We need to talk about how we play FIFA and Pro Evo.
For the last two decades or so, few pastimes have been as universally enjoyed among young Irish males than football video games. Whether you buy FIFA or PES every year and play it until the next one comes out, or you only play it at your mate's house where things get far more competitive than they should, it's hard to find a young Irish man who hasn't written a FIFA Facebook apology, or had one written for them.
We love it.
We love the competition that a supposed "Exhibition" can bring, where two players sit on the edge of their seats, elbows on their knees, like an elite ski-jumper prepating for lift-off, and we absolutely love a tournament more than is healthy, especially when it comes with an over-elaborate Champions League-style draw, but most of all we love the trash-talking.
There is no point in playing a video game with your mates if you can't exaggerate your superiority and boast every tiny victory like you've done something spectacular, but there is one term, one phrase, that is uttered that has absolutely no validity in the year 2016.
The term "rat goal" is the most common variant, although it is unfortunately also known by the anti-Semitic version, and now seems to be called a "sweaty goal" by the younger YouTube generation (a sweaty goal being one that you have tried so hard to score that you are sweating), but the rat goal is the original.
What is it? A rat goal is when you have two attackers running through on an unprotected goalkeeper, and proceed to pass the ball squarely to the supporting attacker for an easy tap in.
It started with the explosion of popularity seen with Pro Evolution Soccer 3, and grew in the following years as PES 4, 5, and 6, became an obsession for most young men in Europe. Back then, the game was very linear in it's animation, which meant that by far the most effective method of scoring was getting the ball to the end-line and passing it across the goal for a striker to tap-in.
It happened a lot, and it was infuriating. Soon it became a faux-pas, as if scoring by that method was the only way you could score a goal at all. The best players wanted to prove that they knew how to finish, and would rather see a keeper save a 1v1 shot than pass to the free man and take the easy route.
Anyone who did that was a "rat", and there was no joy to be taken in scoring a "rat goal".
Mainly the term was used by a sore loser who had nothing else to cling to after being humiliated, but as the games changed and Pro Evo faded into obscurity with FIFA becoming the king, the phrase stuck.
Advancements in animation and gameplay in the football video-game genre meant that getting to the line was more difficult, strikers had more options when it came to beating a keeper 1v1, and passing accuracy began to vary due to a virtual player's fatigue, but still moans of "rat goal" will be heard any time you take what is known in football as the sensible option.
It makes no sense. In real football if a striker ignored his teammate to prove that he could finish, he would be crucified for the decision. We applaud the vision and calmness when players make the pass, yet when it's done with a controller in hand it's some sort of crime?
Theo Walcott once even referred to one of his assists in the Premier League as "just a simple 'X' and 'Square' really..."
Skip to 1:50 in the below video:
Proud. As he should be.
In FIFA 16, or Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 (whichever is your preference), it is an achievement to create that type of goalscoring opportunity, it is not something that should nullify a result. And yet, that's the shite you'll hear from the moaner who is pissed off after having it scored against them.
It's your own fault for not defending it, so don't whinge about me taking a guaranteed goal when I've made it myself. If the match means something - and if your friends are like my friends it always means something - then it would be stupid not to take the goal.
Now, there are exceptions. If you're 4-0 up and you're not trying to lob the keeper, or take it around him, or chip it to your teammate to try an overhead kick, then it is fully acceptable to slag someone for being boring. In that case it is more satisfying to play around with your opponent rather than go for the throat.
Furthermore, if you score one of these "smart goals" as they will be called going forward, and you then watch all of the replays? Yeah, you deserve to take some stick for it, but what cannot be accepted is the stigma that surrounds scoring a goal in a 2v1 with a goalkeeper when the result is still in question. Don't watch the replays, I can't stress that enough.
It's something I've wanted to get off of my chest for a while. Too many times have I earned a perfectly good goal in a close game and been ridiculed for it. Every year we hope to see football video games come closer to the real thing, and yet this stunning hypocrisy raises it's ugly head with alarming regularity.
Those of us who are simply better at FIFA or Pro Evo than our friends need to take a stand, and inform the world that we won't accept having our name tarnished by doing the smart thing.
End the stigma. Take the goal if it's there for you.