Mahmoud Rasmi answers the question: “Why is football so beautiful?”

Abbass NasserDin

Arabic Sports Editor


The Philosophy Student Society at the American University of Beirut held a talk on “Football and the Aesthetics of Beauty” with their department’s Mahmoud Rasmi, Ph.D., on Tuesday, April 11.

In his discussion, Rasmi focused on the factors that make football a widely-popular game, and a beautiful one at that.

For Rasmi, football, in its simplest form, is a mere exchange of the ball between two opposing teams, which begs the question of what makes the game so suspenseful and nerve-wracking. Rasmi attributes the beauty of football as a game to two main factors: the offside rule and the emergence of “total football.”

For Rasmi, the offside rule is indispensable to the attractiveness of present-day football, and he describes it as “the ingenious rule,” out of all the rules that make up present-day football. In this context, Rasmi explained the offside rule, its history, and how it contributes to the aesthetic beauty of the game.

Rasmi explained when a player is considered onside and when he’s considered offside. To be considered onside, there should be two opponent players, including the opponent goalkeeper, between the player and the goal. A player is considered offside if there is one opponent player between him and the goal.

The offside rule was not always the same. In the past, the offside rule stated that a player is offside in case he is in front of the ball. Like rugby, a player could not pass the ball forward. Accordingly, back then, passing was not an option. A player would dribble the ball towards the goal without passing. Teams would play with as many forwards as possible.

Later on, in 1866,  the offside rule was modified to state that three opponents must be between the player and the goal for the player to be considered onside. This resulted in a record-low number of goals in this season. This obliged the Football Association (FA) to modify the rule to the rule we know today, which generated a new quest for developing strategies that make use of space to score more goals.

According to Rasmi, these strategies gave birth to the trend of “specialization,” where each player was placed in a certain position on the field. A defensive player, for example, was specialized in this position, and did not know how to play in any other position.

Herbert Chapman of Arsenal made use of this specialization trend, and developed the tactic of “counter-attacks.” Arsenal then exhibited an impressive performance for a few seasons. However, coaches of other teams realized Arsenal’s tactics, and developed what is known as “zonal marking” to their game strategies to counter that.

The speaker also discussed how this chain of events led to the invention of “total football” by the likes of Victor Maslov and Rinus Michels. According to this new methodology of play, players are now entitled to be apt in a set of skills, other than the skills that relate to their positions, to fill in the gaps of their fellow teammates. Now team members have to “organically” interact with each other while moving the ball around in order to generate space.

Barcelona under Guardiola were the first to excel in executing this new approach to football.

Chelsea this season have also employed this strategy in their gameplay, through the excessive focus on the midfield. Through their new 3-4-4 tactic, the Blues have realized the importance of a consolidated midfield and have achieved impressive results.

All of these new advancements, as discussed by Rasmi, have generated a sense of unpredictability that has kept viewers hooked in the game of football.

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