How do you break a dinosaur egg?
The football is like a dinosaur egg. And what distinguishes such an egg? It is extremely stable, virtually impossible to break. Yet I ask myself why one should try to break it at all? Couldn’t we instead nurture it so that it can grow and one day a beautiful dinosaur will hatch?
To what extent critical tones should be struck at all in times of football boom is something we would like to explain in this document. It is the media, the referees and the players themselves, but of course also the spectators, who could all critically rethink their role at one point or another.
Personally, I was, am and will remain a lifelong fan of this game. I have played it myself, and from my earliest childhood I have taken on the role of an active spectator. In doing so, any game has always been right for me to watch. I know almost nothing of fanaticism or devotion. I watch everything that can be watched. I’m just as happy watching amateur or youth games as I am Champions League or World Cup finals. I also enjoy watching exotic leagues when the opportunity arises.
Moreover, as you can read elsewhere, I am proud to say that football is my profession. I make my living from professional betting on football matches. In this respect, one can perhaps expect a little confidence in my assessment of football matches, not only in terms of the distribution of chances, but also in terms of match behaviour, the referee’s role, but also that of the media and the spectators. For they all play a role in the overall assessment of a match.
2) General observations about football
There is no easier game than football. That’s what makes it so special, that’s what makes it so widespread all over the world, and it’s not getting any less widespread. Every child has an urge to move. Frolicking and playing, that’s children’s paradise. And when a ball comes into play, the joy is even greater. So: a plaything, the ball here and out, kicking and running after it. Add 4 sticks or jackets as goalposts and you’re playing like the big boys. It doesn’t get any nicer or simpler than that.
If you compare it with tennis, ice hockey, volleyball or football, whatever, you realise: in most other sports you need some kind of equipment and a suitable location. Sometimes a hall, sometimes a stadium, sometimes a net, sometimes a basket, sometimes a racket. To play football, you just need a ball. A meadow will be found. And off we go. Football is alive and well, it’s booming. Why should one make critical noises at all in times of boom? Ridiculous. But before me, there were people who predicted negative developments in other areas and were right. Apart from that, who knows how big the boom could still be if a few things were changed, improved? Perhaps the fan base could be increased, and in huge proportions? But as I said, football is booming and lives like it.
In that respect, the egg won’t be broken. But as I understand it, it is being treated rather shamefully. It is being trampled underfoot, maltreated with hammer, saw and axe. It is still intact. In the following, I will try to discuss who is using what means. Of course, they all do it unconsciously. My reflections could perhaps contribute here and there to making it happen consciously at first and then possibly no longer at all in the future?
Expert, football fan, stadium-goer or television viewer, everyone has their suggestions to make, I’m well aware of that. The media tell us every week what will be discussed during the week, then comes the next match day and the next topic of discussion. The famous discussions at the regulars’ table: “Did you see yesterday’s play? That’s getting worse and worse. The DFB should do something about that.” The week after: “Ten refereeing mistakes, some of them decisive. It can’t go on like this. They have to do something about it.” Another week on. “Did you see the goal yesterday that wasn’t given? The ball was half a metre behind the line. We need a chip or a goal camera.” Everyone has an opinion, everyone makes it known, everyone considers it exclusive and objectively appropriated. Unfortunately, most people don’t realise that they are just regurgitating media guidelines.
In total, there are about 40 million people in Germany alone, all of them, of course, with the (self-diagnosed) aptitude to be national coaches. Of course, this also applies to me and my views. The only difference to the others: Mine are really true, that’s for sure. Now all I have to do is be elected FIFA President and in just one year’s time the stadiums will be filled worldwide, sales will double, oh what am I talking about, increase tenfold and a new wave of enthusiasm will sweep over the entire world, unstoppable, a new era will dawn and we will found the intergalactic league. What, you don’t believe me? Well, read on then…
3) Fascination with football?
What really fascinates people about football? Yes, football is emotion, passion, excitement, sport, play. And it is a simple sport. All true. But the goals are the salt in the soup. And there are (too) few of them. I imagine the following scene: You try to make the game palatable to a Yank. You go to the stadium with him, as a real enthusiast. “You don’t know football? You must have seen it.” All right, he goes to the stadium with some interest. After 20 minutes he asks: “Tell me, what are those two boxes at the end of the pitch for?” “You have no idea, man, the ball has to go in there, those are the goals!” “Yes, but at least someone would have to kick the ball in that direction for it to be a goal. When will something finally happen?” Of course, it’s 0-0 (according to my database, it’s actually like that in 64% of games, after 25 minutes).
You’re always saying “In a minute, look at it”. He gradually threatens to nod off. Finally, the man jumps up: A player walks alone towards the goal. He almost starts shouting, cheering. You pluck him back onto his chair. “Hey, sit down again. This is embarrassing. He was offside, the man.”
60th minute. Still 0-0. He finally wants to go home. You say “No, now it’s getting really exciting, let’s see if there’s still a goal”. Then, sure enough, the 65th minute, 1:0, also for your team. Now you can cheer. He jumps up and says: “Wow, now something is finally happening. You have to stop him: “Sit down again. Only 25 minutes left, we’ve got this thing in the bag”. He says, “What do you mean, nothing’s happening now?”. “No, we’ll get in behind, two or three tactical substitutions, a bit of time play. They’ll easily get the game over time, there’s nothing left to burn”. You’re right, the game ends 1:0.
