Born in the sooty industrial towns of England, football is quintessentially working-class in its nature. It’s the people’s game, played around the world by people of all colours, cultures and creeds.
Money forms no barrier to entry; a ball of some sorts is the only true requirement for a spontaneous game to kick off. From dusty favela streets in Brazil to pristine, modern pitches of European football academies, these young footballers all devote their time to the very same game.
Neither their backgrounds, nor their circumstances or privileges, can prevent their access to, or love for, the beautiful game.
Opportunity may come more openly for those in a financially strong position, able to spend money on the latest, flashy equipment and technology, but all the material possessions in the world do not change football’s very core essence. Still, that magic which makes the sport so revered worldwide remains the same.
Or at least; it has always been that way, up until this most modern era.
Increasingly, it seems as if the very roots of football are being torn up and replaced. Money increasingly holds a vice-like grip on the upper echelons of the sport, and it seems is finally beginning to exert that influence to shift the very direction of the game going forwards.
The financial stranglehold is ever-tightening, shifting and shaping the modern game into something increasingly new and mutated.
New isn’t always bad; innovation is part of the backbone of society. Yet, the motives behind football’s recent revolution – the cogs churning these wheels of innovation – have not sport’s best interests at heart, but rather their own financial gains. Greed and gluttony is beginning to break apart the romanticism of the beautiful game.
Part of the very charm of football was its accessibility. It’s simplicity was it’s strength. No matter the odds, no outcome was ever a foregone conclusion once the two sides stepped out onto that hallowed turf.
Knowing that the every-man’s team was never further than some good luck away from a memorable victory is part of the reason the sport is so-beloved world round. Those moments of overcoming insurmountable odds – achieving the most unexpected of victories – are the memories that remain with football supporters for life, the raw emotion inherently indescribable.
Now, it seems as if those moments are being slowly, systematically eradicated from football. In the interest of protecting the commercial motivations of the most financially-dominant sides, the beautiful game is watching itself become more robotic; more mechanical in nature.
Luck isn’t a factor conducive to good, predictable financial practice, and so is being siphoned from the game – at the behest of supporters, who’s very love for the game hinges on this element of good fortune.
Through the introduction of a number of technologies into the top competitions around the world, football has shifted away from the simple pick-up-and-go game that we all fell in love with as kids.
Some innovations have been welcomed, with clear benefits, succinct delivery methods and no detrimental impact to the game.
Medical, physiotherapy and training technology has allowed players to become healthier, avoid injuries and improve recovery times while the likes of goal-line technology have provided the sport easy, painless wins on the field.
Other developments, however, have not had such a welcome impact on the modern game. The video assistant referee (VAR) system is arguably the most egregious case of the money-hungry modern voices in football have flexed their proverbial muscle.
Suddenly, football matches are being decided by decisions that rely on actions so insignificant they should have no factor in the outcome of the game. With the ability to pause, slow down replays and hone in on the imperceptible, VAR can successfully roboticise football.
With so much money at stake in the modern game, it might make commercial sense to seek to remove these errors from the game. But football needs that flexibility, that small grey area – whether you call it good fortune or human error – where the best players, and the greatest moments, often live and exploit.
Remove that and you starve supporters of the very reason they come to watch football; the atmosphere, the passion. Fans erupting into delirium at a last-gasp winner, limbs flailing in reckless abandonment – its football’s iconic image – and yet now it is a scene looking set to become extinct.
That’s just not football. It isn’t what the game is supposed to be about. We cannot allow football to lose the very passion which makes it great.