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"Television demands activity."
January 5, 2010 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Is television holding back the evolution of football? What is rarely considered is that television could be shaping the way the game is played, and not necessarily for the better. It sounds, admittedly, a touch far-fetched, but two of football's most respected thinkers believe it to be true, and when Jorge Valdano and Arrigo Sacchi are in agreement, it is usually worth listening. Sports journalist Jonathan Wilson investigates the effect televised football/soccer might be having on the tactics of the game.

Jorge Valdano: "In South America we have the concept of the 'pause' in football, the moment of reflection which foreshadows an attack. It's built into the game, like music, which also needs pauses, drops in intensity. The problem is that this doesn't work in the language of television. A moment of low intensity in a televised football game is seen by some as time to change channels. So the game is getting quicker and quicker because television demands it."

Arrigo Sacchi: "Today's football is about managing the characteristics of individuals, and that's why you see the proliferation of specialists. The individual has trumped the collective. But it's a sign of weakness. It's reactive, not pro-active... So, for example, we knew that Zidane, Raúl and Figo didn't track back, so we had to put a guy in front of the back four who would defend. But that's reactionary football. It doesn't multiply the players' qualities exponentially. Which actually is the point of tactics: to achieve this multiplying effect on the players' abilities... Is football a collective and harmonious game? Or is it a question of putting x amount of talented players in and balancing them out with y amount of specialists?"



Jonathan Wilson's articles for the Guardian on football tactics are often really interesting:

How will football tactics develop over the next decade?

How is Brazil's 4-2-3-1 different from a European 4-2-3-1?

Do formations hav eto be symmetrical?

Why is fullback the most important position on the pitch?
posted by dng (64 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I agree with the obsession with the individual as detrimental. However, I think the worst manifestation is Fantasy Football. Instead of an interest in the performance of the team, the spectators are now consumed with statistical masturbation about single players performance in isolation. I swear if I hear someone else say "my team lost, but it's okay because So-and-so on the opposition scored enough points against us that I won in my fantasy league", I'm going to beat them to death with a hammer. It's okay for a team to loose, as long as my invented collection of non-teammates piles up enough points for me individually to feel good about the sport.
posted by kjs3 at 7:08 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


If TV is affecting and changing the way football is played, it is hardly holding back its evolution, now is it?
posted by daniel_charms at 7:11 AM on January 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


You had me at "two of football's most respected thinkers".
posted by DU at 7:14 AM on January 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm not entirely sure this is the sort of thing that giant brains floating in tanks can really be trusted about.
posted by Copronymus at 7:18 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's okay for a team to loose, as long as my invented collection of non-teammates piles up enough points for me individually to feel good about the sport.

It's all an imaginary game anyway. Let them have their fantasies.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:22 AM on January 5, 2010


So happens was recently reading the fantastic story of the god-like Sócrates turning out for Garforth Town of the English Northern Counties East League First Division. After a 14-minute appearance off the subs bench, the noble chain-smoking doctor said, "It was much faster than the type of football I'm used to." If one of the greatest professional players ever to grace the game finds that the game in even such a minor non-league fixture has speeded up greatly, Watts is probably onto something.
posted by Abiezer at 7:33 AM on January 5, 2010


Wilson does write some fantastic articles.. it's a real breath of fresh air compared to most of the hacks that populate sports pages.

That said, top teams in the last few years have often placed heavy focus on the 'destroyer'/'defensive midfielder' (think Makelele, Mascherano, etc), so even if "TV demands flash", I'm not buying that managers and coaches are lulled into that way of thinking... Real Madrid signed Kaka and Ronaldo, but it's the non-flashy Alonso that's had arguably the most impact on the way they've played this year.
posted by modernnomad at 7:38 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't say that Valdano and Sacchi are in agreement (at least in the comments Wilson quotes in his articles); they are saying different things which might possibly be connected. Valdano is talking specifically about the rhythmic structure of a football match -- the way it goes quick, quick, slow, slow, very quick for example, in terms of passing and movement -- and saying that television (surely, amongst other media?) is changing our attention capabilities so that we no longer necessarily ascribe value to the slow, as we need a constant supply of quick, quick, quick; thus when we watch a game on television, when the slow arives, we may feel an impulse to change a channel. Sacchi is saying something completely different, of course, about the way that branding, merchandising, and advertising on television (surely, amongst other media?) is creating a drive for teams to purchase individuals, to allow those individuals a greater amount of leeway to play as they themselves see fit, and this is shaping the development of playing styles and the tactical choices available to coaches. So, I guess, the point here is that the way we watch and concentrate (on everything, not just football) has changed so much in recent years, that it is changing our appreciation of football when we do watch it. And also how we consume brand and celebrity, through advertising, is changing how clubs buy players, pick teams, and choose tactics. Thus, strictly speaking, it's not quite television itself that's doing the changing. These things are true, however, only at the highest level.
All of that said, I'm not for a moment taking away from an excellent article and thought-piece. Wilson is consistently one of the best and most cerebral writers on football.
posted by hydatius at 7:43 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this, looks fascinating. I'd been half-considering an FPP based around 'how will football tactics evolve over the next decade?' because it's such a good article, but yours is better than anything I would have done.