That was his first and last visit to the stadium. It’s always 0-0, when it gets exciting it’s offside and when a goal is actually scored, it’s decided? No, thanks.
4) Increasing the attractiveness through more goals:
Then I will now raise the crucial question: Wouldn’t football be more beautiful, more interesting, more fascinating if there were more goals? I think most people would answer this question with “yes”. Goals are simply the salt in the soup. A beautiful trick, a successful cross, a dribble, a great goalkeeper save is all beautiful, you can clap and be thrilled. A period of pressure, a corner, a foul followed by a whistle, a (questionable) offside decision, a successful tackle, it’s all part of football. But the explosion, the absolute climax, the be-all and end-all, the ultimate, is when the ball hits the goal. That’s what brings the masses to their feet.
There are certainly a few people who mourn, the supporters of the team that concedes the goal. But they hardly count, they just mourn silently. And the neutrals are almost always in the majority, thanks to television. And they want to see the goal, too.
So that’s my first concern. There have been discussions about this for years, so I’m sure I’m not the only one in this respect.
But my proposal for achieving this goal is the simplest. It is as simple as it can be. I don’t want to increase the number of goals or abolish offside. I don’t want to change a single rule! My proposal is: apply the existing rules!
Well, they are applied, you say? So obviously I have to bring a few examples to prove that they are not, or that there is a tendency to interpret the rules. This tendency is clearly against the attacking team.
I’ll start with a relatively simple and illustrative situation: A foul play. What does the referee decide? Everyone, whether referee or neutral spectator, will say: free kick, what else? Then I say, well, maybe (more on doubts about this later), but what about foul play in the penalty area? Well, those who know the rules will of course answer: foul play in the penalty area is a penalty. Then I disagree somewhat vehemently. There is not only the term “foul punishable by a penalty” but there is also this fact. A foul in the penalty area is commented on like this: “You can’t give a penalty for that” or “that’s not enough for a penalty” or “yes, there was physical contact, he touched him, but penalty? I don’t know” And everyone agrees. But why is it like that? What is actually the statement?
The actual statement is this, here is my interpretation, more on explanations later: It was an offence, but the seriousness of the offence is not sufficient to justify a penalty. There you go, then I agree. If that’s how it’s wanted, then that’s how it should be decided. But then I would insist on one thing: Put it in the rules! A foul results in a free kick. In the penalty area, however, other laws apply. The assessment of foul play is different there. Penalties are only given for very clear and unambiguous fouls. Of course, I would still intervene and ask what the point is. I didn’t want to change any rules, but I would still like to propose the logical rule change: There is an alternative penalty for foul play in the penalty area. The penalty is not set in stone, is it?
Moreover, I would like to think the approach through to the end: What would actually happen if every foul in the penalty area was punished with a penalty? Berti Vogts once said (the first person I ever heard on this subject): “If you gave a penalty for a foul like that, there would be 20 penalties in the game. Now it’s my turn to disagree again. Footballers are like children, but kindergarten children. They do what they are allowed to do. If you don’t manage to set up flawless, comprehensible rules, then they figuratively dance on the table. In other words, if a defender realises that there is no penalty for simply tugging on his jersey in the penalty area, he does it again and again. If he is also allowed to obstruct the opponent in a header duel, without the intention of reaching the ball himself, then he does it. If, however, he realises that these offences will be punished with a penalty, then he refrains from doing so. What would be the tragic consequence? The strikers would suddenly have more freedom. They would be able to successfully complete a dribble, win a header duel and get the ball on goal. Another consequence: more goal situations, more goals. Would you then run away straight away?
Now I’ll talk about another, similar situation: handball in the penalty area. When I was a child in youth football, I learned: arms to the body, especially in the penalty area. Because: Otherwise there’s a penalty. So we tried NOT to get the ball on the hand or arm. Over the years, this behaviour has gradually changed. Nowadays it looks like this: The defenders keep their arms where they want, but preferably not to the body. And when they get the ball against their hand or arm, they say, “that wasn’t an unnatural hand movement” or “from that distance he can’t get his arm away, you can’t give a penalty” That’s such incredible nonsense. If there is no penalty for it, then you just hold your arms like a handball goalkeeper. If the opponent shoots against it, it’s his own fault, at least not mine. I just don’t want anyone to tell me that the players don’t know what they’re doing.
Now I’d like to talk about a really annoying topic that upsets every football fan every day: offside. My observations on this:
The Americans had the right approach for the 1994 World Cup: they wanted to make the game popular in America. To make it popular, they have to make it attractive. To make it attractive, they need goals. Of all the proposals (which, by the way, would be easily implemented in America), only two were introduced: The back-pass rule and the ‘in doubt for the attacker’ rule for offside decisions. Because the realisation was quite simple: the flag always goes up, often wrongly. So if you’re not sure, you leave it down. Because you want to see the goal situation. Here, almost all the spectators are neutral. A player alone in front of the goal. That’s exciting. An offside whistle is the so-called anti-climax. Like in Hitchcock, when you hear another noise, get a huge fright again, and then the camera pans over and you wipe your sweat: “Phew, lucky, it was only a cat”. But with football it’s a permanent anti-climax. During the 2006 World Cup, randomly selected spectators were asked if they knew what offside was and a woman answered, absolutely correctly by the way, “Offside is always when someone is standing free”. And that’s how it’s decided nowadays.
