The EPL is without a doubt the most exciting and compelling soccer league on the planet. I absolutely love the drama and maximum effort that the players exert on a weekly basis but the English Football Association must be careful that it doesn't go too overboard with the entertainment aspect. Every club supporter wants a spectacle, a high stakes poker game with twists and turns that give you the full range of emotions. I recently watched matches from four different leagues on the same day and the differences were stark and obvious. Because I had no rooting interest for any of the teams, I did what I usually do in that situation and observe the game as a student in a classroom of world football without getting emotionally involved.
No officials from England were selected to officiate at the World Cup in Russia and for me it just emphasized the fact that they don't call the fouls, they moderate the spectacle and entertainment. A serious foul in the first minute of a game is supposed to be a red card as it should be if it occurred in the 90th minute. I just don't believe in England you would see a first minute ejection because "it would ruin the game". That is not what the referee is there for, he is there to uphold the laws of the game and don't direct your anger toward the officials, blame the players if they "ruin the game".
More than any other place on planet futbol, the EPL subscribes to the "let 'em play" mantra and while I admire and respect physical soccer as much as anyone, what I witnessed was a rugby game with a soccer ball. Literally a foul every 30 seconds and the players took full advantage of the leniency when they found out they could just grab, push and kick people off the ball with zero skill or brilliant defending. It reminded me of the 2016 affair between Chelsea and Spurs when referee superstar Mark Clattenburg basically let the players fight like they were in a coliseum and ignored the 6 red cards that could have been issued. The howling crowd loved it but that's when we go into the realm of entertainment and it stops becoming a sport. Hey, when Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield's ear in the boxing ring it was pretty exciting and crazy and got people’s blood flowing but it was not sport, it was entertainment.
The referee in the Bundesliga match protected the skilled players and clamped down immediately on any violence and would have none of the lazy way of defending by just grabbing and bear hugging someone with the ball. The fans knew when it was a foul and expected it to be called, even if the foul was against their own team. Fighting for the ball is one of the great things to watch in a soccer game but you can't just throw the rules out the window like the NBA has done, can you even tell me what a foul is in basketball anymore? That league has become all about entertainment. The laws of the game are the same for everyone worldwide but the Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga, and Lique 1 in France simply do not put up with the nonsense in the EPL.
A few weeks ago Jamie Vardy absolutely destroyed a player on a very dirty tackle, he did get a red and it was a potentially career ending play but the prevailing attitude was "he just got stuck in", "he just mistimed his tackle". How many times do the EPL referees let teams take turns by players to foul Eden Hazard? Don't let the thugs get away with their dinosaur 1970's tactics just because it makes for must see tv, it's one thing if an English ref misses a call, it's something completely different if he ignores the laws of the game just because it will raise the intensity and get the crowd into it. You see, for me, the entertainment is in the sport itself.
Defending is an art form and I realize the days of Baresi, Maldini and Puyol are gone but if you can't stop a player fairly and he's not in a goal scoring position just let him go or face the consequences, as the EPL needs to start punishing the goons, the hacks and the overly cynical players. At the recent World Cup they at least tried to clamp down on the physicality during a corner kick, in the EPL they are very close to just letting them start throwing punches in the box when the ball is whipped in. This is not EPL bashing and I realize my opinion is probably in the minority and that soccer is a product but if a two handed shove in the back is a foul around the world, it should be a foul in England. Did you ever think you would see the day that the United States would send more referees to a World Cup than England? For the most part I just feel it's part of a marketing strategy and the officials in England are not missing the fouls, they are just not enforcing them. It also hurts the English National team when they play international opponents, as they are not accustomed to the way the rest of the world interprets what is legal and what is not.
Pele famously coined the phrase "the beautiful game". Undoubtedly there will be many beautiful moments in the EPL this season but don't give in to the fanatics screaming for blood, let sport be sport and don't run your league by what you think is popular but by what you know is right. Yes, it truly is a thin line between sport and entertainment.
Author: Kristopher Klassen