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Sport Does sport have to be entertaining?

SPORTS spectators, be it fans or the media, want to be entertained. I totally understand that. Football, tennis, golf, American football, you name it – people want to see the best possible game.

Recently a debate has arisen about the “correct” way to play football. I say recently – this argument has spanned decades in pubs, television studios and front rooms, but it has reached the forefront once again this season.

With Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City playing scintillating football up and down the country and neighbours Manchester United “parking the bus” and at times putting people to sleep, fans are arguing about how the game should be played and whether teams should do everything in their power to entertain those who are watching.

Should every game finish 5-4, with both teams attacking each other relentlessly until 90 minutes are up, or can some teams play a more defensive brand of football if it gives them a better chance of winning?

That seems to be the crux of the argument at the moment and for me, it depends on the situation. This is where the debate starts. 

For many, if a team spends hundreds of millions on acquiring the world’s best players, they should be forced to attack and playing in any other manner is ultimately wrong.

When the Manchester derby took place late last year and United adapted a defensive gameplan, social media slammed Jose Mourinho’s tactics. Since he was in charge of a team built on exciting football, many felt Mourinho was disrespecting the culture and history inside Old Trafford.

Following that defeat, United embarked on a few months of below average displays, struggling to beat so-called “lesser” opponents in Burnley and Leicester.

Fans and pundits argued that United needed to attack more, that Mourinho had spent £300 million on a team which sat back and was wasting its talent.

But do we really believe that the United boss set out for his team to lose? Does any manager or player go into a match doing their best not to win?

For me, the purest form of entertainment is winning. That is what sport is about. Finding a way to get the job done and leave victorious. Sometimes that means sacrificing flashiness.

To use Mourinho’s United as an example again, their 3-1 victory over Arsenal left people confused. United gave up the majority of possession and allowed the Gunners to pepper their goal with shots.

They sat back, soaked up pressure and hit them on the counter. A classic Mourinho tactic, something which over his managerial career he has masterminded. It’s how he beat Liverpool 2-0 with Chelsea and cost the Reds the league. It was hailed then but slammed now, all because of the team he is managing. 

That isn’t a defence of Mourinho, it goes for any manager or player, be it in a professional or amateur sport. I’m a pragmatic person and believe there is a time and place for everything. 

If I took on Roger Federer in a game of tennis, I would lose 99 times out of 100. If I were to try to beat him at the baseline, I would lose 100 times out of 100. However, if I were to formulate a gameplan which took advantage of his weaknesses and highlighting my strengths, I would have a chance of getting the better of him.

That gameplan might involve slowing the game down and making it totally unbearable to watch. But why does it matter? I’m not playing to entertain anyone, I am playing to win.

I’m sure when Warren Gatland and Eddie Jones come up against New Zealand, they alter their philosophy to give them the best chance at winning.

Does it mean a more boring game? Possibly. But their jobs are on the line and they will do anything to win matches.

I get that paying a lot of money to watch two teams play hoof ball in the Premier League is not ideal. I get that when you settle down for Super Sunday you want to see the best of the best perform skills, tricks and flicks.

But what good is all that if your team loses? Are you still entertained?

Managers will ultimately decide what is the best way to utilise their squad in order to get a win. We as watchers may not be pleased with what we see, I can honestly admit some games of football have put me to sleep and I routinely drift off watching some NFL games.

However, I understand that what I am watching is what both managers believe will be successful. And should it work, who are we to complain?

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