By John Cartwright
After watching the England v Spain friendly at Wembley, it was Mourinio, the coach of Real Madrid who summed the result up brilliantly, “ a win without touching the ball.” The limited number of times the England players gained and held possession of the ball was laughable; and yet they won!
Two worrying points stem from this game;
1. For Spanish football; how can they have so much possession and not score?
2. For English football; how can they not gain and keep possession far better than at present yet win?
Well, the Spanish problem is one that has become obvious for some time; when teams’ ‘park the bus’ as England did, at international level they lack an attacking variation and a ‘Talisman’, a Lionel Messi. Their possession football lacks penetration and variety at vital times and an individual, creative genius to ‘kill’ defensive blocks. At the Barcelona club their game-style, copied by Spanish national teams, has similar difficulty with opponents who are prepared to play , or are forced to play in a negative, defensive way against them and so often it is Messi, who is the difference between success and failure.
The English problem is far greater; we lack quality standards both in playing ability and tactical intellect. Our problems are not easily overcome in the short term, for we do not possess the players in all positions who have individual playing qualities that are so important for retaining the ball; nor are we comfortable playing a game-style that demands patience and poise. Lack of individual playing quality in general, combined with the scarcity of potential ‘Talismen’, has turned our game into a combative ‘fightball’ version of ‘the Beautiful Game’ as Pele describes Association Football.
Yet, even with Spain having such an overwhelming advantage in playing qualities, England won the match! We are still a ‘difficult to beat nation’, whether on the football field or in any other sporting, business or academic sphere of life. But are we to be satisfied with winning in an ‘ugly’ way? Surely, long-term success demands more than physical effort, it requires ability as well! Spanish football, even though they are the present holders of World and European titles, will not be slow in recognizing the inadequacies developing within their game and begin to adapt their style of play accordingly to deal with them. We, however, will glorify in the glare of victory over such a prestigious football nation as Spain and continue along the same pathways as before. We will remain ‘the Terriers’ of the game, difficult to beat but unable to combine our physical qualities with the attractive and effective playing attributes that are such an important part of the game.
Perhaps, being the ‘home of the game’, we have invented a new version of Association Football; ‘ how to win with the least number of touches of the ball’ !!