Why have there been so many high scoring games in the Premier League this season?
You can fool some of the people some of the time…
Is the glass half full or is it half empty? I love silky attractive football. I love high scoring games, particularly if they are close. My favourite score is probably 4-3, in a game where the lead changes hands more than once. I know good defending is an art in itself. I can appreciate a 1-1 draw that plays out like a chess match but normally give me the 4-3 anytime, providing my team gets the 4, more often than not. For me, that was the only problem with Ossie Ardiles’ Spurs. We were on the wrong end of that sort of score line too often to be able to sustain that swashbuckling style and stay in the top division. Shame. So, reluctantly, I could not dispute the decision to replace Ossie as manager.
So why do I feel uncomfortable about the recent clutch of attractive, high scoring games? Something is niggling me that it doesn’t feel right. Chelsea 8 Aston Villa 0. Arsenal 7 Newcastle United 3. Aston Villa 0 Tottenham 4 (OK, not quite so extreme), Norwich 3 Man City 4 and so it goes on. These scores are becoming more and more common. 2012 was the highest scoring year in the Premier League. I think 2011 was the highest prior to that. Surely, that’s all cause for celebration? So why is there a voice whispering in my ear that all may not be as it seems, that this Harlem Globetrotter football is not entirely healthy? George Graham must be turning in his football management grave.
Why are these cricket scores happening more and more frequently all of a sudden? Things have swung in a few years from one extreme to the other. It can’t be an accident. Have club owners told managers that entertainment is now the number 1 aim, or at least a close number 2 to winning? For years, the mantra seemed to be, “whatever you do, don’t lose”. “Keep a clean sheet first, then win a game if you can”. “Get the defence right first and everything else will follow.” To build a successful team, you would get the spine right first – a decent goalkeeper, a decent centre half, a decent centre forward, a solid defence and build from there. For decades, that attitude led to a lot of solid but sometimes boring football. Now the message seems to be “bring me goals”. Score more than your opponents and everything else will be forgiven.
As I type this, I think I am beginning to understand what is troubling me. What we are being left with is half a game. I don’t mean 45 minutes instead of 90. I mean it’s turning into the football equivalent of touch rugby. At the risk of seeming sexist, has it become what my rugby playing mates always used to say it was when trying to wind me up, in their sexist way, “a game for girls”?
Using video games as an analogy, for those of you who play them, it’s like the difference between a serious game of FIFA 13 and a game of FIFA Street or Mario Strikers, which whilst tremendous fun, are all about flicks, tricks and gimmicks.
Administrators have made a number of changes in recent times which have favoured attacking football. By the same token, it has made defending more difficult. Many tackles that would have been legitimate in the past are now fouls. Strikers can wander offside and back onside at will and it’s left to interpretation by the officials whether to give a free kick to the defending side. Balls have become lighter and more likely to swerve in the air. There was a time when only Glenn Hoddle or the Brazilians could make a ball dip and swerve, now it seems almost anyone can do it. These balls have been designed to move in the air at the end of their flight. It embarrasses goalkeepers. Shoulder charges? Forget it. Tackles from behind? Whether you get the ball or not, no way Jose. Raising your foot high? Even if it’s only to get a high flying ball under control is seen as dangerous play. There were sendings off in a West Ham game for this, even though Carlton Cole’s red card was later rescinded.
I am not necessarily saying it’s a bad thing – but then again it might be. I’m just looking for some reassurance that I’m not imagining all this. Sport can be entertaining but sport and entertainment are not the same thing. Sports were not invented and developed to provide a show. If the sport was exciting and interesting enough, it drew an audience but the competition was not invented for that purpose in the first place. Now the rules of entertainment and business seem to have taken over. It’s not X Factor with a ball, for xxxx’s sake.
One of the things that puts the “beautiful” in “the beautiful game” is that our heroes performed their skills in spite of and in defiance of the threat of harsh and rough treatment from the hard men like Billy Bremner, Chopper Harris, Norman Hunter, Roy Keane and yes even Dave Mackay. Pele, Bobby Charlton, Jimmy Greaves, George Best, Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles, Frank Worthington, Matt le Tissier. They didn’t need wrapping in cotton wool to turn it on. The fact that they did so under threat made it even more wondrous.
I remember when Gerald Ratner sent his family’s successful high street jewellery business into free-fall when he said publicly that the reason why they could sell a silver plated tea service so cheap was because it was “crap”. All gloss and no substance. He misjudged the reaction of his customers. They felt insulted, shopped elsewhere and a massive high street retailer went bust. It struck a chord with me because several years earlier I worked as a Saturday boy for Ratners and became chums with Gerald’s cousin David from Canada who had come over to learn the family business. Really nice guy. They offered me a management post at the age of 18. It shows that you can fool all of the people all of the time but when you get rumbled, things can go pear shaped very quickly. Premier League, watch out or you might just kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.