Thursday, April 24, 2008

So... That's It Then, Is It?

You all know my position on the hype that surrounds the Champions League. The fact that such a kerfuffle continues to surround a competition that is so lopsided amuses and befuddles me in roughly equal measures. The advantage of not supporting a team that a team to whom it matters is that I can kick back, relax, and watch what it going on with none of the stomach knotting tension that I can only presume others feel while these games are being played. Considering the acres of space that this week's semi-finals took up in the press, one might have been forgiven for expecting something very, very special indeed this weekend. Indeed, considering the extent to which we have it rammed down our throats, I think that we have the right to expect it to be brilliant. Between us, through our TV subscriptions, ticket and merchandise purchases, we're paying through the nose for this. There can be no room for mediocrity any more. The truth, however, is somewhat less comfortable than this, because it doesn't fit into something that PR men, advertising gurus or management accountants can control. Football as entertainment relies principally on the drama of the live experience, but sometimes it simply fails to deliver in this respect. If you go to a football match expecting to entertained in the conventional sense, you are likely to come away from it disappointed.

So, to this week's Champions League matches. Liverpool and Chelsea were never going to play out a seven goal thriller, no matter how ITV tried to package. Anyone with an ounce of nous about them already knew this, and the two teams involved certainly lived down to expectations. The highlight of the evening was, of course, John Arne Riise's hilarious last minute own goal (though surely I can't have been the only person that briefly pondered the recently bankrupted Riise's inexplicable attempt to head the ball clear right in front of his own goal when it was surely more natural to clear it with his right foot), but otherwise it was business as usual - two big, muscular teams, playing a testosterone-drenched, style-free version of football that largely resembled a cross between table football and pinball. The second leg is impossible to predict and utterly predictable at the same time - we know that it will be more of the same, but we don't know which of the two of them will waggle their flippers at the right time and deliver the killer blow. Barcelona's match against Manchester United was a nominally more considered affair, yet it was little more entertaining (excepting, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo's face after he hit the crossbar with this third minute penalty). Barcelona looked the better of the two teams, but never seriously looked like breaking down Manchester United's defence. The tactical systems employed by the two teams demonstrated the gulf between the realpolitik of football and the aspirations towards entertainment that the game now holds. United were playing for a draw, fully aware of the importance of not conceding a goal which might make the clock start ticking that bit faster in the second leg at Old Trafford. Barcelona were fully aware of United's potentially punishing ability to break at the speed of lightning, and were quite happy to not take too many risks themselves. It made for a match that was, if we're feeling generous, "interesting" in the sense that a game of chess can be interesting, but it wasn't terribly entertaining.

Next week, they'll go through the whole thing again, and it does at least to be a little more dramatic than the last couple of matches have been. Liverpool, who haven't so much as scored at Stamford Bridge since the Bronze Age, have to score to stand any chance of getting through to the final. Can Chelsea risk trying to kill the game off if it will leave big gaps at the back for the likes of Fernando Torres to exploit? Manchester United need a goal to see off Barcelona, but the visitors' attacking options again mean that United surely can't afford to push too many people forward, especially when an away goal might prove to completely be their undoing. As often seems to be the case, the first leg of this round has raised more questions than it answered, but while there's no doubt that it was all very intriguing, to call it "entertainment" would be stretching the definition of the word into realms of which I was previously unaware.


Rach said...

Hi Was wondering if you could drop me an PM, rax82@hotmail.com


Tote Football Pro said...

Semi Finals of any tournament are generally boring for the neutral, especially one that can't appreciate the tension, atmosphere (at least at Anfield), and fantastic defensive play (Javier Mascherano is an absolute joy to watch). The FA cup, the European Championships, The World Cup - they are all the same. The final too.

I was also dissapointed with the barca-Man U game, as United really didn't turn up or play any football worthy of note. The Liverpool-Chelsea game was a bit of a slog but at least it was played at a fast pace.

Next week promises to be exciting - don't expect wonderful, attacking, flowing football; there's too much at stake for that.

I suggest you learn to appreciate the more subtle beauties of our great game!

200percent said...

I'm fully aware of the "subtleties" of it, which is why I made a clear reference to it being:

'"interesting" in the sense that a game of chess can be interesting'.