I even spoke to a referee once about what percentage of offside decisions he thought were against the attacking team. He gave a good answer but not quite the correct one. He said 80% are to the disadvantage of the attacking team. He is only wrong insofar as it is actually more than 90%, but nevertheless the question may be allowed, why is it more than 50%, which statistically should come out, if one would only commit mistakes by chance? His answer was extremely interesting for me and I fear that such nonsense is actually being spread in referee training. He says it is because the assistant HEARS the offside and does not SEE it. So he always looks at the attacker/defender line, the ball is played, the play causes a sound, the sound takes between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds to reach his ear (the play happens on average 20-60 metres away from the assistant and for that the sound takes that long) and within that time span the player is actually offside: light faster than sound.
Converted into metres: A fast player runs the 100 metres in 11 seconds. So 9 metres in one second, 90 centimetres per tenth of a second. Add to that the counter-movement of the defensive players who run out at the same time, but they are slower, so let’s say 60 centimetres, makes a total of 1.50 metres, and that’s still the pessimistic case that the offside occurred near the linesman. So if the assistant regularly makes a mistake of 1.50 metres, then the wrong decisions would be a logical consequence, namely those against the attackers. After all, the attackers are always in the critical area. They want to have a small lead, so they often start early, but not too early! This explanation sounds plausible to a certain extent, but it would be no less devastating because of it.
If this were really the case and the referee instructors were aware of this, then I would of course see it as a priority task to convey this in the training, i.e. that one would have to correct one’s decision by this approx. 1.50m when it comes to the question of offside or not. Because injustice is hopefully undesirable, may I assume?
Nevertheless, over the years I have made another observation that provides a much more insightful explanation. To do this, however, one must, if possible, free oneself from a few prejudices. If you were then ready?
So I maintain that the explanation is to be sought in the psychological realm. The assistant, like everyone else, naturally looks at the ball, it is played forward, the man looks behind, the ball arrives and he sees an attacker running alone towards the goalkeeper. Then he thinks, like everyone else, “Oops, he’s free”. Then a few things happen in the brain and in the limbs that could actually also be attributed to the generic term “intuition” and which, taken together, produce one result: he raises the flag. Intuition really is a very faithful and, in principle, reliable advisor. I also use my intuition every day. You use it ubiquitously anyway in situations where there is too little time to think. And this is a typical such situation. But let me remind you of the original question: What percentage of offside decisions are against the attackers? I hope this is not disputed (please, I am eager to know what the famous Sat1 database reveals). And I hope it is also undisputed that such a decision must be made intuitively, as within tenths of a second. So now the question would be why the decision is far more than 50% in a certain direction.
5) Introduction to psychology
In principle, there is a tendency in favour of simple decisions. Everyone looks for decision-making aids, in all situations in life. One does not want to (have to) discuss all considerations in every situation before being able to act. So one usually has a rough orientation. And the phrase “one chooses the path of least resistance” is also more than just a phrase, it is almost a rule of life for most people.
In relation to the assistant referees, this means: First and foremost, you decide in such a way that you don’t get your head ripped off for it. And I can give you several examples where referees or assistant referees have had their heads torn off, figuratively speaking. It always happens when a wrong decision leads to a goal. Because that is such an obvious mistake, and it decided the game. The game ended 1-0 (as it usually does) and the goal should not have counted. Who is to blame? The referee(s).
I realise that this is not easily credible. But I had guessed: Please throw your prejudices overboard! I’m going to give you another example of how another kind of wrong decision is judged. And it goes like this:
A game ends 0:0. One of the two coaches remarks after the game that a clear offside goal was not recognised for his team and that at least one other situation in the penalty area should have led to a penalty kick, there was at least clear handball. The television team works well, the relevant pictures of the match situations are shown. They confirm the coach’s statements. But do you know what the next reporter’s question is? “Still, shouldn’t you have just done more to take the three points?”
There is no further mention of the referee, especially he doesn’t get into any explanatory trouble. “Those were factual decisions.” “He should have given a penalty, but he probably judged the situation differently.” “The offside situation was really difficult to see. That’s where a mistake can happen.” The referees are taken to task, the coach is the fool. He wants to distract from his team’s mistakes, provides himself and his players with an alibi and so on.
So the first part of psychology gives you relief if you make a mistake. And that is when you decide against the goal. If, on the other hand, you decide to run, to take the penalty, then you are really risking something. Then you could be wrong, with dire consequences. But there is another explanation. It follows here:
6) Psychology Part 2
Football is a game of few goals. My database reveals that in the leagues I cover, the average over the last 10 years has been 2.5 goals per game. This has a very obvious consequence: each goal has a gigantic value in terms of chance distribution for the whole game. It looks something like this: If you have maybe 50% to win before the game, then you have about 80% to win after a goal in the first half. If, on the other hand, you concede a goal in the first half, your chances immediately deteriorate to 20% or less. When is a game ever turned around?
