'Attacking football' has seemingly gone too far in the race for increased viewership
- A shift in trend in the beautiful game to a free-flowing, attacking style means more entertainment, but a loss of the art of defending
Football! It has evolved through the ages, and most noticeably in the last decade. The game has gotten quicker, more physical and more entertaining than Donald Trump's Twitter account. Aggregate scorelines such as 6-5 (Barcrlona vs PSG) and multiple 4-4 scores lit up the champions league in the recent past. Insipid and uneventful matches like the Milan vs Juventus final of 2003 is now just a distant memory.
Gone are the days of compact tactical defending with a four-man backline of muscular giants staying put and sitting deep. A new age of free-flowing open play football has dawned and is hopefully here to stay.
On August 5, 2019, Jacob Harry Maguire, a man with a perfectly square face, officially became the most expensive defender, ever. He reportedly signed for Manchester United for a whopping $97 million. This is what defending has been reduced to! The dearth of good defenders has thrown the market off. We have traversed from the days of immortal leaders such as Carles Puyol, Franco Baresi, Tony Adams, Paolo Maldini, and Alessandro Nesta to paying ludicrous amounts of money for average footballers who just happen to play behind the midfielders.
Are you not entertained? The 2018 World Cup was a true testament to the current state of football. Only one goalless draw in the entire tournament. A staggering 169 goals were scored from the 64 games -- that translates to an all-time high of 2.7 goals per game. FIFA and UEFA must be thrilled with the way the game is currently played. Football is swelling in viewership and reached a point where every game is a great advert for the sport. Not that football needs a helping hand, but an array of goals do no harm.
What could be behind this sudden shift in the dynamics of the game?
Unglamorous: Defence has been and will always be viewed as a boring position in football. Defensive positions are often at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to kids choosing positions.
Non-lucrative: Football, especially in Europe, has incredible amounts of money pumped into it. The average earning of a player in the Premier League is £44,000 (€60,180) a week. This adds up to £2.29m (€ 3.13m) a year. Not to mention the perks and the fame that comes along with this. Hence, many people, especially from less privileged backgrounds and developing nations, consider football as a potential way out of poverty.
Which European club would rush to bid for an industrious defender from one of these countries? How would news of these defenders even grab the attention of these European clubs? All the talk and excitement revolves around flashy attackers who can break ankles or score incredible number of goals.
Entertainment at all costs: Entertaining football has surprisingly surpassed the need to win games and trophies in the eyes of supporters. The latest causalities of this phenomenon are Maurizio Sarri, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.
The need to play attacking football has come to the fore to such an extent that we are now in a situation where defenders are not judged purely on their defensive ability. Out and out English defenders are considered an anachronism. The primary requisites for any defender today are a range of other attributes. How dexterous he is with the ball at his feet, his distribution skill, and other such non-traditional skills. Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has now ushered in an era where even a goalkeeper is judged on these traits rather than his traditional shot-stopping ability.
John Stones was bought for an incredible 50 million euros in 2016, absurd for a defender whose biggest strength was that he could dribble better than the average centre-back. In the 2018 World Cup campaign with the bronze generation of English football, this defender's greatest moment will be the brace he scored against Panama.
With the VAR system being adopted, a further rise of this attacking trend seems inevitable. This parallels the current trend in cricket, where entertainment outweighs true talent. The rise of the dazzling batsmen and high-scoring games that is a trend there finds echoes in football. Who wouldn't be a fan? Which football connoisseur would enjoy a lucid nil-nil draw on a cold rainy Tuesday night anywhere?
More people would sing hosannas about the 6-1 comeback by Barcelona rather than remember the classy 0-0 game against Real Madrid at Highbury.
It is just a matter of time before teams stop having proper defenders in their teams. The teams may consist only of midfielders slotting at the back. Ashley Young, James Milner, Fabian Delph and Fernandinho are already proof that the winds of change are blowing.
But does the sport win? Is an increase in viewership worth losing the fine art of defending?
Published 30 Sep 2019, 15:22 IST