November 25, 2010
Scottish referees are causing controversy currently with their plans to strike this weekend over the abuse they are suffering North of the Border, and on Wednesday one particular Scottish referee was party to another controversy, this time in a European tie between Ajax (of Amsterdam) and Real Madrid. Cruising to a 4-0 victory, Real had two players sent off in the last few minutes in somewhat comedy fashion.
It turns out these two players, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos, were a yellow card from suspension. Real, with a win last night, qualified with a game to spare for the knock-out stages of the Champions League – the premier European football competition. Thus instead of risking that these players get another yellow in their next competitive match in the competition which would lead to their suspension for the next match, coach Jose Mourinho appears to have instructed both players to get sent off because a sending off leads to a one-game suspension and the slate wiped clean. So the two players miss the meaningless final match against Auxerre and are free to play in the all-important knock-out stages.
This is the kind of managerial genius Mourinho is famed for from his times in charge of Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan. Of course though, UEFA aren’t so happy about it, and are mooting the possibility of taking some action. This would of course be a sad mistake – but UEFA are very good at making such mistakes. The Guardian has written that UEFA would be better placed to ignore the incident. As they say: It’s a ridiculous loophole created by UEFA’s own disciplinary system, and it’s hardly the worst example of poor sportsmanship ever witnessed in football or elsewhere.
It neatly epitomises the sometimes perverse incentives that institutional structures set in place and so the response, if any, should not be to create more rules on top of the existing seemingly ill-conceived rules. The Guardian has some suggestions, such as making dead rubbers meaningless for cards, or doubling cards up if they are spotted to be deliberately induced. These though seem to work within the existing flawed system. Why not make the disciplinary system progressive in the sense that the slate isn’t wiped clean if a player gets a red card – why reward bad behaviour in such a way?
April 19, 2010
Here in England there’s a lot of introspection because for the first time for many years (2003?), no English teams have made the Champions League Semi Finals. There’s the usual doom and gloom articles written by sports writers who for the sake of selling a good article forget that football is a highly uncertain game, and unexpected results happen with more frequency than in other sports. The Guardian compares the Premiership in England with the Bundesliga in Germany and takes this tone. Apparently 41,000 dwarfs 36,000, to give some feel for the tone injected into the article.
I don’t doubt there are plenty of great things about the Bundesliga (cheap tickets sounds great!), but I can’t see a) how the Bundesliga model could be adopted any time soon in England, and b) whether it would actually be wanted. Premiership fans have been groomed on European success, yet limiting the ability of the Premiership to compete on the European stage via financial restrictions would do just that. Manchester United’s anti-Glaser (against their US owners) movement would appear to suggests fans want more involvement. But I suspect it’s one of those situations where fans expect that via more supporter involvement (and hence less external financial backing), somehow the current level of quality on the football pitch can be maintained. I’m not so sure…
February 15, 2010
After toying (was it really two years ago?) with the idea of a 39th game in Asia, the Premier League in England appears to have come up with a possibly quite useful suggestion for shaking things up and making them a little bit more interesting: Play-offs for the fourth Champions League spot that England gets.
The teams finishing 4th to 7th would enter a play-off competition with the winners going into the Champions League, and presumably the runners up heading into the Europe League.
This is apparently a suggestion to break up the dominance of the so-called Big Four in England – Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool – who have dominated the last decade in English football.
I have to admit, it wouldn’t be my suggestion for shaking up things at the top – that would be to limit squad sizes. It would seem to me that such a proposal wouldn’t necessarily affect Man United and Chelsea, who are the really dominant sides at the top of the Premiership, and instead affect Arsenal and Liverpool, who have more usually taken up 3rd and 4th in the top four over the years.
It would also take things away from something I think should be cherished about European football versus North American sports – the league system, and its ascendency in determining team quality, rather than one-off big games like the Superbowl and play-off finals, where often anything can (and does) happen. But then, the latter is entertaining, and if Manchester United keeps winning the Premiership every season, things will get pretty boring. I guess some change is better than no change…