By John Cartwright
Sorry about the title, but the question that I often ask myself is, do we really need front strikers that “live” in a central forward position, or should we develop the type of players who make timely “visits” to these advanced positions?
Big, solid centre forwards, associated with our game from its earliest days, are still a necessary part of the playing style used extensively here. Strength not skill has been their main offering and to compete against them our game has produced equally physically endowed defenders. The “Fight Football” that ensues between forward “bustlers” and defensive “hustlers” more often resembles gladiatorial Battles not the beautiful game!
Our game has produced a partner for the “bustler” I call this player “the waiter” why do I call them waiters? Well, they wait! These players have a skill called patience. They are prepared to position themselves on the shoulders of rear defenders and wait for a chance to run behind them. Their contribution to outfield play is often minimal, but along with their partner they “live” in forward space and feed off any crumbs (chances) that may come their way.
The choice to play simplistic football should be an option not a necessity. All players should have the skills and confidence that allows them the freedom to move around the field. Why is it that this nation, that has provided the world with so many skills, arts and crafts in other areas of life has been unable to develop a playing style for its own national game that reflects the same cultured pedigree?
Over the Years, there has been a succession of foreign teams, both at national and club levels who have devised playing systems with skilful players for all positions. Speed and subtlety in forward positions has become a necessity. Low-skilled, athletic battlers have largely been dispensed with in the effort to produce more efficient, attractive and effective brands of football. The game style preferred here has generally remained dependant on simple football methods to satisfy low quality football ability. Long passes to forward areas dominates attacking play. Unskilled Neanderthals hit these passes to the “bustler” and “waiter” in the hope that something might happen; if it doesn’t, well at least the ball is a considerable distance from their own goal – danger is reduced—but so is good play!
My earliest memory of a more classic approach to the playing of the game and of artful forward play came during the 1950`s with the wonderful football of the Hugarian national team. Their players were different, none more so than their front players, Hideguti and Puskas. Over the years there has been a succession of foreign teams who have played the games using art not the “hammer”. These teams had great all round ability and exceptional exponents of forward play who relied on skill on the ball and clever movement off it. Speed and strength were important supplements but not the only ingredients in their football armoury. Where skill deficiencies amongst our forward players has “anchored” them in forward areas reachable only with long passes, skilful, foreign strikers are apt to come short to lessen the delivery distance to them. In doing so, their own game as well as that of their team has become more expansive in content than the more predictable, “war-like” style seen here.
A disappointing issue that has been around for an interminably long time is that of young player development. Irrespective of the numerous examples throughout this time of better development methods from abroad we still continue producing positionalized players who possess power, not panache. Consequently our game style follows a historical pattern in terms of both individual ability and playing quality. The necessary break with old style playing methods does not occur. We seem either afraid or unaware that to produce players with more skills and movement would allow enlightened coaches to formulate more expansive and exciting football.
A “visitor” enjoys the opportunity to see new places and try new things on the journeys he/she makes, whilst “a permanent resident” tends to live in a closed community where life is structured and orderly. In football, let’s get all our players whether they play at the back, mid-field or up front to be “visitor’s” not “permanent residents”. Once their eyes are opened to new and exciting places on the field their performances will improve and our game will prosper.