Tackling has been under the microscope like never before in recent weeks. Ian Melding defends an endangered art.
Goals. That’s what football is about. That’s what people want to see. More goals. That has been the mantra for the people who run football for a number of years. Good old Sepp Blatter suggested that making the goal bigger would improve the game. When that idea proved less popular than a job vacancy as an Iranian nuclear scientist, I am surprised he didn’t suggest goalkeepers could be no taller than 5’3″, or say teams have to have a girl in goal, a girl in tiny shorts and a tight t shirt.
This ethos, that goals are good and anything that stops goals being scored is bad, is behind the ridiculous decisions that referees are making on tackling at the moment. Vincent Kompany and Jack Rodwell have both been sent off this season for kicking the ball too hard. It seems that the sliding tackle has been outlawed, regardless of whether the ball is played or not. The rule used to be that if a player makes contact with the ball first then it wasn’t a foul, and surely that has to be the case. If the defending player is trying to play the ball and he does, then there can be no foul. He intended to play the ball not the man, did play the ball and so any contact after that is accidental and due to momentum. If the player doesn’t play the ball and impedes the attacker then that is a foul. It’s really simple. The problem seems to be that referees now have to make a decision based on their opinion that a tackle might have been dangerous, not that it was dangerous, but that it might have endangered an opponent. The problem is that ALL tackles have the potential to injure someone. Just because Michel Platini didnt like being tackled that is no reason to remove the physical side of the game.
By creating a game where physicality is no longer part of the game you remove the competitive element.
By creating a game where physicality is no longer part of the game you remove the competitive element of the game and the competitive element is actually the thing that people want to see. Football isn’t about goals, it is about competition, and competition in the Premier League is seriously lacking. In America, they have the NFL, which is the most attended sporting league in the world and creates revenue of around $10 billion per year, which is about five times as big as the Premier League. One of the major reasons it is so large and so popular is that the NFL has a structure that specifically tries to keep the league competitive. Since the Premier League started only 7 teams have finished first or second. In the same period 23 teams have finished first or second in the NFL. That competitiveness keeps fans interested, it keeps people watching, it keeps people going to the games, and it keeps people believing that their team has a chance. Why are the TV ratings for Manchester United vs Chelsea higher than, say, Manchester United vs West Brom? Because people want to see a competition. It’s not about goals.
Of course people do want to see goals, but they want to see them because they are special, because they are hard to come by, because that player has scored despite the opposition doing everything in their power to stop him. Maradona ran through the England team, past Peter Reid, Terry Butcher and the like, everyone one of those England players would have hacked him down, but they couldn’t. Carlos Alberto’s goal in the 1970 World Cup against Italy is a thing of beauty and one of the reasons it is so good is because the Italians were doing everything they could to stop it, but the Brazilians were too good.
Maradona, Pele, George Best all did the amazing things that they did on the football field in a hostile environment, with players trying kick them and stop them any way they could. The fact that they performed as they did under those circumstances is why they were so special. If you take away the ability to stop goals you take away the value of scoring them.