Worth mentioning Wilson's book, Inverting the Pyramid, which is a history of football tactics from the start.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:44 AM on January 5, 2010


Did you see that ludicrous display last night?
posted by sourwookie at 7:46 AM on January 5, 2010 [14 favorites]


modernnomad, I think that's the very point that Sacchi & Wilson are both trying to make. Real wanted, for commercial as well as sporting reasons, to buy and play Figo and Zidane, and to make them happy, they had to allow them to play is whatever manner they saw fit, which in this case means that they're not necessarily put the boot in in front of the back four. Thus, in order to make a team work with this handicap, they had to buy Makelele and play him the way they did. Next time round, just substitute Kaka, Ronaldo, and Alonso for Figo, Zidane, and Makelele. This is the point about 'reactive coaching': they're being forced to play a certain way because of non-footballing reasons. I'm not in any way disputing the capabilities of Alonso or Mascherano, just saying that Sacchi is making the point that playing football in this way leads to the creation of specific specialists who do specific jobs, and thus there's little scope for team-work and tactical evolution.
posted by hydatius at 7:51 AM on January 5, 2010


It appears to have changed the shape of the ball from an ovate spheriod to a sphere. Also, it looks like there is a lot less padding. So there's that too.
posted by Danf at 7:52 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


and not necessarily for the better
That's the key phrase that's going to trip everything up right there. What is meant by "better", better for who and what? The article seems to think "better" is a pure sport that evolves solely to the rules of the game, so reading into that a bit, their point of view seems to be that the evolution should be driven by the terms of the game. In other words, the surviving tactics are determined by those that maximize your chance of scoring while minimizing the other teams chance of scoring. In many games this results in a large focus on defensive strategies. Audiences, on the other hand, will enjoy action and drama more so than a well played 1-0 game, or even a lopsided 5-0 game when it was basically over at the mid-point of the game. I don't think tv, per se, is the issue. I think its an entertainment and mass market issue and the money flows from that. From that point of view activity is only half of what an audience craves, the other half is drama. This dynamic creates high salaries for those players that draw large audiences, and large audiences will flow to action and drama. You see it over and over in every sport. I don't think that there is any real solution unless you can break the cycle of athletes chasing money originating from people valuing entertainment over purity.
However, I wonder if the authors of the article would change their minds if soccer evolution was "pure" (whatever that means) and most games were boring snooze fests with each team waiting for the other to make a mistake before committing towards the goal.
posted by forforf at 8:03 AM on January 5, 2010


@DanF, oh, ho ho ho, how predictable.

This is yet another amazing article from Jonathan Wilson. I thought I knew something about tactical systems, but when I read the "how will tactics develop over the next decade" column I realised just how superficial my knowledge is. Is there anybody else writing this sort of stuff?

I'm not sure I necessarily agree with the premise of the article though. Football in different countries has a different rhythm. Television isn't making football faster - bigger and fitter athletes are. Even at the level of my lunchtime 6-a-side team, when we're prepared to work hard and run and press the opposition it's clear how much harder we make things for them. It stands to reason that in the professional game just having the skills is not enough. To succeed you need both the skills and the athleticism. Players have less time on the ball, and that is bound to have a big effect on the game, but TV is not at fault. It's certainly an interesting point, though.
posted by salmacis at 8:03 AM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wait -- I thought we were talking about football. What's with all this soccer crap?












