Today we have another commentary on the European Football Championship, which, irrespective of the bets and betting recommendations, the betting market and its movements as well as the odds on the title, takes a stand on the content of the matches, the quality of them, the performance of the referees and, marginally, that of the commentators.
First of all, this much: the football has been fun for long stretches of this tournament. You can see the best footballers in Europe and you can see the willingness to use these skills in an offensive sense. Mostly football is played and not (only) football is prevented. Due to the fact that success is placed in the foreground from all sides – even if this is an even more German problem according to the opinion represented here, it certainly applies worldwide what Otto Rehhagel once indignantly answered to a reporter’s question, addressed to the “old-fashioned” football style of the Greeks: “Modern plays who wins.” – one must of course expect tactical measures at all times, which are aimed above all at keeping the opponent away from one’s own goal. But, no, seriously, there was not much of such a trend in the first phase of the tournament.
A small remark on the side, which in itself belongs much more centrally: in US sport, the paying spectator is clearly and universally recognised as the one on whom the focus is placed and whose needs are put in the foreground. This has one absolutely logical cause, namely that he is there to finance the event in which he wants to participate, which he wants to enjoy and from which he hopes for entertainment and should actually be able to promise it. But at the same time it has a consequence: the sporting participants in the event, those who are in the limelight, those at whom the cameras are directed, the circus performers in the middle of the arena, know very well what they have to orientate themselves by. The spectator wants to see a fair game? The spectator wants to see a fair game. The spectator wants excitement from the first to the last minute? The spectator gets excitement from the first to the last minute. The spectator would like to see the outstanding skills of the “artists”, which are beyond imagination, not only in training (when they are usually not watching) but would like to be able to see and admire them here, in the middle of the arena, when the spotlight is on? The spectator gets to see them. Because: “Whose bread I eat, whose song I sing.” ONLY and EXCLUSIVELY the spectator can be responsible for everything in the end, because even the sponsor does it at some point out of self-interest in the big bucks, which he wants to collect from the mass of spectators, in this or that way.
This does not seem to be necessary in football, it does not seem to matter to the officials of this sport, because, they think – this is also the psychological explanation -, football is so gigantically big that everyone watches anyway, no matter what is on offer and no matter how entertaining or exciting or fair it may be. No, that’s the last thing on anyone’s mind. This alone has also driven Otto Rehhagel to his cult phrase, because he knows very well that you have always “done everything right” – according to the media view, which he particularly doubts — when you have won the game, the tournament. There is no other yardstick for performance than success. That’s just the way it is in football. It doesn’t matter whether the best player of the opponent is knocked down five times, five different players receive a yellow card for it, and the player has to be carried off the pitch unnerved and injured, as long as the “dirty 1:0 victory” is carried over time in the end, it was “everything right”.
The view is clearly expressed here that many spectators are still watching the game, including this European Championship and perhaps even all the games. However, at the same time the view is expressed that those who do so a) usually do so purely as fans of a single – certainly primarily their own – nation, and that they b) are NOT offered Sufficient Entertainment both in the games WITH the participation of their own team and especially WITHOUT this participation. And: the games WITHOUT own participation are often only watched on the sidelines, as even Olli Kahn admitted on the evening of the Portugal v. Spain game that he simply could not watch the France v. Spain game all the way through because it was simply boring.
No, an American, one can understand only too well, would really turn away in shudder. And with some justification. The sportsman in US arenas is aware of his obligation to entertain the spectators and not to put the victory in the foreground, especially since he could at best satisfy one half of the spectators with the victory, but would have to plunge the other half into mourning, which would apply to his opponent to exactly the same extent. So he treats him with respect and esteem, and the spectators, who are not divided into two camps by this general commitment to producing exciting, fair and entertaining sport, but who are also in the stands, even if they only have the flag of one team, enjoys the sport and the entertainment at the same time and acknowledges and respects the performance of the opponent, if he wins, takes off his hat, congratulates, applauds and by no means sneaks home with bad feelings, as one might very well experience in this country.
Here, in football, even in this tournament, it is completely different. There is only one obligation that seems to unite everyone: “today we have to win”, the choice of means seems almost completely indifferent. Entertainment? We are not responsible for that. Fair play? What is that supposed to be, in a sport where it is only about determining a winner, not about the spectator? Where the media mercilessly picks on every “loser” (the only real loser is the neutral spectator, who has long since ceased to exist because he has been eliminated, and who would simply love this game so much if everything about it wasn’t so terribly sad and unfair and degenerate), where not a single good thing is said about it, where every player, as was the case when Leverkusen lost in Barcelona, gets a 6 on his report card, thus completely damning the opponent’s outstanding performance at the same time? No, fair play is an archaic idea. EVERY gesture is now only made in compliance with the “rules” for achieving the desired goal of ending the game victoriously, even those of outward fair play (of which you hardly ever get to see any anymore).
