Spain must have been four or five to zero as veteran football commentator Clive Tyldesley described yesterday that they were playing “PlayStation football”. Jordi Alba had just nutmeg a poor, undeserving Costa Rican twice before playing the ball backwards, a claim of flamboyant dominance more than a genuine attempt to break through the defence. Spain felt at ease and played the classic tiki-taka game pioneered by its predecessors, legends like Xavi and Iniesta. It was nice to look at, but bore no resemblance to the game I played on PlayStation or any other console.
The dismissive comment piqued my curiosity. How did the phrase get into the real game commentary? How did Clive Tyldesley find out about this? And what does he think PlayStation Football actually is?
I don’t know who first uttered that phrase when commenting on an IRL football match and thanks to thousands of good SEO-able FIFA guides I have no way of finding out. I remember Gary Neville saying almost a decade ago that David Luiz looked like he was “controlled by a ten-year-old on a PlayStation”. If you’ve ever seen David Luiz play then you know that’s a fair assessment, despite Neville’s subsequent apology.
But it wasn’t until years later that the phrase really took off. I don’t recall hearing it in comments much, but enough must have been said to justify the metaphrases appearing in the FIFA game itself. “It’s like watching a video game,” or similar words come out of Derek Rae’s virtual mouth as Charlie Adam meets Ronaldo’s Suii after scoring a particularly delicious goal. I see what you did there, Derek.
The term has evolved significantly over the past decade. Gary Neville’s comment was pronounced with venom, a clear insult to Luiz’s erratic game. Tyldesley, meanwhile, complimented Spain on their passing triangles and comfortable, skillful performance. Which is closer to actual FIFA gameplay, real “PlayStation Soccer”? Neither really.
Because of SBMM in Division Rivals, I’ve never been able to match a ten-year-old, or when I have, they were better than me. The only time I’ve seen an opponent come close to Gary Neville’s assessment was after the third Charlie Adam rainbow sailed over their keeper’s head and they began to seethe. You might see wayward slide tackles and wild volleys just before a rage stops, but even ten years ago kids were good at FIFA.
However, good at FIFA rarely meant playing good football. I remember that the best tactic in FIFA 08 was to give the ball to the fastest and most skillful player and run him all over the field before shooting it into the net. Tackling has improved over the years, but your best option in FIFA 23 is to play like classic stoke; ping a long ball over the top for your longest player to run on. Tiki-Taka has never been meta.
Tyldesley’s impression of “PlayStation Football” is one of ignorance, but you can’t blame him. I don’t expect a man born in the 1950s to keep up with the FIFA meta, or even know that the game is also available for Xbox, PC, and (sort of) Switch. It’s just a standard phrase now, a meaningless conversation that commentators can throw in when Spain have 85 percent possession and there’s nothing else to say.
In many ways it has replaced the classic expression “It’s like seeing Brazil!”. which has gone out of fashion since Brazil’s performances have waned. Nobody looked at Iran and pointed to Germany’s strike against the Selecao in 2014.
Comments have always been mostly meaningless, and few commenters offer anything other than the most obvious information to those who know about the game. There are exceptions, but for every John Motson and Emma Hayes, there’s a Robbie Savage and John Hartson. The fact that video games are mentioned at all is a sign of the times though – they are a clearer point of reference for younger viewers than decades-old Brazilian teams. But it is typical of a widespread public misconception about the virtual game that “PlayStation football” is used to describe Spain and not Stoke.
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