The Men Who Hate Football

OK, I admit it. I like football.

It’s my favourite game to play and by far and away my favourite game to watch. It’s not always absolutely brilliant – in fact, sometimes it’s crushingly dull – but most of the time there is enough to capture the imagination and keep my eyes glued to the action, even in the most dire of circumstances.

In the 27 years I have been an Arsenal supporter, I have seen us play defensive football and flowing, attacking football and most things in between. But I think I can honestly say that I believe that our style of play has almost always been based on the resources available to us.

When George Graham one-nil’ed his way to the title in ’89, money was tight and who would argue that the finish to that season wasn’t the most exciting in history? Now that we have more disposable income, we are able to pay the best players more money and, as such, are playing in a more flamboyant style.

Since Rupert Murdoch parcelled our top division up into a shiny box and sold it to the people who were already watching it for free, the financial resources of some of the Premier League’s lucky few have gone from large to vast to double vast.

First, Roman Abramovich wandered into the gleaming Toy Shop of English football and sprinkled a few hundred million over perennial failures Chelsea and turned them into World Beaters (almost). Jose Mourinho took one look at the vast pot of money he had been presented with and spent almost all of it on men who were built like outhouses. Cunningly mingled with people who could actually play football, like Arjen Robben, they bought themselves a few titles.

Gradually, they realised that it was the beefy, whinging thugs in the team that were grinding out the results so the flair players bit the dust and Chelsea turned into Bolton Gold. Constant complaints to the referee, long throws, time-wasting and lots of tough challenges seemed to be the solution to winning the league.

Last season, even greater riches were bestowed upon another club which had won precious little in recent times, Manchester City and they set out about deciding how to spend it. Judging by last night, they seem to have chosen precisely the same route to success as Chelsea, despite apparently having enough money to choose any style they like.

Arsenal tried everything they could to try and make the ball go into the opposition’s net. They failed in no small part, because City were not interested in doing anything remotely like that. I have seen hundreds and hundreds of football matches at Highbury in my time, and a lot of them (particularly in the last few years) have been very one-sided. But I don’t ever remember a team failing to have a single shot on target in the entire match – and yet this club has access to an apparently bottomless pit of money.

After the game, Mancini said

I prefer one point and being booed than no points and being applauded off the pitch

which suggests that those were the only two options. I wonder whether, given the £1bn that has apparently been spent, “three points and being applauded off the pitch” could have been a realistic prospect?

Just like Chelsea just over a week ago, City’s millionaire superstars did everything they could to prevent any football from occurring. The only passes which went towards our goal either originated in their own penalty area or were either aimlessly punted into no-mans land.

As the game wore on and it became more and more likely that they would hold out for the nil-nil draw they came for, football seemed to be the last thing on the minds of the rich men. They began to sit down for minutes at a time whenever a foul was committed. Tevez and Jo took longer to walk off the pitch when their number was held aloft in dot-matrix form than it would have taken the stadium announcer to read out the full names and addresses of every single person present. The time wasting reached its staggering crescendo when their physio attempted to take Milner off for some treatment when he was ‘injured’ inside our six-yard box by going diagonally across the pitch rather than simply leaving the pitch behind the goal that he was standing next to.

As long as no football was taking place, they were more than happy, it seemed.

Is it really the case that, given the opportunity to buy almost any player in the world, most managers would automatically choose to buy 11 players who could probably give the All Blacks a decent game rather than some that can pass and move?

If the modern game continues in this vain, maybe we should just give every club access to such funds now and every match can be like this? From an Arsenal fan’s point of view, if every single Premier League game ended 0-0, then at least we’d win the league on alphabetical order.