Disclaimer: I enjoy playing soccer. I'm not terribly good at ball skills, but I do understand positioning and can play solid defense. I even played in an amateur league a couple of years and was named most improved player the year we went to the finals. It's a lot of fun, and with the right group, I even try some fancy tricks once in a while. I don't hate soccer; I just hate spectating professional soccer.
I hate watching professional soccer. I think it is about the worst spectator sport, maybe a little behind baseball. No wonder the fans have complicated chants and songs, to distract themselves from the farce of a "beautiful" game. If I enjoy playing the sport, why can't I enjoy watching it? I am glad you asked.
First and foremost, I recently heard the World Cup referred to as the World Grass-Diving Championship. I find that most apt. I find it disgusting that so much of the "sport" is play-acting to draw fouls. Theoretically, players can get carded for diving, but I have only ever seen that happen once. I much prefer hockey, where players regularly get penalties if they embellish. The diving, flopping, and clutching of
pearls body parts detracts from what is supposed to be a beautiful game. I love to see someone keep going after a foul; I've rarely seen a supposed professional keep fighting, instead relying on the referee's whistle.
Why do players dive so often? Well, that free kick is increasingly important. As many as 42% of goals are scored off of set pieces. So it's better to stop the game and set up a specific try, rather than continue play. While that can be exciting, it's not fluid and it's rarely something you see any player of any skill level do in the park. In the games I've played in several different states and a couple of countries, I've rarely seen a foul called in a pick-up game (unlike basketball).
Alright, so maybe that's not so bad, but it's only approaching why I despise watching. All of these dives and embellishments and pretty much every conflict results in an immediate appeal to the sole authority - the referee. Referees have a thankless job, but giving one guy so much control over a game, expecting him to see everything and call everything correctly, is crazy. Various other sports have numerous officials working together and instant replay. Why does soccer resist technology and insist on one guy. Oh, the linesmen are supposed to help out, but I have seen one linesman make a call (other than offsides) this World Cup. Nope, it's all on one guy, and each official seems to call games to his own tune. Consistency often appears lacking. Why does a French player get to wrap his arms around a Nigerian and nearly tackle him not draw a whistle, but a ghostly Mexican passage "earn" a penalty kick?
Let's mention the linesmen for a moment. What are the rules for offsides? Sure, I know the technical definition, but sometimes I really question what level is. I saw the guy's nose - he's offsides. Sometimes I think the linesmen zone out a little and sometimes I think they are so desperate to do something they wave their little flag prematurely. When I played in a league, I learned to ask the linesmen what they considered offsides. However, from watching the games, I wouldn't necessarily be able to figure out that call. Again, consistency is a major bugaboo. If there is technology available for positioning the ball, why not technology to tell whether players are offsides? Not that FIFA would ever allow it...
Speaking of FIFA, they make the NCAA look like amateurs (see what I did there?). Is there a more corrupt, more insular, more sinister sporting organization? I am hard-pressed to think of one. Fair play, only for the athletes (sort of).
Let's tackle an aspect of soccer that I find particularly atrocious. I mentioned I cannot stand diving, but what happens when the play gets really rough? How the players handle themselves... besides falling down? When there is a conflict, there is usually maybe a little posturing, maybe chest-to-chest, or heaven forfend what is generously termed a headbutt. Perhaps the most infamous event of this World Cup was Suarez' bite. How did the 'victims' react? Immediately they turn toward
God the referee and plead for assistance. To Chiellini's credit, it looks like he threw an elbow, but that also looks like an unplanned reaction to a bizarre assault. Notice how he runs toward the official, trying to show his back, and how another Uruguay player tries to pull his shirt back over his shoulder. I really do not like the message that only the official can solve any dispute. In pretty much any other sport, dirty play like this would be self-correcting. That is, the goon squad would send a message. When I played in an amateur league, one guy on an opposing team had a nasty habit of slamming into our players. At first, I looked to the ref. Then I warned the player he had better stop. When he didn't, I told his team captain and other teammates they had better clam him down or get him off the field or I was going to hurt him. They tried, but the guy apparently thought he should be pro. I joked I was just a hockey goon playing soccer, and on this day, I was one. Every time he came down the field, I roughed him up. Sometimes it was 'incidental contact' that sent him flying, sometimes it was an elbow in a tender spot, and once it was a jab to the jewels. I was never called for a foul and the dumbass kept hitting my teammates, so I kept increasing my response. Eventually his team took him out of the game, realizing that someone (likely him) was going to get hurt. But that sort of thins simply does not happen in professional soccer. I'm almost convinced that every action is acting, since the players are so conditioned to not brawling. Even in the rare times when I have seen a little tussle, it's usually pretend headbutts, some minor shoving, and a lot of neglecting the arms and hands; rarely do you see any punches. I guess the fighting is reserved purely for the fans. Please don't get me wrong; I don't want to see hockey fights in soccer. I do appreciate hard play. Maybe these players are really being professional. however, it often looks to me more like conditioning rather than a true aversion to fighting. If the appeal to authority is failing, maybe sometimes one needs to send a message to restore focus.
There's more I don't like. For all the paucity of scoring, when a player does get a goal, they invariably start celebrating like mad. Great; they should, but I cannot ever recall seeing one player after scoring congratulate someone else who set him up with a beautiful assist. Does soccer even track assists? No. It's only the scorer that counts, which doesn't seem so team-oriented to me. Even the divas of the NBA acknowledge truly good set-ups, but the only superstars in soccer are scorers. So everyone wants to score, and very few want to pass. I find it frustrating to watch ball after ball sail wide and over. How can such top-ranked heroes of the sport consistently foot the ball bizarrely off target? As bad as I am as an amateur, I sometimes think my accuracy is at least equal (though my power is far less). Gunning for the goal on every touch breeds divas who have to have the ball. And of course, the scorers get the big check too, reinforcing their importance. Something about that just rankles me. It bugs me on the playground too, but usually the players there are self-aware enough not to gun every touch, and if they aren't, they stop getting the ball. And there's no contract or coach to complain to.
Finally, there seems to be a lot of bias in soccer. How many different teams have won a World Cup? Do the calls tend to favor those seen as elite? How much does racism influence each match? As bad as racism might be in America, (perhaps because the U.S. is a melting pot) you don't see fans chucking bananas on the field. I thought I remembered that happening in a hockey game, and it did... but in Canada. As "just" and "fair" as FIFA claims to want soccer to be, there seems to be a huge blind spot (or quite a bit of hypocrisy). Sometimes it feels like FIFA is the ultimate conservative organization where every team has its specific pecking order and occasionally a few interlopers can move up a few rungs, but the traditional powers must stay on top.
So what do we have? A collection of divas who all want to be covered in individual glory who fold and fall in agony at the slightest breeze and are overseen by one guy with all the power and no oversight. The game has become a farce of theatrical histrionics and so much stopping and starting as to make it approach U.S. football (okay, not really). The players often seem more interested in convincing the referee to bend the game their way than in actually doing cool things with the ball. I just find that very hard to watch. I wish I could like it, but hey, I have better things to do... like maybe even go play.