Commentary

Another over-hyped game turns into an unwatchable 0-0 bore-draw

By Paul Gardner

You will have been aware of the recent game between Liverpool and Manchester United. Won’t you ever. The hype will have seen to that. Liverpool coach Juergen Klopp told us, “The whole world will be watching.” Last time these two teams played, the global TV audience was estimated to be as high as 700 million. I’m not sure it gets much higher than that, unless you can persuade half the world’s population to stay awake until the early hours.

Well, there was absolutely no fear of anyone, anywhere in the world, staying awake during Monday’s game. It was appalling. Even the English press, usually rather good at excusing poor Premier League games, turned on this one.

The Sun found it drab.

The Daily Mail asked, “Has there been a worse game between these fabled clubs? What was beyond dispute was the lamentable quality of this game.”

For the Guardian it was “a wretched game of football and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It was pure filth.”

Indeed it was. Total crap. And I feel quite justified in doubling up on that motif. It was crapissimo.

England’s Telegraph blamed ManU coach Mourinho for the debacle. Mourinho with his negative tactics, “parking the bus,” “Mourinho the spoiler, Mourinho the party pooper.”

True. Up to a point. But Mourinho’s contribution should not be over-rated. He was, after all, not doing anything that was not within the rules.

A sport-wide view is necessary. Consider: Within the past year we have had four of the most important games in the soccer schedule: the finals of the Copa America, of Euro 2016, of the Olympic Games, and of the UEFA Champions League. Adding in the 2014 World Cup final gives us all five of the sport’s top finals. Games bedecked with massive hype and equally massive ticket prices.

And what did we get in those games? We got boredom. Turgid, dull soccer, with goals at a premium. Just six goals, averaging slightly more than one per game, which is worse than it sounds because three of those finals lurched on into overtime -- another 90 minutes of ennui.

Three of the games, these marquee, show-case games featuring so many of the world’s top players, had to be “decided” by the farce of a shootout.

My point being that the Liverpool-ManU game was merely another example of what has become almost a guarantee -- that soccer’s top games will be over-hyped and over-priced ... and lousy. I don’t see how Mourinho can be held responsible for all of that.

Over-hyped and over-priced -- we need look no further than the marketing geniuses to account for those blemishes. Marketing is about maximizing profits, hence the high prices. And hype is a favorite marketing ploy with a dictionary definition of “making something seem more exciting or important than it is.”

Those marketing activities, which can be grouped under the general heading of “Greed” ought not to affect the actual playing of the game on the field. But they do. That is, they have been allowed to. The shootout survives, even flourishes, because it simplifies the sport almost to the point of stupidity, does away with most of the sport’s skills, but can be pumped full of synthetic drama. No tiresome midfield play, no dribbling, no heading, no tactics, just shots on goal and in five minutes we have a winner!

No real soccer person likes the shootout. But as a sound-bite version of the sport it is something that appeals to the shallow marketing mind. So it stays. Something that soccer authorities should never have allowed. But those authorities are not watching soccer any more. They’re lined up with the marketeers, learning how to make money.

Those authorities, not Mourinho and like-minded coaches, are the ones responsible for the sport’s alarming inability to look good on the crucial occasions. Marketing money has made these games super-important. Too much is at stake. They must not be lost. So caution and negative play take over. The soccer authorities -- which must mean FIFA, IFAB and UEFA -- have done absolutely nothing to counter the trend. They have simply ignored it. Apparently it doesn’t matter to them that goalscoring continues to dwindle that defensive tactics and mindsets dominate the sport.

Does it have to be that way? Is there some sort of natural inevitability to the way the sport has been going for the past three or four decades? Of course not. The sport’s rules are man-made, they can be changed quite easily. If any of those authorities would, first of all announce that they don’t like the way the sport is developing, and then determine to do something about it, changes would be made.

It is really quite extraordinary that no concerted effort is being made to get the best out of the sport. How can the people at FIFA and UEFA and IFAB be satisfied with the way their big games are regularly turning out to be dreadful duds?

Does no one think to ask why that should be?

What is required is a rule shakeup that would start with the abandonment of the long-established refereeing bias of favoring defensive teams when contentious calls are made. That needs to be completely turned around, with the advantage being always given to the attacking team.

