Visitor or Permanent Resident?

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!

Heskey - Permanent Resident?


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?

Bergkamp - Visitor!

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.


3 thoughts on “Visitor or Permanent Resident?

  1. Fascinating perspective on the modern day player, who can tell which position Messi is playing during a game and especially when he’s on form, i read a quote somewhere the other day regarding Torres being at his most dangerous when he’s not involved in the game they have the ability to be patient and wait, watch then work at the critical moment. Even the best central defenders now can capably move into midfield with and without the ball. Wingers often operate in off the line in pockets of space asking questions who marks these players?
    Thanks for your work John.

  2. I noticed something very interesting from the England v Japan game that the press did not really seem to pick up on.
    I’ve personally banged the drum for Joe Cole playing off the front men for the last eight years. I believe he has been another great wasted English talent just like Le Tissier and Hoddle who were never given a role to express themselves with England.
    I have to admit that until Sunday I not only had no hope for Englands chances but quite honestly no desire for them to do well either because success for England in the WC would even further entrench us in our famous bad habits. But has Capello been keeping this one under his belt or is he really going to play Joe in that central role behind Rooney.
    Is it just me or did England start to have a fluency with Gerrard and Lampard able to get closer to Rooney because Cole held and spun and played the 5-7 yard ball? I believe playing Gerrard up front with Rooney and Cole just behind would allow the sort of thing that John is talking about to occur. Rooney will drop into midfield to collect and we know that Lampards speciality is attacking the box from deep positions. Admittedly this still leaves us with two static centre backs who don’t want and can’t keep the ball but that is another topic. What do people think?

  3. Hi Fletch. I enjoyed reading your comments. The expectations of improvement offered by our players and equally dashed, has become increasingly noticeable over the years as mediocrity in playing standards has increased. The lack of talented individuals in our game has necessitated the dependance on basic tactics allied to simplistic ability. Perhaps, and i say, perhaps, the poor performances by our national team in the WC — World Cup not toilet — will create some reaction from those in control of our game. Best regards.

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