I keed, I keed!
posted by grubi at 8:06 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Talk to me when you have TV timeouts, like we do in red-blooded American football.
posted by Nelson at 8:08 AM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you guys haven't got anything relevant to say, you could always consider not saying it.
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:13 AM on January 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Mordecai Richler wrote several essays criticizing the effect that television had on ice hockey, which are presenting in a similar vein. The rhythm of the game over 60 minutes is now tightly controlled by the needs of advertisers, and the claim is that the natural sorts of back and forth action, punctuated by sudden parries or counter-attacks, are now ironed out of the game. A major claim of his was that hockey in the silver age was both a faster and slower game since the slow creep of television into the game. (To the point now where commercial breaks are now mandated.)

To play devil's advocate, I suppose if we consider sport as primarily entertainment and spectacle, we've been doing this for centuries. We already make many changes away from "pure" sport to allow for the necessity of the audience. In the modern era this means that the majority of the audience is now no longer actually present at the match. So we adjust yet again for that changing audience.

Now, it may be unfair to compare hockey, or even American football, with soccer in this context. The OPs might have a point simply because soccer was always intended to be seen live by a great number of people -- much more than the largest arenas and stadiums in North America -- and the demands of a wider televised market might be something they are only starting to see to the same extent as in other sport.

Pragmatically, there is no way any sport that is played at an international level can keep up with ever-growing audiences without taking advantage of remote-viewing technology. This will necessarily change the game itself, since television (and online access, which is going to be a huge change in the coming decades) has its own unique demands (just as growing live audiences, with their need to drink, piss and fight, presented their own demands.)

We might just have to suck it up and accept that television audiences are simply more important in terms of revenue and the survival of these entertainments, and the game will continue to change to court those audiences. This may mean that some of us will be offended by a less beautiful game.

As for me, I've had to live with the fact that hockey is a completely different animal depending on whether you are playing, seeing it live or watching it on the TV. It annoys the hell out of me that both TSN and the CBC shoot a hockey game in a way that keeps the odd man off screen on an odd man rush. I've had to teach my SO that one should rarely follow the person carrying the puck, but look for the person who is in a position to receive the puck. This means I spend a lot of my time scanning the edges of the TV screen waiting for the player I think is there to show up.

Though, that is easier to explain than the offside rule in football. I'm sure there are professional footie players who don't understand all the nuances of that rule.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:18 AM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jonathan Wilson's articles are very good. If you only read one of the linked articles read the one about how football tactics might develop this decade.
posted by Kattullus at 8:19 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I even said "soccer" in the post in the hope of avoiding this sort of thing...

I think Sacchi's point about specialists is really interesting. At Liverpool last season, Alonso and Mascherano were so good at their roles and complemented each other perfectly that they made Liverpool incredibly hard to beat, but to a certain extent it was like taking a single player and splitting him into two - Alonso doing the passing and dictating the pace of the game, and Mascherano doing the tackling and disrupting the other team's rhythm.

It was undenialably effective, and Alson is always a joy to watch, but often it made me pine for the days when a sweeper might come flowing out of defence to win the ball and dictate the pace of the game all on his own.
posted by dng at 8:21 AM on January 5, 2010


Talk to me when you have TV timeouts, like we do in red-blooded American football.
I guess those there Yankee football players need all that red blood to keep their bodies going throughout the several sustained seconds of abuse they put them through during each play. I mean, in-between TV timeouts, anyhow.
posted by metaxa at 8:25 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


As for me, I've had to live with the fact that hockey is a completely different animal depending on whether you are playing, seeing it live or watching it on the TV. It annoys the hell out of me that both TSN and the CBC shoot a hockey game in a way that keeps the odd man off screen on an odd man rush. I've had to teach my SO that one should rarely follow the person carrying the puck, but look for the person who is in a position to receive the puck. This means I spend a lot of my time scanning the edges of the TV screen waiting for the player I think is there to show up.

Football on TV is often shot equally narrowly, following the ball but not allowing you any view of the wider move. As someone who goes to a lot of live football, I find watching football on TV often seems strangely claustrophic.

Recently, all the channels over here that show football have been making a big thing about showing it in High Definition, and I'd hoped (naively) that this would mean that they could pull the cameras back, effectively showing four times as much of the pitch as before, but of course they never did.
posted by dng at 8:26 AM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


dng: Football on TV is often shot equally narrowly, following the ball but not allowing you any view of the wider move. As someone who goes to a lot of live football, I find watching football on TV often seems strangely claustrophic.

