Soccer, the European socialist sport will never sell in the US. I am so angry. Wake up Americans! They are taking over everything. You wanna know what’s next? The Superbowl. That’s right. Next Superbowl Sunday will be very different than what Americans are used to. Soccer will be on the menu. It’s true. If you don’t believe me, look it up. Instead of pre-game shows and all things American to build us up to the best sporting event in the world, FOX will now broadcast a boring soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea “live” for the first time ever on free-to-air television in the US.
Soccer will be featured on Superbowl Sunday. I’m not kidding. But I have a different view on soccer and socialism than most people.
I don’t see soccer in general as a problem with a capitalistic ideology. I’ll even go as far as to say American sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA) are far more socialist than soccer in the way they are run.
If you look at the business of professional sports, both in Europe and the US, virtually all American sports are socialist, while the European soccer leagues more closely resemble American-style capitalism. Let me explain.
European soccer leagues reward ambition and punish incompetence through relegation and promotion systems. Teams who earn promotion, or qualify for top European competitions are rewarded with huge sums of money, and those who are relegated can say goodbye to television, advertising, and sponsorship revenue. They are forced to sell their best players and start over. The more successful teams are, the more they prosper, the more they’re rewarded, and the more money they get to keep for themselves. Actually, if the smaller, weaker clubs are found to be incompetent, as in by not being able to pay off their outstanding debts, or not paying their players, they enter what is called administration… Essentially, they are immediately suspended and thrown out to the lower leagues until they can pay their debts in full, players, etc. Once they get their finances in order, these teams can only succeed again through one method – hard work, winning games. Basically, the harder you work, the more money and success you attain. That’s American capitalism.
Now, American sports are virtually the opposite. The teams in these “closed” systems are very socialist in the way they share revenue and are very tightly regulated by powerful, European-style unions. NFL teams bargain collectively for the best interest of the league. Here’s a question. In MLB, how do you upgrade a talented minor league team into a major league one? You can’t. What happens when an NFL team is so poorly run, they are an embarrassment to the league? American leagues reward losers by giving them the best draft picks and more money. Incompetency is rewarded. Did they earn the right to stay in the elite league? No. Instead, revenue is shared amongst all the teams, whether they deserve it or not. They all aspire to be equal but the cream usually rises to the top. In the NFL or the NBA, once at the top, instead of being rewarded, all other teams below are given the top draft picks to “even” out the playing field. That’s socialism.
(Notes: The chart pictured shows the 2011-12 distribution of TV rights income in Spain’s La Liga. The two richest teams get approximately half the pot. The remaining 18 teams fight for scraps).
Why do Americans hate soccer? Soccer is by far the most popular kids sport. Why is it abandoned as they get older? The misconceptions, lack of knowledge about the sport, and awful marketing strategies are at the heart of why soccer’s future is doomed.
1. Not Enough Focus on the Top European Leagues
I wrote it this way, because the other way would have been, “too much focus on MLS” and I honestly don’t want to offend anyone associated with Major League Soccer. It wouldn’t be fair because the MLS is not the problem.
Americans are unfamiliar with soccer. If my job was to sell baseball to someone who doesn’t know much about it, would I show them an inferior minor league game, or a thriller between the Yankees and the Red Sox? Exactly! I’m not saying less MLS coverage. I’m saying MORE top European league coverage. Without the Premier League and La Liga, MLS is carrying too much weight on its young shoulders.
2. No TV Advertising and Access to Free High-quality Matches
Weekends come and go and I sit glued to the TV anticipating the big match of the day – Real Madrid vs. Barcelona or Man United vs. Liverpool. But, I hear nothing about it on TV. There’s no advertising, no commercials on channels other than the usual Fox Soccer Channel and GolTV.
The problem is that these soccer channels are part of a premium “sports package” and they’re not readily available to everyone. At the time of this writing, DirecTV and Dish Network charge between $7/month and $13/month to gain access to FSC. Want Fox Soccer Plus channel? Add another $15/month! How do you expect to grow if you don’t reach out?
Make these “classicos” the focus of television advertising in the US and give everyone access to the best soccer programming for free.
New fans might actually find these higher-quality matches entertaining and existing fans won’t look for it elsewhere. Yes I’m talking about illegal download sites. DISCLAIMER: As a musician myself, I’m 100% against pirating sites. Cable and satellite providers can either provide excellent soccer coverage for free and profit from the ads, or make ZERO profit when fans watch games live illegally on their laptops.
3. The Commentators and Analysts in the Big Networks (ESPN!) are Hurting the Game
Alexi Lalas. It’s painful to listen to him. He knows nothing about the sport’s history, predictions, players, strategy… I won’t give specific examples because they are just a few keystrokes away on Google Search. Type “Alexi Lalas is an idiot.”
Now I’m not saying he is not intelligent. There are different kinds of intelligence and he could in fact be smarter than me. But when it comes to soccer, Alexi Lalas has the IQ of fish bait. And he is the leader because he is the loudest and most outlandish. Just because he played at a professional level does not make him an expert soccer analyst. Great players often do not make great coaches – Maradona!
