Never in the history of football has aesthetics played such a major role in the game. From the millions of pounds to be procured from the sale of the latest replica shirt, right down to the flair and style a team displays on the pitch, football is fashion. And if you doubt the importance of the style of football a team plays, you only have to look at the revolving door they’ve installed at the entrance of the manager’s office at Chelsea for the evidence.
Roman Abramovich’s quest to own a team that wins domestic and European titles whilst displaying a beautiful, free-flowing style of football has come at the cost of eight managers in just under a decade. Simply winning is just not enough anymore. In fact, three of the last seven managers to win the Champions League have all disappeared down Abramovich’s Montgomery Burns style trapdoor. Even two-time European champion, Jose Mourinho, could not fulfill the checklist of requirements his employer so craved with his winning but pragmatic teams. We all thought that the ultimate prize was securing a first Champions League title for the club and in doing so, he who led them to their holy grail would perhaps be given a longer leash and more time to continue his success. Apparently, you get six months to keep up the impossibly high standards before you are cast aside, as Roberto Di Matteo will pay testament to.
The end game is bringing Guardiola to The Bridge and for him to formulate a Barcelona mk II. We know this. The players brought into the club in the past year, Hazard, Mata, Luiz and Oscar are all being assembled with this in mind but the complaints that the Chelsea owner is too ruthless need to look at the wider picture of what’s happening in the English game. Fans are more demanding than ever. Football is no longer the game of the common man as ticket prices are escalating beyond the reach of your average wage earning fan. Those fortunate enough to be able to afford Premier League ticket prices are being forced to part with a a higher percentage of their income for the pleasure and it’s only right they feel they are getting value for money. But like 40,000 Caesars, they demand to be entertained, developing an impatience which mirrors that of the trigger happy owners we see today.
If fans are to pay top dollar to watch football matches, we don’t want to watch what is tantamount to a tennis and rugby hybrid. True, there is room for different styles but just like Roman, everyone wants their team to play the Barcelona way. It’s no longer acceptable for our £100,000 stars to merely put in 100%. We want intricate passing moves around the box. We want goals that begin with the goalkeeper and end with a tap in at the other end of the pitch. We want panache, flamboyance and verve. We want Tiki Taka tactics.
As football fans, we are more knowledgeable than in the past and refuse to be fobbed off by professionals' claims that fans don’t know the game. Managers who didn’t make the grade as players such as Mourinho and the Chelsea hotseat’s current incumbent, Rafa Benitez, have given fans everywhere the belief that in another dimension it could be them. More than anything, this evolution of the English football fan and the subsequent revolution in their demands is the perfect antidote to our stereotypically strength and stamina based games. It’s satisfying to know that our game has moved on from a time when players like Glenn Hoddle and Matt Le Tissier were considered luxuries to where they would now be classed as essential to a team’s success.