The sport is not dead, but it is certainly in hibernation. No games allowed, no games to watch except the old -- dead? -- ones.
And now they’ve got us all cozily holed up at home, making it difficult to even chat about the sport with anyone.
So we’re left to drive ourselves batty with our own ponderings and musings. I’ve been doing some of that ... in a light-hearted sort of way. Hell, this is not the time to start getting serious about what’s supposed to be enjoyable.
Seeking something with a soccerish flavor that will give me the giggles, I’ve settled on all that pseudo technical/tactical guff that the experts burden us with. Stuff that’s supposed, I imagine, to explain the sport to us, but always -- from my viewpoint, this is -- ends up making it incomprehensible.
I’ve wondered for many a moon now why soccer seems to be constantly on the look-out for ugly words, or terms, and phrases that sure as hell could never have been coined by anyone who believes in “the beautiful game.”
The terms I’m talking about are just awful -- but, so awful, so clumsily used, so insensitive to the essential beauty of the sport that ribald laughter and rude noises are the only sane response.
I’m pretty well convinced that anyone who uses them must be at least partially off their rocker. Allow me to burden you with a recent example of this comic seriousness.
We must now visit the official MLS website, there to read an analysis of a game played by Atlanta United. A critical analysis, inevitably, as Atlanta got soundly beaten 3-0 by Club America of Mexico.
So what do we get? First -- what we don’t get is any description of the game, any clear indication of what took place on the field ... not even anything as basic as informing us whether the game was a delight to watch or maybe just godawful. Those would be aesthetic judgments, which seem to turn the stomachs of modern experts. So forget that, we’re going to get the techno-tactical treatment. Here we go. Atlanta’s problem, or part of it, is neatly nailed down: it had switched from playing a “mid-block 3-4-2-1" to a “low-block 5-3-2." Which, it will be clear to you, is simply asking for trouble. Dropping from mid-block to low-block? Preposterous.
Time to fess up that I haven’t the remotest idea what the writer is saying, and that I don’t care. On top of that, I quite enjoy these ridiculous sallies into obscure terminology. They have a high giggle-content. Does block mean “blockage,” or should the writer be using “bloc,” which would alter the whole picture. Or maybe not.
When people start using arcane language to make matters clearer, you can be quite sure that they are not trying to clarify. They are trying to mystify.
Dressing the topic -- in this case soccer tactics -- in the flimsy garments of junk science gives it an importance it doesn’t really have and turns the experts into truly clever guys, the only ones who can work out what’s going on.
So you have to listen to them. Better not, better to join me in gently riling them. They are offering us what is mostly Grade A Hogwash. How do I know that? Because I’ve been around long enough to have seen so many of these high-falutin “mid-bloc(k)-low bloc(k)” ideas be welcomed as the Rosetta Stone of soccer, only to be scornfully dismissed a few years later -- often by the very same people who were recently singing their praises.
The writer who regaled us with the mid- and low-blocks added another humorous touch to his game analysis with a reference to a “false 9."
Ahah! I’m quite an expert on this joke. It started back in 1953, when the all-conquering Hungarians demolished England 6-3 at Wembley. Three of Hungary’s goals came from Nandor Hidegkuti -- which seemed right, for he was a center forward, the goal-scoring position. Also, he wore No. 9. In those days the English used a rigid numbering system under which the center forward, and only the center forward, could wear No. 9.
The problem for the English defenders was that Hidegkuti, despite the No. 9 on his back, was not playing as a center forward, something the English never worked out. Hidegkuti, they said, was acting as a “withdrawn center forward.” An oxymoronic playing position -- a forward who is withdrawn (i.e. playing deeper) cannot be a forward.
Time passes and we now we have the “false” 9, which
is even sillier. Using the word “false” suggests deception, a player
My estimable colleague Dave Hirshey of 8x8 magazine tells me he’s being driven to distraction by TV commentators who use the phrase “playing between the lines.” “What lines are these?,” asks Hirshey, “The sidelines? The goal lines? The concession lines?” No, these must be the lines that exist so primly and uniformly in the tactical diagrams.
In fact, it is not uncommon to hear talk of a “forward line,” of the center forward “leading the line.” More tripe. I would say that the minimum number of players needed to form a line is three. And how many teams these days play with three forwards? Most use only one forward, and as Aristotle put it “one forward doth not a soccer line make.”
Defensive and midfield lines do exist, but they fluctuate constantly during a game. As for playing “between” them -- well, obviously. I’d think well over 50% of any game would be played in that loosely defined area. So what’s the big deal?
My own least favorite phrase used by TV commentators is the one about an attacker “playing off the back shoulder” of a defender. It sounds clever, of course, but is it? The average fan, I’m pretty certain, does not need silly-clever jargon of this sort to work out what is going on. This is just another phrase that deserves to be ridiculed into oblivion.
As you sit in your quarantined splendor, you’ll be thinking about soccer for sure. But don’t get serious. Have a good laugh at the inanities that the experts foist upon us. And don’t worry about trashing them. In a year or so they will have disappeared anyway. The inanities, I mean. The experts, sad to relate, will still be with us. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. They -- and their relentlessly fatuous vocabulary -- do, after all, score pretty high on the entertainment scale.