Is the primary role of football to entertain the fans?

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Written by Liam Bryan

Since the invention of football in 1869, the beautiful game has exponentially grown into a high-speed, aggressive sport with players constantly portraying their talents on the pitch in the 21st Century. Additionally with society in the modern day regularly evolving, the existence of football for many can differ with some fans primarily wanting entertainment whilst others are focused on results. After speaking to Brian Little’s Ghostwriter and Aston Villa fan Simon Goodyear, I began to realise the contrasting opinions that we have as spectators of this sport.

Instantly, I began to question the game that we adore, should football entertain fans or should results be the primary objective?

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Speaking to Simon, he immediately disagreed with the idea that football should primarily entertain fans. He continued to argue that the fate of football clubs depends on results and that entertainment is a by-product of gaining a positive result. This viewpoint can be supported by many instances involving Aston Villa in the past, for example think back to the club losing to Fulham during the Championship Play-Off Final in 2018. The heartache, the pain I personally felt as a Villa fan leaving Wembley that day was unbearable, arguably one of the worst and most disappointing days of my life. Steve Bruce’s side were incredibly underwhelming against the Cottagers during that occasion as Villa struggled to dominate possession and were unbelievably inefficient offensively, especially during the second half.

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During the latter stages of Bruce’s time at the club as well as during his tenure at Newcastle United now, he has portrayed a negative mindset on the pitch with his teams favouring sitting back, soaking up pressure and potentially sneaking a goal on the counter attack. These tactics are what prevented Aston Villa from securing a win at Wembley in 2018, with Bruce focusing so much on plan A that when he had to adapt his style of play against Fulham, his players were not as efficient offensively as they could have been. Despite these tactics being efficient on some occasions, it provides an uninteresting fixture for fans which if repeated can create a poisonous divide between the club and the fanbase.

Football supporters are the heartbeat of any club, the wind beneath a team’s wings and should always be prioritised. With the availability of watching sports online becoming harder due to more subscriptions to pay for from Amazon to Sky Sports, football fans should be entertained in some manner due to the money they invest in watching their team’s online. With the sport itself having the ability to radiate positivity, the key to creating a positive environment at any professional football club amongst the fanbase and players is entertaining football.

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Throughout our lives we have to face results. Whether that is for your school exams or a recent coronavirus test, the anticipation or frustration that comes with waiting for results can be extremely uncomfortable. Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” To achieve results within football, tactics as well as style of play need to be prioritised to gain results. In order to beat your opponent teams have to be unpredictable, teams have to play off the cuff at times as one-dimensional football can be easily recognised by an opposing team who will simply tactically prevent you from playing. To remember one fact for a test you may use one method, but surely repeating this method for the other 99 pieces of information you need to learn could become tedious and lead to inefficiency in learning, due to pure boredom.

Let’s focus on Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United this season. The Corbridge-born’s one-dimensional tactics have lead to the Magpies constantly flirting with the relegation zone this season, epitomising the impacts of a negative mindset. At the time of writing, Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow is third in the list for most goals conceded as a goalkeeper this season with 34 as well appearing second in the list for most saves this season with 74.

Comparing Newcastle United to Bruce’s former club Aston Villa, goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has only conceded 18 goals this season. Dean Smith has revolutionised the philosophy at Aston Villa over the past season, with his team focusing on a more positive style of play compared to Bruce. The key to Smith’s football philosophy is built round the idea of retaining possession. Once the ball is lost, players scramble to win it back by intensely pressing the opposition, with Smith’s players looking to cut out passing avenues for the opposing team. By playing a 4-3-3 formation with energetic central midfielders, artful wingers on either flank and players that can change formation during a game to oppress the opposition, Villa’s entertaining style of play has consequently secured them a place in the top half of the Premier League at the time of writing. Comparing both Bruce and Smith’s style of play, to achieve success within the modern game you have to embrace some form of unpredictability within your side when attacking yet remaining defensively tenacious. To create a more cohesive unit on and off the pitch, to create a better atmosphere amongst the fans base, to create a better style of play can increase a teams morale and consequently a better chance of gaining results from matches.

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When speaking about entertaining football within the Premier League this season, Leeds United are a team that will immediately come to mind for most fans. Marcelo Bielsa’s side are currently sitting near the middle of the table, mostly prioritising their offensive play rather than remaining resolute defensively. The key to his tactics is the movement, rotations and quick combination play. The players must work hard to move the ball to the free player and create available passing lanes to play forward. Nevertheless by preferring an aggressive pressing style, the Whites tend to concede many goals as their keeper Illan Meslier has conceded the same amount of goals as Karl Darlow this season with 34. The 34 goals conceded may also be down to Bielsa’s strange implementation of a man-orientated defensive system. Cleverly, if each player has a defensive responsibility to mark a specific opponent, you can be sure that there isn’t any confusion as to what your task is. However, the system relies on players being constantly aware of where their respective players are and can lead to opposition players losing their markers and easily finding space in attacking phases. If you are to encourage your players to be constantly aggressive when pressing then fatigue will occur sooner leading to an increased chance of conceding goals.

Leeds United prove to be an interesting example within this debate with it being clear that in order to have entertaining football , as well as results needing to be implemented, mangers need not completely disregard defensive duties and not completely prioritise the attack. Dean Smith is the perfect example of the success of gaining a balance in play, with the manager adopting the defensive partnership of Mings and Konsa alongside Matty Cash and Matthew Targett at full back. Providing an attacking threat as well as a resolute defensive wall, entertaining football is key to creating a positive atmosphere within a club and gaining results. Should football primarily be a form of entertainment to fans? Definitely so!

Published by Callum McFadden

Football CFB founder. Freelance football writer & broadcaster of over 300 interviews with professional players and managers across all levels of football.

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