Sunday, February 10, 2008

If that's the 'best of the Premier League' then god help us all

Today's ultra-negative Chelsea v Liverpool game summed up all that is wrong with modern football

Scott Murray

February 10, 2008 6:02 PM

So there go another 90 minutes of our lives we're never going to see again.

Today's game between Chelsea and Liverpool was billed by Sky Sports with the trail "the best of the Premier League". Now, we all know how over-excited that particular marketing department gets, but then again there are pundits and players a-plenty queuing up to repeatedly inform everyone that England boasts the "best league in the world".

If that's the case, then God help us all.

In this match - one which summed up all that is wrong with modern football - there were more holding midfielders on the pitch than central strikers. Javier Mascherano, Lucas and Claude Makelele negated each other in the centre of the park, Nicolas Anelka and Peter Crouch stood and watched. Both teams had clearly set themselves up first and foremost not to get beaten; if either nicked a goal, then all good and well.

Avram Grant and Rafael Benitez's tactical plans obviously worked: there was one shot on target in the entire match. Well done, Avram! Well done, Rafa! But there is a reason televised chess never took off. When sport becomes this tedious, something has gone horribly wrong somewhere down the line.

Liverpool, for example, may care to consider the attitudes of holding players of yore: Graeme Souness scored roughly one goal in six. Steve McMahon roughly one in seven. Mascherano has never scored a club goal in his career; two goals for Argentina, and that's it. Though whether this is Mascherano's fault is moot: you can bet your bottom dollar Souness and McMahon didn't have to suppress any attacking instinct to the whims of a tactical "genius" moving their pawns around from the bench.

This defence-at-all-costs attitude is ruining everything. Shall we compare and contrast the "best of the Premier League" with the African Cup of Nations, where midfielders pushed on, teams fielded at least two up front, and the wingbacks pressed forward? Actually let's not. It's far too depressing. Players were beating men and taking shots, for goodness sake.

There have always been terrible games. But it didn't matter when fans could get in for a fiver, stand up, sing and enjoy the banter. As scales fall from eyes across the country, surely the popularity of splinter clubs such as AFC Wimbledon and FC United will become ever greater.

Let's not be totally negative, though; some good can come of this. A couple more seasons of matches cut from this cloth, and fans in Bangkok, Bangalore or Beijing will rather chew tin foil than want any of our teams coming over and stinking the place out. So perhaps the integrity of our league will be saved after all. Shame the action isn't likely to get better any time soon.