Watching football on a widescreen is really, really different. To quote John Lanchester:
It’s a widescreen tv. By this I don’t mean a pimptastic 60 inch Sony or anything, just a normal-sized telly in a 16:9 aspect ration. And here’s the thing: the 16:9 screen is a zillion times better for watching football on than the old-school 4:3 tv. The main differences that you can see who the player is passing to, and what his options were; you can see what the players who haven’t got the ball are doing, instead of being focussed solely on the man in possession. You can watch the whole trajectory of passes, instead of scanning around as the ball flies. I couldn’t believe how much better it is.

I thought this was a blinding revelation, but it turns out that if you say this to someone who has a widescreen tv, they stick their tongue under their lower lip, assume a vacant expression, and say, ‘Durr’. In other words they regard it as a famous self-evident truth that widescreen tvs are much better for watching football. But the thing is, I don’t think people do know that. Certainly I’d have bought one years ago if the adverts for them, instead of wanking on about lifestyles of the rich and famous, and pretending that the pictures are better, which they aren’t, had just said, ‘buy one if you like football, because you can see where the ball goes’.
It's really true. I'm never gonna buy a widescreen TV just for football but I'm kinda hoping one magically happens to show up in my house :)
posted by Kattullus at 8:33 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The real impact of the current TV contracts on football is that I no longer watch any football. Because the only Sky i get is the cloudy free one that sits on top of my house.
posted by srboisvert at 8:38 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Recently, all the channels over here that show football have been making a big thing about showing it in High Definition, and I'd hoped (naively) that this would mean that they could pull the cameras back, effectively showing four times as much of the pitch as before, but of course they never did.

I hear you. Instead of using the tech to show more of the playing surface, they seem to want to clearly show you the zits of the kids in the nosebleed seats. News flash: no one cares about how sharp the audience is when watching a game.

This suggests that my major lament about the televisioning of sport is not some notion about some pure aspect of the sport being changed, but rather that newer technology is used pretty much only to sell more trucks and beer, and rarely to actually improve how the game is presented to the viewers that put up with the truck and beer commercials in order to watch the damn thing.

That is, like all mass media in the modern milieu, it lives to serve its own ends, rather than fulfil the original requirements of serving its audience.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:38 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Television isn't making football faster - bigger and fitter athletes are.

This. You could make the case that the success of football, and the money that comes with it (from television, natch), is what drives this evolution. Or, simply that athletes are generally getting bigger and fitter, though I don't buy that.

Do the millions of people watching really directly affect the way the players play, or the tactics the team use? No. The game evolves as teams are more and more (financially, to some possibly large extent) motivated to find new ways to win. This happens in all sports. Money is an accelerant.

forforf's point about "What is meant by 'better', better for who and what? is the next biggest issue with this line of nostalgia for the slower, older days of the game. Isn't continued competition better? The times that people pine for now were an outgrowth of an earlier, also different style of play, I'm sure. Evolution just happens.

There are governing bodies, official or otherwise, for most sports. Rules are tweaked from year to year to allow the sport to evolve in a way that will hopefully result in a product that people will enjoy watching. But you're not going to take television away. So the game evolves.
posted by dammitjim at 8:41 AM on January 5, 2010


"As for me, I've had to live with the fact that hockey is a completely different animal depending on whether you are playing, seeing it live or watching it on the TV. It annoys the hell out of me that both TSN and the CBC shoot a hockey game in a way that keeps the odd man off screen on an odd man rush. I've had to teach my SO that one should rarely follow the person carrying the puck, but look for the person who is in a position to receive the puck. This means I spend a lot of my time scanning the edges of the TV screen waiting for the player I think is there to show up."

Finally seeing the Red Wings play live was a revelation. Oh my god, they have plays that sweep the whole rink! It was more like an aerial dogfight than the ground battle of basketball.

Hey, remember when we kept getting promised that interactive TV would let us pick our own camera angles to watch sports from? That future never seemed to get here.
posted by klangklangston at 8:45 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The viewpoint you watch a match from really does change the feel of the entire game, and how you see it.

When I first started going to matches (I'm a Southend fan) we usually stood behind the goal, and you see the whole game effectively from the goalkeeper's perspective. Each move feels like it either begins or ends with the keeper, with it in his hands or going out for a goalkick or corner (and very occasionally with it being a goal). The whole game feels like its about moving forward, or being pushed back. Its harder to see how the formations are affecting the play, and everything feels very direct - its either coming towards you or its going away.

