By John Cartwright
When one watches both Spain and Barcelona play their version of the game of football, it truly is ‘The Beautiful Game’ as depicted by the great Pele`. When one compares their brand of football with the ugly mess we continue to serve up, the gap between the two styles is not just large, it’s a chasm!
Rinus Michels, the former coach to Holland in the 1970’s and 80`s, left a legacy called ‘Total Football’ that his footballing heir, Johann Cruyff inherited and adapted to produce the football quality we see today from the Spaniards. Their objective (vision) was ‘Total Football’ – this was the playing pedestal for them to attain. Once they knew what type of game they wanted to play they set about creating the practice and playing ‘pathways’ (programs) to reach it. This seems quite a logical approach, but it is something we are unable to understand and consequently, we have ‘thrashed’ about trying to play the game without knowing where we are going and are unable to follow a reliable route forward.
Without a playing vision: (a) There is no obvious route forward possible. (b) How can coaching programs be produced towards……..what? (c) How can coaches be produced to work towards………what? (d) How can players be produced to play………what?
Since Cruyff’s, methodical approach to developing a game-style and the production of players to play it, Barcelona FC, under Guardiola’s excellent coaching ability, and Spanish international teams at all ages have made huge progress.
Meanwhile what about us? Well, things don’t seem to move so smoothly here. We continue in the main with a game-style that is based primarily on a menu of ‘roll up your sleeves and give 120%’ effort! This state of affairs permeates all levels of the game; at junior levels, selection depends more on size than ability and at senior levels, speed and strength are the dominant playing factors. Why was Cruyff, able to exert such a commanding presence over the game in Spain whilst our so-called ‘stars’ or Sirs, are more noticeable by their absence when it comes to positive action, or if asked to make telling comments on the true state of our game.
The football quality we see from the Spanish is built on simple logic – football’s a game that requires skill to play it, so produce or find the players with skill to play it. Simple isn’t it! The cleverness of Guardiola, has been his intelligent tactical use of the formation he plays and the astute introduction of highly skilled players in all positions to make the system of play function so smoothly. Could we reach the same high playing standards as those presently on display from the Spanish? Yes, is the answer to that question, but it will take bravery and a fierce determination to stay on track and not to be derailed by short –term failure.
The slick Spanish game-style is indeed a magnificent spectacle to watch. Whether in possession, where they demonstrate their individualism along with their ability to combine so effectively, or when out of possession, where they defend so collectively and so swiftly, they play a game that is difficult to combat; — but there is a flaw in their playing method – a lack of variation in their game-style. This is clearly visible against teams who ‘park the bus’ and rely on counter attacks from deep to score. Both Barcelona and the Spanish national teams do not utilize the correct use of aerial play at certain times in the game to go over crowded situations rather than always trying to find ways through them. I am not a disciple of long ball tactics as is well known, but I am in favour of playing variations and the CORRECT use of them.
We have a fierce football spirit that at present is forced to run out of control due to a lack of individual skill in our players and an over-dependence on basic tactical formations that creates ‘combative football’ not constructive, composed football. We must eradicate these playing omissions but retain our competitive instincts to provide an all-round game of individual skill able to combine, allied to better tactical awareness and controlled determination. The ability to mould the qualities of good play together is the ultimate task of all who lead football teams, but this leadership must have a designated objective to reach. The Spanish have shown us that a vision can be set and achieved. It’s up to us to follow their example, climb from the ‘football chasm’ that now exists between us, beat them and improve on the standards they have set!