Knowledge of the sport is really the only prerequisite I have when it comes to soccer analysts. Whether they are biased, introverts or extroverts, that matters less. Actually, if they “know” soccer, I may even tune in just to disagree with their biased comments. However, this is not the case with Lalas. I DO NOT watch Alexi Lalas so I can hear what he’ll say next! I immediately change the channel to Univision.
Growing up in Europe, I can honestly say that listening to radio coverage of a match was far more enjoyable than listening AND WATCHING any soccer match currently on ESPN. ESPN’s soccer commentators and analysts are so boring! Lalas has and will continue to set soccer back just like the show “Jersey Shore” for Italian-Americans.
What can they do? Actively pursue knowledgeable fresh personalities to take US soccer to the next level. It’s a shame that FOX made Eric Wynalda, Christian Miles, and Kyle Martino the voice to promote soccer in the US. These three are the exact reason Americans will never watch soccer on FOX. Warren Barton, Keith Costigan, and Christopher Sullivan of FSC come to mind as soccer analysts I could listen to all day. They know soccer!
4. If you’re Trying to Sell Soccer to Americans, Sell It More American!
Non-fans cannot reject what it means to feel AMERICAN. They can’t help it when they watch this Youtube video, which by the way has 3,649,510 views to date!
And that’s what soccer is all about! From the moment the national anthem is played, to the sweat, guts, and finally the extra time glory. It couldn’t be any more patriotic.
As mentioned earlier in the article, the MLS is still in its infancy. I believe one day it will eventually become a powerhouse league. For the moment, we have great American players to celebrate. Players who perform at the highest level in the top European leagues. They also happen to play for the US national team. Sell it that way! American soccer stars delivering at the top level around the world while still giving their all for their country. Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard. They all have one thing in common which I’ll get to next. For now, try to interpret how this soccer video makes you feel.
To me, it’s exciting, touching, inspirational, and most of all AMERICAN.
5. Change the Image of the Sport
Although an amazing player in his own right, Landon Donovan is not the star to sell soccer to Americans who hate soccer. Why? For one, he’s the size of Tinkerbell. Also, he’s quiet as a mouse. Awe-inspiring interviews? More like yawn-inspiring. Is there some irony in my mentioning “Landycakes” earlier? Probably. But here’s my point.
The modern game is more athletic and physical than ever. Players are getting bigger, stronger, faster. Therefore, play highlights Americans love! I’m talking more clips of brutal hits, blood, everything. Show more of this:
Physicality is a part of the sport. Whether you like it or not, the fact is that violence sells in America. Personally, I find the artistic side more enjoyable to watch. But aggressiveness is a huge part of the game of soccer and fine with me as long as it’s clean. I’m not nor was I ever a pro, but here’s my personal injury list:
Broke both wrists
Torn ACL, meniscus, chipped bones on left knee… That alone landed me two knee surgeries (so far)
Multiple concussions. If I’ mnot makin g a ny sens e that’ s pr obabl y why
Torn thigh muscle, hamstrings, groin, pulled back, hip injuries, dislocated shoulder, twisted ankles, permanent scars…
Soccer is a dangerous sport. Not only do Americans like dangerous, they celebrate it. Often you’ll hear, “Well, I want my kid to play a man’s game.” Having tough-guy soccer heroes will change that misconception. That’s where Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Tim Howard come in. All are near 6ft 2in and tough as nails. Americans can relate to these guys.
If you don’t think that’s being true to the sport, just realize that you have to attract attention first. Once they’re “in” as fans, they’ll see the true side of soccer – the beautiful, artistic, fun side. That’s why the names above are perfect. They’re not just tough, they’re fun to watch.
Speaking of fun…
6. There’s a Reason Why Soccer is By Far the Most Popular Sport with Kids
Children teach us just by being children. Children laugh and cry. They shout and scream. They fall and get back up. They live to have fun. And they play soccer! Market this truth in a deep way to sell soccer to Americans.
THE TRUTH ABOUT SOCCER
The game unfolds slowly. You must interpret your opponent’s moves and also your own team’s actions.
You adapt and make changes by thinking on your own. Although a team sport, soccer is very much like boxing where even though you may have an overall game plan, things change quickly on the field and you must make decisions on the spot.
You are given help in the beginning and at half-time. The rest is all up to you.
The key to winning is quite simple. Pass and move. The simplicity of it encourages the artistic side to take over. Soccer is a form of self-expression because its simplicity allows it.
Although each player has his/her own unique role (keeper, defender, midfielder, forward), they all work for the same goal. Each player shares an equal responsibility. Incredible accomplishments are achieved when they synchronize as “one.”
The game presents few goal-scoring chances. To achieve success, these opportunities must be seized. Soccer could pretend that each goal is worth 3 points, even 6 points, but why lie to yourself? Accept this truth and embrace it as a strength, not weakness.
