to admire how national football matches can galvanize a nation and help override internal tensions (maybe the USA would do better to play in more shared international team sports as opposed to the insular American Football and Baseball which are extremely inward looking, albeit with some Canadian teams here and there). And national tournaments have a way of crystallizing the state of a nation, as witnessed by the display of ego-laden individualism in the French team in Euro 2012.

My Top ten list

Herewith, meanwhile, are the top ten things (from least to most) that irritate me in professional football:

  1. When the ball goes out, both sides immediately shoot up their arm to claim the ball, even when the call is perfectly obvious.
  2. No one ever throws in the ball where it went out.  It seems that there is a lax acceptance of 5 extra meters.
  3. When a free kick or a throw-in is awarded, the penalized team often holds on to the ball or throws it away disparagingly.
  4. formation football 4-4-2, The Myndset Digital Marketing & MediaWhen a free kick is given, the defenders are never 10 yards away and, right after the referee measures out the 10 yards, they mechanically creep up toward the ball.
  5. People and managers still pay attention to the formations (4-4-2 or 4-1-3-2…) whereas such stated formations have no resemblance to what actually happens on the pitch. Formations are a charade.
  6. There is no way to go take a break midway through a half without a risk of missing THE single goal of the match.  Ok, I’ll admit this is not going to be a big deal once I have TIVO installed.
  7. Any time physical contact is made or might be made, far too often the player will dive onto the ground and claim a free kick, with the hand going up even as they fall, and with the look of horror on the face that would make a B class actor proud.
  8. The pain and writhing of a player that has been or claims to have been tripped lasts as long as the referee is potentially thought to be looking in his direction.

    mario-balotelli, On the Myndset Brand leadership and digital marketing

    Mario Balotelli – doing his job alone

  9. Despite being the most lucrative sport in the world, there is still no goal line camera technology.
  10. And the winner is: When a goal scorer scores, his first reaction is to take off his shirt (if only it were to hide his name) and run from his team mates to self-promote. Never mind that he only accomplished that for which he is paid.  Your job is to score.  I say, well done for doing your job.  Punto.  Mario Balotelli’s display, so symptomatic, in the Euro semi-final match against Germany is not what team sports are made of.

Between the lack of goal-line camera, only one referee on the pitch and no TV review, there is a gaping opportunity for corruption and manipulated results in professional football. As has been covered recently in English professional football, there is widespread gambling and corruption (run by the Chinese it seems) even down in the lower divisions.  Corruption is rampant around the world in a game that attracts too much money, and too many low levels.

My take:  Professional football should concern itself more with its image, values and sportsmanship.  What do you think?  Does it deserve to be the most watched sport in the world?

POST SCRIPTUM 6 JULY 2012:

I just read that the English Premiership is looking at implementing goal line technology for the 2012-2013 season.  A revolution is at hand?  See the BBC report.

16 thoughts on “Why I find professional football (aka soccer) so unfortunate?

  1. Thank yourself lucky you weren’t living in the 1970s and 1980s when cynicism was at its height on the field.

    FIFA, who set the laws of the game, wants the sport to be identical in the favelas of Brazil and in the Bernabau stadium. This means the sport is behind the times when it comes to using technology, such as whether the ball is over the goal line or not.

    Soccer is meant to be a fast past game, not stop-start like the American version, so does it really matter if the throw-in is a little bit further forward?

    If the ball is thrown away by the defender before a free kick, the referee can (and usually does) give the defender a yellow card. It was awful in the 1970s and 1980s, but the refs have stamped most of it out.

    Again, the walls are much closer to 10 meters than before. The refs now pace out the distance, with the linesman and ref watching the wall for any creeping forward.

    Formations mean last night the three Italians in midfield had to compete against the 6 Spanish in midfield. The 3 Italian attackers stayed up-field to support, which meant the Spanish dominated the game.

    If you’ve been raised on soccer, you get used to being able to concentrate for 45 minutes at a time, or goals always going in when you need to go to the toilet.

    I hate the injury acting – holding the face in agony is the latest fashion. In rugby, the physio runs onto the pitch and the game continues around them.

    Rugby also has interchanges (like in ice hockey), so the game isn’t held up with substitutions, “stop the clock” (a more accurate way to measure the amount of additional time needed), putting players on report (to review a bad tackle after the match) and a video referee (to assess if a try has been scored). Much better.

    Balotelli received a yellow card for taking his shirt off. If he’d picked up another one, he’d have been off the pitch and out of the final. So there is a penalty for taking the shirt off.

  2. Hi Ellis,

    Many thanks for your balanced rebuttal! Having played rugby for 18 years of my life, and brought up in Europe, I have long been a proponent of the flowing game… The toilet pause was probably the most unjustified reason, if only to note the low scoring element of the game, which of course gives heightened importance, I will avow, to the goal scorer.

    I am glad to have you benchmark the advances made and note with interest the reason for the lack of goal line camera technology. It is still strange that such an easy technology is missing from this game, when it has been created for tennis (with a lot of heartache along the way). I wonder if you (or anyone else) have any thoughts on the level of corruption and whether that too has diminished or increased since the 1970s…?

