By John Cartwright
Recently, I was unfortunate to see a football match; I think it was a football match, they used a round ball and there were two different groups of 11 players on the field, beyond that there was little else that resembled the ‘Beautiful Game’ as described by Pele. How we tolerate such awful standards and blindly accept the rubbish on view amazes me.
This was a game played by professional players in the NPower league 2, so I did not expect a Barcelona standard, but I should be able to see some playing quality during the 90 minutes. The ball, or should I say the ‘canonball’ was ‘hit’ and headed with vigour but without subtlety and care.
From goalkeeper to forward strikers, the game was ‘stuttered’ from team to team; ball possession was something seemingly unheard of in the frantic ‘fightball’ contest that was played out in front of me. This ‘ugly’, fear-induced playing style is not only visible in the lower echelons of the professional game here but is rife throughout all levels and all age groups. Our players of the future are unable to produce a game in which individual artistry and combined team play is obvious. Speed and power exert more influence on playing style than quality and intellect.
A direct playing style is still the outstanding tactical method used in games in this country. Oh, yes we have seen the ball passed AT the back more in recent years, but we have not seen a significant improvement in playing FROM the back; the long ball forward is still the most used ‘weapon’ in our game’s ‘armoury’. A lack of individual skill allied to a reliance on simplistic tactics has reduced our game to a sad ‘ping-pong’ version of a more sophisticated game played by our foreign adversaries.
In an attempt to remedy the urge to play long, some coaches have decided that the ball must be passed around between their players more; we are now in the ‘pass, pass, pass’ playing period. Over-passing in preparation for attacking play but lacking penetrative awareness, intention or ability has become the model for many teams’. So, from the banality of ‘Route One’ football, we now find ourselves languishing, lost amongst the ‘Side Streets’and unable to find a suitable way ahead.
Generation after generation of talented players have been lost because of the ‘ugly’ type of game employed here. The inability to work the ball through the field of play has denied skilful individuals an opportunity to exploit their playing qualities. Chase and fight have been the prerequisites of selection rather than subtle playing skills and game intellect. Now, with our continued inability to design a suitable game-style that combines preparation play with penetrative play, we remain the ‘floundering failures of football’.
Yes, we do have some talented individuals at all levels, but the meretricious game-style that dominates our game is based on mediocrity not magic. Amongst the heaving mass of ‘sweat and bloodied’ participants in the struggle we call football, there is usually a glimmer of a real player trying to exert some poise and quality on the mess that surrounds him/her. Oh yes, those players are there, but the playing style fails to exploit the talent they have. Some might say that talented players should force themselves into the action more, but this is not as easy as it might seem ……. when back players are expected to be merely ‘stoppers’ and not cultured ‘starters’ of offensive play;…….. when there is a tendency to miss out mid-field and expect ‘second ball scramblers’ to dominate mid-field playing tactics;……. whilst up front, players are simply seen as targets to ‘hit’ rather than to ‘service’ the ball to.
No, the ‘ugly’ game-style that we seem unable to dislodge from our football psyche is responsible for so much of our failure over the years. Not until we construct a playing method that utilizes our strengths and embraces and introduces the playing sophistication of others into our game will we find the correct way forward;….. a route to satisfy all who want attractive football and the success that goes with it for our national game.