The game begins and must end. Only the referee knows exactly when the game will end. Every player gives everything until the final whistle because it’s something they can’t control. They must play now.
No matches were played in Round 1 of La Liga due to a player strike. Did anybody really care?
Honestly, take away the Classicos between Real Madrid and Barcelona (thankfully, there are at least six or seven of them every year), and do you really want to watch the most uncompetitive, lopsided league the history of the sport has ever seen?
So here’s the substance of the argument behind the strike: half the clubs in Spain’s top flight have filed for bankruptcy protection. Players, led by the likes of Charles Puyol and Iker Casillas, want two main things before they agree to step foot on the field again:
1 – They want the league to guarantee full releases from their contracts should a club not pay their wages for three months.
Amen, hermanos! I am 100% behind this initiative, because if I were in the same situation, I doubt I’d even wait three weeks before I’d look for another job. It’s common sense, really; a club offered to pay you an exorbitant amount of money per week. They don’t pay… you don’t play. Unlike you and I, however, this “unemployment plan” of three months is more than fair – after all, these guys are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars every month.
2 – Players want their salaries guaranteed if their clubs go belly up.
Wait, what? Let me get this straight: A bunch of players who earn an average salary of approximately $900,000 to one million dollars a year have chosen Puyol and Casillas — two guys who make five and six million dollars a year respectively — to represent them in negotiating a contract in which they would still get paid if their clubs ceased to exist?!? How dare league officials keep these overpaid prima-donnas from living their extravagant Bentley-driving, caviar-eating, supermodel-dating lifestyles if they lose their jobs? Un-freaking-believable.
I feel bad for the smaller clubs in Spain, I really do. They have been placed in an impossible situation! I’ll explain:
Real Madrid and Barcelona get the lion’s share of the television rights in the league, and the other 18 clubs have to fight over the scraps just to survive. The two giants have no interest in changing this structure. Ever.
If you are a bottom team, you have to spend money to attract better players, or you face a certain relegation to an inferior league with an even smaller TV rights share, and lower revenues from operations. Similarly, near the top of the table, better teams must act in a similar fashion just to ensure an European slot and the millions that come with it.
Real Madrid and Barcelona buy the best players in the world, whom they pay ridiculous piles of money every week. Other players on the team also demand wage increases – even their youth system players are overpaid. When these kids transfer to the lower clubs, they don’t like to take pay-cuts so these other teams are overstretched financially yet again.
Thank God for the English Premier League! Here is a league that, even with its faults and similar salary issues, manages to give us competitive matches week in, week out, year after year. Any given weekend, any team in this league can upset any other team. It is a league where last year, eighth-place Fulham finished only 10 points ahead of relegated Birmingham. I’ll watch any EPL match that is on television, because I know I’ll watch attractive, offensive-minded, competitive football.
Do I really care about a Sevilla vs. Granada match? No. Would I watch it? Probably not.
I’ll tune in for my six or seven (hopefully more) Classicos on GolTV this year. When they’re over, I’ll flip to FSC, FSC+ or ESPN2 for some more real competition.
And so it begins…
Famous Football Quote of the Day:
“The tide is very much in our court now.” - Kevin Keegan, former English player and manager
Lets’s start by getting last season’s numbers out of the way.
While they both scored an astonishing 53 goals last season, each stood out in different ways.
Cocky, arrogant, yet brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo. In his second season in Spain, he became the all-time highest goal scorer in a season in La Liga history, and surpassed the records held by the original Brazilian Ronaldo, Hugo Sanchez, and Lionel Messi. Wow.
Not only did he shatter the previous record of 38 goals, he rounded it off to an even 40. Incredible! To put these numbers into perspective, let’s compare the original Brazilian Ronaldo’s numbers to the Portuguese gel-boy.
In Luis Ronaldo’s sole season with Barcelona in 1996-97, which I feel was his most explosive ever, he banged in 34 goals. At the time, he stood alone as the best player in the world and was voted FIFA Player of the Year in 1996, and again in 1997. Then he left for Italy. When he came back to La Liga, this time with arch-rivals Real Madrid, his goals per season tally was 23, 24, 21, 14, 1. Take away his last year where he scored just one goal and these are amazing numbers in their own right – average of 20.5 goals/season.
C. Ronaldo brought in double that amount with a mind-boggling 40 goals last season! Again, this is the legendary #9 we’re talking about… the highest goalscorer in the history of the World Cup and once again voted FIFA Player of the Year in 2002! This is a player who in the last decade stood shoulders above the rest, and I feel belongs in a distinguished category with the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho.
Besides the impressive La Liga record (which has placed him at the top of a list of incredible Real Madrid legends), C. Ronaldo was instrumental in ending Real Madrid’s 18-year Copa Del Rey trophy drought by heading in the winner against their biggest rival Barcelona. The moment that goal went in, Barcelona’s players and fans felt fear for the first time in a long while. This was their worst nightmare and almost impossible in their minds. Many may have brushed it aside like post traumatic stress disorder, but it happened. Pep Guardiola’s team failed to win a trophy for the first time under his leadership, while Mourinho brought in a trophy in his first season in charge of Madrid thanks to the Ronaldo’s leadership on the field.
