In the second of two parts, CookeShaw and Darren Curtis consider the state of football in 2011.
Over the last ten years there have been numerous tactical 'advancements' that have rendered football less exciting. Jose Mourinho brought much to the English game in 2004, better coats, frank admissions of one’s own splendour and perhaps the scourge of the modern game, the 'Makelele Role'. Thrilled with their capacity to identify a tactical shift, commentators waxed lyrical about the revolution that the holding midfielder had created in the modern game. Yet the over-valuing of spoilers in the English game is a shameless nod to negative tactics and pragmatism over flair and guile. Players abound that are, as Mr Cantona would have it, 'water carriers' that take precedence and starting berths over flair players and creators. Playing at opposite ends of a midfield diamond they are often the stark antithesis in terms of physicality, tactics and end result. To spoil and to destroy opposite creating and exciting, in favouring the former over the latter, the English game has suffered as a result.
Formations have evolved also of course, often to facilitate the inclusion of a holding midfielder, or two. With the change from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 and 4-2-3-1 formations, the 1 in each of those is required to be an all-in-one attack. The days of the front line partnership that gave us the goal machines of Cole & Yorke, Shearer & Sutton and Henry & Bergkamp are long gone, and instead we have forward players that take on the attacking mantle alone such as Rooney, Drogba and Torres. In the age of Premier League Pragmatism, teams must now defend from the front.
Media over-exposure is an oft cited cause and effect of the ills of modern society. Its overarching presence is a conflicted one, as the constant stream of information maintains an informed and aware public, whilst at the same time the 24-hour rolling news channels dictate a level of over-exposure, scrutiny and intrusion that act like a cancer on personal freedoms. It is perhaps no surprise that the consistent requirement for headlines has driven sensationalist malpractice throughout an influential industry. The over-exposure in the media of nearly every facet of modern life is exemplified in microcosm in football, and when combined with the hype that is a signature of the football coverage in the UK, creates a grinding, unsatisfying experience that leaves the audience feeling hollow, baying for more in order to fill this gap. Any child with a modicum of talent is now pored over on youtube, the sexual skulduggery of England’s leading footballers is such a part of the Zeitgeist that is is discussed in the houses of Parliament, any minor transgression on the field is pored over ad infinitum on various news outlets. It is this constant stream of unedifying information which feels like the air that is used to pump up the disgusting, overinflated entity that English football has become.
This is unquestionably a continent wide malaise for football elsewhere in Europe is also surely in the doldrums. Teams in the Scottish Premier League now fight with English League 1 teams for the best players, when 14 years ago Rangers had a side that boasted Gascoigne, Laudrup and Gattuso - greats of the modern game. Redolent of the SPL, La Liga has two teams that are so imperious that last season third place was closer to being relegated than winning the title. Serie A, for so long the doyen of European football, has been ripped apart by the Calciopoli scandal, as well as the preposterous decision to allow all Serie A games to be televised, leading to half empty stadia. Having Italian football as the sick dog of European football is particularly painful for those who remember sitting through articles about the Norwegian skijoring fraternity on Trans World Sport on a Saturday morning, waiting in anticipation of Gazzetta Italia. James Richardson, reclined in an ancient Italian piazza, spinning his Patridge-esque metaphors with Peter Brackley commentating on such wondrous sights as Batistuta, Crespo, Nedved, Del Piero, Boban, Van Basten and a personal favourite, Enrico Chiesa. That European football does not complement English football, nor equally offer an escape or alternative to the grinding predictability of the Premier League, simply adds to the desolation of the football ‘scene’.
Yet amongst this doom and dirge, there is a blueprint for a better way, and it comes from Germany. Whilst the disconcerting number of Clarksonites that follow football will recoil at anything that contends with his soporific mantra of anti-Germanic bullshit, it is surely no surprise that the model for the game that we supposedly invented should come from 'the auld enemy'. A recent article by Louise Taylor in The Observer goes a long way towards explaining that from almost every perspective the Bundesliga is everything the Premier League should be. For the past twenty years, the Bundesliga has produced the the highest goal per game ratio amongst the biggest European leagues. A season ticket at last years champions Borussia Dortmund was £150. By way of comparison all league and cup games at Manchester United in 2008/2009 was £999. The German national team were perhaps, with Chile, the most exciting team to watch at the World Cup in South Africa, a team built on youth and a counter attacking style with an average age of 25. The average age of the English squad was 28. The German national set up is now a thing of wonder, with German talent becoming amongst the most sought after in Europe. Exemplary technical skills married with the age old German mentality of a will to win and work hard, the concerted pursuit of their services are surely a no brainer. In fact, the Bundesliga had the second most participants in the last World Cup, with the Premier League in first place.
It is perhaps in the ownership of clubs that the contrast is most compelling. Examples of questionable ownership of English clubs abound, in 2008 Manchester City were bought by Thaksin Shinawatra who, whilst being accused by Amnesty International of 'extrajudicial executions', was also a Manchester United fan. Manchester United themselves were bought in a hugely questionable leveraged buyout in 2005, which has since drained £425 million from the club and back to the Glazer family in Florida. The Germans have a novel approach to avoiding these kind of scenarios; they have made laws to prevent them. Their famously socialist “50 + 1” ownership model means that a minimum 50% stake + 1 vote must always be held by a club's membership association. So instead of opening up their game to oil sheiks or faceless hedge funds looking to make a quick buck, introduce 'financial doping' and hugley distort the competition seemingly at will, German clubs are owned, in the majority, by their fans. There are exceptions of course as companies can buy clubs. Where English football has the notoriously robust 'fit and proper persons test' that Mr Shinawatra passed with flying colours, German companies that even flutter their eye lashes at a football club must have a record of investing into teams for more than 20 years; subsequently Volkswagen own Wolfsburg and the Bayer pharmaceutical company owns Bayer Leverkeusen. The Bundesliga, therefore, is both a source of damnation and optimism for English football. There is a blueprint just across the North Sea for how sustainable, affordable and exciting football can be achieved.
The first part of this article can be read here.
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