Football salaries

When bankers bonuses are the main topic of conversation, I went to a soccer match yesterday afternoon to see what value we get from some of those very well paid footballers. It was a good thing as a cricket fan and cricketer to keep my mind off the collapse of the English team in The West Indies.

I would love to know from football regulars why the following occurred most of the time at the professional match I went to see:

1. The ball was kicked long up the pitch everytime it came into the hands of the goalkeeper or every time a goal kick was awarded. It seemed that more often than not this gave the ball to opposing team who could then launch a counter attack. Why don’t they kick or throw it out to backs or midfielders, to pass it up the pitch?

2. Most of the players huddled together where they thought the ball would land, instead of holding position or trying to get themselves into unmarked territory awaiting a pass. Wouldn’t it make sense to keep some players in less guarded areas and try to pass to them? Wouldn’t that force the opposition to spread out a bit more as well, creating some space?

3. Many of the longer passes were directed through the air, over the heads of other players, but this often meant they missed their targets or ended up on the chests of the opponents players. There was less attempt to change the angles, to run into space or to push through ground level passes to well positioned other players who might be able to move the attack on.

With all the money they were spending on manager and player wages, is it not possible to have a bit more variety and thoughtful enterprise? Or am I missing something, that all these well paid people have worked out long ago?

It was not a good day yesterday for English sports lovers. The only good thing that can be said about the rugby performance was we won, which was more than could be said for the cricketers.


  1. Tony Makara
    February 8, 2009

    It looks like you have been exposed to some very orthodox long-ball football, this is generally played by sides lacking in skill who often try to bypass the midfield through humping it long, in the hope the ball can be picked up by a target man who will bring others into play. Quality teams do not use this approach andwill often play the ball out on the ground from the back. For example the long-ball game won’t be seen in the Champions League, where only the top sides from each national league compete. These teams also have players with a greater understanding of positional play, making the runs into space at the right time, supporting play, set-plays etc.

    Football is a more complex game than most people think and tactics are absolutely crucial. Teams tend to play to their strengths and a side lacking in skill will tend to use a more physical approach, this can be successful in a limited number of games and may even afford a poor side a good cup run, but in a league format the sides with skill, the teams that play on the deck, are the ones that always prosper.

  2. Stuart Fairney
    February 8, 2009

    You perhaps picked a bad day to watch football, in that the conditions would almost certainly have make skillful play more difficult. That said, some teams, do play a physical, long ball game, relying on strength rather than skill and tactical nuances.
    Whilst, I’m not a fan of the team, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal teams over the years, have played a fast-paced, skillful passing game.

    Standards however have improved beyond recognition in terms of physical fitness, skills, professionalism of (some) players and with the use of video/IT aids such as ‘pro-zone’

    What can also make football a tad dull sometimes, is when managers, aware of their own team’s shortcomings, play a deep 4-4-2 in which eight players essentially form up in two lines, look to play “off-side” and maintain a defensive posture which means the eight players stay deep and of necessity, punt the long balls up field for two attackers to chase.

  3. backofanenvelope
    February 8, 2009

    I would like to see the banks launch an enquiry into civil service bonuses.

    And/or MP expenses.

  4. Mike Spilligan
    February 8, 2009

    I wish I could find something intelligent to add to your finance and economics and pieces, which I find both cogent and lucid.
    Here is something I think that I’m on top of. Having been persuaded, as a youngster, to go to soccer matches with friends, I soon found it to be a total waste of time. It wasn’t so much that once one had seen one match then one had seen them all; more that if I could have seen all possible matches I might well think that I’d seen only one.

  5. Adrian Peirson
    February 8, 2009

    The reason is because our footballers may well work as a team but they have few individual skills, unlike many foreign players.
    Our last greatest talent in that was Gaza.
    Therefore as soon as they get the ball, they want to give it to someone else, because if they are challenged they invariably lose posession.

    Maybe they should have had Gaza teaching our players how to keep posession.
    Another Missed opportunity I think.

  6. Robert
    February 8, 2009

    Your analysis of the match tactics displayed a naivety – if, reading between the lines, you’re looking for an invite to the Newcastle job – then you’ve got to be able to discuss the game in more depth – from a past master below

    “You can see the ball go past them, or the man, but you’ll never see both man and ball go past at the same time. So if the ball goes past, the man won’t, or if the man goes past, they’ll take the ball.”
    Ron Atkinson

    You sound a long way from that standard – best stick to politics and cricket.

  7. Gannet
    February 8, 2009

    Up in Liverpool a Bill Shankly had much the same ideas about football. Eventually they put up a statue to him. Have you thought about moving to Newcastle?

  8. Bazman
    February 8, 2009

    Footballers usually have a football for a head.

