Manchester City and Liverpool Impress but Questions Raised Over Best Football Game Debate

best football game ever

Manchester City and Liverpool played out their second 2-2 thriller of the Premier League campaign on Sunday in the first instalment of a potential three-part season finale to “English football’s greatest ever rivalry”. This claim, made most notably by Jamie Carragher in the build-up to the clash, sparked widespread debate throughout the weekend. One of recency bias vs nostalgia perhaps.

Context Required for the Best Football Game Ever Debates

Sky, Social Media and the Changing Landscape of Journalism

Yes, the quality of play is of a supreme standard and the players on display are some of the best in the game today. However it lacks the intangibles when stacked up against Manchester United vs Arsenal, United vs Chelsea and even Chelsea vs Liverpool in years gone by. The venom, needle and straight-up visceral dislike of one another. There’s no flashpoints, just really good football as strange as that may sound.

It’s difficult for neutrals to sense a true rivalry when the opposing managers are effusive in praise of one another, high-fiving and hugging like the best of friends at the end of a potential league-deciding game. Jose Mourinho labelling Arsene Wenger a “specialist in failure” and previously to that a “voyeur” it is not.

Debates of course are part of what makes football so engaging – the chat down the pub, in the WhatsApp group and even on the rare occasion, Twitter.

This one though feels like part of a growing tendency: that of declaring everything right now to be the best football game ever or a player to be the ‘Greatest of All Time’ (GOAT), and in turn, becoming increasingly dismissive of the past.

Like most things in modern football, Sky’s fingerprints are all over this as they have been since their arrival on the scene in the early 1990s. It’s due to the Americanised and hyperbolic nature of their promotion that it’s mockingly said that football might as well not have started until 1992.

The insistence on Premier League records over top-flight records is an example of this rewriting of history – Harry Kane is chasing Jimmy Greaves’ goal record, not Alan Shearer’s – as is the brand-new Premier League Hall of Fame. Are we just forgetting players that didn’t play in the self-proclaimed “Best League in The World”?

The infiltration of social media into every aspect of our lives has expedited the hot-takes and “fake news”. It means 24-7, rolling news and chat – some advantages, yes, but also a constant battle for space, relevancy and attention.

Football fanbases no longer receive their sports news from the same places they did 20 or 30 years ago. Now, their news comes from social media.

It is little surprise, therefore, to see that games from the past two decades are receiving much more attention than those before the turn of the millennium. As a result, there will be more matches to be dubbed the best football game ever in the past few years as more fixtures of the past are left behind.

Liverpool and City Are Great but Very Few Are There to Rival Them

And the truth is that there is no use comparing different generations without a heavy dose of context. Sure, City and Liverpool might be brilliant teams and racking up points tallies unseen before in English football, but look at the competition in the league, and more specifically the race, if you could call it that, for the top four.

United couldn’t be worse, the absence of a key central defender has seen Spurs regress hugely in recent years and only now seem to be rebounding with Antonio Conte (for however long that lasts), and Arsenal, well they’re Arsenal.

The ‘big six’ is in name only.

Jürgen Klopp is without doubt over-performing given the level of expenditure compared to City. But for Pep Guardiola, isn’t this what he should be doing? He has every advantage possible – endless resources from Abu Dhabi and their over-inflated sponsorship contracts, hand-picked board members from his Barcelona days and a squad as deep as any in English football history. Jack Grealish cost £100 million and barely got 15 minutes at the weekend.

Given the financial disparity with the other leagues in Europe, shouldn’t the English sides be dominant in the European Cup? It’s also nowhere near the same standard of continental competition as in decades gone by. A weakened frontline at AC Milan shows just how poor Serie A has been this season.

It’s All Relative – Ross Geller and Football Find Common Ground

Arsenal went the 2003/04 season, and 49 games overall, unbeaten. Chelsea had 95 points, just one loss and the lowest goals conceded in top-flight history the year after. United won the treble in ‘99. United (‘08) and Liverpool (‘84) both did League and European Cup doubles. while winning three titles in a row. Liverpool (’77 & ’78) and Nottingham Forest (’79 & ’80) won back-to-back European Cups.

Are we really saying these sides wouldn’t be able to compete in the modern game? It’s not as if they’d be transported through time, a la the Terminator, to play football how it is today. Context required.

The same goes for how we look at players from now and the past. Today, players are looked after in every aspect with the advancements in nutrition, sports science and so on. We’re seeing them play to a higher level for longer than ever before as a result. It’s a world away from George Best playing on a cabbage patch with a rock-like football, dancing around the tackles of defenders like Ron “Chopper” Harris and Norman “Legs” Hunter, with little to no protection from referees. Top players are top players in any generation. In the words of Ross Geller “it’s all relative”.

Evolution Is Part of Life, but Constant Comparisons Might Not Have to Be

Like anything in life, football evolves over time leading to the belief that the game has never been better due to it being faster, stronger etc. (Daft Punk?). But by the virtue of that logic, the football in 20 years will automatically be “better” than the battles between Pep and Klopp.

It might be, it might not be, we just won’t be able to accurately say. Given this, maybe it’s best to consign these “Best Ever” teams and rivalries debates to the realm of fantasy and fiction alongside match-ups like Superman vs. Batman, King Kong vs. Godzilla and try and enjoy the present for what it is. And pray for a Spanish winner in Europe.

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