I used to really enjoy soccer, possibly more than any other sport. I would watch full games, root for my team (Liverpool FC) and one of my best sporting moments as a fan is still that Champions League final comeback win against AC Milan late into the evening.
The game has been losing what made it great in recent years though, despite the technical skill and ability of the players actually improving. These days I struggle to even watch a full game, and there is more in a broadcast that irritates me than enthrals me.
I still love the game. I play a weekly pickup game in the local park (or at least did until the weather rendered the surface a bog), and I watch the weekly highlights on Match of the Day, but things have crept into the game that have been eating away at its soul, and the world governing body, FIFA, actually seems to be more inclined to protect these things and undermine the game than it is to stamp them out.
There was an understandable drive to try and make the game safer starting in the 1990s. Most sports underwent the same shift in dynamic as the entire sporting world decided that games probably shouldn’t be as dangerous as they were. Leg breaks used to be relatively routine and they often came from reckless, dangerous and occasionally malicious tackles. These were deemed unacceptable, and rightly so. But the game never stopped this slide of the rules. We went from not being able to go through players from behind to take the ball to now not being able to leave one’s feet at all, even if you get the ball 100% fairly, because with both feet in the air you are deemed by the rules to have no control over your actions.
This is frankly bullshit. I speak as a man with limited soccer skills, but the one thing I have perfected is a lunging slide tackle, often taking flight with both feet off the ground. In years of pulling off this move I think I have mis-timed it to the point of missing the ball and hitting the man twice, and never badly enough to injure the person. To say you can’t control this move enough to perform it safely or accurately is ridiculous. Players need to be able to go after the football without the fear that they can get sent off even if they get to it first if the other player then comes off worse from the exchange after it’s gone.
Football isn’t a non-contact sport, and the ball is the target. If you get to it before any contact is made with the opposition, you’ve made the tackle and what happens after is as much the other player’s fault as it is yours. Just because he had possession to begin the move doesn’t make him suddenly the victim in the process.
FIFA needs to allow tackling back into the game, and that’s before we go anywhere near the diving epidemic that is another rant for another time.