Nick Wealthall: Is football becoming a solved game?
by Nick Wealthall, UKIPT Tour Host
I've been watching two amazing sporting events this week - the NBA finals and the World Cup - and I've been startled by how similar the sports are starting to look.
The level of skill in the NBA games has staggered me. Also the evenness of the teams - the Lakers and Celtics - and their long-standing hatred of each other has made it an awesome series. I've loved watching Kobe Bryant who, in ability terms (although not accomplishment yet), might be the best player of all time. And Rondo of the Celtics a new superstar whose smoooootttthhhhhh!
The games have been close, exciting and beautiful to watch.
Watching the World Cup has been a different experience. The occasion is amazing, as is the atmosphere but the football (whisper it quietly) is absolutely dire.
Hopefully it will pick up but I'm worried for 'the beautiful game'. The problem is two fold - first the athleticism of the players has massively improved in the last 20 years, and secondly the tactical awareness of teams has come on enormously. Coaches have discovered that if you have two rows of 4 (or one of 4 and one of 5) that fall back without the ball and the players are athletic and disciplined it's possible to make it incredibly hard for the opposing team to break you down.
This is why football is starting to look like basketball with teams immediately withdrawing when they don't have the ball and relying on fast break counter attacks and set plays for their goals.
The only antidote to this seems to be the fast ball movement of exceptionally gifted teams like Barcelona and Spain. But as Inter showed this season and Chelsea last - athleticism and organization nullifies it.
I think a new innovation is needed. People want to watch skill, attacking play and goals. If the trend to athleticism and organization continues football will become less popular. It may need a rule change - something radical like 10 men a team or bigger pitches - I don't know. But watching well-drilled, long distance runners restricting space is not why football became the world's favourite game.