Last year CR7 scored 9 more goals than Messi in La Liga. He also missed a fair amount of time due to injury. If he stays injury-free this entire season? Frightening.
There’s some truth that either you are on Ronaldo’s camp or Messi’s. But it’s absolutely impossible to deny the unbelievable talent of “la pulga.” As good as Ronaldo is with the ball at his feet, he doesn’t come close to Messi’s close control and skill. What’s most impressive is the way Messi never gives up on every play even when it seems the opposing defender has won possession! It’s like he’s possessed himself. The ball will bounce off his knees, shins, thighs and somehow he’s inside the box and dribbling past the goalkeeper for yet another highlight-reel supergoal.
I feel he contributes more to the team on a regular basis than CR7. Messi is almost always involved in every important play, while Ronaldo can drift in and out of games (or go missing altogether). That doesn’t make Ronaldo less dangerous. He can score even when having a quiet game, but Messi seems to be “on” all the time for Barcelona. His assists stats don’t lie – he almost doubled Ronaldo’s number of assists in 2010-11.
Let’s not forget that although he “only” scored 31 goals in La Liga last season, Messi equalled Ronaldo’s tally of 53 goals for the season. However, there was one major difference between the two…
Messi won the La Liga and Champions League trophies while Ronaldo was left to suck on his thumb. There’s no doubt that Ronaldo was astonishing on an individual level last year, but Messi was miles better collectively as part of a team. And that’s what soccer is all about!
In Ronaldo’s defense, he did accomplish a thing or two in England with Man Utd. Even Johan Cruyff said, “Ronaldo is better than Utd legends George Best and Denis Law,” and he has dominated in two totally unique leagues. So it’s not all black and white. The argument that Messi just wouldn’t cut it in the EPL is simply not as clear-cut as it used to be though. Think about the current crop of La Liga talent migrated over to England. Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Juan Mata. These guys aren’t the biggest and strongest, but they are already shining in the world’s most physically-demanding league.
If asked which player I’d choose first to build my dream team, I’d pick Messi. He is at the heart of every important play for Barca while Ronaldo tends to drift in and out. Team first.
At the time of this writing, Madrid and Barca have played just one game in La Liga. Ronaldo banged in a hat-trick while Messi brought home two. What a start!
Will Ronaldo steal yet another trophy from Barcelona this year, or will Messi target Ronaldo’s historic record of 40 goals in one season?
I can’t wait to watch these two living legends lock horns yet again in what is shaping into another unforgettable season in Spain.
I love the beautiful game, but over the last couple of decades, that love affair has grown… complicated.It is clear that there is enormous room for improving the game of football, not only in the way it is played on the pitch, but also how it is governed and managed off it.I believe that if at least some of the changes I recommend in this article were implemented, the world of football for the players, clubs, and most importantly – the fans – would be vastly improved.
As such, I present to you the “25 Things I Would Fix About the Beautiful Game”:
Our first set of changes revolves around the rules of the game. Most of the rules that govern play on the pitch have been around for decades, but as the sport evolves, the rules should evolve and adapt to the new realities of the sport; new strategies; how the game is played; most importantly, how the rules enhance the fan’s appreciation and enjoyment of the beautiful game.
1 – Technology
Technology has been present in football since… day one.It is present in the types of fields the sport is played on; the footwear one wears to play it; the protective equipment one uses. As the game evolves, so must the technology used.I believe that most technological advances that reduce unfair advantages should play a role in the sport, as long as they do not compromise health and safety.
Goal line technology is the hottest debate in the world of FIFA at the moment.Some argue that it dehumanizes the sport, and removes the enjoyment of debating referee mistakes.I say we should use this technology as an aid to referees, so that critical decisions (which can sometimes have million-dollar repercussions) are accurate and fair, but most important of all, objective.
I’d go a step further and apply that same technology to the offside rule.You’ve got a sensor in the ball; why not put one on each player’s jersey as well?The most common and controversial call in football could be virtually eliminated; a computer algorithm detects the forward is behind the last defender when the ball is played, the referee assistant’s flag buzzes, he lifts it.The right call every time means folks can go back to doing what they’re on the field to do – play football.
Yes, I understand that technology is out of the reach of some of the lower-level professional leagues.The alternative is… what you have now: human error, drama, and debate.
2 – Substitutions
Nothing annoys me more than a strategically-timed substitution on the 93rd minute of a match with 4 minutes of added time!Why does play have to stop altogether?
All substitutions should go through the fourth referee!There’s no need to stop play; a player is ready to go in, the fourth referee is informed, he raises his placard indicating the player to come off in his stead.He informs the match referee through his communications gear, whom at the next deadball situation will point to the sideline so players are aware a substitution is about to occur.Play moves on immediately, and if the player who is supposed to come off decides to delay it, oh well! The fourth referee ensures the exchange happens properly, and that’s it.
