By John Cartwright
Only recently we all marvelled at Barcelona’s tremendous performance against Real Madrid in a domestic league match. This week we saw a turn-around as Real beat them in the Spanish Cup Final. For several seasons we have seen Barcelona completely outplay teams with their brand of positive possession football, but Mourinho’s, Inter side managed to record a victory over them in last year’s Champions League Semi-Final. Twice Mourinho, has broken the mystique surrounding the playing style of Barcelona using a defensive performance and fast counter attacks. Here we have seen two completely different approaches to a game – one is a brand of football that receives high praise, the other is a style that receives grudging approval. But it’s winning that counts at the very top of the game, losing is unacceptable.
This complexity of styles and success is at the very heart of football discussion and argument. What brought success only recently has been triumphed over and adaptations need to be made to restore it to its previous pedestal. Guardiola, has the job of fixing the problem that has arisen with the Barcelona way of playing – they’ve got to find adaptations to their present playing style to overcome the ‘park-the-bus’ methods that teams’ are now using against them.
I have always believed, and have often stated in numerous articles that all playing styles need variations that can be called upon when required. I have also noticed that football purists seem to exclude from their playing style an important part of the game – that the ball can also be passed in the air as well as along the ground! In heavily defended penalty areas or against teams’ that pressurize, playing the ball in the air is an option that should be used – but with care and only when necessity calls! Football purists, quite rightly, are often dissuaded from playing balls in the air for fear that their players may overuse and misuse it. This lack of practicality amongst some coaches reduces playing variations and decreases winning opportunities.
What we don’t want to see is a big ‘target’ player with limited playing skills other than an ability to head the ball — we’ve seen that for too long in our game. What we need are more complete footballers coming through their development years with all the skills and tactical awareness that the game demands. Guardiola, must be applauded for harnessing the talented players under his direction; they excite both with the ball and when having to regain it. However, it will be interesting to see how he copes with the latest disruption to Barcelona’s smooth-flowing style and, like so many like him who have brought ‘beauty’ to ‘the beautiful game’, has he the resolve to introduce further adaptations to their style of play and take it on to an even higher level, or as so often happens, – a ‘blanket of denial’ will exclude changes and adaptations? For the good of the game, let’s hope Guardiola, can get the balance right.