Something is amiss with the beautiful game....Part 2 of 2

In the second of two parts, CookeShaw and Darren Curtis consider the state of football in 2011.



Negative tactics

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.

European football

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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Comment by WorldClass on October 24, 2011 at 22:27
what would that prove? it doesn't bother me if you don't believe me... if i named some others then it'd only lead to accusation of "google abuse"... don't take it personally... yes france have won an international tournament recently... what about now? are their players really that much better? honestly? or is it we are dazzled by names, Jones, Gardner and Sturridge does have the same ring as Benzema, Nasri and M'Villa...
Comment by CookeShaw on October 24, 2011 at 13:56

Ok so look at a country with the same population as ours. France maybe? how have they done in terms of producing footballers and winning competitions at international level?

You say you "watch youth football at Premier League football"....and then name 4 players that every person on this site could name. hmmmm

Comment by WorldClass on October 24, 2011 at 13:43


Cooke... are you sure... where are some of these young "germans" coming from? I'm fed up of this look what the Germans have done, look what the spanish have done... there is 3 eliments to this the facilities, the coaching and the raw talent pool...

Take a look at the facilties of English clubs, which league spend the most on producing youngsters? Prem.

Take a look at coaching, and don't you dare go down the line of English coaches are a problem, there is an article on SW that explains quite clearly why this "theory" is wrong and outdated.

Talent... something we have no control over, spain have produced players the same way of years, and years, and years with the same core concepts... they are now incredibly fortunate to have found sound an abundance of talent that all has comethrough at the same time... As are Germany who are also fortune to have so many Turkish families willing to get German citizenship quickly because their son is good at Football... Hmmm


So that is why I question your motives... also a huge factor in this is population size and other recreational sports... Germany 81million people, Spain 46m people, UK (including NI, Wales, Scotland and England... 4 footbaling nations) 62m. Look at how many internationals sports we compete and do well in... find another country our size that has had the relative success England has overs broad range of BIG international Sprorts...  Football, Rugby, Cricket, Athletics, Boxing.... the list goes on... very few countries have the sporting achievements we as a country do... perhaps we are spreading the population too thin... these are all factors you seem to have not considered when you're looking at football.... Direct comparison is impossible.


As to regards the kids coming through our system I have two thoughts, I watch youth football at Premier League football and the last 3 season has seen me really open my eyes... we have some brilliant youngster coming through... Wilshere, Smalling, Jones, Welbeck are the tip of the iceberg... So perhaps we shouldn't be so self degrading and constantly trying to copy other systems, perhaps we find our own way and with a bit of luck we too wil be worth watching as a nation... Villa have 4 boys that I am incredibly excited about, Chelsea have a 15 year old who looks like he could do it already, United have 3 or 4 english lads that could make it, this is across the premier league. The other thing also that slows the progression of our kids is the nature of our league and how difficult it is to break in to the first team... lets face it Beye would be first teamer in 10 teams in Germany...


As for your comments about the media... it's a very simple equation... if there is demand there will be supply. Don't blame the "media" for printing stuff that they know will increase sales... It's not good I agree, but it is not the media's fault they are in a cut throat industry and they need to survive like everyone else... if the fans showed more decorum then maybe the media would temper the reporting to suit that... 


Whilst I see the point of that statisical analysis, where does it quantify "competitiveness"... it has used point gaps... is that the only measure? How many times do the top two lose game? there is another measure.... Upsets... there is another measure. I'm not saying its wrong but I also see glaring omissions from their considerations. So I say by my comment of Generalistic, Stats (and I know) can be made to suggest anything presented in the right way. I prefer to judge with my eyes and I see Barca coasting to yet another league win, barely breaking sweat, porbably the reason that they don't need to drop players to rest them as often... How often do United have the time and space to take their football of the pedal for half hour in the prem? You can't....


Anyway great article, you touched on a lot of good points...

Comment by CookeShaw on October 24, 2011 at 11:44

Predictability - Not being generalistic, read this for supporting evidence -


In a 433 there is not an 'up front partnership' in the true sense of the word. And of course money and fear of relegation have driven the cautious approach, that's our point!


Media - just because a large number of people want something doesn't make it ok and acceptable. A lot of people voted for Margaret Thatcher, and her negative impact on the country is still being felt today. The argument that mass support renders certain 'things' acceptable is completely inaccurate.


'The German system isn't any better for bringing kids through' - so you would take the English young players produced over the last 5 years, over the Germans? No, no you wouldn't!

Comment by WorldClass on October 24, 2011 at 9:06

Barca have a DM are they negative? Brazil have always played with a DM are they negative? Rarely have teams consistantly picked midfields with a deeper sitting midfielder, Liverpool did it in the mid 80's... perhaps you are confusing the influence of DM's... perhaps "percentage football" is to blame for this phenom? Perhaps because money has warped the league so much the their gap in now so big between the bigger and smaller clubs means that the only realistc results is a draw with spoiling tactics? There is flamboyant footballing teams about, just perhaps they do not get the results to stay in the prem, have you seen Brighton play? Swindon? Charlton? Cardiff? Boro? even in the prem Norwich and Swansea play nice stuff, but are forced to play deeper because of the quality of the opposition...


Gone are the days of partnerships upfront? eh? 433...3133... With the increase in money, comes and increase in pressure, which is a result of the fact relegation now is make or break of teams such if the difference in money.... hence the cautious approach.... what would you prefer? Negative football and survival or relegation and adiministration?


Regarding the media, it's supply and demand, if people didn't want it and there wasn't a market for people to make money from it it wouldn't happen... vicious circle i'm afraid, we want to know everything, but the whinge when it affects our team... Liverpool fans like nothing more than to have a dig at United when the media expose something secret about a player yet if it was one of their own there'd would the be usual line of "Whats this got to do with football", "no one is interested", clearly some people are and clearly the media outlets make money from them so what we gonna do? But then again I do think if these footballers kept their dangly parts just for their wives and stopped dipping the wick with grannies or cheap hooker or maybe if they acted like professional sports people rather than your local "on tour" rubgy team there would massive stories....


"grinding predictability of the Premier League" - being generalistic here... also simply not right in the notion of results or the style of play....


I'm not completely full of praise for the German system, many of these young players are shall we say "germans in name", and they system for brings through kids is not really any better, the quality of the league and player is not great either, but in turn is means more teams can compete... it is also an exciting league to watch...


Any great article, and not being critical maybe just looking from another veiw point, think you've made some good points but have papered over some of the cracks to suit the direction of your article...



Comment by Tom W on October 21, 2011 at 14:52
Great article, I have been a long time admirer of the Bundesliga, it is far more exciting and affordable than the premier league, and my favourite part of it is that any one of a number of teams can compete! It was only a few years ago that Stuttgart won the league, and Hoffenheim were challenging for the Champions League having only just been promoted. Follow the German way, it's the model that all European leagues should be striving for.


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