Thursday, 25 September 2014

Why "Winning At Any Cost" Is A Misplaced Sporting Sentiment

When these players step onto the field, winning can be all that absorbs their thoughts. So much so, that they forget recreational enjoyment is the sole reason they are even there.




Mario Balotelli famously said that "When I score, I don't celebrate. It's my job, does a postman celebrate when he delivers post?". This type of humble-brag quote swept the sporting media and football fans reveled in its sentiment. Not too many stopped for one second, stepped away from their photoshop template of Balotelli donning his sincere face and actually worked through the pragmatics of this mantra. Does Mario actually believe that his 'job' is to deliver a spherical piece of leather through a 24X8 foot gap? If so, then could he please start performing this pseudo-job at Liverpool. But of course it isn't. Whether he likes it or not, he's an entertainer.

Lets take it back around 100 years in the anthropology of modern day sport, to the birth of professional sports men and women. People played sports as part of recreation when they weren't working or studying. People enjoyed watching the people who were best, which I'm sure in most cases were men (Yes. I said it. It's just science; shoot me). People with an entrepreneurial persuasion noticed this, and set-about finding a way to monetise this attraction. Thus, the birth of the modern day professional sport business.

When sports became a business, winning took centre-stage. You want to make more money? Get better players, employ better trainers and coaches, or buy-off the referee if you have to. In the sporting arena of today, the money-making aspect of a sport can often seem to eclipse what the game is about. Enjoyment for the layman. An interest or hobby. No matter how much money a Suadi oil tycoon invests in a football club, the core of any club is the support. Since the money pyramid has become so impossibly complex, investors can oftentimes forget that be it directly, or indirectly, the money starts in the fan's pocket.

José Mourinho came back to Chelsea last summer. In conjunction with this, he brought in players that would feed into his system. Any players already at the club who did not facilitate this system were cut loose, R.E. Juan Mata. Mata who was voted Chelsea player of the year the season before. Discord between Hazard, arguably Chelsea's best player, and Mourinho is already evident. It is admirable to see a manager who isn't afraid to impose their authority on the 'bigger' players, but putting a system in place that stifles a player of that talent showcasing their skills is criminal. If he wins by parking the bus, then the fans may remain content, while apposing fans will look on in disgust. But if he does not, then he will find no safe haven for his crimes against sport.

Similar to this, Jimmy McGuinness has a system in place which he believes is the recipe for victory. Immediately from his appointment as manager of the Donegal footballing team, he cut loose big names who would not suit his system. In conjunction with this, he made sure his players were super-duper fit and played the type of possession football which is a real eyesore. Jimmy won matches, and brought joy to the people of Donegal who craved success, but what are the knock-on effects of his blanket defence system?

In response to this, teams see it fit to try and emulate such negative tactics both in Gaelic Football and Soccer. Kerry, a county that prides itself in playing an attractive style of football and producing exciting players, have just pulled off an astonishing victory in reclaiming Sam for the 37th time. Sacrifices were made, however. Fitzmaurice, who, to his credit, has pulled off an incredible feat in winning an All-Ireland with a team 'in transition', was pressured into adopting a negative system of play which, in turn, made for an ugly final with Jimmy's men. In the premiership, teams such as Liverpool, Everton and Man City, have been meekly rewarded for their positive play so far this season. Their attractive style of football dazzled supporters last year and made for an exciting league. However, with the flaws of their high pressing, one-touch football tactics being exploited in games so far, will this put pressure on the ambitious managers of these teams to implement a more reserved style?

Ultimately, this victory complex is hurting the supporter. Those who make the sporting globe spin. Who put their money, time and effort into following a sport they find pleasurable. This rift between the supporter and those in charge in today's sporting arena is evident. For how long it will continue, is difficult to say.