Football and Value for Your MoneyAugust 26, 2016
Wondering how to get the most out of your football-viewing experience this season? Worry no more, fam. Wycliffe is here and he’s got you covered.
Many at times ‘play’ has always been associated with enjoyment, from the parties directly involved in process and those on the bleachers taking in the proceedings. Now that football broadcasts are more or less globalized, fans all over the world have chosen a particular club to support, and this form of support usually borders on level 99 partisanship and extreme fanaticism till an individual is transformed into a nervous wreck when their club is in action. This article looks at what kind of enjoyment we derive from the game, what TV advertising has made us think and the clubs around Europe that’ll provide scintillating action and drama this coming season when your favourite club isn’t playing (other than the usual ‘big’ teams around).
What we enjoy about football
The match previews are done. Your favourite presenter and immaculately dressed pundits are on show and you’ve just been schooled on tactical battles and formations on the fancy screens and the teams are in the tunnel; well, your team and some other team. Then the anxiety begins, and dissipates slightly after your team has scored first and then more anxiety creeps in if the score remains the same till it’s late in the second half. Relief sets in after your team’s second goal somewhere near the end, then sees the game out. By the end of the game you have a throbbing headache and worst of all, you realize you have only enjoyed 10 minutes in total. Then there’s another game in the same league shortly after and 15 minutes in, nothing much has happened and you wonder why you even watch football. All this after that game was billed up as an ‘exciting’ clash. It ends in a goalless stalemate and you feel you have just wasted two hours of your life that you’ll never get back.
Football is a billion dollar industry with vast financial rewards coinciding with on-pitch success (apart from clubs taken over by consortiums and magnates, meaning larger wage bills and increased levels of competition). Relegations are now very costly financially for clubs in the major leagues and thus a more pragmatic approach to gameplay is taken aboard. Fans celebrate survival with the enthusiasm of a title win and people get to keep their jobs. This underlines the fact that football has always been a business. A results business to the owners and playing staff. What about the fans, you may ask, in the midst of watching a drab game. What do we really get from this?
What if I said the pleasure we get isn’t from the gameplay itself, but by the culture and camaraderie around football? The drama, the interviews, and best of all, good old schadenfreude? Fewer things in life bring more happiness than a hated rival getting annihilated by anyone or even frustrated by a minnow, even a team which has caused your team countless misery in the past. We love reading the reaction from celebrities, ex-players and pundits and reveling in our friends’ wrong predictions and the hilarity of an expensive player flopping in a rival team. With footballers come juicy news, gossip and juxtaposing debates. We love following their flashy lifestyles, model girlfriends, jilted lover stories, bad acting skills in commercials and the like. By the way, apart from hardened purists, football in its basic form isn’t all that interesting. Even the most technically gifted of teams endure stages in play that leave the crowd chatting amongst themselves or initiating Mexican waves. At home, viewers engage in online chats and do trips to retrieve drinks until another purple patch or when something remotely interesting happens. The best players in the world don’t do all that stuff they do in a 90 minute period, where it’s a constant exhibition of tricks and flicks and emanation of gasps from the crowd. That’s why there are highlight shows, those that take the best scenes and summarize them partly because no one has the time to watch an entire game all over again.
TV, Expectations, Reality and Buyer’s Remorse
Naturally, cable companies will buy content from football associations and license holders worldwide. In an effort to maximize their returns, they will embark on a heavy, colourful advertising processes and campaigns to show us what we’re paying for. Which is all standard practice for anyone who has a product and wishes to move it. With the new TV deal in England, one would expect to see better players and a higher quality of football. Avid fans of the Premier League are made to believe that every single one of the 380 games will be blockbusters. The first few games involving all the big clubs set the trend, at least if you’re a neutral and if your club isn’t on the receiving end of a good old shellacking. And if your club won, most of the time during the game you’ve been a quivering shell of a human being just because of all the mocking you’ll receive on social media or at work if everything goes wrong.
Then a fixture like West Ham v Bournemouth comes along on a lazy Sunday afternoon. West Ham have a new stadium, shiny and beautiful and it’s in full voice. The game starts and after 20 minutes nothing has happened, the game is dreadful, the lack of quality is so wanting till you realize that your mental model had been taken off course into fantasy land from all the media campaigns. But of course you knew that more money in a league doesn’t automatically translate into great performances. You knew that clubs have signed players in the past and handed them lucrative contracts and they have totally stunk the place out with horrid football in recent seasons. Well, just because someone’s richer, that’ll not make them play better. I have abandoned games half way or after just 15 minutes because I have a future projected from the gameplay that nothing of significance will happen. And as a subscriber I start to feel buyer’s remorse. Simply put, it’s that feeling you get when something isn’t up to standard, or isn’t what you expected, and you’d spent a considerable amount of money on it.
Who should you watch this season?
We all want something out of our investment. Like most football fans I like attacking, electric football, where full backs overlap and there’s a high tempo, aggressive tackling and a blood thirsty crowd you’d normally see at secret societal cult movies. Well, assuming your favourite club plays in the English Premier League, and watching them stresses you to no end, and Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, PSG and Bayern Munich have already played or were playing during your two hour long ordeal, here are some clubs you could spare some time to watch.
The Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium is often a scene of carnage to the bigger clubs in Spain, due to Sevilla’s attacking pedigree. Unai Emery is long gone to PSG, and his replacement, Jorge Sampaoli is an ardent believer in the high press and high tempo, combative football. Sevilla might have lost almost half of their team (key players such as Grzegorz Krychowiak, Kevin Gameiro, Ever Banega and Coke) in the close season but the philosophy still remains the same. Attack. Their replacements seem to have taken to life there like a duck to water, attacking-wise, but the comical defending already witnessed in their two Super Cup defeats to Barcelona (is it really comical defending if you come up against Barca?) and four goals conceded against Espanyol at home on the weekend just underlines this club’s status as one of the great entertainers of La Liga. And if you’re wondering, they beat Espanyol 6-4 in the end.
Valencia right now is a deathbed for managers as Nuno Espirito Santo and Gary Neville found out last season. Dressing room divisions over disparity in salaries between Jorge Mendes’ players (as many as 10 first team players were represented by Mendes) and the rest of the squad have accounted for poor results on the field. The fans feel like Mendes has taken over their club and a once proud club are on its knees. Some of the club’s stars like Alvaro Negredo, Javi Fuego, Pablo Piatti and Andre Gomes have left. Expect more drama from this club over the coming season. And they lost 4-2, at the Mestalla no less, on the opening weekend to a Kevin-Prince Boateng (yes, that one)-inspired Las Palmas. Most importantly, for you and me, they love to attack.
The self-styled Basques have managed to retain most of their first team members and Ernesto Valverde’s men are a formidable attacking unit at home with star players Aritz Aduriz, Raul Garcia, Inaki Williams, Iker Muniain, Oscar de Marcos providing impetus in the new San Mames. They have sell-out games all year round and this season will be no different. They lack consistency, however, and are already 1 game played and 1 game lost – to Sporting Gijon who survived on the final day of last season.
The Milanese Clubs
The success both of these clubs enjoyed in the past is a far cry from the situation now that Juventus are far ahead of both and are getting stronger with the acquisition of Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic from their closest rivals Napoli and Roma respectively. In Inter’s case, they are in a European spot and they finished above their cross city rivals, with Fiorentina and Sassuolo between them. For the umpteenth season, they are looking for solutions having been top of the table on Christmas and have signed Ever Banega and Antonio Candreva from Sevilla and Lazio and possibly Portugal’s Joao Mario is on his way. Frank de Boer has a lot to do after the 2-0 reverse at Chievo on the opening weekend. Ivan Perisic will look to kick on from his impressive Euro 2016 and a certain Mauro Icardi has reiterated his intentions to stay.
Vincenzo Montella’s Milan served up a five goal thriller (with teenage keeper Gianluigi Donnarrumma saving an injury time penalty with Milan 3-2 up) against Torino at home on Sunday with virtually an unchanged squad from last season due to the slow progress of a potential Chinese takeover of their own. Defensive issues still remain, but without the distraction of European football, Milan should have fewer games than their neighbours and surely improve.
Aurelio de Laurentiis’ men endured the first hit of the post-Higuain era after coming from behind to draw 2-2 away to newcomers Pescara. Napoli were scintillating last season with a series of direct, high tempo football and only fell away after a demoralizing defeat away to Juventus towards the end of the season that allowed the Old Lady to leapfrog them. The game at Pescara was also played at 100mph and we are eager to see how the likes of Manolo Gabbiadini and Arkadiusz Milik replace Higuain up front.
Honourable mentions; Roma and Lazio
With Bayern Munich expected to retain the title, how Dortmund regroup will be interesting. Having lost Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mhkitaryan and replacing them with players that account for a third of the first team squad, their transition is a must watch. Andre Schurrle, Mario Gotze, Portugal’s Euro 2016 winning left back Raphael Guerreiro, Ousmane Dembele, Marc Bartra, Mikel Merino from Espanyol, and Emre Mor from Nordsjaelland will be expected to adapt quickly to at least offer robust resistance to a possible Bavarian procession to glory yet again.
The usual and perennial chasing pack of Bayer Leverkusen Borussia Moenchengladbach, Wolfsburg and Schalke will offer Bayern Munich and Dortmund a challenge (more so BvB) but it’s newcomers RB Leipzig that are the first club from old East Germany since Energie Cottbus in 2009 to be in the top flight that piques interest. RB Leipzig is not like any other club in Germany since they are a corporate club owned by energy drink manufacturers Red Bull, and they are only 7 years old. Most of Germany’s clubs are mostly member owned (a “50+1” percent majority stake) so RB Liepzig is seen as a ‘soulless and plastic’ entity and everything that stands against German tradition. I expect hostility usually reserved for teams with more accomplished players to descend upon Leipzig on away days since the consensus is they have financially muscled their way to the top.
PSG’s trips to Olympique Lyon, Marseille and Monaco.
Hope games involving these teams (and your no 1 team nonetheless) will provide great value for your money this coming season!!
EPL and La Liga available on Dstv; Ligue 1, Bundesliga and Serie A on Startimes.