The influence of a goal on the outcome of the game is therefore very considerable. In other words, there is little fear of making a decision that can at the same time virtually (often enough definitively) decide the game. And there are not only goals in the first half (there are even noticeably fewer). Just think of the last minute of the game. The game is tied, 0:0. Both teams have put up a fierce, yet fair fight. But suddenly a player runs alone towards the goal. “Help, stop, stop” is what the assistant thinks at that moment. But now no more goal, that would be the immediate decision. So the decision, note the pun, is an undecision. The decision is to go for a draw. For safety’s sake. Let alone, you would now be wrong and wrongly let the man go. God forbid! So: flag up, then you’re out of everything. Let them say afterwards, “It wasn’t offside.”
Of course, that applies just as much to the penalty decisions. You should see the other side of the coin, how the referees appease their consciences: At 4-0, they make up for everything. A little push in the penalty area can be enough for a penalty. The striker is let off, nothing can happen now, and there’s no discussion if I’ve made a mistake.
The same applies to sending-offs, of course. You just don’t want it. It would virtually decide the game. So it’s better to decide against the sending-off.
Could anyone object to saying that some form of justice is being sought? I have also followed several games of the NBA, the American basketball league. And I have noticed that there is practically never any criticism of a referee’s decision. Sometimes you know that a decision was wrong, even as a player. But you accept it because you know that there is no system behind it, no recognisable tendency. It’s just a mistake.
If I may give a few examples from football, standard scenes that occur in every game: A striker steals the ball from a defender. The defender realises that he has made a mistake, but the ball is gone. Then he just falls down, all the defenders do that. And what does the referee do? He doesn’t whistle a free kick for the defender 99 times out of 100. No, he whistles for the defender in 100 cases. Nothing happened, there was hardly any contact. But there is a free kick. On the other side of the pitch. A striker enters the penalty area, he is also clearly obstructed. Now he has two options, depending on the situation: try to run on, play, or give the ball away. But there is one thing he must not do under any circumstances, and that is fall down. Because, with today’s ridiculous interpretation of the rules, the announcer would definitely tell you: “The referee is right not to give a penalty. But if he doesn’t give a penalty, he must necessarily show a yellow card.” So you are guaranteed not to get a penalty. If you are extremely skilful, and only players who can keep their feet after a challenge can do that, you can manage not to get a yellow card.
If you now contrast these two scenes, you can see the injustice: one man always falls, even if there was no foul far and wide. The other man, when he falls, gets a yellow card, even if he was actually fouled. That is such a sky-scraping injustice.
I also always see the attackers who, after winning the ball and the referee’s whistle blowing, slap their hands in front of their faces and shake their heads in despair, because of course they feel this injustice too, but they are powerless against it. On the other side of the pitch, in the alternatively described scene, you always see the defender throwing his arms up in protest of innocence after the actual offence, saying he had done nothing. When the referee then actually shows the striker the yellow card, the defender applauds, everything seen correctly, ref.
Now these two different reactions of the participating persons have to be interpreted: Are they both brilliant actors, the one who commits a foul offence and then runs away shaking his head with his hands in front of his face (just don’t complain, then he too will get a yellow card), the other who is actually innocent but can only show this by raising his arms in affirmation?
The players know exactly what foul play is. These are intuitive reactions that are an expression of experienced (in)justice. One of them didn’t foul, that’s a fact. And his intuitive reaction is to shake his head. That is never, ever acting. If he had done something, even the smallest little thing, he couldn’t react like that at all. The other is actually the perpetrator, but, also intuitively, throws up his arms to immediately suggest that it was nothing after all. This is also impossible acting.
To prove that my observations as a whole are correct, I have the following suggestion to make: A number of referees, say 10, volunteer to examine a few decisions with me. They are also free to choose a match day of the Bundesliga, while I choose the scenes. However, I have to include a small complication to put their judgement to the acid test: All goals and lines are touched away beforehand. So you see the action in its entirety, but you don’t know where the action took place. Then I would like to hear the assessment of what was a foul play and what was not. I say that at best the gentlemen then get a 50/50 ratio as far as the correctness of the decisions is concerned. So something like this: The gentlemen get to vote on whether there was foul play or not and we compare their verdict with the decision in the game. It would be even better if each of the gentlemen had to make his decision independently of that of the others. Then I’d also guess 50/50, and I can do 50/50 with dice, so we don’t need referees.
Please, all referees who are ready for this experiment, contact me. Be brave, your decisions are untouchable, aren’t they?
9) Investigate causes
I am not accusing any referee of malice. They try to decide as best they can, even neutrally. To illustrate my observation, I remind you of Mr Merk, who recently recognised a goal for Werder Bremen (in the match against Borussia Dortmund), which in retrospect was generally regarded as irregular. That wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t spoken afterwards of his “worst mistake of the last 10 years”. What does that express? A goal that was not given but deserved to be recognised is not a bad mistake. A goal that is wrongly given is a catastrophic, unforgivable mistake. The consequence is: Always disallow a goal to be on the safe side. If there is any doubt, it is offside. In case of doubt, it was no foul play, no handball, no penalty. Another reason is this: A goal brings about a gigantic shift in the distribution of chances as far as the outcome of the game is concerned. In other words: “If I acknowledge the goal, the winner is virtually certain, so it’s better not to”. A non-goal doesn’t change the distribution of chances, but a goal does. So the cause is to be found in the psychological sphere. That sounds unbelievable and I can practically hear the outcry that is now taking place, especially from the match officials themselves.