However, "entertaining", in the whizz-bang, high-octane excitement manner in which modern football likes to advertise itself as being, it was not. And the Champions League may end up suffering if there is too much more like it.

Neil said...

My take on this is that the Champions League is a victim of it's own success in this respect, there is SO MUCH riding on the competition, from the Qualifiers to the group stages right through to the final that these kind of cagey, tactical games are becoming more commonplace as teams play for draws and clean sheets more and more so as to stay at the trough for as long as possible.

another joe said...

First, Ian why do even watch the Champions League? What is the point of watching when you don't get anything out of it. Personally, I agree with you watching the Champions League is boring, but as an American it is sometimes the only "soccer" I can watch.
Lastly, I just want to make the point that the sport that I see most often that actual fans of the sport is complain that a game they saw was boring is football (soccer).

200percent said...

I don't think I really made myself clear enough, did I?

The angle that I was trying to explore was that of the "casual" viewer. The Premier League and the Champions League are the competitions that are seen week in, week out and are the most accessible to the casual viewer. Indeed, without a pay TV subscription, the Champions League and the UEFA Cup is not far short (along with the FA Cup) the only live club football on British terrestrial television now.

What I was trying (unsuccessfully, as it would appear) to communicate is that now that football has positioned itself as (some might say "just") another form of entertainment, it can't afford to not be entertaining. The size of television audiences that sponsors are looking for in order to keep pumping the sort of money into the game that the biggest clubs now require (Manchester United, for example, now need it just to service the interest payments on the Glazer take-over debt) are such that Big Football now needs the casual viewer in a way that it never really used to.

Why do I watch it? Because I'm hopelessly infatuated with the game in all of its forms and because it's convenient. Also, the Champions League (like any other football competition) can throw up extraordinary, magnificent matches. It's usually worth sitting through half a dozen Chelsea vs Liverpool matches if a match like, say, the 2005 final comes along, and you can never predict when it will.

I am, in this respect, a "casual viewer" of the Champions League. If it wasn't on in my sitting room, I probably wouldn't leave the house for to watch it. I have no great interest in who wins it, certainly, and because of this and the fact that Big Football takes itself so damn seriously these days, I reserve the right to snigger when it doesn't live up to the expectations that it defines itself by. The juxtaposition of Alex Ferguson in a pre-match press conference at Camp Nou saying "this should have been the final" followed by the tepid ninety minutes that the two teams then threw up is a jarring one.

On your final point, you may well be right. I can't speak for others, but when I go to a match it is a social occasion and the quality of the football on offer is, ironically, one of the least important things on my list of priorities (how easy to get there it is and how good the bar is are at the top, in case you were wondering). But then, I am more likely to spend my Saturday afternoons at St Albans, Lewes, Wimbledon (or wherever) than at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge. In that respect, my definitions of "entertainment" may be different to most people's, but whilst these two games were interesting in their own way, one of them fell way short of the basic technical levels that I would expect from two of the four best teams in Europe, whilst the other one was played in a tactical straitjacket of which Helenio Herrera would have been proud.

another joe said...

Fair enough, I got your point of how football (soccer) needs to live up the hype as "entertainment". I was just wondering why someone who complained about the Champions League sat down and watched the Champions League.

It's like the Super Bowl in certain respects. Yeah, it is massively overhyped, but once in a blue moon you could get a good game, like last February's Super Bowl.

Lastly, if the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool need to get all that TV money to pay all debt, there needs to be a serious overhaul of the financial system in English football.

A. said...

We must criticise and also give credit where it's due. It's a question of attitude and philosophy to the game that a team and club brings.

We all know that Chelsea and Liverpool are pragmatic, defense orientated teams for whom the result is all that matters. The only time they come out of their shell is when the compels them into it by their own openness. Under this category we can now proudly enter the name of the much ballyhooed Sir Alex Ferguson and his Red Devils.

On the hand, there are still some clubs around who play to win and play to play home and away, against any opposition. For these clubs, results and the style in which it's played is a matter of pride and reputation which they take very seriously.

In this category we have Barcelona, Milan and Real Madrid. We can also add Arsenal now as a fully fledged member.

Design by Dzelque Blogger Templates 2007-2008