Forget the Quality – Feel the Width

By John Cartwright

In the Tailoring business there is a saying; ‘forget the quality, feel the width’; it is meant to suggest that one should be less concerned with the quality of a material and more concerned with the amount of it. The length of our football season is often described as a ‘Marathon not a sprint’ and as a description of the gruelling race for ‘silverware; safety or avoidance of relegation, the phrase is certainly appropriate. In all our domestic leagues the ‘battles’ flared to the bitter end and the Champions’ League Final also went into extra time and penalties before a winner was crowned.

I have no particular preference for any one team; the game of football overall is the focus of my attention. Because I share no ‘love’ for any individual club I find it interesting, but somewhat disturbing, to see how poor playing standards are dismissed in the obsessive desire to win – no matter how! The glib statement so often heard from contestants in our game that, “it’s all about getting a result”, is painfully true, but equally painful, this attitude towards results too often disconnects with playing quality. The best example of my concern relating to success over substance could be seen quite clearly with Chelsea winning the Champions’ League Trophy. Let me say that to win anything deserves congratulations but winning should consist of more than a ‘fight for survival’. Defending is part and parcel of football but the real quality of the game necessitates that defending should be the ‘launching pad’ for attractive and effective attacking play.

With each season more and more expensive  ‘imports’ enter our game to help contain the ebb of skilled talent undelivered by our own development methods. Our teams’, at all levels, are often over-reliant on foreign ability both in terms of players and coaches. With this insertion of overseas talent, an interesting but somewhat conflicting approach to playing is developing throughout all levels of the game here as more complex foreign playing styles begin to ‘bump up’ against our normal, direct playing methods. This attempt to add more lustre to the playing style we have become accustomed to watch requires higher standards from all involved. The question must be asked, are we able to provide our own coaches and players that are capable of reaching higher playing standards, or will effort and physicality remain the bastions of our game?

The problem of skill deficiency and the length of our season was compounded in the past by the inferior quality of playing surfaces on which games were played. Surfaces today are pristine for games at top levels and allow for better skills to be displayed. The level of skill and playing quality shown by so many teams’ from abroad however, has always reflected far more subtle and expansive football qualities as compared with here – yet poor playing surfaces and extended seasons could be found in all football playing nations and was not exclusive to British football! Irrespective of these negative issues, our foreign counterparts have given more thought to providing better playing qualities …… why didn’t we?

The changes required for our game to create more ‘home-grown’ talent and introduce an improved style of play will not be easy to make. Do we really want change and do we understand how to implement those changes? I have serious doubts about both of those questions. The long-term battle between ‘artisan and assassin’ that has been a feature of the game in these islands, will be difficult to redirect along a more attractive and effective route. The belief that ignoring quality as long as one gets ‘over the line’ safely at the end of a long ‘haul’ will remain a dominant aspect of the game here. Our clubs’ will battle for success or safety and similarly, our international teams’ will bravely, continue playing in major tournaments using a playing style based on fight and not fantasy.

England’s recent ‘victory’ over Norway in Oslo was yet another clear example of ‘hyped’ assessment of a poor performance….but we won!  The game was played with neither style nor panache for 90+ boring minutes……but we ‘scratched-out’ a result and all is forgiven! The usual, after-match decisions on this performance were provided by the Media with, ‘we don’t keep the ball well enough’ fronting their criticism as usual.  This should this be of no surprise as ball possession is flagrantly given away at all levels season after season in our domestic ‘encounters’! From a domestic game-style more associated with open warfare to an overnight transformation to a playing style involving  skill and tactical awareness is unlikely to happen and we will continue to be ‘fed’ hype to cover the ‘dressed-up’ amateur standards of our game.

Perhaps I should finish by restructuring the title of this article and replace it with;  ‘REMEMBER QUALITY….. AT ALL TIMES’!

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8 thoughts on “Forget the Quality – Feel the Width

  1. The way we play the game makes it a marathon. Most of the leading European leagues play the same same number of games as we do plus cups and the european competitions. It is our game style which makes it a test of strength and endurance. So when it comes to the summer and we have either a world Cup or European champioship in which to compete, then we complain that our players are burnt out and tired.
    An enlightened manager like Brendan Rodgers talks about “resting on the ball”. He knew that if swansea approached the Premier League with a direct approach and percentage football then they would spend all season chasing the ball and exhausting themselves. His possession style has kept them in the league and delighted most spectators. It has been pointed out that barcelona’s ‘tiki taki’ means they rarely have to run more than 10 metres to win back the ball after losing it, because xavi, Iniesta,Busquets and messi play close together and so when the opposition do get the ball then it it only short distances they have to run to win it back. Because we hit the ball over long distances then we have to run long distances in an attempt to regain possssion after losing it.
    So our game is all about running – in and out of possession.

  2. We simply have to have a more aesthetic, entertaining style for a number of reasons:

    1 Excepting minor trophies, a team can only win 3 domestic trophies each year – League Cup, Divisional Championship and FA Cup. So in any division, most teams are actually playing each week to not win a trophy. If you aren’t going to win, you might as well be entertaining.

    2 We are in the midst of a global recession and the first thing to cut back on is ‘luxuries’ – things such as entertainment, including football match tickets. So again, if you aren’t attractive, you WILL lose custom in this climate.

    3 In order to have a better level of player and the apex of the game, we have to have more and better players at the grassroots. Kids play the game because it is enjoyable and fun. If we develop players with a more constructive style, they will enjoy it better because they are actually playing WITH the ball, not AGAINST it and the opponent. If they enjoy it more, they will stay in the game longer and, hopefully, keeping the technical player in the game longer will allow more of them to reach the top level.

    4 Ultimately, if we don’t change as a nation, we will never achieve anything again on the international stage. We are behind; it’s an unequivocal fact – if we wish to be more competitive at the top level we have to change our approach and, especially, mentality all the way through. Barcelona have proven that you can develop technically exceptional players, play an attractive game-style that is also a winning game-style (fans as well as trophies).

    If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always had !

  3. Many years ago the Brazilian midfield general Gerson said ‘treat the ball like a jewel.’ Unfortunately Charles Hughes and his cronies misunderstood in interpretation thinking he said ‘treat the ball like you’re cruel’

  4. I undestand once again – as always – the English national shows no quaility and this is going unabaited. And this from the country that gave football to the world. What a joke.

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