Sunday, August 24, 2014

Football vs. Fútbol

I have been thinking about this post since the recent World Cup.  While watching the matches, I began to consider how a fútbol match might progress if officiated like (American) football.

Football is a very structured, rigid game.  There is an offensive unit and a separate defensive unit – the only major sport of which I am aware that has such a structure.  The field, 100 yards long, has major markings every five yards, and minor markings for every yard.  After each play – a happening with a definitive start and end – one of the seven officials places the ball on the precise position on the field.  In order to earn continuing ball possession, the offense must move the ball ten yards in four plays; if the spot of the ball is close to this ten yards, two other officials – not part of the seven – bring out a ten-yard long length of chain to measure progress precisely.  A casual observer – someone new to the game – would find the action impossible to follow.

Fútbol, on the other hand, is rather free-flowing.  Kick the ball into the opposing goal.  Don’t use your hands.  The most complex situation for the casual fan to comprehend is the offsides rule – once explained, easy to understand (yet still difficult to apply).  Three officials are on the field, and two of these have rather limited authority.  A first time viewer would understand the game within five minutes of watching.

What if fútbol was officiated like football?  On every penalty or out-of-bounds play, the clock was stopped, ensuring the time of the match to the precise second; on every penalty or throw-in, a video review was employed to ensure precise marking of the spot; on a direct kick, a precise length of chain was brought onto the field to ensure the defensive team did not establish too close of a position.

What if the eleven players were trained to follow precise patterns, with little deviation allowed?  Signals sent by the number 10 to the others on the pitch, such that each player ran a pre-determined pattern?

Rules, precision, order, formation, structured plays, little individuality and creativity.  These define football.  Whatever is the opposite of each of these terms define fútbol.

Football is the most popular sport in America, if one can judge by the passion behind both professional and college football.  Fútbol is the most popular sport in much of the rest of the world.

I am very glad that fútbol is not officiated like football.  Talk about ruining the beautiful game.

I have no insightful conclusion.  I just wonder what the popularity of the rigid, structured, rule and penalty bound sport of football says about American society.  It says something.


  1. Yes, it does.

    However, as critical as I am about the American Reich, I can't help but note that football's complexity necessarily requires a higher degree of intelligence than the beautiful game. There is nothing in soccer, or any other sport for that matter, that can simulate the combination of lightening fast processing of information and decision making along with the physical execution that is expected of quarterbacks on any given play, particularly, of course, on pass plays.

  2. I think there is a lot of cultural feedback with popular sport, with the most revered and well paid athletes creating a positive feedback with the fan(atics). In short, whatever is promoted is followed...

    As I lose interest in sports as I grow older, I find more and more how arbitrary success in any endeavor proves to be. With most sports, the size of the player has an over-proportional effect on the success of that player in competition. I have played basketball for years now and the higher levels you take it, the taller, less skilled players are the most competitive.

    I played a lot of soccer growing up too and I recall that at the higher levels of that sport, in the US, the more politics comes into excelling. There are a lot of high level soccer players who lack the connections to get minutes on competitive teams.

    Individual sports such as tennis, surfing or golf require a proximity to that culture and the capital to develop skills as tennis and golf club memberships and lessons are not cheap, and surfing requires expensive equipment and proximity (expensive real estate) to desirable surfing locations.

    As to rigidity versus flow, baseball and golf enjoy worldwide renown and those sports seem some of the most absurd to me as far as rigidity of rules and transitions. I do enjoy golf though if played casually...

    On another note, I've been watching a lot of Doctor Who (ya) lately and I've been trying to determine what the cultural phenomenon says about the English. As sci-fi is a very small audience in general, why is the Doctor so popular with some of the most notoriously repressed nations on the planet? Then I thought: is absurd sci-fi an expression of that repression? Does that go towards explaining the popularity of anime in the south-east Asian countries?

    Admittedly, I have very little experience with the English so I can't confirm their stereotypical stodginess...