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21.3.2006
Groucho Marx has percentage moustache

If Groucho Marx isnít funny he doesnít exist. Paul Daniels show without magic is worth just a beautiful assistant. Take Denise Richardsí looks away and she would have to learn how to act.

In entertainment industry if you donít please your audience, there is someone or something else that fills that hole immediately. Football is ultimately part of the entertainment industry where people pay ticket to get an experience. So do I have to every Saturday pull a rabbit out of the hat or make an Academy award winning dramatic performance? Do I exist if I donít always play fluent football?

When ball drops to you at your own half and you are quite sure you could chip it sideways to your own player why donít you? Because there is a small chance of an interception or a miss-pass, so instead you choose the safest option and clear it long. Boring, negative and definitely not entertaining, you can even get booed for that. However, even the best centre half in the world John Terry does it without hesitation. The entertainment question doesnít have a straightforward answer in football.

A fan comes to a game to see something he canít do himself - otherwise he might feel cheated. It is justified to expect a skill, performance, physical or mental strength beyond the local park in return for the price of a ticket. All athletes are performers, which is the reason why they are there. In ideal world the game situation would be an estrade for all players to show all their skills. It doesnít quite work like that. The importance of results is on the way. Showing skills and producing results are football entertainments Jekyll & Hyde dilemma. Comedy shows and theatres are different, most people turn into sports event wanting to be in the winning side. The result is far more entertaining than any joke or turning handkerchiefs into pigeons, because the result itself is the main trick of the show, the final laugh, the fireworks and the salvation people come to feel. The emotional edge of the game experience is in the steep line between winning and losing. So the entertainment value can be felt from the scoreboard. It is more the Apprentice show than the Office. The joke is on you if you donít produce results. You are ďfiredĒ!

When the springtime comes, if it ever does in England, the points seem to be worth even more. No matter how you count them, it feels there are never enough left. The exchange rate of every point is more valuable the less games there are to play for. We get hypnotized by the league table and act accordingly. Teams either need points for winning a trophy, winning a promotion or beating the relegation. Entertainment canít get you there. Only points can. Lot of entertainment values are sacrificed in the altar of required points tally. The need justifies almost anything. Except losing. Negative approach and shaky performances will do as long as the scoreboard does the entertaining.

This often turns it into a percentage game. Keep always enough players under the ball. You win one percent. Track your runner at final third. Another percent. Smell the danger even in possession. One percent. Donít overpass at wrong areas. One percent. Keep it simple. One percent. Donít lose your concentration in the box. One percent. Take that extra yard to be in shape. One percent. Freeze the game when needed. One percent. And so on.

Sometimes there just arenít any flair and magic available. So the results come from winning the percentages. Small things add Ė all the one percentages make a big difference. It is a platform for winning football. Winning football is a platform for entertaining football. Coming end of the season the importance of the games makes even Champions League dull. Avoiding mistakes instead of expressing yourself often means flair players are substituted by solid ones. When it counts there is nothing more agonising than cheap giveaways and mistaken back-heel passes. Mistakes cost goals. Rarely there is anymore a goal a la Barcelona where after strings of passes together someone puts the ball into the net. It is quicker and more clinical approach, especially with the English post winter conditions. Donít get me wrong, this is not an excuse for anybody playing poor kickandwish football. If we could win and play like Barcelona we all would love that. However, you got to win the percentages first to earn the right to play. Just ask which supporters are happier at the moment, Real Madrids or Boltons?

What is there now for entertainment then? Nail biting and potential strokes are the answer! At least I can quite confidently say Crystal Palace is not a boring club. Every season there seem to be big stakes of either going up or down until the last minutes. Rarely this club have offered mid table boredom but often tested with non-consistent results the condition of supporters nerves and hearts. Iím not really qualified to answer for other teams, but it seems that the bigger the stakes are for any club, the stronger feelings it invites for any results. There seem to be a nervous edge on the stands all over the country. Perceptions vary more than ever. Everything is either black or white. Criticism or praise has no patience or boundaries. The nervousness and expectations are too intense for being objective. The time is running out. We get carried away and emotional with results. The loss is never as catastrophic than we make it or win as brilliant as we praise about. At important times overreacting is easy. Last few rounds there are rarely opinions that arenít in the either far end of the scale. In a sick twisted way, this all is entertainment.

As surprising it might sound, even though Iím a footballer I have an opinion too. I think there are room for both percentage and flair football. And you need both equally at all times. I finally made up my mind on this after following Evertonís progress this season. I might be way off here, but as football is about opinions, this is mine. Everton bought lot of good footballers during the summer but in my humble view they only got back to their winning football when Alan Stubbs returned. He might lack some qualities that other great players have, but he wins all the percentages there are and gives the team a solid platform. I think there is no question whether it is more entertaining club now when he is back although his job often is not glamorous and unnoticed. Suddenly, though, the other players in his side seem to have more chance to express themselves, even showboat.

On the other hand, there are loads of teams and players who do some magnificent stuff but donít have much of an end product and always lose with unlucky or sloppy goals. They keep on moaning about a bad luck or insist how they still have played such a good football and have all the attributes for the game. Constant bad luck is rarely a coincidence and great ineffective performances arenít that great after all. Winning football is always good football. Arsenal under George Graham, Chelsea and Bolton sometimes and Juventus through its history has been accused for too calculative approach to their potential. Winners often get that from underachieving opponents. They have maximized their potential to win and enjoy the results. That is more entertainment than any back heel pass can offer.

What is entertainment in professional football? At itís best it is individual skills of Rooney. Daring to showboat like Joe Cole. Tactical awareness of Bolton. Crisp passing combinations of Arsenal. Everything that Ronaldinho does. Crunching tackles of Carragher. Unnoticed percentage football of Stubbs. Taking part and singing with the fans. Endless speculation of the game from everyone. This is what we love about the game. However, most supporters, all players and managers would sacrifice all this to get three ugly points this time of the season. Itís about finding the right balance at right times between importance of the score line and performances. Both are entertaining by their own right.

There should always be both entertaining and winning element in the game. The best teams and players possess both. Others must choose which way to lean in their game. My first ever coach said to me:Ē You got to play how you look like, ugly, because that is for you the best way to win - which you have to in this profession.Ē So I had to leave my back full of tricks to training ground laughs, school presentations and possible career in circus after football and turn into midfield enforcer. The end product is more important than any applauds. So my trick and existence in this entertainment industry is mainly dependent of the score lines. Still, I much rather take that than having moustache like Groucho Marx.

Aki


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