No more time wasted in this space means injury time should be for… injuries.More on that later.
3 – Delay of game
You see this in every match: the referee whistles for a foul, and the player responsible (or one of his teammates) grabs the ball, then throws it to a teammate, who then throws it away from his opponent.Perhaps you see this during a throw-in situation; the player’s team kicks the ball out of play, and he still grabs the ball as if convinced the call should go his way.
Other instances of what we call time-wasting have been addressed by the football rule-makers, and instructions issued to officials on how to appropriately punish offenders; examples include yellow cards for excessive goal-celebrating, long delays by goalkeepers on goal kick situations, or failure to yield proper distance on a free kick.Honestly, these pale in comparison to the delay tactics I described in the first paragraph.
Here’s the new rule.It’s simple: if the referee whistles, that means play is stopped.If the decision is not in your favor (be it a foul, throw-in, offside, no matter) and you touch the ball, the referee will issue you a yellow card.That’s it.How long do you think it would take for players to learn the concept?Perhaps three or four matches of playing down a couple of players?I guarantee you managers would change their approach to tactics and player instructions should a rule like this actually be enforced.
Just imagine the time you could save, every match!This time savings could be used for perhaps a dozen additional plays, every match.This is a winner, folks.
4 – Simulation
A recent study by Dr. Daryl Rosenbaum at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center indicates that incidents of fake injury at football matches are frequent, occurring at a rate of over 11 per match, resulting in seven minutes of game stoppage per contest. He said questionable injuries are more likely to be associated with contact and referee sanctions than definite injuries.
Eleven times per match, on average, the referee stops play, and everyone on the field awaits for the player to “recover” or be assisted by medical staff.
Officials have instructions to punish offenders with yellow cards, but this approach couldn’t be more ineffective.First, no referee can clearly determine every instance of simulation, no matter how good he is.Secondly, a yellow card will never discourage a diver from doing it again in the future.Sure, he may not do it again in the same match, but chances are he’ll be at it again in the following fixture.The world of football knows all the major divers; take Dani Alves of Barcelona or Angel Di Maria of Real Madrid as two examples of the best in the business of deception.
Officials from each country’s football federations should be reviewing every minute of every match played to ensure clear instances of simulation are dealt with appropriately.
I would recommend a two-match automatic suspension at minimum, and longer suspensions (and fines to both player and club) for instances of simulation that have the potential of influencing a match result.Yes, I understand this would open up the question of how to make that determination.I say keep it simple: if a simulation results in a false penalty or the opposing team’s player is erroneously red-carded, for instance, then these should be considered as match-result-influencing.
It may not be the best solution, but I guarantee you it’s an initiative that would aggressively curtail this embarrassing, shameful behavior that goes against the very foundation of the beautiful game.
5 – Violent conduct
Football is a contact sport.There will always be instances of violent conduct and bad injuries resulting from such conduct, no matter how heavy the punishment.I believe FIFA actually addresses violent conduct punishment well.I say well, because I believe there are loopholes and room for improvement in this space.
Most football federations charge players with violent conduct after video review, and on average, players found guilty are suspended two or three matches.However, if a referee witnesses the violent conduct and issues a yellow card, then in most countries, the matter is deemed to have been dealt with by the match referee and the card is deemed as appropriate punishment.As I’ve said earlier, even the best referees in the world can fail to see how violent a foul may actually be, and seldom can they infer malicious intent – the game is just too fast.
Every questionable play should be reviewed by these governing bodies, and all should be dealt with appropriately and severely at all times.No one wants to go to a football match where the top stars are injured; suspending those that keep our beautiful game artists away from their craft should be eradicated from the sport.
Our second set of changes revolves around regulating the game of football. Regulations prevent unfair advantages and generally protect clubs, players, and other footballing entities. The following five proposed regulations not only protect clubs and players, but also help to foster talent growth and competition.
6 – Homegrown Talent
FIFA has been working on something they call the “Six-Plus-Five Plan” for a few years now.In essence, the new regulation would require teams to field at least six homegrown players in their starting elevens, leaving up to five slots for foreign talent.
FIFA’s basic reasoning is that allowing teams to field an unlimited number of foreign players is detrimental to the national team; they assume that when big teams such as Arsenal, field only foreign players, it leaves no room for homegrown talent to develop.
I believe that FIFA has a point, but a Six-Plus-Five plan is way too aggressive, and may do more harm than good.Let’s be honest: people support the big teams because the big teams have some of the best players in the world.By limiting the number of foreign players so drastically, FIFA would in essence be killing the beautiful game.
On the other hand, I do agree that a limit should be set.A Three-Plus-Eight system, for instance, would be a much better solution.First, the impact on all current teams would be minimal – most current teams do field a number of homegrown players, and the quality of the game wouldn’t necessarily suffer if this plan was adopted.Secondly, forcing the homegrown player situation to be addressed will be good for not only the national team, but also for the clubs themselves; most will develop their football academies to grow their own talent, but feeder clubs will also benefit (more on that in Part 5 – The Finances).
