The picture above is a graphic designed by Sky and Chris Boardman and represents what they think the ‘Everyday Bike of the Future’ will look like. With no wheel centres or spokes, no visible chain or drive mechanism and the promise of puncture-proof, self inflating tyres and on board computer and motor, it represents a grand vision for the future of the bicycle and the sport of Cycling.
Seeing that vision made me wonder what the future holds for football. It’s a much less technologically focused sport but there’s no denying we’ve come a long way from pig’s bladders and hobnailed boots. In recent years there’s been plenty of discussion concerning how to further develop the sport, but I think that unlike in Cycling, football needs little evolution. Today then I look at some of the proposed changes and give my verdict on whether or not they would benefit the sport if introduced.
Unlike Cycling, football is a sport that needs little technological enhancement. While boot and ball manufacturers will continue to develop new technologies (and charge us a small fortune for them) the real changes must surely come away from the pitch. Changes that I’ll look at today though are: refereeing technology, salary/transfer caps, foreign player quotas, the 39th game and the idea of a European Super League.
Decision Making Technology
This is a hugely controversial subject, and one that needs to be more fully discussed elsewhere, and there are plenty of articles and opinions out there. However, an article on the future of football without a mention of the technological advancement of refereeing would be hugely inadequate, so I’ll throw my two cents worth out there.
I’m almost completely against the introduction of goal line technology, as well as the possible introduction of in-game replays to aid a referee’s decision making process. It’s not because it will slow the game down (though it certainly would, which would be a shame) nor because it couldn’t be replicated at all levels that I’m against it. I think that to bring in such measures would suck the heart and soul out of the game.
Football is ‘the beautiful game’ because it remains purely and simply as it has always been. There are a few more rules and regulations these days, something that comes with the era of professional sport, but essentially, even in massive stadiums in front of thousands of passionate fans, football is still just twenty two players trying to put the ball in the net. Its rules are simple and easy to grasp, and it’s all about the sport itself.
It’s a game with a lot of humanity. The players, despite all their wages and fame, are just blokes making a living. They turn up and anything can happen – they can have a good game, they can have a bad game or they can just play averagely. We don’t know how a player is going to perform at any given game because he is human, and thus subject to the fluctuations of humanity. They will all make mistakes at one point or another, and that lends the game its unpredictability and excitement. Who is better on paper doesn’t count; the game is played on the pitch.
And refereeing should be the same. Since football began the referee has just been another bloke, impartial to the contest, running around on the pitch attempting to maintain order and allow the sport to flow. That is still the case today, despite the apparent egomania of some pro referees. Ultimately we would all love to see referees get everything right, but they never will. Even with technology there will be mistakes.
If we’re aiming for perfection then we’re aiming too high. The human race is imperfect and so as long as there is any element of human control over the officiation of matches there will be mistakes, accusations of bias and scandals. But AI refereeing is both a long way off and probably an even worse prospect (you’ve all seen the movies) and in any case, a good scandal provides us with excitement and something to talk about and argue over. Sure it sucks when they go against you, but it’s great when they go for you.
So I think that technology has very little place in football. It would detract from its pure nature, from the humanity of the game, and obscure its beauty. I would like to see some improvements to refereeing, but nothing more than micing up the officials, which will go some way to alleviating fan frustration and poor player behaviour – for more details, see the Campaign page.
At present, football is riding high on a ridiculous financial wave. It’s one of the most profitable industries in the world and continues to defy the desperate economic climate that has engulfed the world. As such, transfer fees and player wages continue to rise almost exponentially and to be fair, it’s starting to go a little far now. The amount of money spent by Manchester City and Real Madrid in the past few months alone is obscene, and could surely be put to better use.
However, while half of Africa could probably have been fed and clothed with all that cash, that argument is irrelevant. The money belongs to private investors and is theirs to do with what they will. The question here is not whether the money in football could be put to better use (because that’s no question at all, it could, end of story) but whether the governing bodies of the sport need to somehow control the amount of money in the sport and in particular, its distribution amongst the clubs.
The problem is that Manchester City now have an almost limitless bank balance. They can buy whoever they can tempt away from their clubs because no transfer fee is too high for them – if they want a player badly enough they could pay hundreds of millions for them. But that sort of power, the ability to buy any and every player in the world, could severely disrupt the competitive nature of the sport. While I maintain that City are not yet a threat to the Premier League, I know that if they keep going as they’ve begun, they will soon replace the ‘big four’ with a ‘big one’.
And that can’t happen. It would absolutely ruin the game. So common sense tells me that at some point FIFA or the FA need to step in and limit the amount of money a club can spend on their players. Whether that is done through a combined cap for transfers/salaries over the course of a season or through separate caps I don’t know, but I feel that it is both inevitable and of extreme importance that the rising tide of spending in football be capped, because not everyone can stay afloat, and the more clubs go under, the more harmful it will be for the sport as a whole.
