If you want to tell something about football and also have the pleasure of someone listening to you, then you are faced with a not so easy task. Unless your name is Franz Beckenbauer. The reason for the disproportion: especially when it comes to football, everyone who might be interested in what you have to say – and traditionally that means all men, and because of the quota system there might be a few women among them, maybe even an increasing number of them – already knows everything. So why should he listen? He might even do it for a moment, maybe the first half sentence, but at that moment he would have grasped the topic according to his own assessment and would then tell you everything that the media has to say about it – and which he has of course not only read but also understood and formed his own, highly exclusive opinion about it. We would have one of the famous regulars’ table discussions, in which the beer flows in streams, but which nevertheless proceeds in the usual fruitless manner. Should Lehmann resign? Do we need the goal cameras? What about a red card for swallows? Video evidence? Abolish offside? Increase the size of goals? Chip in the ball?
Nevertheless, I am dedicated to this task. I have watched football closely and enthusiastically since early childhood. However, I am in a rare special role, as a fan of the game of football, not as a fan of a team. And that is meant very, very seriously. I have enjoyed the game itself, the game of football. Not because this or that team should win. But because it is a game, and a beautiful game at that. The objectivity that comes with that, which I simply claim through it, can be a good help here and there.
Over the years, I have made a number of observations that are likely to spoil my enjoyment of the game of football. At the same time, however, I have also thought about what really needs to change in order for me to find that joy again. This may sound like highly selfish motives, but I am convinced that this joy could encompass not only me, but all current football fans. In addition, I am convinced that there is a huge further potential of people who would discover the game for themselves with increased attractiveness and could become fans.
First of all, I would like to ask a question. Everyone should answer it for themselves, with an honest heart: When was the last time you watched a football match for 90 minutes without being a fan of one of the teams? Just like that, watching a game for the beauty of the sport? No, I dare say, we don’t do that any more. You go to the cinema, zoo or circus, theatre or comedy show, you watch a Hollywood film or a game show. But a football match? Schalke – Werder? Dortmund – Cologne? Ireland – France? No, that’s boring, isn’t it? If you’re a fan of one of these teams, you can watch it for all I care. But if you’re a neutral spectator? That’s done with.
That led me to the assertion that football has become a pure fan sport. Well, you can certainly say, what’s the problem? There are plenty of fans. The stadiums are full, besides, it has always been like that. People join a team – according to the mode: first the local team, right in the village or the neighbourhood, then a team from the first Bundesliga, perhaps also according to local considerations, then one of the top teams in the whole of Germany, when German teams play in Europe, people generally give them the thumbs-up, then, last but not least, the national team. That’s probably exactly how it is in other countries. It is possible, however, that in smaller countries a big club from a more distant country is chosen at the same time – Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, FC Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan or Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Liverpool, Prais Saint Germain and any big team not mentioned please forgive the unmentioning.
Well, I already see some cause for concern there and worry about football. I don’t see any reason that the game doesn’t have enough beauty and excitement, attractiveness, entertainment, show and emotion to offer that the neutral spectators shouldn’t be there. But even otherwise I don’t see what the (adverse) consequence would be if it did. Now the stadiums are full. But couldn’t they be even fuller? If full, then bigger? If TV rights sold expensively, perhaps even more expensively? More, much more television viewers? Joy for a game? Today is football. I go (watch) it. Because there are great scenes to watch, beautiful goals, successful saves, fair gestures and lots and lots of excitement and entertainment.
Provided you agree with me that this is so, I can now move on to pointing out why it is so. And there I see a total of four problems. Two of them are general and two are quite specific to Germany. First I will make these four assertions, then I will give reasons for them, and then I will think about how to remedy them. Here is my list:
1) Lack of attractiveness of the game itself.
2) Perceived injustice inherent in the game in the rules and their interpretation/application in
a. Foul situations
b. Offside situations
c. Overtime, time play
3) Poor presentation of the game by the media
4) Stagnation of German football in international comparison
Now that the initial outrage has subsided, I would like to justify the points in detail.
1) Lack of attractiveness of the game
The salt in the soup in football is clearly the goals. And there are simply too few of them. Watching an attack is superfluous, so to speak, because you think you already know the result of the move: it won’t be a goal. That means you are right about 99% of the time. This percentage is simply too high to make it seem ludicrous to expect a goal from this attack.
