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