Foreign Player Quotas
I think we can almost guarantee that this will happen at some point in the near future. FIFA and UEFA have been grumbling about it for a long time and if English clubs continue to dominate in Europe, they will push it through even faster, because nothing pisses off UEFA like English success. The question is though, when the foreign player quotas come in, in whatever form FIFA/UEFA deem appropriate, will it be ultimately good for the game?
I think it will be. While a lot of the excitement of the Premier League at present is motivated by a desire to watch the world’s top players, many of them foreign, going head to head with one another, a player quota system wouldn’t have to stop that. It will never be the case that no foreign players are allowed and I’m sure squads will always have place for at least four or five foreigners in them.
What it will do though, is to encourage home grown talent, and that can only be a good thing. It will probably impact on the quality of the Premier League at first, but when a few years have passed, we will start to see good British talent playing more regularly at the top level. This will of course aid England’s cause and possibly allow us to compete properly on the world stage, but it will also eventuate into a situation when the excitement of the Premier League will be based upon England’s top players going head to head with one another.
As an Everton fan, I feel a lot of pride when I see us send out a team that features plenty of English and home grown talent. For much of last season we fielded an all English back four (Baines, Lescott, Jagielka, Hibbert) and with the likes of Neville, Osman, Vaughan, Rodwell and Gosling also featuring prominently, it was good to see. I can feel a connection with the English players that isn’t there with the foreigners, no matter how good they are, and so more English players in the league can, for me, only be a good thing, and for once I would welcome the interference of FIFA/UEFA.
The 39th Game
This is, quite possibly, the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. Not only is it blatantly obvious that it is entirely motivated in terms of financial gain, but it completely undermines the integrity of the Premier League as a competition. The idea is that teams would play an extra game a season in foreign countries around the world. I can’t remember how it was justified, but essentially the plan is to try and milk other markets for as much money as possible.
However, a 39th game in a league competition is fatally flawed because it is an odd number. We play 38 games not because we think it’s a nice number (it isn’t particularly) but because each of the twenty teams plays every other team twice, home and away. It’s fair, and it determines, over the course of a good length season, which is the best team in the country. A 39th game would simply unbalance the system, because every team would play one other team three times and the rest only twice. Thus the competition would cease to be meaningful in the slightest.
This should not, and will not, ever happen.
European Super League
This is an idea that keeps cropping up every now and then. With the stunning popularity of the Champions League and the Europe wide imbalance of power at the top end of all the major European domestic leagues, a bunch of wise guys have suggested that turning the Champions League into the main competition for Europe’s best clubs might be best for everyone. In fact, it would only be best for the select few who would take part, and it would be bad for everyone else.
Because although we all lament the fact that the ‘big four’ dominate the Premier League at present, how would we feel if they suddenly just upped and left to play week in week out against the likes of Barcelona and AC Milan. Like the 39th game it would render the point of domestic leagues as null and void – no longer would they decide which is the best British club in the country, because the ‘best’ ones wouldn’t be competing.
Then there’s the issue of which clubs would be involved in any sort of Super League. The best clubs in Europe come predominantly from England, Spain and Italy, so how would other countries feel about a European Super League with none of their sides represented. I suppose if you invited clubs from each European nation they would soon grow and attract quality players, but how do you limit the number of places? One from each country? Which one – Barca or Madrid? It simply would not work and would create too many divides.
Unfortunately, I’m fairly sure that someday soon, someone will try to make it happen. And for the clubs involved it would almost certainly be lucrative enough to tempt them to join in. It’s a business opportunity there for the taking, and on a personal level could be a huge success. I just hope that if the idea is ever seriously floated, the ‘big’ clubs in Europe’s leagues remember that they have a responsibility to their country and its other clubs and entire footballing community rather than just thinking about their bank balance.
So I don’t think this should ever happen, but I have a horrible feeling that someday, it just might. And that would be a bad day for football indeed.
Overall then, I think that we will see the evolution of football continue somewhat in the upcoming years, but it does not need to be a drastic evolution. The basic setup of football in England, and indeed in Europe, works. It’s profitable, enjoyable and exciting and so there’s no need to change it. Only things that threaten to ruin in need to be controlled or prevented and so I think salary/transfer capping will be a good thing. Wholesale changes to the game like a 39th game, Super League or masses of technology would mess with a winning formula, and that’s stupid.
Establishing a foreign player quota won’t change the game too much – it will involve a period of transition I’m sure – but eventually we will start to see small rewards from it: a greater connection with our teams and also an increased opportunity for British talent. When I was growing up I desperately wanted to be a footballer but I knew that I would never make it. If quotas are introduced, fulfilling dreams will not seem so impossible and that can only be a good thing.
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