When the opponent scores a goal, bringing the score from 0:2 to 1:2 with five minutes left, the goalkeeper pounces on the ball while it is still in the net so that the opponent can’t transport it to the kick-off spot any sooner. His goal? To gain time. His guarantee of success? Very high. Because: the enraged opponent will try to snatch the ball from him, because the gesture alone is a provocation. The goalkeeper will want to indicate even more indignantly that he only wanted to get the ball out himself so that it could reach the halfway line, will at the same time report the opponent to the referee, who will then, in complete (supposed) objectivity, give the yellow card to the opponent who tried to snatch the “object of desire” from the keeper, because at the same time he expresses that he, the referee, is the only one on duty to observe the rules and that this behaviour of wanting to snatch the ball is tantamount to taking the law into one’s own hands, which has the unavoidable nasty consequences of the yellow card. Another effect: even more time saved – and many more unbearable sensations for the neutral observer. What is all this about? Pure nonsense and not a bit of justice, namely even the higher one does not apply, since the game, due to the two (!) substitutions saved for injury time, naturally ends 2-1, in which the last two minutes of injury time are “fought out” in the area of the trailing team’s corner flag, in which those striving for the equaliser try desperately but unsuccessfully to gain possession of the ball just once. As soon as they have done so, after one and a half minutes, and hit the ball across the halfway line to launch a single attack, the referee blows the whistle, exactly 6 seconds before the end of the indicated injury time. What is one supposed to feel? How is one supposed to bear it? As a “fan” of the leading team, whose supporters, as the author, you personally give up at most up to this moment of the second substitution, at which the substitute not only first points at himself questioningly as to whether he should really go down, but then also realises that he is “coincidentally” standing at the other end of the pitch AND that his legs have carried him for 91 minutes very well UNTIL HERE, over the entire 11. 7 kilometres, but that the last 65 metres to the substitutes’ bench can really no longer be covered in less than 45 seconds and that at the same time he is applauding the audience and receiving the applause that would be anything but his due thanks to this behaviour. No, everything here resists granting this team the victory, although one can be quite sure that the battered 45 seconds will make the decisive contribution to the victory.
No, everything is rotten, it stinks to high heaven and there is no trace of justice and fair play. The neutral spectator is not even listened to because his existence is already denied, which means that if someone speaks up and denounces this “grievance”, he is automatically – as is usually the case – considered to be clearly biased in favour of the team that is disadvantaged at that very moment, he is deprived of his right to speak and is made out to be a bad loser who wants to use other circumstances as an explanation than the “collective failure” of his own team, which in reality (on the part of the media) has long since been made out. Above all, in complete blindness and hypocrisy, the killer argument is unpacked with which one washes one’s own slate clean: “The others would have done it that way too. No, it’s not just the dog in the frying pan that goes crazy with so much idiocy, especially since these arguments are not only accepted by the players on the pitch, provided they express themselves in this way, but also by the journalists, who are actually obliged to be objective and neutral, but also to point out and identify grievances, and thus approve of everything that forces every justice fanatic to turn away from what is actually such a beautiful game of football. THAT is really unbearable.
So what does this have to do with the European Championship? Well, at least so much that in the last two games – England against Italy and Spain against Portugal – one could witness that the needs of the neutral spectator who is actually to be targeted are completely disregarded. You say to yourself – everyone, the players, the announcers, the referees –: there is so much at stake here, you can’t just expect an offensive spectacle, with goal chances on both sides, with goals, if possible in turns, so that the tension is maintained, with great shots and just as good saves, with hacking tricks and tempo dribblings that are not interrupted by foul play and with, last but not least, and, last but not least, with heaps of fair gestures, which one misses so much if one is not biased, no, whose absence one has to take note of rather astonished, especially if one takes into account that many of today’s opponents will be training and playing in the same team again in a fortnight’ time, possibly even sharing the same room while travelling. But what would a spectator who simply wants to see football and not war want? Exactly that, which he may be convinced of already when he selects the channel: Here, if it comes to it, every 20 minutes there will be a goal attempt at all, of which one may very remotely hope that it will NOT miss its target, whereby the only question then is whether the goalkeeper looks sure or uncertain in making the save, whether he can hold the ball or has to box it to the corner or even lets it bounce back into the field, so that a defender of his own – who are always reliably in the majority in this area of the pitch – has to move it out of the danger zone, and there is no question at all as to whether THIS attack will lead to a goal or whether the next one will.