Every human being acts according to the principle of choosing the path of least resistance. Of course, that only applies to routine activities, things we do every day. And the least resistance for a referee arises when he stops goal situations. One is downright afraid of the goal situation because one is now challenged and can make a serious mistake. So they often prefer to interrupt the game beforehand.
One should also analyse the term “courageous decision”. So what is a “courageous decision”? Normally, decisions should only be divided into “right” and “wrong”. For example, it is courageous to give a penalty kick in the first minute of an important match. And that is indeed the truth. I can prove it again with a scene in the Champions League semi-final Barcelona – Chelsea recently. A player of the home team committed a really clearly recognisable handball in the penalty area, after 7 minutes. The referee actually gave a penalty. But he shrugged his shoulders in the direction of the Barca player. That means the following: “Anything would have been fine with me not to have to give a penalty. But here, unfortunately, it was so clear and unambiguous that I had no other choice”.
10) The conversion
If you manage to get the referees/assistants to be afraid of the wrong decision being made AGAINST a goal, AGAINST the attacker, my personal goal would be achieved.
Mr. Merk would have to say: Oh, we wrongly whistled back a striker who was running alone towards the goal, THAT was the worst mistake of the last 10 years.
Objectively, of course, it is also true that a goal not given affects the chances just as much (if it was correct, you “steal” the gain in percentage from one team in the same size as you give it to the other). It is also a fact that with a larger number of goals, the importance of a single goal is inevitably diminished. In other words, a decision for one goal decides a game much less often.
The most difficult decisions to make are, of course, when a game is tied. So at 4:0, you like to give a penalty or a red card, because the decision doesn’t change anything. But at 0:0 or 1:1? The announcers like to say: “Whoever scores the next goal wins” and they are right. So making a big decision correctly in an important game with a draw? Then rather no goal. I also like to call it the “undecision”. The referee decides on a draw, he “undecides” the game.
The main task here is for the media, so the rethinking has to happen first. They would have to point out the (wrong) decision against a goal, which they would have to present as a “match-deciding mistake”. Nowadays, for example, when a coach says after a game: “We were denied a clear goal”, he is laughed at and looks for the referees to blame instead of recognising the weaknesses in the team and improving them.
If I open the kicker today, I’m guaranteed to read one of the following reports in 10 match reports: “However, they were also denied a clear goal” or: “They were lucky, however, when the referee didn’t give a clear penalty” or simply: “The referee could have decided on a penalty in two situations”. But that doesn’t seem to cause a stir. These are marginal notes.
Christoph Daum recently said a good sentence: “The referees are increasingly becoming match deciders”. He’s right, that’s for sure. But he shouldn’t have said it, because he said it after his team was denied the absolutely correct equalising goal. Then he would rather be torn apart by the media for that stupid statement.
By the way, there was an interesting situation in England at the beginning of the season. In the Liverpool-Chelsea match, the referee gave a penalty that was unjustified in favour of Chelsea. That equalised the score at 1-1, final result 1-1. Ref was banned for 2 months. What do you think the referees will do on the pitch from next week? I can do anything, but I just don’t want to give an unjustified penalty. But in another situation, in a ManU-Tottenham game, Tottenham scored a goal where the ball was without exaggeration a whole metre behind the goal line. Every spectator up to 2.6 per mille in the upper ring could see that the ball was in. But neither ref nor assistant “saw” it? Who can believe that? They DON’T WANT to give the goal, they WANT to find a fly in the ointment. Any means will do to disallow a goal. If I am not 100% sure that everything was right and I see any possibility to disallow a goal, then I do it. At the 2006 World Cup, there was a game between Croatia and Japan. Look at the game again. Croatia had a simple tactic to win the game: High balls into the penalty area, header, goal. Because the attackers (even more so the defenders who were in front on standards) were on average 12-15cm taller. The only difference was that on 22 crosses into the penalty area, 21 times a Croatian got a header because he jumped higher than the opponent. But 20 times the referee blew the whistle, probably because of “unequal chances”. It was simply not possible for Croatia to score in this way. Maybe it looked to the referee like the Croatians were leaning up? So again, the ref had no malicious intent. And, as we know, the decisions were never brought against him. Although a very high percentage of them were wrong. It’s no problem to decide against the attackers. Nothing can happen to you.
11) The role of the media
While the dinsosaur egg was hit with a hammer during the interpretation of the rules (don’t worry, it remained intact, hammers don’t help), they try to hit it with a saw during the reporting.
And when one of the main culprits (the coaches being the most popular) complains about the reporting, he is met with the full force of the media: firstly, with the argument that, yes, of course, the media are to blame for everything, and secondly, he is accused of being thin-skinned and trying to divert attention from the real problems.
