It seems odd for an article to centre on the decline of a fashion in a sport that has become synonymous with the phrase “the beautiful game.” When Stuart Hall coined the phrase he was arguably commentating in a time when the game was different in so many ways from the modern equivalent. Fitness was of a standard that bears stark comparison with the 21st century, support of the game itself was less international and commercial, while the balance of power was still focused upon South America in a very different footballing world.
At the essence of the game itself, there have always been a variety of ways in which teams can chase a win. Possession orientated tactics have typically been the staple hold of Italian football, which bears little resemblance to the hectic and wild energy of the English Premier League. However, reoccurring through all styles of play there lies certain elements; be it spectacular 50 yard passes/crosses/shots, tricky and ingenious touches, a sublime piece of skill or a clever turn of pace. These fundamentals have often shaped the definition and use of the phrase “attractive football”.
The lessening impact of entertainment in modern football is largely due to the focus on getting results. There is an estimated difference in £750,000 between each position in the finishing table of the Premier League, doubling for every place up a club achieves. To some clubs it makes sense to gain a 1 or 2 goal lead, and then sit back with more men behind the ball, especially in a cup game such as the Champions League in which away goals can be fatal.
Far from being limited to national leagues, the heavyweights of international football have gone for more substance over style. Brazil under the tenure of Mano Menezes and even his predecessor Dunga have both received criticism for abandoning the “joga bonito” or “total football” approach to their play, instead favouring the more dependable and the more rounded players at Brazil’s disposal. However, in the past couple of Brazil performances, the cutting edge of Kaka’s passing or skill on a par with Ronaldinho has been absent, bar one or two exceptions. Even a country such as Argentina with the talents of Messi, Banega, Di Maria and Pastore fail to create the guilt edged passing movements and skill they are more than capable of.
Then again, what is “attractive football” but a set of subjective terms? To some fans, securing a win is all that matters. The surge in popularity of the 4-2-3-1 formation suggests a more cautious approach to build up play, with less emphasis on scoring goals at the expense of conceding them. Even teams such as Stoke have gained credit from some ends of the football spectrum for their alternative approach.
What are your thoughts on attractive football? Are more teams playing for a result than for entertainment?