Football Has Gone Soft
“I don’t know football anymore”, words Ole and Jose both said after Manchester United‘s 3-1 thrashing of Spurs. The victory over the small North London club was a massive 3 points in the top 4 race. However, it was a “foul” everyone was left discussing at full time. The performance from Manchester United should’ve been the sole topic of discussion Sunday night. The soft culture of modern football made sure that didn’t happen.
After a VAR decision to disallow a beatiful United goal, the decision left the footballing world confused. You would be hard stretched to find anyone that thought the right call was made, other than delusional Spurs fans. A number of ex-footballers expressed their disappointment, not just at VAR, but the game in general after this call. The game of football has become increasingly soft. Although that this isn’t the fault of VAR or poor officiating, but us.
Football is Physical
There was a time in football not too long ago that one could get away with almost any challenge so long as they got the ball first. Then the game started seeking to promote player safety and give the man on the ball protection from ball winning but dangerous challenges. Which still upset many, but was probably better for the game overall. Then the game began to question any and all physical contact.
Finally, the introduction of VAR brought this all to a head and has rewarded play acting more so than ever before. This has created a fear the game we love could eventually become a non-contact sport. Football was forged on physicality, and the physical side of the game is a major part of what makes this game the best in the world. Obviously, this is not Rugby or American Football, so the level of physicality should be much lower than those sports, but the game is in its true nature physical.
Players & Fans are Soft
Defenders often put in a harsh challenge early in a match just fifteen to twenty years ago. This would instill fear into the opposition. An early tackle would also show a star forward that it won’t be an easy night. Now, I’m not here to say we should go back to those times, but I just want to stress how quickly the game has changed. Premier League fans in particular like to brag about how physical the league is. Yet it’s the that very league that is now the topic of discussion.
In a game like football there will always be contact and using your body is a natural instinct. If modern day players and fans want to take that out of the game then they should just go watch basketball. The term “field fairy” is becoming all too legitimate. Gamesmanship can be useful at times but flat out lying or faking has no place in this game. Too many players seek to draw a call by overreacting to contact and it has became increasingly rewarded by officials. Maybe this is because the modern generation has just became soft.
Time to Reverse the Trend
There’s no easy answer as to why the game has trended in this direction, but I for one enjoy the physicality of the game. I also believe in building toughness and see the pain experienced through sport as an opportunity for growth. This isn’t some sort of call for toxic masculinity, but if you can’t handle football at its core then go do something else. Rob Smyth writes in the Guardian:
“The soul of football demands a certain degree of physicality: it is the fundamental to the contact sport – masculinity distilled to its very essence, demanding peaks that necessitate a rare mental and physical rigour.”Rob Smyth, The Guardian, April 2005.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that the game received its nickname “The Beautiful Game” at time when it was at its most physical. Players like Pele and Maradona excelled in a game that demanded a level of toughness far beyond that of today. Diego would make weaving majestic runs through the midfield into the box while being kicked with every dribble. There was a time when players took pride in their toughness and anything less would not be tolerated. It’s time we took the game back.