Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Save the moral outrage for reality, not football

And then there’s football. One can be rightly dismayed or genuinely livid at some aspects that surround the game – say, like the thoughtless deaths of innocent immigrant workers in Qatar to fund a tournament that may or may not have been “bought” by the host nation – but if the way one team plays football plays havoc with your morality-meter, then we’ve you’ve got a problem.

Christ's righteous anger.
Not it was not directed at Big Sam.
Courtesy: wikipedia
Let’s examine two basic facts about the (or, indeed, any) sport:

  1. Often, there is a skill gap between two competing teams.
  1. Winning is generally more enjoyable than losing.
The dichotomy of the two truths above is bridged by a concept called “tactics”. They allow teams at a disadvantage (in talent, location, health or mindset) to try their best to win.

Such an event took place on Sunday at Anfield. Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager, sent his men out to negate the opposition, the irrepressible force of Liverpool and was described as “parking two buses”, first by his opposite number and subsequently by fans and several media sources.

While it made the game stodgy and barely digestible for some, the results suggest that Mourinho made the right decision. Liverpool are better at attacking than Chelsea are, and probably worse at defending. To make sure his team had their best shot at winning a critical game, the manager played to his strengths and his opponents’ underbelly.

Aesthetic? Not unless you have particular tastes.
Pleasing for the Chelsea players, staff and support? Totally.

There is no “right” way to play football. (Unless an outfield player is batting the ball with their hands. That is, actually, wrong). Kicking the ball repeatedly upfield to a contest, or favouring compressive defence over expansive offence is not wrong, it’s just an opinion on how best a team can maximise their chances of winning a weighted contest.

The way a team plays football is a product of their tactics (or lack thereof). Each team has an obligation – and hopefully the desire – to maximise their chances of winning a match. It may be that one team’s singular strength is in negating another team’s singular strengths, which might make the game less pleasurable to watch. Welcome to football in the modern era.

In no way should the tactics of football be the subject for a temple-cleansing righteous anger. If you get morally uptight at the very thought of quote-unquote-anti-football, then maybe it’s time that you concentrate your energies on something else – football’s too lighthearted for you.

If watching the way that Stoke City, Chivas USA or the Socceroos go about their business makes you angry, then don’t watch. It really is that simple. Football is game and the playing thereof doesn’t deserve anything but interest. There are far better outlets for moralisation. 

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