If it were the case that you held your breath at every attacking move because you believed that it could work now, this time for sure, you could feel the goal coming, then it would again be “worthwhile” to look. So it ripples along, even when you should feel the intensity. There is no goal, no, there is no goal anyway. Oh, it just happened to be in this time. Well, I wasn’t looking just now. But what’s the point of slow motion? With the low number of goals, it’s simply not possible to captivate the neutral spectator. The real fans are capable of suffering and also have a declared goal: their team should win. As long as it’s 0-0, it can still happen?
In summary, one can say what many nowadays simply pronounce: Football has (become) a pure results sport. Nothing counts except the naked result. That is a very bitter realisation, provided that all those in charge really stick to it. So it’s no longer about entertaining the spectator? Nor is it about justice any more? Lately, a sad expression has found its way into (football) parlance: “We need a few dirty victories sometimes, too.” But that has only pushed this saying into the background: “We need a win, no matter how.” Exactly, right, that’s the way it is! The choice of means simply doesn’t matter any more! And if five men have to be carried off the pitch by the opponent! We have the victory! No one will ask about it later anyway! The players behave accordingly.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth in it. No one asks about it any more. The players and fans of the losing team only set the stadium on fire, that’s not a problem and has nothing to do with asking questions! A few fights? Who asks about that any more. Outrage maybe about it, ok, sanctions against the Verin whose fans have reduced everything to rubble. A few stewards in hospital? So what? But that probably falls more under the heading of “perceived injustices”. These can also affect the real fans.
Ok, so long as the fan goes along with it, I guess the thought must be? But I see enough evidence that it doesn’t have to stay that way forever. And besides: What about the neutral fan? They’ve long since run away or changed the TV programme. And they really don’t ask any more how the victory, the defeat or anything else came about. That’s right.
More goals are needed, that’s my simple demand. And I think almost everyone would agree with that. A successful action, a beautiful move, a great save, a shot off the crossbar, a successful tackle, a double pass, a foul, a missed shot, a corner kick. All well and good. But all that has only one purpose, can only be beautiful, exciting, if at some point the round comes into the square. How do I want to achieve this goal? Simple answer: by applying the existing rules. Curious? Increasing knowledge only by reading on.
Re 2) Perceived injustice inherent in the game.
Now this point will not be easy to get across, as it is partly based on psychological considerations that are not easily swallowed. However, it does not make me any less convinced of its correctness. And not enough with that, I have even thought of a proof technique, which I am happy to provide. To implement it, however, I would first have to find a few volunteers (referees) who are prepared to make fools of themselves. Because the prepared experiment could hardly turn out any other way. But one after the other.
a. Foul situations
The greatest injustice is that an action is judged in its correctness according to its position on the field. This may sound complicated, but it is not really. The referee rules on foul or not foul according to the place where the action takes place. Still not clearer? Good. So explained by example: A foul is not assessed as a foul in the penalty area. Otherwise there would not be the expression “foul worthy of a penalty kick”. Logical? A “foul not worthy of a penalty” is therefore a foul that is not sufficiently foul to be awarded a penalty. I also hear the commentators saying again and again: “Nah, that’s not enough for a penalty.” Somehow it seems to have been recognised that it was a foul. Just not one where you give a penalty for. The English have long since recognised this. They put it like this: “Anywhere else on the pitch, it is definitely a freekick. In the area, the referee says play on.” “Anywhere else on the pitch, it would be a free kick. In the penalty area, there’s nothing for it.”
It’s obvious. The penalty “penalty kick” seems “too harsh” to the referee (rightly, by the way) for certain offences. The team is given almost a whole goal (the penalty is not always in, but often; about 75% of penalties are converted, a few by additional shots) for an action in which there was hardly any danger of scoring. Too harsh, too high an appreciation of the goal-scoring opportunity, so it’s better not to give it. More on that later. Also to remedy the problem, of course. Acknowledgement is enough here for now.
I also maintain that this observation is valid in other game situations apart from the penalty area, but I will probably encounter even more resistance there. At this point only this much: If a striker wins the ball from a defender and the defender goes down in last desperation because of the loss of the ball, he always gets a free kick. Conversely, if the striker goes down in the same way after losing the ball, he gets a yellow card.
