So it’s the World Cup, where third-world nations and Euro-trash get to rejoice at their superiority, in at least one realm, over America (and the politically-correct media like the New York Times and ESPN get to lament how uncouth Americans are for not getting with the program, at least until immigration takes its toll and we come to cherish mamacita and fútball and empañadas). Fine, let ’em have their diversion. We loathe soccer:
1. It is utterly corrupt at every level, from selection of the World Cup hosts to officiating in matches to recruiting players. This is not surprising when you give huge sums of money to unaccountable bureaucracies staffed by hacks, Eurocrats, and self-styled dealmakers with third-world values. We are certain that every purchasing and hiring decision make by FIFA and national organizations is completely corrupt. In fact, the entire enterprise is an embodiment of a third-world mentality. One has to love how Sepp Blatter, the blowhard head of FIFA whose tone deafness makes Hillary Clinton seem like Zubin Mehta, talks about how he wants to be re-elected so that he can clean up the corruption in the organization. Memo to Sepp: you’ve been at the helm for 16 years.
Countries and individuals that can ill afford it spend way too many intellectual and economic resources pursuing soccer. No doubt productivity will be even lower in Brazil during the World Cup than it normally is (to the extent that that’s even possible), as rabid followers care more about the game than about feeding their families. Dictatorships like Russia squander national wealth just for the ego-boost of hosting the tournament. Rich third-world countries like Qatar import players from war-torn countries and give them passports to play on the national team. Yet, amusingly, these teams still lose, because they fail to grasp that to build a culture of success requires strategic thinking, long-term planning, and patience—virtues that such countries are incapable of adopting—by building an infrastructure to identify and cultivate talent from a young age. (We suppose it’s reassuring that soccer victory is one outcome for which money cannot buy quick-fix success.)
Of course, all of these follies parallel those of the “Olympic movement.”
2. It inspires thuggery. “Soccer hooligan” is a redundancy. If only fans would devote as much energy to intellectual pursuits—or to going to work—as they do to following their teams at the pub and the stadium, world GDP would be higher. Crazed fans murder players who make mistakes. Riots at and after games ensnare innocent bystanders. Players shamelessly and comically “flop,” and get away with it, as an epidemic. The cringe induced by a grown man diving to the ground, clutching some body part and wailing in faux pain, then popping his head up to see if a penalty was called if he is brushed in the slightest by an opposing player is enough reason to turn the TV off right away. Players adopt the same banal celebration every time they score: running wild, with a grin like a five-year-old who just stuck his face into a huge bowl of chocolate pudding. We prefer the advice from our little-league coach: Act like you’ve been there before.
It’s amusing—though parallel to the priorities of universities, government agencies, and similar politically-correct bureaucracies—that FIFA cares more about fans chanting “racist” slogans than about corruption. They even punish national teams or federations for their fans’ words, as if they are responsible. It’s a convenient distraction from the real rot wrought by FIFA.
3. The formats are stupid. In the World Cup and Olympics, the first round is round-robin (three games per team) and the successive rounds of the tournament are single-elimination. This is contrary to every other sport, in which a team has to win the same number or more games in later rounds (e.g., baseball, in which the first wild-card game is single-elimination, then the division series is best-of-five, then the league championship and world series are best-of-seven). Soccer’s format makes less sense because a good team is less likely to lose in a fluke in a longer series, and you’d think that you would want your better teams to battle it out in a more legitimate test of superiority. Not to mention that it would seem preferable to have more games when the quality of play is higher and when the teams at that stage have earned it. (As an analogy, we have an infinitely higher probability of defeating Phil Mickelson in a single-hole golf match than in an 18-hole round.)
Many national and international series are best-of-two. Who ever heard of such a thing? The series invariably go to some absurd tiebreaker, like whichever team has the most natural-born citizens wins (actually, that would be a good one).
It’s the only sport in which the clock moves forward, not backward. Instead of the obvious logic of stopping it when there’s a break in the action, they keep it running and then add an arbitrary, and approximate, amount of time at the end to make up for the delays. Meanwhile, the team that’s ahead stalls for time. One never really knows how long the game will go. And there seems to be no mechanism to add more time in a second instance if time during the first extension is squandered.
When a game cannot end in a tie, such as an elimination game, each team gets a number of “shootout” kicks against solely the goalie. This is also a silly way to end a game; 75% of such kicks are successful, so—speaking of flukes—the winner is basically the beneficiary of random chance. Our solution would be to just keep playing until someone scores; perhaps remove one player from each team every 15 minutes.
They use stupidly ambiguous, unique, and highfalutin terms like “pitch” (for field); “match” (for game); “fixture” (for future game); “friendly,” which is supposed to be an adjective not a noun (for exhibition game), etc. ESPN.com seems to be trying too hard in calling the standings “tables.” (ESPN, an American site, even writes its World Cup recaps in pretentious British English, with a healthy dose of overwrought floridity.)
4. It’s boring. Most “strategy” seems to involve keeping the ball away from the other team and hoping for a miracle goal, many of which come by own goals. Almost every game seems to end 0-0 or 1-0. The over/under on number of goals scored is two for every single game. (Betting the over and paying referees to gift goal opportunities is how fixers usually succeed—it would be simple to obviate this process by making it impossible to know in advance who the referees will be for a given game, but they don’t bother). When one points out the obvious tedium of the game, a self-righteous fan will inevitably respond that “you just don’t understand it.” These same pretentious lemmings call it “the beautiful game”; we prefer Steve Czaban’s moniker: “the dreadful game.”
But it’s true that we don’t understand soccer. We actually don’t want to. We don’t understand why coaches never replace a player with a yellow card (if he gets a second yellow card, then the team has to play short-handed for the rest of the game and the player has to sit out the next game), or why they never replace the goalie with a striker when they’re down 1-0 at the end, or why they never seem to play with any urgency even when they’re behind. We don’t understand why, after the goalie gets possession after a stopped goal attempt, he usually launches the ball three-quarters of the way down the field—giving his team a 50/50 chance of picking it up—instead of dumping it off to one of his own defenders and ensuring that his team keeps possession.
Soccer is an animalistic affair. The game’s premise is to nullify one of the key evolutionary advantages—manual dexterity derived from bipedalism—that separates humans from other land mammals. Feral thug Luis Suarez exemplifies how the game turns men into lower animals by repeatedly biting his opponents.
Very few states of affairs console us about United States culture to a greater extent than do our poor soccer results and indifference about the game.