Sport As I think we can all agree, mostly because it's a fact, I know nothing about football. But I do seem to spend some time in the back of taxis where radios tend to be tuned to either commentaries of live games or discussions about the sport which means that I also seem to spend a lot of time talking about this sport I know nothing about.
This evening, during Liverpool one-all draw with ... Newcastle United, the taxi driver was becoming increasingly huffy as his team failed to achieve, what sounded like, any great standard of football. At one point he growled and turned the sound down, a sure sign, as I've observed that things weren't going his way.
He began criticising some player or other and how much players cost and that Liverpool just aren't any good this season and asked me why Liverpool just weren't very good this season. I said I didn't know, which is true, but largely because I didn't even know, until I just looked it up, just how badly Liverpool have been playing this year.
Here's what I did say, and I'd be interested to know what people who do know something about football think. I should add that since the following is an outsiders view based on taxi listening, sitting through sports headline and whatever else is in the air in Liverpool where you can't get away from it, that any omissions are due to my ignorance.
Football is broken.
Liverpool especially for the purposes of this argument.
As I said to the taxi driver, the problem with most teams is that they have star players, iconic players, who've been with the club for so long they're like furniture. So you have a figure like Steven Gerard who's become a Liverpool icon and who the club and fans can't imagine their team doing without.
The problem then is that the club and its manager basically spend their time plugging the gaps in the team behind these strikers hoping against hope that they'll be able to pass the ball to them. But there's a hierarchy, different levels of competence and also presumably a certain element of superiority. But rarely do they work as a team.
This doesn't seem like a good way to build a team. Plus there's the money factor, the salaries of all these players, the money paid in transfer windows, sponsorship, endorsements, advertising, broadcast rights, people outside the clubs with vested interests in what goes on within club, controlling to some degree, the bullshit which has nothing to do with the game.
Now, here's what I don't understand.
Such things can't have escaped anyone else's notice. People know this, especially football managers, club owners and fans who do know something about football. But it's become so engrained as to how these things are, the status quo, how things must be, that such finance and politics have become as much a part of the drama of the game as the game itself.
That's not sport. It's soap opera. And people are turning up every Saturday, paying huge ticket prices to watch the tip of a huge iceberg. To an extent I imagine, if you are a fan and follow the game, the politics, the finance, the gossip, the match itself could at times seem as exciting as the non-interactive highlights packages on the Football Manager computer game.
Why? Why put up with this? Partly I expect because it's fun. It gives people something to talk about, fills the papers, fills sports slots on television, that stuff. I'm biased. I think that the national game takes up too much of the national time and money which could be spent doing more interesting things. But I also know it gives purpose to many people.
Even though it's broken.
Here's my solution.
Dump the team. Sell all of your players. Then hire a whole new team of players who're just finishing in youth squads, who're essentially all graduating to a senior team at the same time, no experience but bags of talent and then work them and keep them, with an equally talented but less experienced in seniors manager until they start winning matches.
This won't be easy. There are contracts and whatnot, the business of the game. There will have to be a lot of trust from backers and vested interests about this "long game" that for the first few seasons there won't be many wins if any. The team may even be relegated. Not good if you're trying to attract some decent sponsors.
Plus I don't know how this works in terms of the transfer window which seems to happen while the various competitions are going on. I am confused on that point. The world of football seems to work like a self perpetuating organic machine with diseases that feed off themselves.
Yet, I can't imagine that a youthful team, all beginning at the same time with similar experiences, working together to get better, all very Hollywood sport film, probably Moneyball, with a strong team ethic could play much worse than the really expensive players for whom the game has become just a job.
All it takes is for one of the clubs, possibly Liverpool, to give it a try, ask for the trust of the fans and everyone else that what you're doing is building not just a better team that everyone can get behind but also a better sport, one in which the players are passionate about the game more than anything else.
The taxi driver told me something else which partially inspired this. He told me he is the manager of an under-nine's team. He told me that team has only been playing together for four months but are already at the top of their given league and winning matches with five goals.
He described the tactics but also how they'd bonded, how seriously they are taking the endeavour how much training they're doing both with that and other squads, doing athletics. He seemed genuinely proud of his team and their accomplishments, even more so than his beloved Liverpool.
Wouldn't it be great if he could be as proud of Liverpool too?