If football was organised like cricket
Russell Degnan

Like Dileep Premachandran, I've several times suggested that cricket could learn a lot from football, not just in terms of the world cup - the forthcoming edition of which promises to be an utter debacle - but in several other ways: its regional focus, its qualifiers, its willingness to accept mismatches and in the centrality it gives to domestic competition.

But what if it was the opposite, what would football look like then?

  • There would only be ten "full member" sides playing international football: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay. France, Italy, Germany, England, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. But most people would be a bit dubious on Uruguay, who've been crap for years, the Netherlands who were only admitted to stop their players going to Germany and Portugal, who were only admitted to bolster the 'latin' bloc.
  • Almost all football would be organised bilaterally. To make the most money, England, Germany and Brazil would play each other 10 times per year; and the other teams, reluctantly, for a couple of games every 5 years. There would be the occasional, very very reluctant game against teams outside the full members.
  • Players would rarely, if ever turn out for their clubs, who, lacking any star power would attract no support and depend on handouts from their national board. All players would play in their home country, except for a handful of vagabonds, who don't play internationals.
  • Except for a handful of "test" grounds, no stadium would hold more than 20,000 people.
  • There would be a world cup every year, either only amongst the full members, or with the full members (who automatically qualify, and therefore never play anyone outside the top 16), or with a handful of "minnows". Players for the minnows, who only get to play well trained, organised and technically skilled players every four years are routinely thrashed.
  • Teams who wish to attain "full member status" must be able to create a domestic league of the same standard as current full member leagues. That their domestic markets are tiny is irrelevant.
  • Players from outside the full members regularly switch allegiance to full member teams, even during the world cup - and can't go back. (Which admittedly, does happen a little).
  • Two of the world cups are 7-a-side tournaments, which are popular because those games tend to have more goals.
  • The meaningless and increasingly unpopular 90 minute game has been "modified" to attract spectators. For the first 15 minutes of the game, and in a nominated 10 minute "power-play" the off-side rule is modified so a team can only have 3 defenders in their own half. In addition, defenders cannot stand in the line between the ball and goal during free kicks, to encourage spectacular long-range shots.
  • Strikers must be substituted after 15 minutes. Not sure why, actually.
  • Having found a sudden love for domestic 7-a-side football, administrators would organise a league, but play it on 150 consecutive days, instead of in weekly rounds, to maximize the amount of televised games.

Alternatively, England would run the game and internationals would be the exclusive preserve of the home nations. Perhaps their historical indifference to the world cup was more of a blessing than we realise?

Football 19th June, 2010 17:37:39   [#] 


If football was organised like cricket
Some of this is pretty funny. :)

But I think you go a bit too far with the country comparisons sometimes. Football has a HUGE advantage over cricket in that a lot of mismatches at least have some nominal tension in them. If the score is level or there's only a one-goal margin, then it only takes one lucky break to change the... 'provisional result' (not sure what to call it - the result you'd get if the current score becomes the final score). So yes, the hundredth-ranked team in the world is probably going to lose to the twentieth-ranked team, but it's not going to look safe on the scoreboard for a good portion of the match.

A five-day cricket game between a current Test side and a minnow doesn't have this tension. No amount of regional context is going to make 5dec/600 vs 130 & 150 interesting. After a couple of hours, one side has shown its class, and the rest of the match (most of it) is boring.
David Barry  20th June, 2010 12:49:59  

If football was organised like cricket
David, thanks. I don't disagree that I'm going too far, but I'm trying to make a point :-)

A couple of caveats though. One of the things that occurred to me as I wrote this is that the globalisation of football is a relatively new phenomenon. If you go back 30 years, the World Cup was a quite small (16 teams) European/South American competition, with a few other teams who were often badly outplayed. More importantly, the players largely played in their local domestic competitions, so although they played relatively regular international competition (and international club competition) the competition was uneven. Australia is a classic example of this. There is a massive difference in the quality of players we produced in the 80s (basically an NSL team) and the European team we turned out in the mid-90s.

We don't know, but can take a guess at, based on the rapid improvement of European associates with county players, how competitive teams will be if cricket globalises and players from small nations turn out in better standard first class competitions. (On a related note, New Zealand and the West Indies were much much better when their players were playing county cricket, compared to now when they are have to step up from a sub-standard domestic team to a not-always-professional test team).

The second thing is I don't think you're making a fair comparison. A football game that is that mismatched will end 4-0 or worse, so the tension dissipates quite quickly. While I can see that sort of test result wouldn't be held up as a classic, I'm not generally fussed by thrashings. Weak football teams have them as well as encouraging draws or unexpected wins, because they tend to have one or two star players, who, if they fail to perform, sees them overwhelmed. Ireland's performance against Australia last week would probably not be matched if they played again tomorrow.

Thirdly, in a competition setting, a draw or small loss by a minnow might make a difference to the final table, so even if the individual game is boring, the contextual sub-plot might matter.

Finally, one of the things I was very careful to try and achieve in the manifesto (which I'd love your thoughts on, btw), was to not play a lot of uncompetitive fixtures. Football has four or five times as many as what I am proposing, but I don't see how you can grow the game without offering teams opportunities to play top teams, even if it is only once every four years.
Russ  21st June, 2010 18:37:56  

If football was organised like cricket
An appendum to that finally. There is a false premise put about (not by you David) regarding extra teams at world cups, that it lowers the level of competitiveness. But, as you move down the ladder of ability, adjacent teams get more competitive with each other, so the competitiveness of the group stage as a function of the number of teams is relatively constant. I'm sure I could show this mathematically, if I thought about it more.
Russ  22nd June, 2010 11:56:12  

If football was organised like cricket
the manifesto (which I'd love your thoughts on, btw)
That might take a bit of thought - as I recall there were about 20 parts to it!

For the next week most of my spare time is being taken up by writing something for a science poetry competition, but I'll see if I can make some coherent thoughts on your manifesto in July.
David Barry  22nd June, 2010 13:23:40  

If football was organised like cricket
Well, 20 posts, but most of it is discussion.

There are four proposals: a world test championship, regional test championships, a four year cycle for international cricket, and a domestic window for T20.
Russ  23rd June, 2010 17:34:49