Well, fortunately I can be considered halfway neutral and I just have to put it so clearly: The reporting is catastrophic. And even that is flattering. I can also, as is customary in court, “anything you say can be used against you” make the same thing useful to me here and make use of a popular commentator’s saying: She is underground.
In the meantime, I have also obtained assessments from an almost representative section of the population. This ranged from my football mates to the chess club to journalists or housewives, neutrals and fans. They all said the same thing, and that really made me wonder: they thought it was horrible, they always turned the sound off, you can’t listen to it. I’d also like to add another voice that I hope will be recognised as neutral: I occasionally get calls from Premiere wanting to offer me some new subscription or tariff. I am then very happy to be able to speak to someone from the broadcaster in person. I then usually ask if I may also say something about your broadcasting offer? I may. Then I also like to say what is really close to my heart. Namely, the intolerability of the reporting. The mostly female employees then nod recognisably, even if only verbally, and say that they would like to hear that more often. I then ask back, “Are there any other complaints?” and am told: “No, actually all of them are directed against the reporting.”
And that’s what I call representative. If I may mention it: The Premiere programme makers obviously don’t care. Viewers’ wishes don’t seem to matter. Or is there not a single commentator you could find who would manage to say something good about a game?
Well, quite honestly, and I know that as a German I belong to the nation of complainers and that ultimately people complain about everything, including me right now and here, but somewhere there should be someone who says he likes to hear that, that was right to the point, my favourite reporter is … and you can really listen to him. But it doesn’t come, not even once. I don’t know about you now, but I’ve drawn my conclusions: it ACTUALLY IS that bad. I am not imagining it.
Before I get more specific I would like to point out at least one fact: I watch games with English commentary almost every day.
And they are simply a blessing. The first commandment for the narrator: create suspense, maintain suspense. It seems to me that they studied journalism and our narrow-mindedness? What makes one a journalist and what makes a journalist, journalism in general? You want to sell something to the public, to as many people as possible, to offer a story, here, this one, my report you have to hear and read, I have the story. So you can package even boring news well.
But also my Italian is halfway decent and I occasionally watch games “con la voce italiana”, with Italian sound. But even if I didn’t understand them, I would at least notice that these speakers are excited about what’s going to happen and strive to convey that excitement to the viewer. But more on that later.
Now it’s time to get specific. I’ll give you a few examples: 10 crosses come into the penalty area. 10 times the defenders get to the ball (see above), the attack is blocked. Reporter’s comment: “Stereotype, always the same balls, but they should know that with the big centre-backs…. “. The 11th cross comes into the penalty area, a striker gets to the ball and indeed, a goal. Comment: “Catastrophic positional error… everyone is watching… He’s standing there in the open … completely unchallenged he gets a header … even the goalkeeper is partly to blame … hesitates when running out … nobody had him in mind” or some similar nonsense. First of all: The defenders are usually outnumbered. No wonder they get the ball more often. Centre-backs are very often chosen for their physical robustness, a striker more for versatility or agility, technique or goal-scoring ability. Unsurprisingly, the defender is predominantly victorious there as well. Thirdly, the defender has any direction at his disposal for clearing. The striker has only one: the direction of the goal. So it’s no use for him to win a header duel, which he occasionally does, after which it’s said, “he can’t get any pressure behind the ball”, he has to get the ball on goal AND still overcome the goalkeeper.
By the way, it is not easy in principle to find an action that pleases the strict reporter. A successful dribble is automatically commented on with: “But it’s far too easy”, an unsuccessful one with “he keeps getting stuck”. If someone tries to score a goal but is unsuccessful, the comment is: “He missed the better-positioned … he overlooked the better-positioned …”, “desperation” or “too selfish”. The easiest thing to say as a reporter after an attack that does not lead to a goal is “but he should have …”. When an attack is in progress, it is always best to explain immediately with “now would be a good time” and then say “he has to play earlier” or “it has to go faster”, because you don’t have to fear that the attack will lead to a goal. You can also distinguish yourself as an absolute expert for free. Because: The attack will most probably not result in a goal, because that happens extremely rarely. And if, as is to be expected, the attack does not result in a goal, you confirm your previous statements, “It should have gone faster” or similar. But if it does happen that a goal is scored, then you talk your way out of it by saying “actually, he had already missed the right moment to pass the ball, but it still arrives” or, most simply, you pick on the defenders “too far away from the opponents”, “that was an invitation, … gratefully accepted” or something like that.
The cause is the following, and from a reporter’s point of view this is to be urgently prevented. A layman might say “great, great trick, nice goal”, the real expert says “yes, a chain of mistakes led to the goal against. First the careless loss of the ball in the build-up, then they stand too far away from the opponents and the goalkeeper also cuts an unfortunate figure”. And then someone should contradict that. By the way, there are legends that come about just like that. One of them is this: Goals are scored through mistakes. Because that’s what Emperor Franz once said. Now it is irrefutable. Everyone quotes it without knowing its origin and without checking its truthfulness. But it’s total nonsense, sorry, Mr Beckenbauer. There is the possibility of scoring a goal, yes. There are also physiological differences between players. There are faster and slower, there are taller and shorter, agile, mobile and less mobile. There is also robustness or assertiveness. Then there are moves, player movements, precision in passing, precision in crossing and precision in scoring, all individually different. And then there is also the factor of chance, luck or bad luck.
