Futebol (and other sporting things)

10 March 2016

Back from Brazil, why not a TWOG about futebol (as they call it there, and me here, to distinguish it from American football, which is barely about feet, and is, after all, Canadian)? I know almost nothing about futebol, but why should that stop me? So here I introduce a new category of TWOG, called “An ignorant take on…” (which you may feel is not new at all). Let’s start with ignorance itself (about which I do know quite a bit), then a few thoughts about futebol, next about the names of sports teams, and finally about the ownership of such teams.

First: An ignorant take on ignorance   Why should the experts be the only ones to comment on things, especially when they so often get it wrong? Ignorance may not always be bliss, as the saying goes, but it can be beneficial.

Someone once defined an expert as a person with no elementary knowledge. But elementary knowledge can sometimes help to see things differently—like the little boy in the Hans Christian Andersen story who saw that the emperor was wearing no clothes. Well, sports often wear too much conventional clothing, restricting those who know them well from seeing what might be changed. Ignoramuses like me can see the elementary things, and thus can be hit on the head by something besides a ball─an idea, for example.

Now: An ignorant take on futebol   I want to suggest one idea in particular that might help to make “the beautiful game” more beautiful. This is a team sport, right—I know that much—10 on 10, with one more player in each goal. So why end a tie game with 1 on 1, especially when 1 of the one is so much more likely to score than the other 1 is to stop it.

Corner kicks are exciting, so why not alternate corner kicks instead? The odds of scoring can be changed by trying different numbers of players—for example 8 on 6. (In hockey now, we end a tie game with 3 on 3 in the overtime, instead of 5 on 5. It’s fascinating how much this changes the dynamics of the game.)

And how about entering the 21st century and looking at replays to distinguish whether a player was tripped or took a dive. Such calls often prove to be too important to leave to the peripheral vision of a referee.  Indeed, this would give the fans at home time to go to the bathroom, and would give beer companies’ time to send them there.

And something must be done about the scoring. Between the 0-0 of futebol and the 141-121 of basketball is, for example, the 4-2 of hockey. One goal every 10 minutes, instead of one every 10 seconds, or one every 10 days.

Next: An ignorant take on the name of teams  Why is it that sports teams have such boring names while rock groups have such interesting ones? European futebol has its Chelsea Blues, Liverpool Reds, and Real Madrid Whites. U.S. football has its Panthers, Broncos, Bears, Bengals, Lions, Rams, and Colts, etc. Just a bunch of animals. Baseball is for the birds: Cardinals, Blue Jays, Orioles.

Hockey in Canada is no better. Montreal has its Canadians, Vancouver its Canucks, Toronto its Maple Leafs.  (Ever seen a blue maple leaf off the ice?) You know why Edmonton has the Oilers? Because they drill for oil out there. Oilers on the ice? No wonder they do so badly.

Here is my idea. Sports teams should take their inspiration from rock groups. Manchester City, cross-town rivals of Manchester United, could be called the U-2s, or U-toos. A curling club could be called the Saskatchewan Sliding Stones. How about the Boston Beatles in foofball? Or the New York Rush? Just give us a chance in Montreal to call our hockey archrivals, who have been doing even worse than us, the Toronto Grateful Dead.

Finally: An Ignorant Take on the Ownership of Teams   What to do if you’ve got tons of inherited money, a yearning for fame, and not a single idea in your head? That’s easy. You overpay for a famous sports team. You know nothing about management, so you hire a famous coach, whom you mistrust, and together you spend obscenely on players, to try and buy your way to a championship. (Your team should be called The Mercenaries.) And as soon as your Mercenaries start losing, you fire your famous coach. (Just two or three times. After that you lose interest in the whole thing, and let the team die.) On the rare occasion when the strategy does work, you kill the sport instead.

It’s interesting how many legendary teams have been community-owned: by the fans. This remains true of Real Madrid and of Barcelona, the latter probably the greatest futebol team in the world today. (It used to be true of Manchester United too, when it was the greatest.) The most legendary team in football, the Green Bay Packers, is the only one in the NFL owned by its fans (and named for something real, since Green Bay is a center of the meat packing industry; when you think about it, this is a perfect name for a football team!). And then there’s the greatest sporting legend of all, with a terrific name—from little New Zealand comes the great big All Blacks. (The name is all in the All.) Who owns them? Nobody.

OK, enough of my ignorance—for this week at least. But beware of the ignorance of other people. For this I offer you two final words: Donald Trump.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. For more of this nonsense, please follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here.