    On the yellow card for Balotelli, he knew it before he took off his shirt, so it was not much of a disincentive. An image-making moment for his career, I suppose — his belief must have been that the “penalty” (which amounted to his name being put in a little notebook) was worth taking.

    As it happens, my preferred professional sport to watch is ice hockey. Overall, I tend to privilege those sports who recognize team spirit and contributions. But, no sport is perfect. I just wish we could see better behavior and values, in general. (I wrote a piece against men’s tennis recently, too): http://www.minterdial.com/2012/06/male-concern-for-tennis-balls-rafa-versus-djokovic-2012/

  3. The diving & injury faking to draw the penalty is what bothers me most. I’d like to see the sport adopt a rule like “player must leave the field for one minute to recover from their injury if they stop play”… or something like that. If leaving the field temporarily was the price one had to pay for getting a penalty kick awarded, then I’m sure we’d only see “legitimate” penalties being awarded.

    • Absolutely right, @Charlie. I think the injury faking and diving has to go — like in rugby, as suggested by @Ellis, maybe the physio team has to come and tend to the person (just in case the injury were real) and then cart the person off for a minimum of two minutes.

      When you watch women’s football, there is none of that.

  4. On football there are even more weird trends happening. The worst is the media telling the public that someone scoring twice is a star! Every football player is named a star even when he is just a player. But that happens when individuals are getting thrown dead with money. Look at the Premiere League in the UK. The clubs are paying insane transfer fees for useless, especially English players, and investing in salaries totally out of any control. That forces players to act like Hollywood actors. There is merely no difference when it comes to private life or sports. So for most of them the game is a show and not a team competition. Only teams playing as such are successful. Spain has no super, super stars. Their style is discussable, but there are no scandals, no divas, nothing. They are a collective more or less. Individuals can win a game, but can’t win a championship in football. In Germany Borussia Dortmund won the national championship twice in a row without any stars. The German team is quite successful since 2006 without any stars. The English thinks Wayne Rooney is a star, but reconsider what he has delivered in 2010 and 2012, even in CL this season. I was at 6 World Cups and 5 European Championships in a row since 1990 and this time didn’t went to Poland or Ukraine as I’m to busy up here, but I didn’t miss anything spectacular. So the Euro was a disappointment, even how UEFA is presenting the game from a technical perspective. They showed more fancy fans than explained the difficulty and beauty of the modern football game. I can go on for hours as the whole situation is a mirror of the actual social situation globally. A bit stiff, but I’m pretty sure about it.

  5. Zidane summed up my feelings about the professional game quite beautifully in the World Cup Final 2006. As fine a “sod it” gesture I can think of as he walked off into the sunset, head held high.

  6. @Mike: A sad sod it moment! Well put. A sorry statement for football that arguably the best player in the world (at the time), should feel compelled to do that. Oh, yes, and there was also the hand of “god” in order to qualify, no?

  7. I think any sport is difficult to understand and bizarrely insane by those not raised on it. I remember my reaction to baseball after coming to the States from Italy. And then… maybe you meet someone who’s a bit smitten, and their enthusiasm for the game is infectious. Or maybe it’s just what everyone around you does. In any case, once you’re in it, deep into the traditions, the personalities, the weird and hypocritical laws and their either overly-lax or overzealous enforcement, you get taken over by that sport as the purest expression of man’s desire for… freedom. Breaking free, accomplishing a goal. Literally. There’s nothing like a 90-minute game that ends 1-0. For that one shining moment, the ball has broken free, the puzzle has been solved. Much like the home run in baseball…

    I’m with you on most of these 10- but my pet peeve is the offsides rule – to my (admittedly not expert) soccer mind, it kills any potential of the fast break, rewarding slow action, and molasses like trapping of longer passing attempts.

    And yes, it is, to a great extent all about the destructive effects of huge amounts of money misguidedly thrown around on anything…

  8. Good points @MichaelGoitein. Like all activities, once you pass through the vortex and get to understand it better, there is inevitably good reason to like the sport. It takes figuring out where are the painpoints, understanding and recognizing the skill, knowing and respecting the history, etc.

    That said, not all sports are of equal interest or scope. Football has such a widespread reach (and appeal), I just wish it were held to a higher standard and brought greater sense of ethics to our troubled world.

  9. Ou comment dire tout haut ce que la gente féminine pense tout bas (mais est incapable d’exprimer clairement parce qu’on n’y connait rien…).
    En revanche, les 3/4 de ce que tu décris la n’existent pas en Rugby :) Alors vive le rugby.. et les rugbymen!

    • Non seulement je trouve le foot féminin plus propre et divertissant (on a deux grands matchs ce soir… go USA et la France!), je suis avant tout un rugby man (18 ans de jeu), donc je ne peux qu’apprécier ton commentaire! :)

      (PS Je n’ai vu aucun match de foot masculin aux Olympiques, mais déjà trois matchs féminins)

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