  9. adam
    February 8, 2009

    Number one doesn’t happen because rolling the ball out puts the defenders under pressure. It should happen a lot more and would do if i had my say. Arsenal are more likely to do this than most teams, and building from the back is more common in Champions League football, though not as much as i would like to see.

    Two and three are much more complicated and probably just the result of that particular match than general football. As far as i can see professional footballers hold their position well. As for three, Long ball is an accepted tactic and works well at all levels, general theory is that the ball has to go forward sooner or later, may as well be sooner. At Champions League level, where very top teams play, there is a lot more build up play. The style varies with the team.

    Also Europe’s leagues have their own unique style of football. Three goals a game is a fair average in Premiership football, in the French League the average is closer to two. Scandinavian and Dutch football have a higher goal per game ratio, not sure what it is off memory, perhaps 3.5

    This is from someone who has played football and more importantly gambled on it.

    1. Julian Boulter
      February 8, 2009

      I think you will find the new West Ham under Zola rarely kick long from either the keeper or the defence – similar to the top teams in the Premiership…case in point being today’s West Ham v Manchester United game where both sides played some excellent passing although two strong defences limited the number of goal scoring opportunities…

  10. David morris
    February 8, 2009

    Players and managers get paid according to what their club and fans think their value is. If they don’t perform they can very quickly get shown the door.

    Rather a shame the same rules don’t apply to many of your fellow MPs.

    February 8, 2009

    As good ‘Essex Boys’ naturally we follow West Ham and always have something to say on the subject of Premier League football!

    What you say about the need to vary tactics and style has merit. The long ball is a constant temptation for flustered players or those receiving insufficient close support from colleagues and generally gives away possession. An infusion of blood from outside the circle of ex-players who manage and coach would be helpful. We note you have been denounced by contributors as an ‘outsider’ but that’s part of the game’s problem.

    Our group watch not only politics but often soccer together. We regularly wonder why, when defences are lined up in their penalty area expecting a blast at goal from a free kick, the attacking side don’t put a ball outside the wall for a fast winger to run onto? Or next time dummy the move and create a gap in the wall? Or use a ‘scissors’ move like rugger players do?

    A bit of lateral thinking and closer detailed analysis of what reguarly DOESN’T pay off would work wonders.

    However it could never justify the obscene salaries clubs now pay! What they underestimate is the franchise enjoyed by the club itself. Most supporters would watch their team without the stars if only they could find a way to work together and break the hold of the players and agents. £130/140,000 a week? Where else could Lampard or Terry find a job to pay them anything approaching that sum PER ANNUM – and as for Michael Owen..even Labour government disability payments aren’t THAT generous!

  12. no one
    February 8, 2009

    what have your comments got to do with what they are paid?

    you will be telling me pete townsend is a poor guitar player and john deacon is a poor bass player and Nick Mason has poor drumming technique?

    I for one love the fact that jimmy page gets paid more than the prime minister, and for what its worth I think he is worth every penny and the differential is justified

    as for footballers, dunno but I wouldnt comment

  13. Harry Haddock
    February 8, 2009

    With all the money they were spending on manager and player wages, is it not possible to have a bit more variety and thoughtful enterprise?

    Erm, rather than the thoughtful and enterprising product that can demand multi-billion TV rights deals we have now, you mean?

  14. Johnny Norfolk
    February 8, 2009

    Dont give up the day job John.

    You are into sport now, its good can we have some recipes ect.
    What wine do you like, favorite colour, first kiss, favorite food etc

    Reply: Nice one! Not yet for all that. I was seeking some advice!.

    1. Johnny Norfolk
      February 9, 2009

      Great piece I enjoyed it and I have proved you have a sence of humour.

  15. Atlas shrugged
    February 9, 2009

    I was seeking some advice!.

    Have a long chat with Leon Britton.

    Then understand what our real problem is. Which is people like him.

    He makes sense, very much like yourself, but lives in a world alien to ordinary people. A world that if his type get their way will very much lead to a country/world unfit for human life.

    As a British manufacturer, having a ready stream of desperate skilled hard working foreigners begging for any form of employment is not a bad thing. However who on this planet will have any spare cash to buy my products, apart from footballers, civil-servants and politicians on the fiddle?

    Globalization has not increased living standards. Even in times of a supposed boom living standards have been falling through the floor.

    Globalization is being used to spread a hy-bread form of WORLD COMMUNISM/FASCISM. Central control of virtually every aspect of human existence. We can not smoke in ANY of our pubs, we can not bring up our own children, we only have the choice to make bad ones for our life, and not good ones. We are now run by blood sucking pen pushers and authoritarians of all kinds at every level of society.

    Absolutely none of this is conservative, I hope you will agree.