Over the years I've slowly moved around the ground, and now when I go we usually sit in one of the stands by the sides of the pitch, near the halfway line, and you see the game from the same perspective the managers see. From here the game seems to be all about width and space, and you can see how the formations and the movement of the players affects the flow of the game. You can see (or at least imagine) how pulling one man wider or deeper will change the game, allowing your team to exploit the other's weaknesses. And while it's much closer to the viewpoint you get on TV to the one you get from behind the goal, because you can see all of the pitch, and the positions of all of the players, you get a much better appreciation of what's going on and what players are doing when they don't have the ball, than you ever get on the telly.

I don't know which viewpoint I prefer, either really. There's something about watching it all in a huddle behind the goal that used to make even the drabbest match (and by god were most of the matches drab) seem exciting.
posted by dng at 8:45 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh dear, I've offended the real football fans with my joke about "red-blooded American football". Trust me, no one ever says "red-blooded American" except ironically. And FWIW, I agree that football is a great sport and personally I find it more interesting athletically than American football. Peace, OK?

My point about TV timeouts is that football has barely been impacted by television compared to American football. In our sport, we literally stop the action for three minutes to allow television stations time to show more commercials. They try to hide it in some other moment when the action is stopped (and in American football, there are plenty), but you can have a whole stadium full of fans suddenly have to stop and wait and do nothing while the television audience at home sees advertisements for lite beer. It's crazy.

I don't understand football well enough to comment on all the tactical arguments you're discussing here. But the point of the main Guardian article seems to be that television is forcing the sport to be faster and flashier to keep audience's interest. That seems to be more of a statement about audience attention spans than the medium of television. There's been a similar debate in basketball for years. Ironically street ball, the furthest from the television cameras, is also stereotypically the flashiest, most show-boated version of the game.
posted by Nelson at 8:46 AM on January 5, 2010


For better or worse, American Football games are completely centered around the television audience and the fans in attendance are the equivalent of the studio audience at a late-night talk show. It's interesting to see that the other Football is moving in that same direction.
posted by octothorpe at 9:01 AM on January 5, 2010


television is forcing the sport to be faster and flashier to keep audience's interest

That may be what it would take to allow pro soccer to take off in the US. Bloated and showboaty plays well here. Look at the NBA. But look especially at the WWE: The one thing you need to understand to appreciate American culture in the 21st century.
posted by Faze at 9:10 AM on January 5, 2010


The viewpoint you watch a match from really does change the feel of the entire game, and how you see it.
Mostly stood on the Pop side at Gresty Road, though it's seating and has been assigned to away fans now, as preferred that view of the shape of the game shifting that you mention; one thing about watching a bit of non-league elsewhere was the ability to trek round the mostly empty ground and pick your spot - some preferred to be behind the goal their side was attacking - which as you say does greatly change your experience of the game.
posted by Abiezer at 9:14 AM on January 5, 2010


For better or worse, American Football games are completely centered around the television audience and the fans in attendance are the equivalent of the studio audience at a late-night talk show.

I pretty much gave up on the American game because of the "evolution" of the last two minutes of both halves ... which, with timeouts, commercial breaks, Hamlet-like soliloquies (or whatever) often as not now feel like taking fifteen minutes of real-time to play out.

YAWN WITH FRUSTRATION!
posted by philip-random at 9:19 AM on January 5, 2010


I guess those there Yankee football players need all that red blood to keep their bodies going throughout the several sustained seconds of abuse they put them through during each play. I mean, in-between TV timeouts, anyhow.

This is absolutely true of the Offensive Line, who are immense, 350-lb men who's only job is to act as an immovable objects to the irresistable force of the linebackers and defensive ends, men the size and build of comic-book superheroes, that come running in at full-tilt trying to demolish the quarterback or running back.

So in this case, television did alter the way the game is played - these athletes are deliberately bulked up into sumo-wrestlers. Sumo-wrestlers who have to run as well as grapple. They can still function because there are enough time-outs and instant replays and challenge flags where they can catch their breath and otherwise recover from the stresses of being a morbidly obese man expected to perform at the highest level of athleticism. If they were to play a solid hour of football, they would not have the stamina, or the joint longevity, to compete at that size.

