Bigger, faster. But better?
PUBLISHED: 12:10 08 March 2006 | UPDATED: 09:15 14 September 2010
There was an entertaining debate to be had at Colney last week. It came in response to a simple enough question - where does anyone see professional football being in, say, 15 years' time? What will the game look like in 2020? Putting aside the nigh-on inevitability of some sort of European super league structure - and all with a world club championship providing the equivalent of today's Champions League - the issue up for discussion was much more about what the game would actually look like.
Championship Chat with Rick Waghorn
There was an entertaining debate to be had at Colney last week. It came in response to a simple enough question - where does anyone see professional football being in, say, 15 years' time? What will the game look like in 2020?
Putting aside the nigh-on inevitability of some sort of European super league structure - and all with a world club championship providing the equivalent of today's Champions League - the issue up for discussion was much more about what the game would actually look like.
Give yourself a break from the endless “Worthy out! Worthy in!” tennis match and ponder what the world is actually coming to - or rather the football bit.
Because, in common with every other professional sport, the athletes who play football at the top level are becoming fitter, stronger, bigger and more powerful.
The latest generation of golfers - aided and abetted by technological improvements to both ball and club - are driving a golf ball further than ever before. Now footballers - aided and abetted by technological improvements to both ball and boot - are driving a football further and harder than ever before.
Tennis is the same - serves are becoming faster and faster, rallies shorter and shorter. Now in the case of golf, the sport has compensated for the extra yardage those who follow Tiger Woods will achieve by lengthening the courses - once par five, 500-yard holes are now par fours, for example.
In football, of course, that is not so easy. Either you have to rebuild every stadium in the world to fit a bigger pitch or else you have to accept that with a ball now driven with that extra pace and power, the game is ever more going to resemble a pin-ball machine as the ball pings this way and that with ever-increasing speed.
Already certain examples can be seen. Goalkeepers - now faced with a ball specifically designed to swerve, dip and “fly” through the air - are routinely taught to bat it away with their big, padded gloves. Actually attempting to catch a ball as it flies towards you is now discouraged. You either palm it one way or push it another. Trying to catch the thing is just so 80s.
As for the outfield players, they are increasingly out of the same mould - the same 12-stone power mould that has seen the average weight of both Rugby League and Rugby Union players balloon in recent years.
Now there would be an interesting exercise - to compare the average weight of a Premier League player at the competition's inception at the start of the 1992-93 season to that of the average player lining up to start the 2006-2007 season in five months' time. I'd bet a small fortune that it has increased by several pounds. You look at someone like Joe Cole and he's no longer this skinny little kid out of West Ham. He's muscled up and powered up - he has the upper leg strength of a rugby scrum-half.
And just as players' average weights have increased, I'd bet they're taller too. That's the one thing that all too often goes unnoticed with the genius that is Thierry Henry - he's tall. He towered over Craig Fleming last season, as do all those Arsenal boys. They're a big team.
What is interesting for those of you who can lift your heads up and look slightly beyond this Saturday's trip to Elland Road is where - in the fullness of time - that may lead both the game itself and, indeed, Norwich City Football Club. After all, the kids now entering the club's Academy at the age of eight and nine will be the ones the Canaries are leaning on by 2020. They're the ones who will be coming into their City prime at 23 and 24 years old.
And it's hard to escape from the conclusion that they will need to be big - 6ft 2in, potentially 13 stone and be able to go box-to-box for 90 minutes while barely breaking sweat.
On the basis of the pitch staying the same size to avoid Wembley having to get the builders back in, how about football following rugby's lead and switching to a seven-a-side code? Why not give players greater time and space to concentrate on such dying arts as passing the ball?
What's the biggest gripe of Chelsea fans as they march relentlessly towards back-to-back titles? That the “Special One” has taken all the fun and flair from Stamford Bridge. Would, for example, Gianfranco Zola fit the Mourinho mould? Likewise, what is Sam Allardyce up to at the Reebok Stadium? Creating this big, strong winning machine that, on occasion, appears to have adopted brute physicality as the best way forward?
That's one thing to be wary of in the whole “We're not playing like Brazil . . .” debate that fuels the arguments against Worthington. Who is? Chelsea? Arsenal do - against Real Madrid. They then get roundly battered playing like Brazil against Bolton and Blackburn.
Playing a passing game is lovely to watch and, for a generation brought up watching the Canaries play the Bond and Walker way, that's the way many fans want to see them set out their stall. But would Jose Mourinho give Ian Crook the time of day? Would Big Sam put Crook into the heart of his midfield and let him sit there and pull the strings? Watch him swig on a can of flat coke and puff the odd Marlboro'? The answer, alas, is no.
For those who yearn for the good old days where the ball was stroked and gently caressed around the park, times are changing. By 2020, football will be the “Beautiful Game” no longer. It will be big and brutal. Ugly? You bet.
And which country is the big emerging force of world football? Australia. And when have they ever done anything but being big and brutal?
FANCY A SPIN AROUND THE SAME OLD CIRCLE?
I know it's the one and only topic people want to talk about, but in all honesty, I'm tired of talking about it.
Saturday's 2-1 victory over Stoke City did precious little to alter the current bitter impasse that separates the Norwich City board in their defence of Nigel Worthington and sections of the club's supporters in their ongoing pursuit of Worthington's head.
We go round in the same old circles week in, week out, when essentially there's nothing new to add to the debate.
Norwich City Independent Supporters' Association have had their meeting. It was well attended. They've got a set or proposals which - as far as I'm aware - they will now put to representatives of the club next Monday.
But as it's pretty unlikely the club will turn round and say “You know, what, you've got a point there . . .”, we'll be going round in the same old circles again next week.
The result - or rather the performance - at Elland Road on Saturday will either add more fuel to the fire or douse some of the protesters' ardour. Then it's banners out again for the Sheffield United game at Carrow Road the following weekend where it would be nice just to lay all the current difficulties aside and, together, put another big dent in Neil Warnock's promotion plans.
Alas, the chance of Norwich City being back “together” again in 10 days time is, I would suggest, virtually nil. Too many people - for better or worse - have made their minds up. Few people are about to budge.