“Football sweet, but na referee spoil am.”
No, I don’t mean to burst any bubbles. Yes, I know the World Cup is upon us. Yea, the same World Cup where most of the best players around are either struggling to attain full fitness or have succumbed to injury and pulled out altogether. Sure, it’s that World Cup where the organizers still can’t give a definite yes as to the condition of the stadia. Well I’m not here to cast aspersions on Brazil’s hosting ability, or spoil the party before it even begins. I just got some things I want to get off my chest, about this sport of ours, and I hope I get through with this before the Brazil-Croatia kick-off.
It had been a long and gruelling season (as Diego Costa and Luis Suarez would agree), and it reaches its climax(?) with the World Cup. The fever finally caught up with me today, but there are things about the modern game which just leave me brooding. And no, it’s not because one clueless red-faced Scot has made sure that my favourite club has nothing to look forward to on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or even Thursdays (though that is a good cause for long frowns). It’s just the general situation of the name nowadays.
Football seems to have lost that swagger that made us term it “The Beautiful Game”. No more flicks, step-overs or tricks. Those dazzling moves orchestrated by the likes of Luis Figo and Ronaldinho now seem like a distant memory. Now it’s just; kick a long ball, pass, shoot, score. Then again, it’s like Football is no longer a contact sport. Every little touch is penalised, and people like Neymar bask in that over-protection while an essential element of the sport is being taken away. (Roy Keane wouldn’t be able to ply his trade in this era.) The most expensive defender in the world now, who to be honest does more of going forward than tending to the backline, is the same person who was described two years ago as “playing like he’s being controlled by a ten-year-old kid with a Playstation”. Damn, teams can’t even tell a high defensive line from a deep defensive line these days. (The days of Maldini, Fernando Hierro, Franco Baresi, Jaap Stam and Cafu are sorely missed.)
The idea of sticking to one club is unheard of these days; players like Steven Gerrard are part of a dying breed. It’s all so commercial now; players’ prices are all so inflated, footballers’ agents have more power than ever, and our once pure sport has been “smeared” by oil from Roman, Sheikh Mansour and the Qatari guys over in Paris. The gulf between big and small teams in the major leagues is widening by the hour, don’t even let me get started with the heavy betting. Sepp Blatter is still up there after all these years, he has his favourite footballer (who is definitely not that guy who posed unclad for Vogue Magazine), and it’s still not clear whether his idea of “playing Football on other planets” and “an inter-planet cup” is borne out of humour, wild imagination, or plain senility.
These things have made me wonder what has happened to the pure and entertaining football I grew up knowing. Between 2007 and 2012, I watched an average of 35 Manchester United games each season, now I don’t feel I’ve missed much when I fail to tune into matches. In 2010, I had a quarrel with my then-girlfriend because I was too busy watching the World Cup final to know where my phone was so I could pick at least one of her 17 missed calls. This year, I could afford to miss a Champions League final for the first time in 12 years! Yes, that’s how much the passion has faded thin. I hope it doesn’t one day degenerate to the level of dispassion I have for cricket, but I’m not quite sure whether Football has deteriorated or I’m just the caveman unwilling to move with the trend, so I made calls to all corners of the world, seeking for passionate football lovers to help me out with certain football issues. After all the snobbery, I managed to get in contact with four footies, and there was also the matter of paying for their flight tickets from England (which meant I had to forego my trip to Brazil). With me here on Chi’s Epistles today to thrash out issues on this slowly-becoming-trashy sport are: Deyon Peter, Arnold Kole, Josh Jude and Max Datewana.
There’s a lot for me to wail about, but because of the busy schedule of my guests and my ever impatient audience, I’ll stick to a few (seemingly) pressing issues. First of all, guys, what do you think about Financial Fair Play?
DEYON: I think it’s a cool innovation. It would make football competitive if enforced on and off the pitch. Clubs shouldn’t spend more than their earnings. That’s my take on it.
ARNOLD: Financial Fair Play or whatever it’s called, doesn’t make sense to me. Is it a crime that a team has the money to do so much that another team cannot afford? Teams are built these days on how much you can invest in them; to acquire players and coaches alike. The Likes of PSG, Real Madrid and Chelsea have adopted this method and bettered their team? Chelsea was average before Roman’s coming and with his wealth, Chelsea have achieved domestic and European glory. I think imposing “fair play” on a team’s finances and spending ability doesn’t make sense.
CHI: And the disparity in competitive ability among teams?
ARNOLD: That’s what it has always been. Big teams afford big players, big players make up a good squad, a good squad plays way better in competitions.
CHI: How about you, Josh?
JOSH: Well I think FFP is good for the game. It will help to level the football market (to some extent) so that clubs with smaller budgets can still sign good players. It also protects home-grown players from being pushed aside. That’s how I see it.
(Chi hands a stare at Max)
MAX: Nah, nah, Josh is saying trash. I think reserve the right to do what they want with their money. I may seem typically capitalist, but it’s the world we live in. That you can’t afford stuff doesn’t preclude me from spending the way I want to. How the money comes in shouldn’t bother anyone. It’s all business, hence I don’t see the relevance of the FFP rules. Besides, the approach isn’t strict; City didn’t get any severe punishment, all they did was cough up 49 million pounds and reduce their Champions League squad.
