Football is one of if not the oldest sport in the world. The antecedent forms of the game has been around since 300 BC at it’s latest, but even the modern game as we know it has been in existence since near the very beginning of the 18th century. In that time the game remained fundamentally the same until the advent of professionalism which really only started roughly 30 years ago and with that change to a more serious and structured sport came many advancements. Chief among them is sports science, we know that players generally are now stronger, fitter and faster than their beer-swilling counterparts of the early 80’s. But another major renovation has been the use of technology within the sport.
There has been more than just the headline stealing goal line technology and VAR; away from competitive games, players are fitted with trackers, heart monitors and watched closely via drone footage during training. Even spectators benefit with something as prevalent as live instant replay, once relegated to the realms of fantasy until it became a reality. But according to at least one well thought of German manager, there’s room – or rather, a need – for greater technological infusion to the beautiful game.
Perhaps juxtaposing technology and beauty in the above sentence is unfair, I don’t mean to create that kind of divide. But it’s worth noting there are two polar opposite camps on this topic. We’ll call them the traditionalists and the revolutionists. But first, the idea in question that sparked this debate.
In a social media feature for his club, Bayern Munich, Julian Nagelsmann (virtually) lined up alongside Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid for a heart to heart in the club’s Coaches Corner series. In it the two men bounced philosophies of their sport off each other, which inspired Nagelsmann’s hot take. He said, “American Football is so much more technologically advanced than football. The quarterback has an earpiece to hear his coach. We absolutely need that.” And here’s the kicker, he followed that up by saying, “football should stop hiding behind tradition and revolutionize itself.”
The traditionalists have an unequivocal response to this – hard pass. And without giving my opinion just yet, I’m inclined to agree with them. The reasons they give range from ‘the sport is the sport, leave it alone’, to ‘it’s too different from what we know.’ Hardliners would go off on a tangent about their days and back in, and while the more reasonable traditionalists would forgo the angry fist waving, but still maintain that a manager shouting from the sidelines is just one of the intrinsic elements of the game. Their reasons for opposition are largely steeped in sentiment and a preference for the game to not become so far removed from the one we’ve all known and loved for generations.
Then there’s the revolutionist or even the evolutionist camp. Nagelsmann and his cronies are the new wave stakeholders of the sport. They are not afraid of change and don’t have much care for tradition if it stands in the way of what they believe is actual progression. They believe that football has stood mostly unmoved for too long and the game now is slightly archaic and (dare I say it) kind of dull. In a bid to revitalize the sport many ideas have been put forward to break the monotonous cycle, some far more outlandish than this one.
Not long ago IFAB, the sport’s rule makers, wanted to limit the length of a game to 60 minutes with a stop-start clock. And more recently, the idea of a 2-year World Cup is doing the rounds. This is just another example of what evolutionists believe are necessary amendments and should really only be taken as such rather than a full on paradigm shift.
Personally, I think I’d be somewhere in the middle; someone that appreciates the game for what it is and all the beauty that surrounds it, but also eager to explore potential revisions for a new dimension to the world’s game. For the sake of this conversation, you could think of myself and like-minded people as modernists. This particular point of view (located squarely on the fence) affords me a perspective to appreciate both sides. On the one hand, ideas like whispering in players’ ears from 40 yards away is difficult enough to reliably achieve in practical terms, it becomes even harder to accept in the way it changes the intangibles of the game. For one thing, players would no longer need to think for themselves since they’re just pawns to the coach’s big brain on the sideline, so moments of individual brilliance would probably become few and far in between; and who wants that? Then what about the actual availability of the devices?
Part of the joy of football is how accessible it is, but wealth disparity does still exist. Can you imagine richer teams having an advantage because their poorer opponents could only get the bargain bin models from Fisher-Price while they sport the latest versions from Rode?
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and revolutionists quite often do have those when they think up another “advancement “; but we will see where that leads. It’s not much, but a shouting manager is one of the levelers of the sport, difficulty passing on complex tactical instructions is something everyone has to deal with, and until there’s a solution to this then just leave it alone. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.