Mark Gleeson

Entertainment a dying art

2009-08-25 14:56
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
Mark Gleeson

Two matches in the space of just five days starkly illustrated the crossroads at which South African league football now finds itself.

Last Wednesday, Mamelodi Sundowns and Orlando Pirates dished up a drab goalless draw at Coca-Cola Park in marked contrast to the brilliant entertainment in the MTN8 second leg semi-final between Kaizer Chiefs and Ajax Cape Town at the Orlando Stadium on Sunday.

At surface value, there was nothing to compare the two contests – the first was a languid, intense and chanceless affair that paled in comparison to Sunday’s match of sparkling excitement, end-to-end attacking action and a myriad of scoring chances.

But the sad truth is the better football was on display on Wednesday, a mark perhaps of the progress of the domestic game under a growing the influence of a better quality coaches and more intensely honed athletes.

Progress? Well if you consider South African football has done very little at African level and even less in international contests over the last two decades, then the fact that players are more tactically aware, able to implement systems, show discipline in getting back behind the ball, apply tactics with robotic precision and stick to formations must be seen as progress.

But with this supposed advancement in the technical aspect of the game, goes the entertainment factor.

Sunday’s 3-3 draw between Ajax and Chiefs was full of horrendously comical mistakes, especially in defence; a jittery new goalkeeper for the Amakhosi, a lot of space in the midfield, some woeful finishing and a high turnover of possession. To purists it must have been an awful affair, but I doubt there is a single person who watched the game and did not enjoy it.

It was classic entertainment, but not a footballing classic.

So we sit now the cusp of a point of no return. More and more PSL teams are able to squeeze out opponents; shut down games and render negligible skilful players because they are able to master the dictates of the modern game.

This will makes our footballers better but not our football.

Progress means we lose much of the innocence and naivety that was on display on Sunday and which has been the basis for decades of great entertainment.

Obviously clubs and players want, and need, to keep up with worldwide trends and make themselves more competitive. But they do so at a heavy price, for with each passing year we are being treated to fewer and fewer sparkling games.

Today’s footballers make fewer mistakes, are physically stronger than ever and therefore better able to put a lid on the flair that was once the mainstay of the South African game.

Already fans talk with great nostalgia about the old days, with its fancy tricks and innovative moves. But if we were to watch an old match on video in its entirety, you’d be amazed at the pedestrian pace of the game 20 years ago; at how much space players had and how weak they were at crossing and passing.

We are waving goodbye to an era of innocent entertainment as we introduce more supposed sophistication to the game.

In the end, we face the possibility of our football become as boring as the ultra-defensive Italians or the over coached Spanish. Both are great leagues but hard to watch week-in, week-out.

Should we therefore call a moratorium on progress and plum instead for entertainment? On the basis of Sunday’s excitement there must be many nostalgic for the mistake-ridden days of the past.

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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