Here, only briefly mentioned, is the possible evidence: You cut together a few scenes in which the referees are to decide on foul or non-foul. Now the small complication: You only see the duel and not the position on the field. The lines and all other clues are touched away. Then an objective judgement based purely on the action would be possible. However, this would be guaranteed to produce a disastrous result for the whistle blowers between “how was it decided in the game” and “how do I judge it now”.
b. Offside decisions
First of all, one has to see that in modern football practically every situation in which the forward pass is made is “very close”. The strikers are always moving on the edge, they would like to have the half-metre advantage, they also need it. But on top of that, the defenders almost always move out. That means that when the pass comes, they just take that one step, if there aren’t two, forward. This counter-movement not only makes it more complicated for the eye. It is also a question of speed. Because the game has become much faster in the last 50 years.
So if it’s always tight and critical, there’s guaranteed to be an added component: what does the man want to see, or, to put it another way, what is he afraid of? Where does he have to fear negative consequences and where not? And there the answer is quite clear: If he judges an offside decision wrongly in the sense that he lets it go and it was offside, his head will be torn off. One team complains that they were whistled, the media also pick up on such a mistake and tear the team apart. Conversely, however, when he mistakenly rules for offside, nothing happens to him. “Oh, in the slow motion we see that it wasn’t offside after all. But it was also hard to see.” Done. No criticism, no negative headlines. So what does the good man on the touchline do? He raises the flag whenever it’s close. And it is always close, see above. Such behaviour is also called the “path of least resistance.” If any more proof is needed: when Markus Merk acknowledged a goal for Dortmund against Werder that was demonstrably incorrect, he spoke of “the worst mistake of the last 10 years.” Does it also make sense that he would never again want to acknowledge a goal that was incorrect? And no other representative of his guild? There is a basic rule that says: If in doubt, blow the whistle. And there are practically always reasons for doubt.
Apart from the fact that the neutral spectator senses this form of injustice without perhaps being able to articulate it concretely, there is the further effect that it is a kind of Hitchcock with consecutive anti-climaxes. Every time you want to jump out of your chair because something is finally happening, you have to sit down again. Accompanied, by the way, by a heartfelt comment: “Don’t get excited, the flag has long since gone up.” Wonderful. Only after the sixth recognised mistake along the lines of “oh, it wasn’t offside after all”, the sixth anti-climax, you simply switch off. And you never switch on again. You also don’t want to know whether the assistant raised the flag correctly this one time – because that happens – by chance. “Football? It’s a sh… game. Nothing happens all the time, and when someone is free, it’s offside. No, thanks. I don’t get it. Logical? Logical!
So there are a few injustices that have nothing to do with the indignation over whistling at one’s own team. That’s also the problem, why it’s not recognised: Anyone who comments on it, a coach, a player, another person in charge, a fan, is immediately dismissed as “biased”. He only commented on it because he was affected and had put on his “club’s own glasses”. When it comes to pointing out grievances, one is generally not considered objective or neutral. And everyone knows everything about football anyway…
c. Time play, injury time
As a neutral spectator, you simply don’t want to accept this cheating any more, even if you only oppose it in ignorance of the cause. I will only ask one question very cautiously: If a team has achieved its dream result, usually a (narrow) lead, and longs for the final whistle, i.e. wants nothing more than to let the seconds tick away: Is there no way to prevent such behaviour, the so-called “time play”? I am not content with the answer: “The others would do the same” or something like that. Because I always talk about attractiveness at the same time. People simply don’t want to see such nonsense. The “football preventers” are at it again. “Jeez, get up now, you knucklehead. I can see you haven’t done anything to yourself.” And “please, not discussions again.”
For me, among the worst and completely inexplicable that successfully used: The coaches of the teams leading (by one goal) wait until injury time is displayed. Just at that moment they make a substitution. And it takes a long time, because first the wrong number is raised, “no, we meant the left winger” (he is standing even further away from the sideline), then the left winger can hardly believe that he is meant, because he has really played a good game, but immediately afterwards the player realises that he is quite rightly to be substituted, because the way to the bench proves to be really too far for him, he urgently needs paramedics to transport him there. Horrible! Unbearable! And if I hadn’t already switched off, I would do so now at the latest. One thing is certain: the team can no longer be denied success. Good, great, they’re all right, everything’s correct, correct interpretation of the rules, there’s nothing you can do about it. But I don’t have to watch. And neither does anyone else. Maybe the time will come soon?
3) Poor presentation of football in the media
Football clearly has a special position. The fact that Germany is still very successful in world football means that people in this country always hold their noses a little higher than is appropriate. It means not only that we know everything about football, but also that we no longer have any respect for the performance of others. You become a nagger, because everything below world champion seems banal at some point, no longer worth striving for. If Germany doesn’t make it to the final, it’s a perceived failure. And no matter how much other nations may feel for their team and be disappointed when they are knocked out, they have already experienced this too often not to feel and express a little humility. It makes you grateful for success. That is not the case in Germany.