Of course, since the Guards and Tackles were getting so big, the response has been 1) even bigger sumo-wrestler Nose Tackles and Defensive Ends (Vince Wilfork) or 2) Incredible-hulk sized superhero defensive ends (Mario Williams). The second is actually more dangerous to the players than the first, as this is a 300lb man, solid muscle, who can run as fast as many track athletes. A tackle, instead of being like wrestling-on-the-run, is now more like being involved in an automobile collision. In both cases, extra fat or extra muscle, you can't get enough oxygen into the system to keep them going flat-out for more than a few minutes at a stretch.

I think this is also why pro soccer seems faster. The "pause" is essential in non-televised games, as the athlete needs to catch his breath - it's hard to concentrate with an oxygen debt. If they're pausing once every few minutes for commercial anyway, then they don't need to slow down as much to conserve and restore their energy.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:25 AM on January 5, 2010


Holding back its "evolution"? huh?

Anyway, as long as they don't change the actual rules of the game to enhance scoring like they did in the U.S. with all of their major sports- and actually stop play for no reason so as to add more commercial breaks, like they do in the U.S., I'll always be a football (soccer) fan.
posted by Zambrano at 9:30 AM on January 5, 2010


If you guys haven't got anything relevant to say, you could always consider not saying it.


Did you see that ludicrous display last night?
posted by sourwookie at 9:35 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey, remember when we kept getting promised that interactive TV would let us pick our own camera angles to watch sports from? That future never seemed to get here.

Actually, Hockey Night in Canada is touting this All Access feature that apparently allows you to view the game @ different angles by selecting which part of a 360-degree camera you want to look at. Not quite the same, but it's a start. I haven't used it yet, so maybe it isn't as exciting as it seems.

Also, I remember during the 2006 Football/Soccer World Cup, BBCs Web-site allowed you to see instant replay 3D animations taken from the point of view of any of the players on the field - so you could see how it looked to score the goal, or to have the goal scored on you, etc.

So we're not quite there, but almost.
posted by bitteroldman at 9:38 AM on January 5, 2010


The effect of saturation tv coverage is far more pronounced on crowds than footballers: everyone's a bloody connoisseur these days.

And when you're freezing to death on the North Stand at Portman Road and, instead of cheering, the old gits behind you are constantly - constantly - moaning that Ipswich's players are nowhere near the standards of, say, Arsenal or Barcelona, or whoever else it was playing in the Champions' League earlier in the week, well that gets a bit trying.
posted by bebrogued at 9:40 AM on January 5, 2010


I like Jonathan Wilson's articles, though I think this one is a little too Premiership centric to judge how TV is holding up the development of football. I know he gives examples outside of the English game too, but the thrust of it is still very focused on the English version of the game, which is markedly different from that played on the continent.

Earlier comments had Alonso likened to Mascherano or Makelele. Please don't do this. While I admire the midfield destroyers like Monster Masch and Makelele, Xabi does not belong in that group. I don't know how anyone thinks of him as a defensive midfielder - though just about everybody does. He is a classic deep-lying playmaker. The guy can't tackle, he is maybe adequate at covering opponents, but he makes God weep with joy at his range of passing, distribution and controlling of attacking play. He is the reason Benitez should be fired at Liverpool, and is the best buy Madrid have made in recent years, forget Kaka and Cristiano. Alonso reminds me of Jan Molby (and Jan agrees with me). The only player I see in the Premiership that approaches his range of passing is Tom Huddlestone at Spurs. I'd love to put that guy in the red No. 14 shirt, but I fear nowadays he might consider it a step down.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 9:41 AM on January 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


A moment of low intensity in a televised football game is seen by some as time to change channels. So the game is getting quicker and quicker because television demands it."

Most of the soccer I've seen is all one extended moment of low intensity, so if TV makes it quicker, then good for TV.
posted by dortmunder at 9:42 AM on January 5, 2010


Watching football on a widescreen is really, really different.

ESPN sometimes advertises HD football and then places a bar on either side of the picture with their logo, because it is a standard 4:3 broadcast in a widescreen package. Pisses me off something fierce.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:43 AM on January 5, 2010


I also suspect that this article has a little bit of why I always find soccer so unsatisfying to watch. It's always like, how can something that's so much fun to play be so dull to see? Well, if you're not seeing the whole thing and are continually focused on where the "action" is, there's no context—it becomes dull like a Michael Bay action flick where everything's just exploding to explode.
posted by klangklangston at 10:00 AM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


ESPN sometimes advertises HD football and then places a bar on either side of the picture with their logo, because it is a standard 4:3 broadcast in a widescreen package. Pisses me off something fierce.

