2018 FIFA World Cup

So the FIFA World Cup kicks off today in Russia, which will probably be as much about how awfully backward and racist the Russians are as it will be about football, at least where the media is concerned. From what I’ve read so far, people seem to think the bulk of travelling football fans will be on the LGBT spectrum and risking their lives as roaming bands of Cossacks hunt them down. There has already been criticism from gay rights groups that Liverpool’s Egyptian star Mohammed Salah posed for photos with Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov, who has a nasty reputation that is thoroughly deserved. If Salah had the faintest idea who Kadyrov was, or where Chechnya was, I’d be amazed.

For my part, I’m finding it hard to get excited about this world cup. I don’t know if it’s an age thing, but international football tournaments don’t hold the same excitement for me as they once did. I don’t remember too much about Mexico ’86 or Italia ’90 but I know they were massive events. USA ’94 I remember better and it was pretty good, and France ’98 was magnificent. I was a keen follower of British and European football in the year before France ’98, and I was desperately looking forward to whole rosters of star players clashing. Just look at the lineup for the Netherlands for example, and that  was just one country.

Nowadays, I feel there’s a dearth of superstar players to look out for, and no massive clash of teams bursting with talent. The last seriously talented side to take part in the World Cup or Euros was the great Spanish team from 2008-12, and they clobbered everyone. Since then, it’s all been mediocre sides with the occasional star player who may or may not show up, or surprise packages like Uruguay in 2010 or Wales and Iceland in 2016. The last Euro competition was possibly the worst in terms of football quality I can remember. There were very few decent players: the standout player in one of the best sides was Dimitri Payet of France, a journeyman at West Ham who was sold to Marseille a year later. Paul Pogba, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, and the other superstars of the national leagues did very little of note, and Christiano Ronaldo was best known for his coming off injured in the final amid floods of tears and miraculously turning into the coach for the last 20 minutes of the game. The final was a dreary affair, with the solitary goal being scored by Portugal’s Eder who was a bit-part player for Swansea City. He didn’t even make it in the starting XI when they played West Brom in a cup match earlier in the season, yet there he was deciding the outcome of the second biggest international football tournament on the planet. This wasn’t a repeat of the Greek unknowns winning in 2004, it was simply there isn’t much talent around. Who are we all supposed to watch this time around? Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar? Who else? Harry Kane? Hardly.

I’d had the idea international football was on the decline for a while, but it was confirmed in Euro 2016 when Croatia (who had beaten Spain in the group stage) played Portugal in the first knockout round. It was set up to be a very good match but as I listened while driving from Exeter to Basingstoke on my way back to Dover and then France, it was clear neither team really wanted to be there. It was absolutely dire, and the commentators were scathing, their frustration boiling over. As they put it, neither side showed any interest in playing football, let alone winning, over the full 90 minutes plus 30 of extra time. I thought the same when I saw later games, including the final. There was nothing like the determination, passion, and desire I saw in France ’98 or Italia ’90, or the Euros in 2000. Just a bunch of players who looked as though they’d been roped into doing something they didn’t really want to.

My theory is players are far more individualistic these days, being multi-millionaires in a way that all but the top stars of France ’98 could only have dreamed of. Their primary loyalty is to themselves and their focus is on their bank accounts, sponsorship deals, and whatever their agents tell them. Most of their money comes from their club so they put in considerable efforts in the league, although some don’t even bother doing that. So while I think clubs have managed to retain loyalty from players and buy their efforts, the national teams have been less successful. Does playing for their country mean much to these players any more? Does winning? I don’t know. What I can say is a lot of players don’t seem interested in playing internationals, perhaps fearing injury which will cost them a domestic season or perhaps a whole career. Are you really going to go 100% into tackles in a group game against a third-string side and risk an injury which could cost you tens of millions in wages? Probably not.

But we’ll see. Maybe this tournament in Russia will prove to be every bit as exciting as France ’98 or Mexico ’86 complete with titanic clashes in the final knockout stages, but I doubt it. I think it’ll be a dreary affair like Euro 2016 which, when it ends, will have people asking “What did I just watch?”