    If it is now Conservative Policy, then the Conservative Party has clearly abandoned its reason for existence. Which is to be free from dogma, and to act at all times in the interests of all of the common people. Not the esoteric and material interests of already extremely mega rich, over powerful, psychopaths.

    It is better the worlds ends now then end later with a enslaved and starving population scratching for scraps and begging for state and private charity.

    We are being mind controlled to despise and distrust our own country and especially our parliament. Even though I know this, as someone who lives their life very much on the ground floor with both feet firmly planted in the REAL WORLD. I must report that it is working very well indeed. People that would have claimed to have been very proud of this country all of their lives. Now hate this place with a passion, and trust it as far as they can throw it.

    Cameron could change this, simply by arresting the slide if nothing else. However I personally have no confidence, that he intends to do so, or would know how to, even if he wanted to. Even is he wanted to, the people who REALLY control this country, which is the likes and friends of LB, would not allow him to even make a reasonable start.

    Please do me a favor John

    Instead of being highly negative, like myself. Could you please try your best to think of one or more things myself and my family should feel positive about. Because right now I can not think of one single thing, even when I am very much trying my personal best too.

    Reply: Modern technology is fantastic – so many features of modern living are better than the past, thanks to the creations of free enterprise

  16. brian kelly
    February 9, 2009

    I used to play minor league football long, long ago – and my heroes were Matthews, Finney, the Hungarian and Brazilian teams en masse, and many more too numerous to mention. Later came Charlton, Pele, Banks, Moore and all the greats of that era. They played for relative peanuts, I would say. In the last couple of years thanks to my grandsons I have started to attend some home matches of my local team. I saw my first game with shock – it was so crude and with all the characteristics you exactly describe. Footballers are much fitter – but more skilled? And the game more skillful? There are, though, some wonderfully skilled players around the globe. In terms of cricket we don’t lack the players, I would suggest. There is something in the system which is failing – and that usually means management.

  17. Julian
    February 9, 2009

    Did you go anywhere else when you were up at Blackpool?

  18. DBC Reed
    February 9, 2009

    You would expect, with all these high wages, that the football would be enjoying some kind of golden age.But the reverse: a lot of teams Chelsea, Spurs,Arsenal are playing really laborious stuff at the moment with players just going through the motions.When a player with the ball becomes isolated nobody goes to help him: a sure sign of a malaise or personal antagonism in my opinion.(It is not difficult to hide on a football field : you just stand too close to your marker).
    Man United had one rousing moment when the old guard of Giggs and Scoles combined to put Giggs through to round defenders and score but I did n’t see anybody backing him up .
    There is too much gambling based on football.
    All this goes to show that material incentives are n’t everything IMO.

  19. StevenL
    February 9, 2009

    Reading that I bet you’re a batsman.

    Not only do I bet you’re a batsman, but I bet you are one of those really irritating batsman that always tell you where you should have pitched your last delivery, obsess about ‘correcting’ your action or suggest you bowl wider of the crease.

    One day I’m going to snap with one of them and when they come trudging back to the pavillion after scoring a duck suggest they should have played a different shot and watch them explode with rage.

    England were a disgrace in the Windies, but there’s still the consolation of watching all those arrogant batsman walking off cursing under their breath and banging their bats on the earth.

    Reply: I am a bowler, and I know my limitations!

    1. alan jutson
      February 12, 2009

      are you a spinner ?????

      Or is that for the other players.

  20. […] first, then the result. On his blog ( he’s asked a number of questions about the beautiful game he watched, […]

  21. rugfish
    February 9, 2009

    I note you were diplomatic enough not to mention which match you went to see. I imagine this thread would have taken quite a bit longer to reach the bottom if you had done.

    As for those tactical criticisms I’ve often wondered myself. All I can think of for number one, is that the goalie is hoping he’ll hit one of the opposition to get the team numbers down a bit. Other than that, he’s too scared someone might be daft enough to belt it back at him into their own goal.

    Then again, I ain’t a footy coach so I guess anything I say is complete rubbish on it. Incidentally, Sunderland has reduced its ticket prices to help more supporters in these difficult times. So well done to the Black Cats for that decision at least.

  22. Carl Gardner
    February 10, 2009

    I’m puzzled about football’s strong appeal, too, John, but less because of what happens on the pitch, but more because, like John Arlott years ago, I felt a while ago that football had become sleazy. Money’s important in life of course but being dominated by the love of money – as I think football is – is another thing.

    Rant over. But I’d like to read your views on the business side of the game. Is it sustainable to pay premiership players and managers such stupid, beyond-banker wages (and then sack them after a few months like Scolari or sell them back where they came at a loss like Robbie Keane)? Can Sky continue to make money for ever if the same handful of teams are at the top of the league every year? What’ll happen to clubs if the recession/depression affects season ticket sales?

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