No, nothing is provided here that could make the heart of a true fan of the GAME FOOTBALL beat faster. By the way, as soon as extra time has begun – which you have to be convinced will take place from minute 70 at the latest – you should look forward exclusively to the penalty shoot-out and consider THESE 30 minutes here only as a stop-gap, because goal chances are still not to be expected, and even if there were, the keeper would be guaranteed to defuse them – unless the overzealous referee in the club and his assistants do so by once again raising the flag prematurely for inexplicable reasons, just at the moment when you think it could get exciting. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a striker’s foul or offside or simply “no, no penalty kick, but he could have given it” – you don’t get to see the finish you were so eagerly hoping for, let alone an impact. The specious argument that it is only eagerly awaited from ONE SIDE and just as eagerly WANTED from the other is exactly what is ailing football so much at the moment. EVERYONE would be happy about a spectacle as soon as it was clear that it is about the spectacle, about good entertainment, about the drama, about good football with goal chances, shots on goal and brilliant performances in which the defender does not always emerge as the winner, about fairness and only in the last place about the determination of the winner, which is so easy to recognise and which, under these circumstances, all sides would like to see win without reservation.
No, of course the referees are not to blame in any way, but they do play their part. Why is it that the performance of yesterday’s referee from the Spain vs. Portugal game is so highly praised, so sovereign and at no point seriously questionable? There is a simple reason for this: not only do the players on the defending side manage, with increasing chances of success, to keep the opponent away from their own goal, no, the referee also contributes to this, even if outwardly so completely inconspicuous. There is a simple reason why he has an interest in this, to begin with:
The closer the ball gets to the goal, and with it attackers and defenders, the more critical the decisions become. Because: now it is a question of. Did the striker pull the ball or was it the defender after all? Since in all rules both behave equally unfairly – they go to the limit – every decision is a can-decision. You can give a penalty, but you can also give a striker’s foul. It’s always unpleasant, but especially near the goal it becomes extremely critical: if you give the penalty, the game is decided. By the way, it’s exactly the same with handball or offside decisions. In this respect, as a referee interested in his own career, in doing well, in getting good marks, he keeps the game as far away from the goal as possible. You CAN make crucial mistakes near the goal. In midfield, any mistake would be generously overlooked, ignored, not even noticed because it is so irrelevant. Whether it’s a free kick or a throw-in for this or that team at the halfway line? It really doesn’t matter. As the English like to say: “Get the big decisions right”. But you save that if you don’t get a “big decision” in the first place by stopping play before it reaches the penalty area.
Thus, it is easy to identify and indicate an inconsistency in an emerging attack somewhere when crossing the halfway line. This is used again and again by the whistle-blower. When it gets closer to the goal, he becomes even more petty. Once, when a Portuguese player took a ball down with his chest in the penalty area and for a moment it really smelled like the highest danger of a goal, he simply blew his whistle. His reason was surely a handball. But there was no sign of it in the replay. Yes, he was wrong, one would think, and it would be chalked off to him. But nothing there. He is benevolently forgiven, if recognised at all. The speaker, after all, is swimming on the same wave and, above all, he has been instructed not to be overly critical of the performance of the poor man who has to steer the fortunes here, minor mistakes are human, so, bygones.
When in another situation Sergio Ramos in the penalty area throws himself into a dangerous cross from the half field with his chest, but gets the ball, in the slow motion more than obvious, on the arm, he also sees this scene, according to Sprechers opinion, completely clear and unambiguous as “no penalty kick”. After all, where would we end up if we were to point to the spot for a handball in the penalty area, especially if it was not even a direct action that could have resulted in a goal? Elsewhere, a Portuguese made a similar handball when a shot hit him from close range in his own penalty area, which he, quite obviously, blocked with his arms raised. No, here too “it is never enough for a penalty”. Why is that, when the ball is touched with the hand, clearly recognisable, even for the referee, and the rules state that penalties are awarded for handball in the penalty area?
How such scenes are judged abroad is not so much the question. After all, what would it change if 75% of the countries broadcasting the game said, after watching several slow-motion replays and even during the half-time interval or after the game: “There should have been a penalty kick”? Nothing would change, because there is only one fact: there is none. Not here and not there and not anywhere. When Christiano Ronaldo once passes through two defenders at speed and no one in the whole world could deny that he is being held by at least one of the defenders, he then defends himself with the same means, merely with the intention of continuing his attacking run, the referee’s whistle succinctly says: “Striker’s foul” – and apparently there is no one in the world who disagrees?!
