Why is soccer so dull?

As any sports fan knows, the FIFA World Cup is under way. It’s the premier soccer tournament, one that every soccer fan looks forward to even if your own team doesn’t make it. And it encapsulates everything I love and hate about the sport today.

Soccer is the most competitive world sport there is. There is no one team, whether at club or international level, that is pretty much guaranteed to win. This contrasts strongly with my other favoured sport basketball; the NBA’s Golden State Warriors will beat pretty much any other team put in front of them except for perhaps the assembled US team, which is also streets ahead of any other international team. Most other sports have this issue too of either one or a small subset of the teams being totally dominant. Not so soccer.

As such, most games in the World Cup are worth watching because it’s not obvious who will win. The nature of soccer helps there - goals are hard to come by so if your team gets lucky, there’s always a chance.

On the other hand, this competitiveness is brought about by what makes so many games a dull watch: professionalism. All players at the World Cup are professionals, their coaches are professionals and all the other support staff are professionals. This means the game being played has been honed to a fine level where every player on the pitch is super fit and extremely well coached.

Sounds good, right? Wrong. Since every player is so well-trained and the team nature of the game makes it difficult for individuals to make a big difference, you end up with snore-fests if one team decides to defend deeply. When a professional team that’s disciplined and well-organised defends in depth, it’s extraordinarily difficult to get one good look at goal, never mind the several that’s usually required to score.

This has already become apparent with teams like Australia, Iceland, Denmark and Iran. They all defended superbly in their opening games and, bar Australia, got a decent result. The end goal is to get a draw or win, so you can’t blame the teams for doing it this way. They are compensating for their lack of what the major teams have in abundance: talent.

As a neutral, I watch soccer for entertainment. I want to see great talented players do outrageous things with the ball, things I could never do myself. I want to see great goals. These sort of games are getting rarer and rarer.