The biggest benefit, in my opinion, is the “local hero” effect. Kids look up to football stars, but are even more motivated by local players who make it big.They set an example to be followed, and fans of all ages can identify with the local hero who stays with his football club for an extended period of time, as opposed to foreign players who tend to change clubs more often.
7 – Carry-overs Between Competitions
There are too many competitions nowadays (more on that in Part 3).In keeping with the homegrown / young talent theme, I’d like to explain how imposing a limit on carry-overs between competitions benefits all of football.
I would invert my homegrown plan and call for an Eight-Plus-Three plan instead.This plan basically means the following: you can only start three players from your previous starting eleven in the last match in a different competition.
As an example, say you are Tottenham and you just fielded your best 11 for a league match against Manchester United over the weekend.It is now Wednesday, and you have an F.A. Cup matchup against Leeds United.The Eight-Plus-Three rule would force Tottenham to field 8 new starters for the cup match.
I am sure many of the top teams would dislike this regulation, since they set out to win all competitions they participate in.However, enforcing this change would be beneficial to substitute and reserve players on every single team.These are players that either get limited or no playing time during the course of the season, but are now forced to perform.I believe this also helps the team in the long run; more playing time for your subs and reserves might yield an alternative to one of your regular starters that you might not otherwise consider, and it might make your selection choices easier in case you encounter injury or suspension problems throughout the season.
The last benefit, I think, is that it forces the major teams to focus on one competition more than another, and that is good for the little guy.More strategy in team selection means more excitement for fans, and more opportunity for players.
8 – International Duty Club Veto
This new regulation is pretty simple: give clubs an opportunity to deny a player’s national team call-up, say, once a year.Think about it folks: sometimes, players get called up to internationals right before their club team’s “match of the season”.If they play for their country, they risk injury or fatigue, and the club suffers.If they don’t play, they may have flown clear across the world for no reason whatsoever, and they come back jetlagged, fatigued, and may have missed out on some good preparation.
This regulation would be good for the clubs, for obvious reasons, but I believe it also offers benefits to the national teams.A national team manager that is denied a superstar for a particular match will be forced to call up a different player who might not otherwise be called upon.This is good for the player being called upon, of course, but also good for the national team, as they expand their roster and discover new talent.
9 – International Duty Injury Repercussions
The English National team just played two matches this week, and multiple players came back to their clubs injured – Micah Richards and Darren Bent, for example, are two of those players. My suggestion is that a club whose player returns from international duty injured (be it during training or an actual match) be offered the chance to deny the national team’s call-up of the same player for a period of say, six months.
This protects not only the club, but also the player.Until national teams take responsibility for buying insurance for events such as these, this new regulation would give clubs some measure of comfort.
Clubs should not be financially impacted by losing one of their key players to national team duty, as this clearly was not done for the benefit of the club.There should always be repercussions to national teams, and if not financial, then at least logistical, in the way I have described in the first paragraph.
10 – The Officiating
The refereeing situation in football can be improved.Currently, referees are used as scapegoats by club managers, and are generally vilified.The problem stems from a general lack of respect by the entire footballing world.
Take English referees, for instance.I believe them to be as close to the perfect model as you can get, at least as compared to their counterparts in Spain, Portugal, and Italy, among others.They allow a more physical style of play, which keeps the game tempo up.In Spain, for instance, referees are quicker to whistle any time players are jockeying for position, and because players know this, it encourages play-acting and diving.To that, I say “let them play!”
From an administrative perspective, however, referees do need to be held accountable, and as such, all referees should be graded, every match, for their performance.By ranking them amongst their peers, you are establishing competition between them, and a willingness to learn and improve themselves.I believe that referees should be promoted and relegated based on their performance.Those who perform are rewarded, those who don’t perform are punished.Doing this will definitely better the officiating quality, and better quality means more respect.
At the end of the day, referees need to be respected.Perhaps if refs were quicker to issue yellow and red cards for complaining, for instance, then players would think twice before opening their mouths.Watch a Barcelona or Real Madrid match, and count the number of times their players surround a referee to argue a call!In the last match I watched, I counted at least seven instances of this.
Fines and suspensions for arguing calls need to increase, and as better referees make their way up the ladder, quality and respect will eventually flourish.
Our third set of changes revolves around footballing competitions. Some of these competitions have been around for decades; take for instance the F.A. Cup, in England — it officially began in 1871! The following proposals are designed to reduce or streamline all the various types of footballing competitions that are, in my opinion, damaging the game of football today.
