The World Cup: a time for change?

10th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

The 2006 World Cup may have been a huge success in a lot of ways, but in terms of providing exciting football it was a disappointment. Andy Goldberg argues that it's time to shake up the game.

Joseph Blatter has called the just-completed tournament in Germany "the greatest World Cup ever", which might be true if you happen to be the president of FIFA.

But if you are an ordinary football fan sitting in your living room or local bar in a distant corner of the world, you will probably have been disappointed at the standard of the football, the ineptitude of the refereeing, the fearful cynicism of the managers and the frustrating play-acting of some of the players.

Yet these feelings should not mask some undoubted and even spectacular successes at the world's biggest sporting tournament, which according to FIFA attracted 32 billion viewers throughout the course of its 64 games.

Financially it certainly was the best ever tournament for FIFA, which made an estimated 1.4 billion dollars profit on income of 2.4 billion dollars from the enterprise.

It was also a huge success for Germany. The host country had seen the tournament as an ideal way to finally step out from under its shroud of guilt about Nazism, to redefine what it means to be German, to celebrate the completion of its reunification 16 years after the Wall came down, and to reclaim its place as a leader of liberal, democratic and universal values in an ever-shrinking world.

This amounted to a wholesale re-branding of the country and its identity. It was inspired by a young German team fashioned by coach Juergen Klinsmann who rebelled against the traditional German style to imbue his players with flair, adventure, drive and attacking zeal.

No-one can say if this ambitious exercise will succeed in the long run. But during the World Cup the spectacular achievement of the rebranding campaign was plainly evident at every fan zone in the country.

Whenever Germany played the public viewing areas overflowed with happy fans, waving their red, gold and black flags as a celebration of their own identity rather than as a condemnation of anyone else's.

Despite pre-tournament fears that neo-Nazis would raise their ugly visage, there was hardly a single racist incident throughout the tournament.

The Germans truly were the perfect hosts - affable, generous, and always respectful to their visitors. They even invented the practice of the cross-fan - German supporters who donned the colours of other countries - proving that if your heart is open enough you can love two teams at once.

Even when the fan zones were packed in an uncharacteristically hot German summer the spectators never lost their cool. Nor did the police. There was a massive security presence across the country but it was never aggressive. It recognized that the vast majority of fans, including the handful of rowdies, were not to be treated as potential terrorists.

If only the football teams had shown the same respect for their fans. Instead they subjected them to a stodgy diet of defensive tactics that produced one of the lowest-scoring tournaments on record. Things really took a turn for the worse in the knock-out stages when every team but Germany played with a lone striker and only 26 goals were scored - the lowest number since the last-16 format was introduced 20 years ago.

True, we can celebrate some great defending, but when it comes down to it, the thing we really love about football is to see a collection of creative geniuses bend the laws of space, time and physics to their will and carve open defences to score spectacular goals. And if players from both teams can do it in the same game so much the better. Sad to say this happened rarely if at all in Germany 2006.

After the mind-numbing low-scoring tournament of Italia 1990, FIFA introduced several rule changes that had a dramatic effect on wiping out some of the negative tactics. But since then players' fitness has improved, tactics have been refined and the fear of losing has become even greater because the stakes are so much higher.

FIFA is understandably reluctant to tinker with the rules and introduce changes like reducing teams to 10 men, awarding extra points for goals, or changing the offside rules. Understandably so perhaps, since football is a game of venerable traditions that for all its recent lack of goals is still one of the most powerful forces linking people across the planet.

Maybe the only change we need is to have the tournament in South Africa in 2010. There, the traditional advantage of teams playing in their home country and continent could yet allow the naive, joyful and colourful style of African football to triumph over the more sophisticated but dour brand of the European game. Let's hope so. It would be good for football and the entire planet.

10 July

Copyright DPA with Expatica

Subject: German news, World Cup 2006

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