The international break has arrived just when it was most needed. The past few weeks of football have provided constant entertainment, leaving us needing to catch our collective breath before competitions conclude. Champions League comebacks, FA Cup surprises, League Cup non-substitutions, last-minute Premier League goals and fans assaulting players – there has been a bit of everything lately.
We have been spoilt by the high-quality entertainment regularly on show, coming at us pretty much every day of the week. Despite all the great football taking place, it seems that little by little, the game itself is not being discussed, debated or even shown on highlights programmes as much as it should be. We seem to be trapped in some kind of purgatory, where plans to improve the laws that govern the beautiful game have been introduced but not quite fully implemented, or even understood.
Head into a pub after any match and you will hear people debating a manager’s substitutions, tactics, the form of a certain player and indeed the referee’s performance too. Think back to Manchester United’s recent victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League. United’s impressive win with a severely weakened team was overshadowed by the interpretation of a new law surrounding what does and doesn’t constitute handball. Minutes seemed like hours while the referee and pundits pored over replays in super-slow motion to decide if a stray arm of a player with his back turned to the ball was indeed a penalty to decide the tie.
Then again, last weekend, Swansea City put in a performance that should have knocked Manchester City out of the FA Cup. Swansea scored a contender for goal of the season yet the debate surrounding this game was the FA’s insistence that only Premier League stadiums will use VAR in the FA Cup this season. It is remarkably foolish and inconsistent that the result of one game will ultimately vary depending on which team hosts the match. What is even more foolish is that podcasts, fans and pundits are all focusing on VAR and its shortcomings in this year’s competition.
We are fortunate to live in a great era of football. The two greatest players of all-time are still at the peak of their powers and live sport is on television almost 24/7. We need to enjoy football for the fine spectacle that it truly is, not waste our time talking about the minutiae of the latest handball law or debating whether someone with half a toe offside is ‘offside enough’ for it to be given.
The inane conversation has now gone so far that if this were all a Black Mirror episode or indeed a ploy by Russian disruptors it would not surprise me at all. “Let’s push them to their limit, how much nonsense about tiny details can their brains take before they explode?” I can hear them say. We must enjoy the footballing show and stop bickering over millimetres and laws as though they truly have any importance.