JOSH: Hey Max, what do you mean I’m saying trash? What the f**k do you even know about Football, mate?
(The studio gets heated, Chi prevents Josh and Max having a go at each other)
CHI: Now that was some real passion for the sport. I wish those players out there could even be half as passionate as this. Alright, alright, there’s a reason it’s called opinion, let’s calm things down a bit, you don’t have to let the passion extend to your fists. Next up guys….Sir Alex spent 26 years at Old Trafford, Wenger has been at Arsenal 18 years now, but these seem to be the exception rather than the rule these days. It’s really hard for coaches to see out a full season in charge nowadays, clubs are now so quick to press the “panic button”. Patience and club management seem to be strange bedfellows in this era. I feel that coaches aren’t given enough protection….
DEYON: Coaches shouldn’t be protected. The volatility makes the sport interesting. Knowing that you aren’t safe from the axe keeps you on edge and serves as some sort of motivation to perform better.
ARNOLD: I’m with Deyon on this one. Protection for coaches? Hell no! It’s that simple, if you can’t do the job, get out and let some other person who can do better step in. If a man’s got a leaking roof and he gets a carpenter to fix it and the next rainy day comes and the roof is not fixed, unless he gets a better capable hand to fix it, one day he’d wake up to see his house submerged in water. Once you notice the manager is not doing well, don’t wait until the whole team is ruined, act fast! Just take a look at Manchester United this past season, and how the decision to be (relatively) patient with Moyes allowed mediocrity to seep in. See how Chelsea has kept their revolving door policy over time, and see how it has kept the managers on their toes.
MAX: Football is a business. If you are not yielding fruit, I’ll axe you with all glee. No one wants to record losses. We live in a capitalist world. Everyone wants to be successful. If I find that your managerial skills are an impediment to that, I’ll kick you out. SURELY!
(Josh, still fuming, waves his hands in a manner that signals a refusal to comment.)
CHI: Well I guess we’re on the same page when it comes to how coaches should be handled. Er, I kinda miss those defences of way back when, the ones with the Stams and Cannavaros in them. No one cares about clean sheets anymore, sometimes it feels like all ten outfield players are attackers. Why is defending so poor these days? And why are good defences accused of bus-hiring?
DEYON: Football is changing now. Attack is the best form of defence. No one has time for deep defending anymore.
ARNOLD: Chi, I disagree with your notion about modern day defences though. Don’t just judge with the English Premier League, never mind its level of popularity.
CHI: Check out the defences in the Spanish La Liga as well, excluding that of Atletico Madrid.
(It appears that Josh has cooled down and is back in the forum)
JOSH: Emphasis has shifted to attack these days. Fans love attacking football, it’s beautiful to watch. Instead of winning 1-nil with a rigid defence, fans would love to see a goal fest. This explains why the Italian Serie A has a relatively poor following, compared to Europe’s other major leagues.
MAX: The statement that “defences are poor” is highly subjective. In my view, the Game has changed. Gone are the days of depending solely on a midfield maestro for creativity. The concept of multi-tasking has woven its way into the sport. Defenders now have to move forward to create chances. In the process, mistakes may occur, leading to counter-attacks. This modern approach obviously leaves defenders more vulnerable to errors. This however should not cast aspersions on modern defences. After all, we all love the free flowing attack model.
CHI: And why can’t be players be faithful to one club anymore? Why can’t be have players like Stevie G and Giggsy anymore?
MAX: My favourite quote is this: “Man, earn thy bread.” I think it sums it up. Loyalty should not be at ‘my bread’s expense. Loyalty does not pay bills. If a player needs to leave for greener pastures, why not?
DEYON: It’s that simple. The emphasis has shifted from loyalty and achieving cult hero status at a particular club, to money and relevance. It’s about the pay cheques now.
JOSH: Well, “these h**s ain’t loyal”. Only few players want to stay loyal and earn 15,000 pounds a week while their peers are earning mega bucks. Loyalty, irrespective of pay or success, is dying in Football
(Arnold declines to comment on the issue of player loyalty).
CHI: Thanks a lot guys, and thanks to the audience for your patience. It’s about kick-off time, and you know what that means. To the ladies at home, please be patient with your men for these next 31 days. Here’s wishing our guests an enjoyable flight back to the British Isles, and speaking of flights, I hope my native country Nigeria won’t be one of those nations whose teams have got their plane engines still running, in anticipation of an early exit.
(About the Guests:)
Deyon Peter is a Nigerian-born lawyer who shuttles between Lagos, Nigeria and Liverpool, England. Known for his reputation with the ladies, this Liverpool fan stays as far from alcohol as possible.
Josh Jude is an engineer who has supported Arsenal for more than half his life. Josh also takes up photography as a hobby, and has an eye for fashion.
Arnold Kole is a lawyer who also shows off his rap skills from time to time. A fan of Manchester United, Kole prides himself as a monogamous lover.
Max Datewana lives in London and proudly supports Arsenal. Attached to family, Max is also a renowned social critic who loves to listen to alternative gospel rock.
– This interview took place at Chi’s studio in Abuja on the 12th of June 2014, between the hours of 6:30pm and 7:30pm. Airing was delayed for logistic reasons.