Is Loco Bielsa right? Is football no longer attractive?

You have just eliminated Brazil from the Copa America. You are praised by the Uruguayan people who now see you as a new messiah and what do you do? You disintegrate football… Loco Bielsa, a one-of-a-kind coach (he was one step away from coaching in Italy, Lazio to be precise), declared, at the end of Brazil-Uruguay, the following: “I am sure that football is in a process of decline. To be clear: more and more people watch football, but it is becoming less and less attractive because what made this game the first game in the world is not privileged. In the end, that process is interrupted: if you let a lot of people watch it, but you do not make sure that what you see is enjoyable, this favors business because the more people watch football the greater the business, but at what cost?”. In short: football is becoming less and less attractive and, consequently, destined to be set aside in favor of other more “modern” and spectacular sports such as, for example, tennis or the NBA?
So, it is clear that football is less spectacular than a few years ago or, better, than a few decades ago. Players have improved physically and tactically. There is less and less space for pure talent. We saw it at Euro 2024. Few champions and, in many cases, also tired and unable to show what they can do. Caged talent and too many games in the legs, these are probably the two most obvious reasons for the crisis in football but there is more. All sports evolve. Think of NBA basketball. Up until 20 years ago, the three-point shot was the last resort, now everything starts from there. Football has also evolved but privileging aspects less tied to the individual.

Teams have become extraordinary on a tactical level and, from a physical point of view, footballers seem like Martians because they are so well trained and always ready to play. Unfortunately, the individual has not been trained. It is nice to see a team that defends itself with order and that never throws the ball away on the counterattack but, honestly, it was definitely nicer to enjoy a dribble by Ronaldo (the Phenomenon) or a millimetric pass by Pirlo. The poetry is missing, the one that makes us jump out of our seats. Where have the fantasisti gone? They have become extinct. Where are the dribblers like Ronaldinho? Disappeared from the radar… Legends like Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi still play with their respective national teams. Romantically fantastic but, perhaps, the real reason is that there is no one ready to replace them, both on a technical and media level. This is a defeat for football, a mass sport that has evolved but has not renewed itself. Bielsa may have exaggerated in his analysis but, undoubtedly, football is less spontaneous and much more constructed. There is little room for improvisation and increasingly total control over what happens on the pitch. Can this trend be reversed? Only if the business loses revenue, otherwise we will continue as we are. There is another possible way, namely the birth of a champion who everyone agrees on but, unfortunately, this is an increasingly rare event. And Mbappé, Halland and all the others? Phenomena but of this “new football”, not the one that Bielsa (and many of us) liked. Provocative question: would Mbappé and Halland have been absolute top players when talent was scattered everywhere in the world of football? My answer is obvious…