For purposes of simplifying this section, we will use England’s Chelsea Football Club and Fernando Torres as the recurring examples.If Chelsea have a perfect season, they could be eligible to play in the following competitions:
The Barclays English Premier League
The Football Association Challenge Cup (or F.A. Cup)
The Football Association Community Shield
The Football League Cup (or Carling Cup)
The Europa League
The European Champions League
The European Super Cup
The Intercontinental Cup
As a Spanish international player, Fernando Torres could also participate in either of the following competitions (depending on year of competition):
The European Championship (or Euro)
The World Cup
The following are my recommendations for the only competitions that should be held:
11 – The Domestic League
The domestic league is the main club competition. It would continue to be held in each country, but my recommendation is to reduce the number of teams competing in the various divisions of the domestic league.
For example, there are 20 teams in the current edition of the English Premier League. My recommendation is to reduce that number to 16 teams, thus reducing the number of matches in the league by eight per season.
Not only does this alleviate the issue of player fatigue, but by reducing the number of teams, one could argue that the quality of the remaining teams would increase.One could also argue that with less matches, the quality of the play would also increase due to reduced player fatigue.
Less teams per division means potentially more divisions (or skill levels, if you will), and thus, more competition within each division, all the way down to the amateur level.
12 – The Domestic Cup
Most countries have a football association knock-out (or cup) competition in addition to a league knock-out (cup) competition.Why have two similar competitions?Which is more important?Which gives its winner the most bragging rights?I say eliminate the league cup altogether.Typically, this cup is reserved for a team’s… reserves, anyway.We’ve already addressed the issue of substitute and reserve play in Part Two.
A cup competition is important, however.Unlike the league, which typically rewards the best and most consistent teams in the land, the cup competition is a knock-out tournament; the nature of it dictates that on any given day, any one team can upset a major squad on the pitch.This makes the cup competition almost as important as the domestic league, especially for the smaller or lower-division clubs.
The domestic super cup is typically a one or two-match contest between the winner of the domestic league from the prior season, and the winner of the domestic cup from the prior season.It is usually considered the first match of the season, and since it only involves two teams, I believe it should be continued.
13 – The Champions League
Currently, the top teams of each nation can qualify to participate in one of two main continental-wide club competitions. In Europe, for instance, these are called the European Champions League, and the Europa League.
The first is the upper echelon of teams – typically the champions from each country plus one or more top finishers, depending on the country’s coefficient (a measurement of a league’s competitiveness – the better your league, the more teams that can qualify).
The Europa league is a second, lower-tier competition that is reserved for the lower-class leagues in the continent, plus some of the better teams which did not qualify for the Champions league, or were perhaps knocked out of the Champions League in the early stages of that competition.
My suggestion is to eliminate the Europa league altogether.Instead, increase the number of clubs that participate in the Champions League and turn it into an actual league!Basically, we should have four or eight groups of sixteen clubs each, each containing teams from the full spectrum of caliber – from small country champions, to large country top teams and champions as well.
After one round of play, where each team plays every one of their league opponents, the top four clubs would advance to a knock-out stage similar to today’s competition.
This approach not only rewards consistent teams, but also allows lower-tiered teams to face potential powerhouses at least once!That means more ticket sales, merchandising income, etc.Win-win.The number of additional matches in this new continental league would be offset by the fewer number of matches in domestic play, which in total would still be fewer than in the current structure.
NATIONAL TEAM COMPETITIONS
14 – The Continental League
Every four years, national teams across the world play qualifying matches for their continental championship.In Europe, this is called the European Championship, or Euro.The competition is made up of several small leagues of five to seven teams, and the winners (and runners-up) qualify for the finals to determine the continental champion.These tournaments alternate every two years with the World Cup (more on that below).
My suggestion is to simplify the process and improve the quality of the football in the final tournaments.Instead of having several small “leagues” which qualify for a finals tournament, I suggest several divisions based on team quality.The top 16 teams would be in division one, the next best 16 teams in division two, and so on and so forth.Similar to domestic leagues, the bottom 3 or 4 teams from each division would be relegated to a lower division, in exchange for that division’s top 3 or 4 teams.This ensures that we, the fans, don’t have to suffer through qualifying matches with 11-0 results (a recent example of this was just last week, where the Netherlands defeated San Marino by just such a margin!)
This also eliminates the need for a finals competition after league play.The champion is determined by the first division’s winner – its prize won by skill and consistency over the course of the last two years of competing against the best teams in the continent.
Now that’s fair!
15 – The World Cup
The World Cup format cannot be changed.It works, the viewership loves it, and frankly, it is grossly engaging.However, my suggestion is a simple one.Instead of going through the painful qualification process (very similar to the continental championships described in 14, above), I suggest we pick the top tier teams in every continent’s first division!We can start with a large number of clubs (say 64), and the qualifying would entail knocking that down to 32 teams.
The finals format would be exactly the same as the current World Cup finals.But a significantly less number of matches would be played, and the quality of the World Cup finals would improve drastically.The reason the last few tournaments have been so boring to watch is because the lower-level teams know they cannot compete with the Germanys and Brazils of the world.As such, they play a strictly defensive game, in the hopes the opponent will make a mistake.I like to call this “parking the bus”.
