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’!