This, that and the other. Mostly the other
Like many other people I too watched the recent Euro 2012 group match between Sweden and England. It was a marginally exciting match that ended 3-2 in favour of the English, despite the English having pretty much scored all five goals.
But then that is the madness of football for you. Can Lasith Malinga take a wicket for New Zealand? Of course not. Can Sachin Tendulkar score a century for Sri Lanka? Probably not, but I am not waiting to find out. Can Azhar Mahmood turn up to play for England?
Surely you get my point.
But somewhere towards the end of the match it was clear that nobody watching, at home on TV or in the stadium, was paying attention to the match anymore. Indeed it was cruelly ironic to see female Swedish supporters stream out of the stadium in tears, while bored English fans, all professional darts players no doubt, took their tops off. Bemused non-partisan Ukrainian fans looked on, dressed in monkey suits.
It doesn't have to be this way.
Football does not have to be this hard to watch. If even the European championship, one of the sport's signature events, is struggling to engage viewers, then it time for FIFA, UEFA and the Italian underworld to have a good hard look.
At the Indian Premier League.
Yes. I went there.
Many positive and denigrating words have been used to describe the IPL over the last many years.
But "boring", "uneventful", "finishes too quickly", "minimal nudity", "not enough stoppages" and "Pele is trying to sell something" aren't among them. That is exactly why the people who run football will do well to bring some of the IPL's professionalism, methods and showmanship to the Euro championship.
Look at the lop-sided situation in Group C. For instance, what could possibly strengthen the Republic of Ireland team, and increase the excitement in that group, like the ability to hire international players to plug Irish skills gaps? Imagine how good the Irish team would be if only UEFA allowed them to hire Inter Milan's Julio Cesar in goal, Didier Drogba in attack, and AK Antony in defence? Not only would this have improved Ireland's performances, it would have evened out the quality in that group.
Indeed the next logical step for FIFA or UEFA will be to organise tournaments involving privately owned teams where players are freely selected without constraints of nationality. This will free football from the shackles of parochialism and nationalism. But that is a long-term step.
There is also tremendous room for improvement in the branding and marketing of teams. Take a team like Ukraine. For casual football fans the team is an utter unknown. At best they may have heard of Ukraine's most well-known player: Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk's Oleksiy Antonov. The rest of the team? Shakhtar Don'task.
All this helps to do is alienate neutrals, who currently simply cannot tell their Karagounis from their Khara Bhath. Instead, why not give the teams more fetching names and more easily identifiable uniforms? For example: English Lions, Vikings XI Sweden, Ukraine Ukrainians. Just typing those words makes me want to run to my nearest football merchandise store and buy a fetching pair of lycra hot pants and tanktop in signature Swedish yellow, emblazoned with Viking motifs.
Another problem staring FIFA and UEFA in the face is the problem of duration. This is 2012. People simply don't sit in one place for more than 45 minutes unless there is an Apple keynote address going on. No sporting event has captured the ever-shortening attention span of the modern homo sapien quite like the IPL.
Break things up, FIFA! This non-stop run of play is not good for the players, the coaches, the viewers or the broadcasters. Try breaking the game into quarters instead of halves. With an optional time-out for coaches where they can impart strategy - "Best to avoid own goals boys" - and substitute Balotelli.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let us not even get into other problems like the off-side rules, lack of video replays, cramped schedules and Cristiano Ronaldo.
International football has a crisis on its hands. It just needs to know where to look.
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