32 strong teams go all out, all the time.Bring back the beautiful game, people!
Our fourth set of changes revolves around the body of government that rules over the sport of football – FIFA.
The following are my recommendations for changing what’s wrong with the current administration:
16 – Reorganization
After the most recent allegations of fraud and deep-rooted corruption within the FIFA organization, it is clear that something must be done to shed football’s governing body and start anew.
The whole organization is a group of good ol’ boys; it is a closed organization of tight-knit individuals who will hold onto power (and the money associated with it) for as long as they can.
Take for instance, President Sepp Blatter’s brilliant attempt to tell the world that he will “root out all corruption from FIFA before his last term is finished.”
Just for you folks, I’m going to translate that last quote:
“I will erase all records of my own wrongdoing, and throw other people under the bus to divert attention from myself before my last term is finished.”
Listen… no one is buying this garbage. I’ll give another example of just how foul this group of racketeers is:
FIFA, led by Blatter, appointed an outside ethics committee to investigate the corruption allegations that raised their ugly heads in 2011. Oh… and the ethics committee will report all its findings to… the FIFA board.
In 2015, when I run for FIFA President, I will ensure that the entire board and all its representatives are removed (forcibly if needed), and that they all be replaced with competent individuals who do not have any knowledge of where all the FIFA skeletons are hidden.
17 – Representation
Speaking of competent individuals, we need to address the issue of representation.
All countries associated with FIFA have representatives on their committees. I suggest that these officials (including the President him/herself) be chosen from within each country’s football federation.
But I have one very important caviat: these officials must be true football personalities; no lawyers, accountants, owners or sports agents should ever be allowed to run for office. You know… the sharks.
Instead, a country should choose managers, sporting directors, or club presidents that have the best interest of the players (and clubs) at heart when it comes to making the important decisions – especially monetary ones (more on that in Part 5 – The Finances). Preferably ones who are not, nor have ever been tied with corruption, scandals, or bribery, as has been the case with club presidents from Juventus of Italy, F.C. Porto of Portugal, and pretty much every Turkish club known to mankind.
Once the right candidates are brought forth, elections should be held in a fair and equitable manner.
18 – Elections
There was widespread international condemnation of the Fifa presidential election earlier this year, when it emerged that Sepp Blatter had triumphed over nobody (that’s right, he had no opponents) to win football’s top job by a margin of 186 to 17. Besides the obvious question, “Who did the 17 vote for?”, there is another, more important query: “How can an organization as large as FIFA hold elections when there was only one viable candidate with absolutely no competition?”This is just another clear-cut example of corruption cover-ups within the organization.
Elections to FIFA’s top positions should always have multiple, competent candidates.Not giving someone the opportunity to run as opposition is a grave sign that something is rotten from within.I suppose even Kim Jong-Ll of North Korea would say, if asked about these elections, “Sepp Blatter is giving fraudulent, unopposed dictatorship a bad name. He should be ashamed of himself.”
The cream of the crop should be easy to find. FIFA should always have at least three or four candidates for each of the top positions, so that fair elections can be held.
The time for dictatorships is over.
19 – Term Limits and Restrictions
The old corrupt guard is gone. New blood has been chosen from each represented country in FIFA. The top brass has been appointed. They are now ready to do their job.
I have one more rule: members at the very top within FIFA should not be allowed to stay in office for more than two years. That’s right. They should be appointed after each World Cup, and removed after each Continental Championship. Then the next officials would be elected, again, until two years later.
When an organization is as vast as FIFA, and with so much money flowing through it, one cannot be given the opportunity to learn all its secrets; to find all the little loopholes.
This is how fraud and embezzlement occur. This is how corruption fosters.
On top of this term limit, there is one more important restriction: former officials should not be allowed to run for FIFA office again. Period. There are millions of competent individuals involved in the business of football. The pool is vast; we don’t need the same individuals coming back, regardless of how well they have performed while in office.
The way this works in the real world is with… transparency.
20 – Transparency
The best leaders are transparent ones. Why hold onto a good leader for an extended period of time, when you can learn the lessons from that person, document them, and make them absolutely transparent, for everyone to see?
Giving someone the opportunity to linger opens them up to becoming comfortable; once someone is comfortable, they become even more accustomed to a situation. Pretty soon, the fine line between good and bad becomes harder to define and interpret.
Good people who have power go bad.
That is why all decisions within FIFA should be broadcast openly, and documented thoroughly. All decisions, especially financial ones.
Has anyone actually gone in and audited all of FIFA’s financial records? How money is earned? How it is invested? Where it is spent? Who benefits?
I’m scared to think that the answer is no, though I figure it likely is.
Football is a multi-billion dollar industry, yet, every day you hear of professional clubs going bankrupt, with no protection from FIFA or its federations. You hear of professional players going unpaid for months at a time, yet there is no insurance coverage for this sort of thing.
Make the books transparent, and put the money to work where it makes the most sense. But I’m not going to get into finances here. You can find that in Part Five – The Finances.