Why do you love football? Is it the journey to Villa Park on Saturday lunch times? The cold dark Tuesday night breath curling in front of you? The warming beer and pie at half time? The prospect of the floodlights lighting up a Jonathan Kodjia screamer? The anticipation of welcoming the league leaders to your ground? The tension as an 89th minute penalty is about to be taken to win the local derby? Those are the things that make football special for me. And yet it seems that as football is brought into the 21st Century, these things that make up such a huge part of my life are being taken away.
Let’s start with the money. Top league football is now void of any competition unless you are considered one of the big teams in that league. In the Premier League it is the constant dominance of Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham, in La Liga it is all about Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico, in Italy the big boys are Inter Milan, AC Milan, Juventus, Napoli and Roma while in France it’s just Monaco and PSG who rule the roost. And for clubs like Everton, Southampton, Marseille, Torino or Valencia, it is very much a case of “why do we even get up in the morning?”.
They have nothing to play for, because they will never be able to compete with the teams who are consistently able to dominate the transfer market. Atletico Madrid are the biggest victim of this: imagine if Aguero, Torres, Costa and Turan hadn’t migrated towards the money! Villa have been guilty of the same misdeed; we have built a squad using money and our name rather than grafting like Bournemouth, Huddersfield or Fulham. Is this really the way that we want football to go? £200,000,000 to be spent on one player? No competition, no drama, no real excitement? Financial fair play has to come into this discussion, because this is something that the FA did introduce to try and halt market domination… the issue is, the big clubs make so much money from shirt sales and TV rights, as well as finishing at the top end of their respective leagues every year that they can spend hundreds of millions of pounds and break no rules. What would be interesting is every club in the world having an enforced transfer budget of around £50,000,000 every year – the value of players would shoot down – and yet, ten years ago, this would have been entirely normal. Perspective: Manchester United paid £25m for Van Persie just FIVE years ago – and now they have splashed out a reported TRIPLE times that fee of £75m for Lukaku. Money, competition – one is flying, the other is dying.
Next, I’m going to take FIFA to task on the new ABBA penalty shootout sequence, which is similar to a tiebreak in tennis. This was first implemented competitively in the community shield final on Sunday between Arsenal and Chelsea- Arsenal won it 4-1. The idea was based on the fact that the ABAB sequence seemed to give the team who took the first penalty the advantage in the shootout. However, the new system actually relieves a lot of pressure from players, because it removes the prospect of sudden death, and also prevents the chance for remarkable comebacks. For example, at 3-1 down in an ABAB system, there is still a chance of getting back into the match with 1 goal and 1 save. However, at 3-1 in ABBA you need 2 saves, which takes the pressure off of the penalty takers on the leading team. This greatly decreases the tension and the excitement, which at the end of the day is what football is all about.
It seems that the new FIFA regime is more intent on ensuring that there is more fairness in the game, with the video referee, goal line technology and new penalty rules. Yes, perhaps the goal line technology could save a few broken TV screens, but surely the excitement and tension of judgement calls and futile arguments is what glues your eyes to the football… it does for me, anyway. And I know that the game that I love is being turned into a game of politically correct, technologically advanced, law loving, rival hugging weapon for businessmen who want to make a lot if dough. What can we do to change that? Not a lot, if truth be told… but there are changes happening in football, and we, the fans who make football happen, are losing out because of them.