Here the vote is clear and unambiguous: even if the striker had done the same as the defender – and thus it should actually be a 50-50 decision, which, if interpreted in this way, would have been long enough to provide entertainment in the form of goals; in reality, however, the 50% is always used for the defender’s side — it should still actually be interpreted in favour of the striker. Because: a) it is the offensive action that one actually wants to see (as a friend of the sport), which should actually give the attacker the right of way anyway, but b) there is a clear difference between the one who starts to sin against the rules and the one who just pays back in kind, because he simply runs out of resources, unless, as he is of course aware, he gets protection from the referee. One could even add as c) that it is the one party who makes an effort to take advantage of the situation, and this usually not only goes completely unpunished, but at the same time can chalk up success on his side.
How could anyone ever come to the conclusion that it is so wonderful when every offensive action, no matter by what means, is stopped? As soon as the shackles would be loosened, the referee would no longer be of the opinion that when he awards a penalty here, he decides the game, and in this respect he would shy away from it, if indeed in the so unspeakably many extremely close offside decisions the striker, supported according to the rules, would be given the advantage of the doubt to lay out for him (as a reminder: a rule change for the 1990 World Cup, in the USA, initiated from there), if a defender even knew that he had better keep his hand down in the penalty area, as otherwise there would be a penalty, if the defender in the duel also knew that HIS offence was guaranteed NOT to be overlooked, whether inside the penalty area (where, according to common practice, he prefers to be) or outside it, if one knew in the case of any offence at all that the disadvantage that one would suffer if it were recognised was greater than the benefit that one could derive from it if it were not committed, if, in the case of a substitution or obvious time-play in injury time, one would not add the time taken out (which is absolutely NOT the case), but as a penalty (which should actually entail a misdemeanour) double this time taken out, just like that, with the background, It’s hard to imagine what a wonderful world of football we could then look forward to. It could be so much more fun, attract so many more people, create so much more positive atmosphere and feelings that it’s hard to imagine.
Instead, we are supposed to enjoy the supposedly high level of excitement caused by a penalty shoot-out that lasts 120 minutes, which, according to the same opinion here, has no more sporting value than a coin toss?
By the way, it is still astonishing how the defenders always manage to get the breaking striker off his feet at the decisive moment, but this is always done in turn by one of the players who has not yet been cautioned, which is sensational. The fact that this behaviour is covered by the rules and that the advantage is secured for the defenders – because better one yellow than a goal against – is another example of why football really doesn’t work like that. Why on earth should this behaviour pay off? Ronaldo cannot be stopped, not by fair means. You can see that and you know that. So the means are unfair. That’s a logical conclusion. And they are. Only: Portugal is out, he WAS stopped. By what means? Exactly.
Which moment in this semi-final was beautiful, supposed to have been beautiful? When he, this very Christiano Ronaldo, was caught by the cameras after the penalty shoot-out, with tears in his eyes? Yes, it would have been beautiful if it had been a fair sporting fight. But it wasn’t. This is the only way to feel anger. Anger at almost everything connected with this game.
All in all, it didn’t look much different in Italy against England. With one tiny difference: in the end, the better team made it to the next round, which gives you a certain amount of satisfaction, in addition to the anger at the whole package. And may no one claim the opposite, because even the English media absolutely acknowledged this in their usual objectivity and with the accompanying but nevertheless so sympathetic sadness.
Oh, and so that the headline also comes into its own: recently I, yes, I, the author, the writer of these lines, the scribbler, I, Dirk Paulsen, have been asking myself this question more and more often: how does a football match stand? Only in order to underpin what is becoming more and more prevalent and thus to document the actually radiated boredom of the game and the question, the answer to which must always be: “It’s 0:0.” Yes, how else?
If you now put yourself in the shoes of an alien who poses this question and to whom only this much has been explained: “It’s about who scores more goals. The two numbers express that. Where 1 is greater than 0, 2 is greater than 1, 3 is greater than 2, etc.” Logically, this one would say, “When does what happen?” If he didn’t go straight on. Or just: “Well, let me know when something happens, THEN I’ll look (at the rest).” Only you’d have to tell him a) that probably nothing ever happens (until the penalty shoot-out) and, the even sadder truth: “But as soon as something happens, the game is decided. Because if it really happens, this little miracle of a goal to make it 1-0, then the winner is certain. THEN you really don’t need to watch any more.”
In other words: before something happens, you don’t want to watch it because 0:0 sounds so boring, and after something has happened, you don’t want to watch it anymore because it’s decided? Yes, so what does the person who is NOT for one of the two parties do? Exactly, turn away. Has he already? He already has.