The attacking mindset then needs to be applied to the rules, to make sure that not only careless and reckless tackling is punished, but simply poor tackling, too. Tackling, no doubt, is a skill, but a difficult one -- one that needs practice, but how do you practice tackling? Really, only in scrimmages and games.

But the difficulty in making clean tackles should not be used as an excuse for what happens so often in the modern game, the mis-timed and the clumsy tackle.

The change in attitude and the new refereeing severity needed to compel defenders to learn their craft properly, will not be welcomed by everyone. Referees will be bear the brunt of the inevitable criticism and hostility. A shame, as the problem is not their fault. It is the result of the decades during which the sport’s so-called leaders have simply been asleep on the job, and have allowed off-the-field soccer to fall under the sway of the money-mad marketeers, and on-the-field soccer to be dominated by anti-soccer defensive mindsets.

No, getting out from under those two incubi is not going to be easy, but the effort must surely be made. Without falling into idyllic visions of sunshine bathing a new and transformed sport, I would say that what is required is for FIFA and UEFA to demonstrate clearly that it is they who control the marketeers and not the other way around, and for IFAB to commit to a revised set of rules that will root out the traditional pro-defense bias, and will include rules that make “parking the bus” if not impossible, then certainly a losing proposition.

20 comments about "Another over-hyped game turns into an unwatchable 0-0 bore-draw".
  1. Ahmet Guvener, October 20, 2016 at 1:53 p.m.

    Great article and very much true. But as long as FIFA and UEFA makes zillions of dollars from those tournaments they will not intervene. As you said "...FIFA and UEFA to demonstrate clearly that it is they who control the marketeers and not the other way around."

  2. Gonzalo Munevar, October 20, 2016 at 2:03 p.m.

    If the changes Paul suggests are made, it would be easier to market the big games actually, for they would be a lot more exciting.

  3. Thomas Sullivan, October 20, 2016 at 2:39 p.m.

    Amen Paul. Who else speaks this truth to soccer powers. Almost always, announcers spout the defensive mantras they were trained into during their playing careers. Refereeing is appalling. I watch the tackles that occur and the bodies that fly and ask, how can this not be a foul. the ball is touched just barely before physical carnage and no call is made. Then in super slow motion it shows that the ball is barely touched before the defender throws his body into the man on the ball. It is shocking that no one calls this kind of play.

  4. Kent James, October 20, 2016 at 2:49 p.m.

    Instead of trying to get the referees to call the game differently (which never works), you could make a simple change in the points awarded (which would work for all but knock-out phases of tournaments). If the game is a 0-0 draw, neither team gets a point. That might encourage teams to try harder to score (and take more risks).

  5. Saverio Colantonio, October 20, 2016 at 3:07 p.m.

    One simple rule change. Get rid of the offside rule.

  6. Allan Lindh, October 20, 2016 at 3:13 p.m.

    I agree with Mr. Gardner that penalizing HEAVILY the "Professional Foul" (otherwise known as deliberate cheating) might help. Yellow card for every "professional foul", and no leniency for a second. However a simple rule change might also help. Reduce the size of the Penalty Box by 1 m on all three sides. Costs nothing, can be implemented at every leve. Will 1) Reduce the Goalies range, not so much grabbing the ball to halt attacks, 2)Reduce the quandary about Penalties awarded at edge of box, 3) More fouls called at edge of box, that would have been ignored penalties. Combined with a yellow card for EVERY intentional foul, would allow for game to flow more easily, reward skilled play. And if after a couple years has not led to more goals, reduce it another meter.

  7. Gus Keri, October 20, 2016 at 4:48 p.m.

    Marketing is not to blame for boring games. This is a false theory. As a matter of fact, Marketing prefers high scoring games. Put all the blame on cautious coaching. Nothing else.

  8. Rex Russo, October 20, 2016 at 5:20 p.m.

    I agree with you Mr. Gardner. There should at least be some experimentation. I also agree with Gus, that it falls mostly at the feet of coaches afraid to have their team lose by playing an open game. But, then how to prevent that? That's what needs to be looked at.