Unfortunately, the emperor also said another fatal sentence: “Let football be what it is”. This has led to a situation where people no longer even think about changing the rules. Or even about whether football can be made more attractive. The emperor’s word is eternal, here and always.
Let me describe one way of scoring a goal:
The player with the ball (it will be someone, it can be after the kick-off, for example, in which case hopefully it wasn’t a mistake how he got possession of the ball, Mr. Reif? My idol among the detractors, by the way, and apparently not only mine) plays a pass to the next free team-mate. The latter passes the ball on to the next, who then passes it on again to the next, winning a duel one on one, even that is supposed to be possible, through individual ability, close ball control, trickery. A cross, and a precise one at that, to the 1.92 tall attacker who has the right timing, the header, the goal. Everything without mistakes. Precise passes, teammates running into position at the right moment, one is even faster than his opponent and has the decisive centimetre advantage. I’m a dreamer, right? A goal without a mistake, pah!
Whoever is in possession of the ball has the opportunity to look for a free teammate, that’s what everyone learns, even in their youth. Stop, look, play. Even better: Look, don’t stop, play anyway, that’s also called a direct pass, the new German “no-look-pass”, the master of these passes: Ronaldinho.
Of course, the more ball security, the easier it is to look beforehand, or, and I praise the Kaiser for this, he was always looking when he had the ball on his foot, that was his trademark: His head was up, always, all the time. The ball was there anyway.
If you are in a position to shoot after overcoming an opponent or through a precise pass, even if it is 25 metres away from the goal, then you have the opportunity to shoot. And depending on one’s own abilities and the goalkeeper’s abilities and the coincidences (pitch conditions? rain-wet ball?), the ball will also occasionally go into the goal, all without error. Even beyond that, it’s the actions that the spectator wants to see. I want to hear at least the enthusiasm about the successful and beautiful action, and not just a terse “1:0, but now for the error analysis”.
It is a game of probabilities. The actions have a certain probability of resulting in a goal. The higher the skills, individually and team-wise, the higher the probability. But even if one team creates a 20% scoring chance 10 times in a game and the other only 5 times a 10% scoring chance, the losing team can win. And that was merely a result of chance.
Here is a short summary of what I want to achieve and how I want to achieve it:
Increase the attractiveness of the game by scoring more goals. More goals by applying the existing rules, interpreting the rules in favour of the attacking team. This requires a psychological rethinking on the part of everyone, especially the referees: We want the goal action, we want the goal. The only thing you have to take into account when making a decision is that if you stop it, you basically scare away the spectators, drive them away. We want and need goal action and goals. More goals also guarantee excitement (today: what, it’s 0:2? The game is over, I turn it off or go home. Later: What, it’s 0:2? Anything can happen, exciting, I’ll watch it). And coverage that does justice to the best there is in football. Positive. Emphasise the positive. This is also just about enhancing the value of football. Because the fan base may be huge, but who knows how big it could still be. Why try to destroy the dinosaur egg instead of nurturing it and letting it grow?
12) The interviews
An interview nowadays, and I emphasise explicitly here in Germany, is an imposition. That’s why I’ll introduce it as it should be and as it is practised in England: The questioner has the honour of having a true expert at the microphone. His task is to elicit as much wisdom and knowledge as possible from his interlocutor by asking clever questions. To do this, he may and should also prove to be a man of the trade, which he can also show in his questioning skills. But one thing must remain clear and recognisable: He is merely the expert for questions, the interviewee is the true expert.
An interview here unfortunately distorts this starting position. The questioner already knows everything. But he leaves the interviewee groping in the dark for a while, in order to then enlighten the viewer about his motivation in answering his questions. In concrete terms, it looks like this: “Why did your team lose today?” Answer: “We didn’t play that badly. The performance was okay, the result was not.” Next question: “Aren’t you making it too easy for yourself?” “If we keep playing like this, the results will come eventually. We didn’t take our chances. I would have to worry if we hadn’t had any chances.” Next question: “Isn’t it a quality problem when so many chances are missed?”. The man is good, he counted the goals and knows another piece of wisdom: in football, goals count!
Here are just a few key points that I will write about later:
Other negative highlights of the reporting: “underground”, “collective deep sleep”, “spectators rightly applaud”, “the coach rightly praised his players”, “happy but deserved”, “they were all asleep”, “they give friendly escort”.
All the reporters can do is count the goals and read the table, then any stupid question is justified. My suggestion would be that a reporter must comment on a match without seeing whether an action was completed with a goal or not. Then he can make his clever declarations about who was good and who was bad, who made the catastrophic mistakes and who, in his opinion, “deserved to win” in the end.
Let’s take the following example, for illustration. One team leads 1:0, the other attacks. Of course, the attack is not expected to result in a goal, which one is? One in a hundred? “Nah, it’s not going to work out that way”. Conversely, the leading team attacks, the same action. This time, however, the announcer: “It’s burning like a torch again.” Do you notice anything? The commentary is based solely on the score.
