February 10, 2013


Why I've fallen out of love with football (Simon Kuper, 2/08/13, Financial Times)

Much worse than the football is that vast critical apparatus attached to it. The 24-hour humourless hype is exhausting. Every comment by Alex Ferguson about a referee is treated as world news - bigger than, say, a massacre in Mali. Last June about 500 of us journalists crammed into one of the England team's meaningless press conferences in Donetsk, Ukraine. Meanwhile, the media lack resources to cover actual news.

Then there's the anger: at a referee who gives a penalty, or a player who dares change clubs. Heavy use of the word "hate" ("I hate Manchester United" et cetera) means football talk often sounds like fascist propaganda. Hysteria would be much reduced if fans and media shed the fairytale notion that a footballer must love whichever club he happens to play for. Footballers don't think that way. Listen to their language: they call themselves "professionals" with "careers". Football is a job - well-paid and often enjoyable, but employees don't love their employers. A friend who supports Manchester United told me he believed United's long-serving players Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs loved United. I asked him if he loved the bank where he worked. Obviously not, he said. Well, Scholes and Giggs don't love United either. They just have happy employee-employer relationships.

Anyone who peeks behind football's curtain discovers there is no magic there. Another friend, a Sunderland fan, during a stint writing about football found himself in the tunnel with Sunderland's players just before kick-off. He looked at them and realised, "It's just a job", and the magic died for him.

Mr. Kuper actually has it backwards.  The problem is that the game itself just isn't very good.  Nevermind all the rule changes that would be required to make it better, you now have such a thorough scouting system, such demand for young talent, and so much money being thrown around that, like the NBA and NFL, you're ending up with kids who get rich before they ever develop the skills of their profession.  And, unfortunately, because it is a truly global game, with myriad leagues for youngsters to sign with, you can't institute a baseball-style draft that would give you time to train them in the minor leagues.

Meanwhile, it is the seriousness with which they take the game that makes it amusing.  That vast critical apparatus and the hype are hilarious to observe.

Posted by at February 10, 2013 9:21 AM

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