Does football still need headlines?

It would be futile to predict exactly when it will come. It is impossible, from the current perspective, to pinpoint a specific point, or an exact date, or even a broad time frame. All that can be said is that it will come sooner or later. The days of going to football are numbered.

After all, the ball is rolling. England’s Football Association has received permission from the IFAB, the secretive and faintly mysterious body that determines the laws of the game – capital L, capital G, always – to hold a trial in which players under the age of 12 will not be allowed to officiate. Ball in training. If it is successful, the change could become permanent within the next two years.

Of course, this is not an attempt to introduce an absolute ban on the title. This is simply an application to extract a targeted headline from Children’s Football – presumably as opposed to a random headline.

Once players reach their teens, progression is still gradually introduced to their skill repertoire, albeit in a limited fashion: from 2020, FA guidelines recommend that all players, including professionals, should be subject to a maximum of 10 high-force tackles. Headlines for the week in training. The title would not be canceled, not even officially.

And yet, this will surely be the result. Young footballers, brought up without the commodity competition and knowledge, are unlikely to put much emphasis on it, at night, as soon as it is allowed. Without it, they would learn to play; There will be no real incentive in his favor. The skill would gradually fall into obsolescence and then steadily move toward extinction.

In terms of health, it will not be bad. In the community, the FA’s line is that it wants a moratorium until further research is done on links between both chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and dementia. In private, he must admit that it is not difficult to discern the general direction of travel.

The connection between the origin and both conditions has been a hidden shame in football for at least two decades, if not more. Geoff Astley, the former England striker, was found by a coroner to have died of an industrial disease linked to repeated kicks with a soccer ball back in 2002. Postmortem, he was diagnosed with CTE.

After five members of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team confirmed they were suffering from dementia, the issue drew attention. Only one of them, Bobby Charlton, remains alive.

One 2019 study found that soccer players — with the exception of goalkeepers — are three and a half times more likely to develop neurodegenerative diseases than the general population. Two years later, a similar study found that defenders, in particular, have an even greater risk of developing dementia or a similar condition later in life. The more subjects that are considered, the more likely it is that minimizing how often players play with the ball is in their long-term interests.

From a sporting point of view, too, it is easy to believe that falling to the top would not be a great loss. The game seems to be organically outgrowing it after all. The percentage of goals scored at the top is falling, thanks to the simultaneous rise of analytics – which, very broadly speaking, discourages the (aerial) cross as a low-probability action – and thanks to the stylistic hegemony of the Pep Guardiola school.

Sophisticated teams now do their best not to cross the ball; They certainly don’t advance at any given opportunity. They dominate possession or launch precise, surgical counter-attacks and prefer to do the vast majority of it on the ground. The sport completely followed in their footsteps, adhering even more closely to Brian Clough’s rather sly maxim that if God intended football to be played in the clouds, there would be substantially more grass there.

Of course, it’s more than watching an elite game – in Spain, namely the Champions League, the Premier League, the Women’s Super League or anywhere – and believing that the performance will not diminish, or even change significantly. If the title was not only strictly forbidden, but was actually not even invented.

But that ignores the fact that football is defined not only by what happens, but by what could have happened and what didn’t. It is defined not only by presence, but also by absence. This is true of all sports, of course, but it is especially true of soccer, the great game of scarcity.

For the same reasons that crossing fell, so did the idea of ​​shooting from a distance. Progressive coaches—whether for aesthetic or algorithmic reasons—encourage their players to wait for an increased scoring chance before actually shooting; As in the case of headers, the number of goals scored from outside the penalty area also drops sharply.

However, this had an unintended consequence. A team that knows that the opponent does not really want to shoot from distance has no incentive to break the defensive line. There is no urgency to close down the midfielder with the ball at their feet 25 yards from goal. They are not going to shoot because the chances of scoring a goal are low.

And yet, if you don’t shoot, the chances of finding a high-percentage chance also decrease. The defensive line does not collapse, so the gap – a minor error, a channel that briefly opens at the moment of transition from one state to another – does not occur. Instead, the defense can dig itself into a hole, challenging the offense to score the perfect goal. Not only has his scoring from range decreased, but so has his threat.

The same will be true of football, which does not have a title. It’s not just that the defense of corners and free-kicks will change beyond recognition – no more massing of bodies in or near the box – but how fullbacks deal with wide players in the positions the defense occupies. The pitch, the whole structure of the game.

