Who is to blame for that much-hyped goal­less draw?

World Soccer - - From The Editor - Paul GARD­NER

I re­cently sat down to watch – via TV – the game we’d all been wait­ing for: Liver­pool v Manch­ester City. It was a to­tal bore and, frankly, an in­sult to the sport. Two of the world’s best teams and two of the world’s top coaches, and what do they give us? A 0-0 snore-athon with the first shot on goal not com­ing un­til the 62nd minute.

Yes, yes, I know all about how in­trigu­ing and fas­ci­nat­ing it was, but it was still a colos­sal non event, lack­ing in just about ev­ery­thing that nor­mally makes a foot­ball game worth watch­ing.

I ad­mit I had prob­a­bly al­lowed my­self to be se­duced by all the gush­ing praise heaped on Jur­gen Klopp and Pep Guardi­ola and how they loved to play at­tack­ing, en­ter­tain­ing foot­ball.

Oh they do, they do...but not when they are fright­ened they might lose.

Were we sup­posed to ap­plaud when Klopp v Pep ended up as a stale­mate? Ev­i­dently we were, for both coaches de­clared them­selves de­lighted at the end of the game.

So how has it come to this? Two elite teams, bristling with at­tack­ing, goalscor­ing tal­ent and they can’t put the ball in the net once. City couldn’t even man­age it with a penalty kick.

Should we blame the coaches? At times it has seemed that this fix­ture should be listed as Jur­gen Klopp v Pep Guardi­ola and that noth­ing could hap­pen on the field with­out their com­mands, so maybe they should be in­dicted.

How­ever, the roots of this malaise, of this de­lib­er­ate dumb­ing down of the world’s most ex­cit­ing sport, go a lot deeper. Make that a lot higher. Right up to FIFA and the scan­dalously inad­e­quate In­ter­na­tional Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion Board (IFAB).

Decades ago some­one some­where in those up­per re­gions of the sport should have re­alised that foot­ball was drift­ing in a di­rec­tion that was not ac­cept­able. This was not some­thing that was be­ing dic­tated or some­thing in­evitable, nor was it not nec­es­sar­ily some­thing that a ma­jor­ity agreed with, it was just some­thing that was hap­pen­ing.

Was ev­ery­one asleep? How could those high muck­ety-mucks not no­tice that goals – the very life blood of the sport – were dis­ap­pear­ing, head­ing for the “en­dan­gered species” list?

In the first five edi­tions of the World Cup, from 1930 to 1954, the av­er­age num­ber of goals per game was 4.4.

In 1958, the av­er­age was 3.6 even with the ebul­lient Brazil­ians and Pele. Brazil won again in 1962 but the goal sup­ply was al­ready be­gin­ning to dry up and at 2.8 the av­er­age per game fell be­low three for the first time.

It has never been above three since, hit­ting its nadir of 2.21 in 1990. This sum­mer in Rus­sia it was 2.64, down from 2.67 in 2014. Any idea of a re­cov­ery in scor­ing power is doomed to dis­ap­point­ment as there have been

Maybe the 1960s, the hey­day of cate­nac­cio, was when the sport should have taken ac­tion to re­verse the anti-goal trend

too many false dawns. In 64 years foot­ball has lost half its goals, so who is re­spon­si­ble for the famine?

The coaches were cer­tainly not slow to develop de­fen­sive tac­tics. That was not dif­fi­cult as or­ga­ni­za­tion at the blunt end of the team has al­ways been eas­ier than con­jur­ing up goals at the other end. But they were only do­ing what the stats were al­ready show­ing: that de­fen­sive play worked. You al­ways had a chance of get­ting a goal to win a 1-0 game. Great news for smaller, hum­bler teams that couldn’t af­ford to im­port at­tack­ing stars.

Those 0-0 and 1-0 games were a prob­lem. They rarely pre­sented the sport at its best. Even so, they were stoutly cham­pi­oned by coaches who made it clear that they didn’t give a damn about the qual­ity of the foot­ball. Win­ning – or rather not los­ing – was all that mat­tered.

And so the de­fen­sive part of foot­ball be­came its dom­i­nant force while FIFA and IFAB slept. Maybe the 1960s, the hey­day of

cate­nac­cio, was when the sport should have taken ac­tion to re­verse the anti-goal trend. But foot­ball doesn’t work that way. In fact, in terms of en­sur­ing bal­ance in the sport, of mak­ing sure that nei­ther de­fence nor of­fense be­comes man­i­festly dom­i­nant, it doesn’t work at all. It al­lows the sport to drift when de­ci­sive ac­tion – the tweak­ing of a rule or two, a change in ref­er­ee­ing em­pha­sis – is needed.

The 0-0 score­line tells us ex­actly where the som­no­lence of FIFA and IFAB has brought us: to a ster­ile trav­esty of a mag­nif­i­cent sport. That did not sim­ply hap­pen; it was planned, and en­joyed, by the coaches. But the real vil­lains are foot­ball’s gov­ern­ing bod­ies which, with what amounts to crim­i­nal neg­li­gence, have al­lowed such a dis­tor­tion of the sport to develop.

Bor­ing...Liver­pool (in red) and Manch­ester City

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