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21 thoughts on “2018 FIFA World Cup

  1. 22 millionaires rolling around on the floor as if they’ve been shot by a sniper.

    Do the referees still spray paint on the grass to indicate free kicks and do “injured” players still get driven off the pitch on a mobile stretcher only to run back on 30 seconds later after the water from Lourdes has been poured on the wound?

    Excuse me if I carry on with my life oblivious to the event but I have a prior appointment with slamming my cock in a drawer.

  2. There are more superstars, not fewer. Players from South America, Eastern Europe and Africa can be seen everyday, not just once every few years (even in Swansea).

    Familiarity breeds meh.

  3. Italia 90 was the last time and probably the only time I cared about football. Never been much of a fan and don’t follow a team (which confuses foreign taxi drivers no end). I have no objection to the game but all the bullshit that surrounds it puts me off.

    I don’t think I watched a minute of the last one and the previous one I only took an interest in because it was in South Africa. I seem to remember the press saying everyone was going to get shot and mugged yet I don’t think anyone did.

    I did watch Iceland beat England – was that Euro 2016? The England team looked like they had been tranquilised. I liked the Icelandic clapping, that was the highlight really.

    Asking from a position of genuine ignorance, does the Champions League offer better entertainment? Could we have a World Cup of professional teams?

  4. I reached the same conclusion about football a few years ago. Couldn’t be bothered to go and watch the European Cup final the other day. I have completely lost interest, although I was woken up briefly by Leicester City winning the league a little while ago, I have now gone back to sleep.

    I used to like cricket too, but likewise have lost my enthusiasm for it. I watch the odd UFC fight and that’s about it.

  5. At the risk of offending the massed ranks (ha!) of ear-biting egg-chasers, football is the best game going. But yes, it has lost its way, and one of the reasons is over saturation.

    Recently I got 18 months of BT sport offered to me free. So now I can watch, almost every evening in the autumn, winter and spring, wall-to-wall footy even if it is Bundesliga 2. Sure, television makes it deeper in that incidents are replayed and analysed, but in effect there is too much of it available. The World Cup was once a celebration not only of the top teams (The top 16 teams, not the also-ran dross shoe-horned in to inflate numbers. Oh wait, that probably includes England) and I will watch maybe half a dozen games on the box this time round and probably be on my ipad while its on. You never miss a thing with endless replays.

    Actually, I still like watching footy live because you actually see more of the game, how things develop and so on. I once recall George Best saying he would go and watch Stockport County on a Friday night while with ManUre and would probably end up watching the referee. You have that choice when being there in the flesh. I really enjoy watching my grandson’s team play — when I shout to a player to hold their position or make a break forward, they often respond and do it. I once shouted at a professional player and he heard me and glared at me. Still didn’t do what I thought he should, though.

    I also, and whisper this, started at 71 playing walking football. Jeez, some of those guys used to play at a good level and I have had my fingers bent back stopping shots in goal. But it’s fun to do things rather than watch, and when I do make a save and get called “brilliant” its better than being ignored by professional players, even if I do know better than them.

    The idea of walking football amuses my sons, but its amazing how people break into a jog when you least expect it.

  6. Ooh, where to begin…

    Yeah, it’s largely an age thing. Once you get towards 28 and into your 30’s, the mad bantz in the office of a Monday morning becomes increasingly puerile, as it basically boils down to “hah, hah, your mob are shit, hah, hah” anyway.

    It’s also a generational thing. ’45 to ’66 is 21 years, about 5 World Cup cycles. 1966 to now is 13 cycles, the Berlin Wall has been down longer than it was up, and England have been shit for like forevah.

    There’s a few other things; the death of the mainly wet-led pub, the media, the minor nations have more experience, superstars must be accommodated and now out last quite a few of their managers at international level, the international market for players has compressed the difference between players below superstar level, while also removing noticeable differences in playing styles between national teams.

