Football is often deemed simple, or at least reduced to its simplest components. All in, this is the way to describe the sport, the exact way: twenty-two players compete in two teams and try to out-score each other. Fans bemoan how the sport has deviated from this. How it’s become so much more complicated and difficult. Football loses sight of itself.
It’s difficult for it not to. With the popularity of the sport, investments are frequent. The sport is worth billions and billions. Therefore, the game has improved. There is a higher standard of play. Football has always been and will always continue to be defined by tight, tight margins. Now, though, those margins are expensive. As such, the authorities have implemented new technology to push the sport on – make it fairer – and, also, the public have pushed knowledge of the sport to new boundaries too. There have also been attempts to ensure that the product which football is continues to be interesting, inviting, exciting. The European Super League was an attempt to satisfy this need, which football’s authorities itself and some fans have diagnosed. There was incredible backlash, which resulted in the founding teams pulling out after only forty-eight hours. What will football become?
Sport progression, especially one which is so historically secure as football, is difficult to imagine. The way modern media has evolved has enabled audiences to peek behind the curtain of what were previously privileged spaces. Streaming, for instance, on platforms like Twitch gives video game players, musicians, and other talents a means of showing whoever is watching a closer point of view to who they are able to compete or create. Video games are particularly predisposed to this environment, being digital already. Sports have made the jump too. Chess and poker are examples of this, and both have had exemplary companies, Chess.com and GGPoker respectively, who provide ways of playing both games online and have sponsored professionals to produce content for them and entertain a crowd. These sports have had to adapt to this new environment. They are and are not their traditional counterparts. However, competitively, there is a lot of crossover. Fans of the digital and the non-digital follow and play both. Football will struggle to replicate this, as what it takes to compete at a poker table is easy to translate to digital than a football pitch. There is no digital iteration which will see football’s future away from some kind of physical football pitch, yet.
VAR’s implementation is a key example in the difficulty football has changing on-field happenings. It was seen as a way to ensure the game is fairer, cleaner, than the players define the play. However, it has been far from successful from a fan’s point of view. Football’s key issue is that the sport is pure chaos. That every single contact is difficult to use as an example of the law. The rules are interpretable, and each referee will see something different. Secondly, there will always be decisions defined by the smallest of measures. VARs slows down the sport, creates a focus on its grey areas, and fans find this interest in the granular destructive.
One area of embrace, though, has been the use of statistical and tactical analysis. This interest began at smaller clubs like Brentford and also captured the interest of amateur bloggers and data scientists who had some spare time. More major clubs like Liverpool have made huge success of using metrics and models to make better recruitment and playing decisions. It’s effects have also been felt by the fans, though. Football has often relied on fundamentals, a common understanding and language. However, statistical analytics often provided these to be false, or at least less tried-and-true than initially thought. As such, fans have had to adjust their perspectives, use different conclusions, adjust to new ways of watching and speaking about football, especially with regards to who to evaluate performance, across the short-term (form) and the long-term.