13) Commentary: Two reporters (abroad)
Another suggestion to improve the reporting. And in this context I would like to ask once again whether the German media, reporters and programme makers have ever heard the term “thinking outside the box”? They don’t need to do that in Germany! After all, we invented the world. And anyway, who has been world champion three times and deserves to be 10 more times?
So when a German speaker speaks, it’s kind of like how I imagine the sound fall when Queen Mum visits Berlin. Nobody wants to watch that. I’ve never watched such a “big event” either. But I can imagine the tone of voice. It’s a bit like a football match. He obviously has no intention of creating tension. He himself has already seen everything between heaven and earth. There are no good performances for someone like him. And how could he feel tension when those little helpless, ridiculous individuals down there are trying to build up an attack and the others, the opponents, are trying in equally helpless attempts to prevent this build-up? All right, that’s obviously how it is when God talks to you. But according to my imagination, God has always been merciful so far?
Now add to that God’s judgement of a game situation. There is an offence in the penalty area. The announcer (Yes, God, I vow to do better): “Never, never foul play.” Play continues. The slow-motion replay, from six different perspectives, confirms my first impression: “Clear penalty.” The announcer: “There you see it, he didn’t touch him. It wasn’t a penalty.” sees his assessment equally confirmed (sure, God, only you know the truth). But I, as a humble earthling would still like to find an advocate for my assessment. Why does the man (blasphemy again; God himself) immediately postulate the truth and leave me no room at all for my own decision-making? I then regularly shout at my television. I formulate thousands of letters to the editor. I capitulate. Nothing can be done. It wasn’t a penalty. God saw it, God spoke to me. Thank you, O God, almighty, all-knowing.
By the way, I once found an auction on e-bay of the following highlight: “Buy a day with Marcel Reif. Accompany him to the stadium, listen to him, watch him at work.” I bid 4000 euros and already thought I was a winner. But when I looked up again at the end of the time, someone had bid 4001 euros, I was out. But you know how I would have used the day? I would have thrown all diplomacy overboard for the moment.
But that’s not what I wanted to tell you here. This was about the example abroad: There are two commentators at all English games. This has the following advantage: if someone talks obvious nonsense, there is at least one authority who can comment on it directly. Incidentally, as a side effect, this leads to people simply not talking nonsense at all. You have someone at your side who catches you (would catch you) talking nonsense, so you don’t do it. In Italy, by the way, it’s exactly the same.
For example, it sounds like this: “For me, thats a penalty. What do you think, Gary?” Or: “He must have been offside. What is your opinion?” “No, he may have been onside. Lets see the replay.”
How high is a German plate? In any case, the Germans have pulled out the joker to talk stupid. And I can easily understand the disdain for Germans abroad. German pomposity simply interprets this as “envy”.
By the way, there is another reason why the reporters always and constantly, consistently talk negatively about a game: Since you’re talking about football, everyone is aware that you can say as many bad things as you want. You can’t break the egg. If I imagine a young up-and-coming reporter who gets the opportunity to comment on, say, a swimming event or a volleyball match in his first public appearance, I guarantee he would not start by somehow denigrating the game, the performance of the participants. He would certainly, in keeping with his journalistic honour, try to present it as exciting as possible and, what’s more, as a performance at the highest level. That is the highest duty of a reporter. In football, you can forget about that, and all that for 90 minutes. Football is so big and powerful, it just can’t be brought down. Like a dinosaur egg…
14) The players themselves
The players are of course, and I hope no one is personally offended, the only really active ones, but still only puppets. They only act according to the instructions of everyone else involved. The managers decide who is bought and who is sold. The coaches line up and give the positions. The media select the matches to be broadcast according to value and attractiveness. The reporters “judge” the players’ performances, the spectators whistle or applaud, cheer or mourn. And they also decide which coach has to go and which manager can stay, which player is voted the crowd’s favourite and which is “pure mercenary”. And in the end they also vote for the team, the coach, the manager and the player of the season.
The players are just allowed to kick the ball and put it in the goal or waste the chance. To stop the opponent from doing what he wants to do by fair or unfair means. They are the main actors. But still the ones with the least influence.
Nevertheless, this role can also be “interpreted”. If the media once again dictate – and the coach has only done so under pressure – that “we have to win today, no matter how”, then the players are called upon, almost condemned, to implement this. Nevertheless, in my view, they would have the right to observe the rules of fair play. Regrettably, this is also happening less and less. There is simply no more room for fair play. Please remember the scene with Alpay and Vlaovic at the 1996 European Championship, Turkey-Croatia. Alpay was “fair” in the sense that he did not pull the emergency brake. If that passes for fair play?
I shift my accusations back to the media, of course. They would have the chance to praise even a loser if the performance was right. They have the chance to thank those involved for a great game, for a great season (Stepanovic after Frankfurt Eintracht’s tragic loss of the title in 1992: He had first answered the reporter who immediately went after him with such a nasty question: First of all, I expect congratulations on a great season. Before he later uttered the legendary sentence: “Läbbe goes on.”) You can also, instead of pretending: “Victory must come, no matter how.” pretend “Being there is everything. We’re looking forward to a great game tonight. And if it ends in our favour…” –