    And that ignores unforced errors, such as appointing the idiot Hodgson.

  7. I am boycotting this tournament in protest at FIFA’s endemic corruption. I am not quite sure if I want the football to be bad so that others will join me or good, so that my sacrifice will seem that much greater.

  8. I first started watching footy during the 1998 World Cup whilst waiting for a delayed visa to move to the States. I really enjoyed it and followed the Premier League afterwards. I converted a couple of Yanks and used to watch it every Saturday with them.

    Now, I haven’t watched a game since the last World Cup. It’s just so disappointing. Not just that, of course, England still suck, but also the rest of the competition. Just bores the pants off me. And all the histrionics of the players makes me want to punch them in the gob.

    Feh!

    The only thing that I still like to watch is Snooker. Bloody marvelous game!

  9. I’ve never had any interest in sport full stop, and find the big events tiresome. I’ll definitely have to be out of Japan before the 2020 Olympics!

  10. “The only thing that I still like to watch is Snooker. Bloody marvelous game!”

    Ruined by the invention of colour TV.

  11. “From what I’ve read so far, people seem to think the bulk of travelling football fans will be on the LGBT spectrum and risking their lives as roaming bands of Cossacks hunt them down.”

    Related, but I see that Tatchell went to Moscow, made his point (presumably) near the Kremlin, got arrested, and has been released. All with good grace on both his part and Plodski, apparently.

    Got quite a bit of respect for that guy, these days.

  12. I know how you feel. That said I doubt I’d missed a Baggies home match in ’66, had been attending games from as wide a field as White Hart Lane to Anfield for years. England winning the World Cup was as good as it got, and as a teenager I though it was the natural order of things. I couldn’t believe it when we lost in ’70, assumed it an aberration. In 1974 we would assume our natural place at the top of the tree (lived in Germany from ‘’69-71 – Borussia Dortmund fan). Not qualifying was incomprehensible. It’s been a litany of disappointment ever since – and don’t get me started on the ‘Golden Generation’. This time around I’d like to believe we can make the quarter-finals…Semis would be fantastic. Winning would be something – think of the Brexit boost. On Russian soil! Our current pool of players are a great bunch of lads who I’m sure will do us proud…Even now I live in hope.

  13. I will watch and enjoy every second I can, supporting England until, well until what usually happens. I love football and count my time at Anfield during the season as one of the great pleasures of my life.

  14. My interest level has dropped massively since I were a lad as well. Although I am not really any type of avid sports fan at all these days. Pretty chuffed that Russia whooped the Saudi’s, even though Russia are not world class and are also worse than usual I would like to see them do well at home. I threatened to breathalyze my two Russian lads at work this morning.

    The Aussie opener against France kicks off at the same time as the second test Wallabies v Ireland tomorrow night in Melbourne, where I will be sitting comfortably in the corporate box doing my client relations duties. So it looks like duty will insist that I will follow the egg shaped ball as opposed to the Socceroos for their opener.

  15. Club football, at the top level, has two advantages over international now.

    The teams are more complete. If a right defender is needed then they buy a right defender. International teams have massive gaps depending on who they can select from.

    Clubs can drill and play a particular style. International teams don’t have the time to do that properly.

    Plus many of the players hardly know each other in international teams. Worse if the import club hatreds (Barcelona vs Real killed Spanish teams for decades).

    Unless FIFA give much bigger training time for internationals, the club game will remain dominant.

  16. There are more superstars, not fewer.

    Using the metric of the Dutch team now and then, I disagree.

  17. Asking from a position of genuine ignorance, does the Champions League offer better entertainment?

    These days it probably does, yes.

  18. Seems all-around nuisance Tatchell has been arrested after staging a gay rights one man demo.

    Indeed, about LGBT rights in Chechnya, the idiocy of which I wrote about here.

  19. I love football and count my time at Anfield during the season as one of the great pleasures of my life.

    Heh, fair play mate.

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