Haven't seen that in a while at least; seem to be doing alright with their Premiership coverage. Not perfect, but alright. And I truly believe that if ESPN hadn't been doing HD for the past however-many months, we wouldn't see FSC with HD until 2012.
posted by inigo2 at 10:03 AM on January 5, 2010


TV is killing football, yes, not by changing the game but by making the tv audience the number one audience, by caterering to and trying grow that audience, and as a consequence gradually emptying the stadiums of ordinary folks, making the terraces a nice scenery for the tv viewers and the corporate ticket holders on the v.i.p. section.

They'll have a nice wtf wake-up the day no one is singing anymore.
posted by mr.marx at 10:58 AM on January 5, 2010


So happens was recently reading the fantastic story of the god-like Sócrates turning out for Garforth Town of the English Northern Counties East League First Division. After a 14-minute appearance off the subs bench, the noble chain-smoking doctor said, "It was much faster than the type of football I'm used to." If one of the greatest professional players ever to grace the game finds that the game in even such a minor non-league fixture has speeded up greatly, Watts is probably onto something.
I can't help but notice that you failed to mention that he was fifty years old at the time, and retired for fifteen years.
posted by Flunkie at 10:59 AM on January 5, 2010


Is there anybody else writing this sort of stuff?

We're probably living in the golden age of writing about football/soccer tactics. I have a bunch of different blogs open in various browser tabs at the moment:

- santapelota is largely focused on Brazilian football, but Roberticus writes amazingly detailed posts about tactics (and the comments often go even further in-depth)

- Left Back in the Changing Room is less narrowly focused on tactics, but covers them every so often. Here's a good post responding to the Wilson "how will tactics evolve?" piece linked in the OP.

- Football Further covers both tactics and goal highlights from around the world.

- More Than Mind Games is more focused on the history of the game, but is worth checking out if only for this post (which includes footage of Newcastle United v. Liverpool in 1901).
posted by asterix at 11:04 AM on January 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


I can't help but notice that you failed to mention that he was fifty years old at the time, and retired for fifteen years.
Both true but don't think that's affected his judgement on the speed of the game - sure he was well aware that he was himself slower, and he's quoted as saying it's a faster type of football.
posted by Abiezer at 11:04 AM on January 5, 2010


I don't think that world class athletes can, generally speaking, be reliably counted upon to accurately judge how far their own skills have declined.
posted by Flunkie at 11:10 AM on January 5, 2010


Oh yeah, and one other link that people here might find interesting (which I got via santapelota, and which changed the way I watch soccer): a scouting vid breaking down Chelsea's defensive tactics prior to the Champions League final in '08. It's in Spanish, but I found it easy to follow even knowing only a little of the language.
posted by asterix at 11:12 AM on January 5, 2010


Look at what TV has done to NBA basketball. It's also no secret that the reason the NFL has gotten so huge is due to it concentrated chaos being great for television.
posted by zzazazz at 11:33 AM on January 5, 2010


What salmacis said...increased professionalism has brought in a level of fitness, and resulting changes in pace that would make Leeds' first-division winning side of 1974 look like...well, Leeds right now. There hasn't been a true innovation in tactics since the emergence of both total football and catenaccio, both systems have simply been modernized and improvised upon, and adapted to suit the stronger, faster, non-chain smoking players of today. Even improvements in sports medicine mean that players can put more commitment into their activities on the pitch. As in American football, this can have the unintended consequence of creating harder contact and more serious injuries, but even someone like Eduardo can now recover from an injury that would have ended most players' careers even ten years ago.

Also, I agree with dng that wide screen broadcasts are making a huge difference in how the audience understands the game- I think it is improving it. With the wide screen you now see a lot more of the movement off the ball. If any medium is influencing the evolution of the game, it's EA Sports and similar football/manager sims. It certainly seems to have influenced the management philosophy of Manchester City.

Oh, and:

What was Wenger thinking bringing Walcott on so early? The problem with Arsenal is that they always try to walk it in.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:38 AM on January 5, 2010


TV is killing football, yes, not by changing the game but by making the tv audience the number one audience, by caterering to and trying grow that audience

On the positive side, when a handful of the TV audience decides to riot, far fewer people get hurt.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:40 AM on January 5, 2010


If any medium is influencing the evolution of the game, it's EA Sports and similar football/manager sims.

