I love football. The skill, the unpredictability, the atmosphere and the drama all combined to cook up a viewing feast.
The first World Cup I ever watched was Argentina in 1978. I thought Peru were fantastic with their red striped tops and ability to leather it into the top corner at any moment. Then there was Scotland chasing an improbable margin of victory against Holland, being given hope by the glory of Archie Gemmell dancing through the Holland defence, only for Holland to snatch it back with an arrow like strike moments later. However the single most vivid memory was the white streamers and ticker tape pouring from the stands when Argentina played. It was just amazing and I’d never seen anything like it. I’m sure if it happened today it would be acclaimed by a brand of bog roll, but anyway I was hooked.
So roll forward to Brazil and I think we are witnessing the best World Cup ever – well certainly the best since 1978 which is as far back as I can muster. Surely the only conclusion is that football has scored a massive triumph – the games have been great, the stadia made it on time, the predicted riots haven’t materialised, even the USA fans have watched in massive numbers and all in all there’s been a party atmosphere. What could be better?
Well I have a feeling that the beautiful game is in danger of imploding. FIFA, that self-appointed body of unaccountables are constantly viewed with suspicion and their awards to Russia and Qatar have done little to improve that image. I only hope the “independent” investigation will lead to positive changes, although I’m not overly optimistic. But that’s not the cause of my main concern.
It is what’s happening on the pitch that is alarming. A few examples: First game – Neymar swings an elbow at Modric but stays on the field so that he can score the equalizer. Then Brazil are awarded the most ridiculous penalty you have ever seen. A short time later Croatia are denied a perfectly legitimate equalising goal. Next game is Mexico and they are denied not one, but two legitimate goals because they were deemed to be offside. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dubious decisions from the officials. But these decisions are massive because they are changing the results of games. Just the couple mentioned above would have meant Mexico topped the group and who knows whether Brazil would have even qualified?
Add to that the fact that in most games we have to watch players diving or rolling on the floor with a level of play acting that would make an Oscar winner feel proud. The likes of Thomas Muller apparently needing emergency surgery having been shot by Pepe’s finger tips only to make a miraculous recovery the moment Pepe decided to shove his forehead a little too close. And don’t get me started on the holding and pushing on a corner or free kick into the box, with the France vs Ecuador game taking the art of penalty box wrestling to a whole new level. It reminded me of a player I grew up with, who went on to represent England a few years ago, telling me how, at his club, they were taught how to dive and how to pull shirts. Alarming but true.
So putting it in simple, easy to understand language the players are cheating and what’s really sad is they are getting away with it. The results of games no longer provide us with the answer to “Who is the best football team?”. Instead the question now is “Who can get most of the decisions in their favour?”
The most notorious player of the last 2 World Cups will be Luis Suarez. In South Africa in 2010 he handled the ball to prevent a certain goal. A goal that would have put an African team into their ever semi-final. Although he was subsequently sent off, Ghana missed the penalty and eventually went on to lose the match. An act that changed the result of the game. In 2014, as we all know, he decided to satisfy his hunger by taking a nibble on Chiellini before throwing himself to the ground as if fortunate to still retain a head on his shoulders after receiving such a ferocious elbow to the cheek. Italy were down to 10 men and Uruguay scented blood – quite literally in some cases – but the score was 0-0 and that was enough to see Italy progress. At that moment, Suarez should have been sent off, which would have evened up the numbers and probably subdued Uruguay without their talismanic striker, putting Italy on the front foot. But it didn’t happen and shortly afterwards Uruguay scored and Italy went out. Again a decision that probably changed the result of the game.
I’d also like to add that whilst I’m disappointed by his behaviour – clearly he needs some help – I am disgusted by the “support” expressed by some leading figures who are portraying Suarez is the victim. Disrespectful to the game that made them and morally void for every young kid looking for their role models to show them the way.
To be honest I’m fed up of it. I want to see the best football team win in the right way – that doesn’t mean that we don’t get shocks and lesser teams can’t cause an upset – it’s simply a desire to see results based on playing within the rules. Not too much to ask for is it? After all we have a game, we have the rules and it’s just a question of seeing them implemented properly. What makes it worse is the fact that the solution is there – right in front of us every time we turn on the TV.
I don’t blame referees. They can’t possibly see everything on the pitch and get it right first time all the time. I agree they could be better, but expecting a perfect game is like asking for an iced lolly not to melt in the desert. The answer is using a video referee. We all know what’s gone on because we can see it on a TV replay. So why can’t the officials use that to help them?
Ah, in come the old-fashioned “it will slow the game down” brigade. What a load of old tripe. How long do you think it was between the moment Suarez bit Chiellini before the game resumed? How long before did the game stop before the Neymar fired in the penalty? Enough time for a video review? Of course – I’d seen the replay so many times, I was bored stiff by the time play resumed. In many cases it would actually speed up the game. I’m not suggesting it is used for everything, but exactly as they do in rugby, the referee calls for assistance as and when needed and the big calls are always right.
Even more important, if players realised they can’t get away with it, they won’t try it on in the first place. Before we know it, referees will be respected rather than abused and diving, pulling, pushing and biting will be a thing of the past because there is no longer any advantage to be gained.
For football to be triumphant, the authorities must follow the lead of several other major sports – if they don’t I fear football will become increasingly troubled.