Football tactics and moral choices

By | 23rd April 2015
Newcastle vs Liverpool in the 2010/2011 Premier League season
Newcastle vs Liverpool in the 2010/2011 Premier League season

This is a thing to which I have been giving some thought from time to time, but I have never been able to give it a proper structure – or even, sometimes, to consider it a serious reflexion, as it is related to football.

There are a number of different tactical systems in football: catenaccio, tiki-taka, totaalvoetbal, just to mention some. They are different in a number of ways, except for one: they all aim to the maximum result, i.e. victory. De Coubertin would say that the important thing is participation, but, still, what happens in every competition is that there is a winner and a lot of losers, all of them deciding to compete in order to achieve the best possible outcome in a context in which the best absolute outcome is victory – so, it doesn’t matter if you play defensively or aggressively in football, you are seeking victory if you can have it, or the most honourable loss in less favourable scenarios.
If you’re playing catenaccio, you’re emphasizing defensive game: the beauty of the game doesn’t matter, it’s a football game. If you want to see something funny and entertaining, go to the circus.
If you choose totaalvoetbal, you think that everyone can play in almost every position: there are talented players, there are predispositions for favourite positions, but, if needed, anyone would go and take over someone else’s place without affecting the quality of the squad and the possibility to reach the target.
With tiki-taka, you are somehow playing the ball for its own sake, in most cases giving up other options such as crosses from the wings and subsequent headers. Ball on the ground, keep it between your feet, and show the world how good you are at football – and, possibly, score.

I have been wondering for a while whether there are any moral implications in the choice of a specific tactical system or not. It seems to me that catenaccio, for example, is a sort of generic, probably naïve, application of consequentialism: the final score is important, and we are using at their maximum the means we have to get it. It doesn’t matter if you have a specific talent, just do your best, and if you exceed or are too aggressive, the rules will punish you (red card!) – but always keep in your mind that victory is good, nothing else, and that what you do is good as long as it paves the way to final victory. Tiki-taka, instead, would stress he process through which you go before achieving what you want. You need to possess or have developed some individual and team features, some virtues to play tiki-taka and win.

What I’m trying to suggest here is that, perhaps, tactics in sports can be interpreted or described in terms of ethical choices, as tactical systems are a choice of the mores we use in order to achieve the Good (victory).

Do you think this may make sense?

Feel free to reply negatively, of course.

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