Not just the evolution of the game, scouting, too.
posted by asterix at 11:43 AM on January 5, 2010


the reason the NFL has gotten so huge is due to it concentrated chaos being great for television

and it's repulsive. sports, and watching sports, is a social, active activity. or was, now it's a way to keep people at home, in the sofa, being fed commercial messages. and people thinks it's great, yeah!

fuck that.
posted by mr.marx at 11:44 AM on January 5, 2010


On the positive side, when a handful of the TV audience decides to riot, far fewer people get hurt.

funny snark that. have you ever been to a football game?
posted by mr.marx at 11:45 AM on January 5, 2010


Oh hey this Wilson guy is neat. Added to my feed reader.
posted by juv3nal at 11:48 AM on January 5, 2010


I agree about the wide screen broadcasts. American football is much more fun to watch now that they are pulling back more on the broadcasts which allows us to see more of the field during play. I love it.
posted by zzazazz at 11:51 AM on January 5, 2010


(Re Socrates)Both true but don't think that's affected his judgement on the speed of the game - sure he was well aware that he was himself slower, and he's quoted as saying it's a faster type of football.

Couldn't it be the difference in speed between the Brazilian game and the English game, as much as between Socrates' playing days and the later era?

I don't watch much football outside England, but the impression I get is that English games are played at a much higher pace than other (hotter?) countries. This is also implied by Valdano's comment, quoted in the first post.

Nelson: I for one misread your initial comment as off-topic snark. I see where you were going with your second comment, apologies for the mis-read.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:06 PM on January 5, 2010


It was undenialably effective, and Alonso is always a joy to watch, but often it made me pine for the days when a sweeper might come flowing out of defence to win the ball and dictate the pace of the game all on his own.

The man was Fernando Redondo. If you didn't watch him in the Champions League 1999-2000 eat alive Manchester Utd and Valencia FC, you missed a treat. We "Madridistas" still miss the guy who was arguably the best midfielder we ever had.
posted by jgbustos at 2:27 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Redondo was a wonderful player. It was such a shame that Madrid sold him straight away after that, and then he that got injured and barely ever played again.
posted by dng at 3:10 PM on January 5, 2010


Couldn't it be the difference in speed between the Brazilian game and the English game, as much as between Socrates' playing days and the later era?
It well could; probably a flimsy angle to make a mostly unconnected football anecdote I recently happened across somewhat relevant to the topic at hand. But it's Socrates at fooking Garforth!
posted by Abiezer at 4:54 PM on January 5, 2010


on one level im interested in this posts content and on another watching american mefites slowly creep into the thread.

perhaps this is why the premier league is so successful - lots of attacking etc etc

I remember italian football being broadcast in the uk and it really was very dull to watch.
Anything which steers football away from catenaccio is something im happy with.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:55 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Me: ESPN sometimes advertises HD football and then places a bar on either side of the picture with their logo, because it is a standard 4:3 broadcast in a widescreen package.


Haven't seen that in a while at least; seem to be doing alright with their Premiership coverage. Not perfect, but alright. And I truly believe that if ESPN hadn't been doing HD for the past however-many months, we wouldn't see FSC with HD until 2012.
posted by inigo2 at 10:03 AM on January 5 [+] [!]


Yes, I was mistaken, it is Fox Sports North that shows the matches in "HD" with the logo bars on either side. Grrrrrrr.
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:50 AM on January 6, 2010


"In South America we have the concept of the 'pause' in football, the moment of reflection which foreshadows an attack. It's built into the game, like music, which also needs pauses, drops in intensity. The problem is that this doesn't work in the language of television. A moment of low intensity in a televised football game is seen by some as time to change channels. So the game is getting quicker and quicker because television demands it."

I don't understand how mechanically he thinks this is happening (having not RTFA, of course). is he saying that someone like a Xavi or Fabregas, where they would usually put their foot on the ball and maybe play a square ball to bring in an additional attacker, they suddenly think to themselves, "wait a second, Sky is demanding more action! into the breach!" and instead tries to dribble through the 3 in front of them?

What was Wenger thinking bringing Walcott on so early? The problem with Arsenal is that they always try to walk it in.


dammit, TheWhiteSkull beat me to it. setup came so early, too. oh well, i'll followup with this gem, which probably illustrates more how TV is has changed the game.
posted by acid freaking on the kitty at 3:15 PM on January 6, 2010


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