These changes, in the understanding of football as a sporting spectacle, are unlikely to be positive. Players may not grip the ball like they used to now, but they know they may have to grip the ball as well as their predecessors from a less civilized era. They can’t shrink, so they have to act to counter it. The threat itself has value. Football is still defined by all the crosses that don’t come.

Removing this – either by decree or out of habit – has the effect of removing the ability to play. This would reduce the theoretical options available to the attacking team and thus make the sport more predictable, more one-dimensional. It tilts the balance in favor of those who seek to destroy rather than those who seek to create. Clough didn’t have it like that at all. Football has always been an air sport as well as an earth sport.

If the title is found – as it seems likely – to be a threat to the long-term health of players, then of course it needs to be changed, and it would only be right to do so. No performance is worth so much to those who provide it. The gains outweigh the losses, a million times over. But this is not the same as saying that nothing will be lost.

For Spain, the end always leads to the beginning. The European Championships were just a few weeks away when Jennifer Hermoso, the country’s most reliable source, pulled out of the tournament with a knee injury. It was only a few days before it all started that Spain lost Alexia Putelas, the game’s best player as well.

Those are the mitigating circumstances against which Spain’s campaign at Euro 2022 will be judged, and a place in the quarter-finals against hosts England on Wednesday night, somewhere in a region where the nation is relegated from the top two, will have to be judged. players. Regret for what might have happened should outweigh disappointment for what did happen.

The reward for success in this tournament, as well as the garlands and the trophy and the whole thing, is very likely to get a lot of pressure at the World Cup next year; The country that wins next week is expected to face and possibly overcome a challenge from the United States and Canada, the game’s ruling powers.

Spain will keep it anyway. And yet it shouldn’t be discounted: despite his shortened horizons, it came within six minutes of England’s elimination from the tournament they were hosting. If Hermoso is to be fit this time next year – or Amauri Sariegi has thrived enough to not miss Hermoso’s presence – and Putelas, in particular, recovers in time, it’s not particularly hard to imagine a world in which this week wasn’t the end. at all.


According to a conservative estimate, in the space of 30 seconds, Holland could have been eliminated from the European Championship three times. Dutch goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar was extremely slow to react; Swiss Ramona Bachmann made a slightly different choice; If the ball had rolled this way or not, the reigning champion, the Netherlands, might have fallen.

The temptation, within any major tournament, is to scrutinize the likely candidates in search of a larger theme, some larger narrative. As a rule, waves and currents are most visible below the surface.

The same is true for Euro 2022. One of the game’s established powers will win it – England or France, Sweden or Germany – and claim first place among the continent’s elite, at least for now. More important, however, may be what happens below them. Belgium and Austria, second division players, both advanced to the quarter-finals. Although it ultimately collapsed, there was a moment when there was a real possibility that Switzerland would join them.

It feels like the calling card of this tournament more than anything else. That the level of Europe’s top teams with abundant investment and industrial development programs is skyrocketing is well-telegraphed and amply documented.

That the continent’s middle class is expanding is easier to overlook, but no less important. Women’s football – like men’s football – should not be the preserve of populous and wealthy nations. Strength in these matters always comes from deep within. It’s not just how high the elite can climb that makes the games fun and the tournaments compelling, but how broad the challenges they face along the way.


An oldie but a goodie Dan Alphonse Sola this week. “Have you ever considered just calling it football and not pretending it’s football?” He wrote despite (or perhaps because of) his five years living in New Jersey. We all know that calling it football is some weird situation that exists in the United States, right?

Yes and no, to Alfons. For example, there is a respected magazine in England called World Soccer. Many people start their Saturday by watching a show called Soccer AM, if they choose to do so, they can then follow all the action of the day on a program called Soccer Saturday.

I often wonder if their anchors tell me as often as I do that the term football is an American abomination. Or, for that matter, someone Matt Busby, the legendary Manchester United manager, was met with sound and fury when he had to work up the nerve to write his autobiography “Football Up”.

Pardon me if I’m going down a familiar path, but as far as I know, ‘soccer’ and ‘soccer’ were largely interchangeable in England until some obscure point in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. I’m not sure what changed to make people so angry at seeing one of those words, but I’m going to guess it has something to do with the increased American focus on the sport.

Still, the fuss over it has always seemed odd to me (especially when we have to make more of the fact that the word is not, as America thinks, “furor” but “furor”). Did you know the Italians call it calcio, like the stuff found in milk? This does not make sense.

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