But another consequence is the reporting itself. Everyone who is allowed to speak there, that is, every reporter, must be able to claim that he at least invented football. Otherwise he would not be any more qualified than anyone else. So the voices of the people who can explain everything, but really everything, about the game reach our ears. Only, of course, these “demigods” are no longer able to feel tension at any point because of their absolute exceptional and special position. Because: anyone who has already seen everything, who has already performed every pawn trick in the sandbox, who really knows everything about this game without exception, simply can no longer be emotionally involved. He would then be immediately replaced by someone even better. So if someone were to accidentally speak of a “successful, great action”, momentarily enraptured by the quality of the move, someone would immediately push him out of his chair with the words: “What was so great about that? My grandmother showed me that trick 50 years ago. And I would have put the pill in, too. But blindfolded. Get out of here, you beginner.”
So you can no longer convey amazement, admiration, enthusiasm, excitement. And it doesn’t happen. Too many titles won. The fact that we live in the land of complainers and whiners, of course, adds to the mix.
There is evidence and proof techniques for this, too, which would easily expose the reporters as clueless fools. However, like the referees, they would have to engage in an experiment devised by me to do so. And they certainly wouldn’t do that, would they?
Here also just briefly two proof techniques: The first is that the commentator has to commentate on a game without knowing the score. He sees the whole game, but always only up to the goal action, but then does not see whether it led to a goal or not. A kind of “goal stop”. Then the game is restarted a minute later so that, if necessary, the clue of kick-off, corner or kick-off is not given as an aid. If he had to commentate now, he wouldn’t be able to apply all his wisdom. Because virtually every reporter’s commentary is conditional on the score of the game. Are you with me, gentlemen? It’s all about objectivity here.
The second method would be to show a game in all its action, but change the jersey colours and make the players unrecognisable. If the reporter then didn’t know who was playing, he would hardly dare to comment. In addition to the score, the reporter is also guided by expectations and the standings. To comment on a game in this way, however, objectivity would also be required, as mentioned above.
But there is another point: the comments are made on the basis of the team names, the league situation and the score. Good. But apart from the fact that they are not objective and very rarely correct, as the two examples hopefully make clear, they are also pejorative and boring. Examples? 16 crosses enter the penalty area. 16 crosses are blocked. Comments such as “bad crosses”, “stereotypical”, “you should know that … with the big centre-backs” or “there is a lack of precision”. The 17th cross leads to a goal. Comments: “They’ve all been too lazy”, “no one had him in mind”, “he’s standing in the open”, “the goalkeeper has to come out”, “the goalkeeper has to have him” or “he’s giving him far too much space to cross”. Another example: a striker gets caught. Once, twice. Comment: “He keeps getting stuck” or “they can’t get through in a one-on-one”. The third time he passes. Comment: “It’s far too easy.” Nowadays, when a goal is scored, people only talk about “the chain of errors” that need to be investigated. Cruel! The ball is in! Hip, hip, hooray! Now get out of your chair! It’s what we want to see. It’s the big moment! The jubilation, the joy gets stuck in your throat when at the same moment you’re only supposed to think about the mistakes that led to it.
Re 4) Stagnation of German football in international comparison
The problem of the Germans’ many (lucky) title wins is now becoming apparent here. The cause of the many victories is not recognised, namely luck. As a result, they always think they are better, even though there is no evidence of this from a game point of view. People are so happy to ignore luck and simply attribute it to “typical German virtues”. Two further consequences: The reporting is not only characterised by a lack of objectivity, but also by permanent defeatism. But the jargon is carried over to youth football. Young people’s enjoyment of football is spoiled by this way of expressing themselves. I have observed many youth games and have been a coach myself. There are lots of people on the sidelines who constantly put the children under pressure with wrong assessments and bad comments. Even the coaches themselves.
Another point is that everywhere people “think outside the box” as a matter of course. What do others do? How do others do it? In Germany, as the inventor of lucky victories, no, as the inventor of football, we don’t need to do that. No one does. This realisation was really shocking for me. There are so many examples of what could be copied. A list and further justification elsewhere. But the consequence is obvious: stagnation. And this is reflected, albeit rather ponderously, in the long-term European Cup results. The Germans have fallen far behind in the last 20 years. The justifications sought have so far ignored this point I have observed.