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BOWLER’S DELIVERY: Cutting it fine

22 June 2016

Stuff the traffic

Euro 2016 is the tournament of late goals, goals raining in after the 87thminute as if triggered by TV producers. Is it mere coincidence, or is there something else at work here, another shift in the nature of the game?

 

I wonder if it is the latter, and a consequence of the greater fitness and athleticism of footballers year after year. If you think about it, it's odd that we still play the game on a pitch that is roughly the same dimensions that we started out with in the 19th century when people were shorter, slower, less physically robust than the athletes of today.

 

Just look at the way world records tumble in Olympics after Olympics and, even when you take the drug cheats out, you will see that sportsmen and women are simply faster and stronger than they ever were.

 

If you look at the stats churned out in game after game, they'll tell you how far each player has run and, if you dig deeper, how fast, how many sprints and so on. If you could get such stats for, say, the 1966 World Cup, I suspect you would find that modern day players are covering a huge amount of extra ground in games.

 

Players are physically capable of doing more and so, in harness with the development of tactics and defensive organisation over the years, we come to the point that pundit after pundit, coach after coach, player after player constantly makes about the modern game - there is less and less space on the field. And if there is less space, there is less opportunity to create and fewer goals as a consequence.

 

And while players are, generally speaking, better athletes than they were half a century ago, there is another advantage that the coaches have up their sleeves - substitutes. So if a player has all but literally run himself into the ground, he and two more of his mates can be replaced, bringing on the all important fresh legs. And there we perhaps have the perfect storm for all these late goals.

 

For while these footballers are super humans, they are not superhuman, they are not comic book heroes that can run on indefinitely, powered by the hot of perpetual motion. Even the fittest and best prepared will, at some stage, see some drop if in performance when fatigue sets in and, obviously enough, that's going to happen after exertion. Physically and mentally, it's impossible to be as fresh in the 88th minute as you were in the eighth.

 

Defensive players are especially susceptible because they tend to do more running than the short, sharp attackers, while it also tends to be the attacking players that get substituted and so tiring defenders having denied an opponent space for well user an hour are suddenly faced with a fresh problem which perhaps accounts for the number of substitutes who have made major impacts from the bench in the tournament.

 

And where tournaments go first, so domestic football follows. Expect more and more late goals in the years to come. Bad news for everybody who gets up with ten minutes to go to nip off and beat the traffic home. It might be better to stick it out to the bitter end in future. 


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