Is the Premier League better when it’s worse?
The Premier League is no stranger to criticism. In fact, only the subject of MP’s expenses or Piers Morgan will evoke more rage from the typical occupant of a pub bar stool. Usually, such animosity is directed towards the vast amount of money pouring into a prima donna’s bank account, but recently the angry mob have started pointing their pitchforks at events on the pitch.
In an age where bone-crunching tackles have been outlawed and players will plummet to the turf at the merest hint of contact, the act of ‘proper’ defending has become a forgotten art form. Marking at set-pieces, much like the contents of Liverpool’s club shop, is disturbingly unfashionable, with free headers the order of the day at every ground in the country.
Things aren’t a great deal better up the other end of the pitch, with scuffed penalties and gravity defying free-kicks accounting for 87% of the footage on Match of the Day. Of course, the goals are still flying in, more so than ever before, but this has served only to allow supporters build up an immunity. Goals are no longer appreciated but expected, unless you watch Sunderland of course. There’s a reluctant agreement that standards have begun to slip, but I would argue the entertainment value is all the better for it.
There’s something quintessentially british about the error-prone displays we witness each week from the ‘best teams’ in the division. The game is compelling thanks largely to its unpredictable nature and while boo-boys may make themselves heard alarmingly often, its only because expectations have been raised to an unattainable level. Arsenal fans may be disheartened as their team continues its fall from grace but after witnessing ‘The Invincibles’, there’s an argument for claiming everything else will pale in comparison.
The title race looks destined to feature the same old faces, with Chelsea’s influx of attacking talent propelling the Blues back alongside the Manchester duo. However, no one looks imperious, especially with defences so fragile I would have more faith in the stability of a house of cards. The notion of the ‘top four’ – a time when many argue the league was superior – has been abolished, much to the delight of everyone outside Liverpool.
As a result, the quest for that newfangled fourth place ‘trophy’ looks incredibly exciting. Everton, Newcastle and dare I predict Fulham, have abandoned mid-table obscurity and decided to do battle with those from North London. It’s human nature to want a sense of order and hierarchy in our lives but can we please excuse the world of sport from this? I couldn’t bear the Premier League to suffer the same mind-numbing routine as witnessed in La Liga.
In every period of decline, one must search for improvement elsewhere, which in football can be found at the bottom of the table. No longer are the Championship graduates inevitable relegation candidates as evident from the fact all three survived last season, albeit only just. This year has seen West Ham eager to escape the clutches of the trap door, meaning the likes of Sunderland, Aston Villa and QPR could be reaching the panic button before the New Year.
The beautiful game isn’t perfect – far from it – but who wants to watch a perfect rendition of something? Isn’t this the reason the X-Factor is so popular? Football has its own set of heroes of villains, some players might even fall under both headings, just look at Luis Suarez and Carlos Tevez.
Many will argue that such players have tarnished football’s reputation, as games are nowadays rarely remembered for the final result. While I certainly don’t condone the infamous actions of either individual, they’ve helped bring these troubling issues to forefront of people’s attention. These problems are by no means a modern incarnation, having long existed at the heart of the sport. Perhaps the recent exposure will prompt serious measures that will bring about change.
Football certainly isn’t as ‘bad’ as it’s portrayed in the media, with tabloid newspapers twisting words and manipulating stories to meet the demands of an audience that feasts on controversy. Gary Neville’s claim that Wayne Rooney ‘could improve’ was instantly smeared with the headline ‘Rooney isn’t good enough’ and despite several acts of backtracking and one or two apologies, it’s safe to say the damage was already done.
Only yesterday, England new boy Wilfried Zaha was ridiculed for apparently claiming only Ronaldo and Messi were his superiors. A quote taken beyond the realms of context but nevertheless, I can imagine scores of fans have been waiting for a reason to dislike him. When Mario Balotelli or Zlatan Ibrahimovic drop these print-worthy soundbites, we hail them as ‘mavericks’ but should an English player dare whisper an sentence displaying confidence, they’re dubbed egotistical cretins. The act of placing players on pedestals only to rip them away at the first hint of a mistake has got to stop.
As much as fans might like it to be, especially when they find themselves in the local bookies, football isn’t a game that can be decided on paper. It might be infuriating when the heavy favourite suffers defeat, prompting people to frantically search for answers but we should all embrace such flaws. Without dire refereeing decisions or cocksure mentalities, we wouldn’t have giant killings or the surprise packages each season. So just remember when your team concedes a humiliating last minute equaliser, even when the Premier League is bad, it’s actually rather good.
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