  9. Alvaro Bettucchi, October 21, 2016 at 12:35 a.m.

    I am totally in agreement with Gardner, but I do not see the leaders of the major leagues changing anything. The professional foul needs to be called, a zero-zero tie, no points should be awarded (any ties after the 0-0, the teams receive one point each)., and if all of that is not working, make the goals one foot higher and one yard wider..

  10. Kent James replied, October 21, 2016 at 11:01 a.m.

    Well said.

  11. I w Nowozeniuk, October 21, 2016 at 10:59 a.m.

    I've been griping to ad nauseam that the referees have been programmed in their dereliction not to enforce professional fouls. Whether it occurs in the first minute or last minute, it must be punished as the current nature of the game screams for enforcement.Off the ball fouls are hardly ever punished and it should be at every instance. It happens in all leagues as the laws of the game are being watered down year after year.

  12. Kent James, October 21, 2016 at 11:08 a.m.

    While I agree that refs should call professional fouls (does anybody disagree with this?), they're not the reason for low-scoring games. The red card for denying a goalscoring opportunity did a lot to resolve that problem. Cheaper fouls (clutching and grabbing in the box on corners, e.g.) have a greater impact because they are much more frequent, and while they should be called, doing so will improve the overall quality of play, but not necessarily mean more goals. Marketing has nothing to do with it (unless you think marketing makes an event bigger, adding more pressure to win, but most of the games we're talking about already have huge incentives to win). I think no points for 0-0 ties and slightly larger goals (1 foot higher, 1 yard wider) would go a long way towards making games more exciting.

  13. schultz rockne, October 21, 2016 at 3:34 p.m.

    Make the assistants behind the goals useful and have them actually call holding (incl. ANY shirt pulling) by the defensive team in the box on set pieces. More penalties=more goal-scoring opportunities...less defensive cheating=more goal-scoring opportunities. And...for once and for all...change the offside rule so that there must be obvious daylight between the attacking player and the defense. Give red cards liberally for tackles from behind (the game's often more open and exciting with fewer bodies on the field in this athletic day and age--the recent Barca v. Man City match probably would've ended 7-2 had they played 10-v-10 or 9-v-9 for more minutes. Thank you, Barca!) and in theory I've just created ten more goal-scoring opportunities per match. Perhaps two of which will be converted. You're welcome.

  14. Fire Paul Gardner Now, October 21, 2016 at 5:36 p.m.

    Another over-hyped Paul Gardner column turns into an unreadable bore in which Paul complains about the sport he hates.

  15. I w Nowozeniuk replied, October 22, 2016 at 1:11 p.m.

    Fire Paul G Now; perhaps u should be fired for adding nothing to the discussion.

  16. Mike in SoCal, October 21, 2016 at 8:28 p.m.

    I'm still sleepy from watching that game...

  17. Wooden Ships, October 21, 2016 at 10:19 p.m.

    At the risk of being pummeled, I must be one lucky guy, I like the game as is, warts and all. Overall! Don't change Laws, don't change dimensions. If you're unhappy on the golf course why do you go? This sounds like an insatiable appetite for more goals. Remember the indoor fiasco of attributing different values for a score based on Iocation? The vast majority of matches are good viewing. Heck I enjoy a 1-0 National League baseball game. Are we wanting to Super Size the game. And, PK's have always held their own unique skill and drama. First its perfection in technology and just decisions, now we are after the perfect game? I love the variety and don't have an outcome in mind going in.

  18. feliks fuksman, October 22, 2016 at 2:31 p.m.

    It was APPALLING, LAMANTABLE, WRETCHED, PURE FILTH, DRAB, CRAPISSIMO, moreover it disappointed most soccer fans!! And most people (including myself) looked so much forward to this game...Encourage positive play, taking chances, push-up with numbers (and not only in the last few minutes); it's necessarily goals that make a better, more exciting game, but the scoring opportunities that a team creates to score (near misses, goalposts, excellent saves, etc.)

  19. feliks fuksman, October 22, 2016 at 2:34 p.m.

    Meant to say that it's NOT necessarily number of goals that could make a game exciting, but attempts, shots, etc.

  20. Stevie G, October 28, 2016 at 12:12 a.m.

    I know. How about eliminating the goals and the goalies... every time the ball is passed over the goal line it counts as 6 goals... how exciting would that be?

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