By John Cartwright
I have said for many years that the Game-style preferred in the main in these islands tends to lean in the direction of Direct Play and that this playing method has been responsible for the poor development of our young players as well as the lack of success at all international levels since 1966. There have been individual attempts over the years to modify the preference towards Direct Play and introduce a playing style that incorporates more inter-passing; this has been moderately successful but in general most clubs have not attempted to change.
In my opinion, the fast,‘crash-bang’ game-style we use so much does not allow the skilled player sufficient opportunities to display his/her talent. Physical aspects of performance, although very important, have become an overriding playing requirement at all levels. Skills, guile and creativity in the game here have become less important than speed strength and stamina. The majority of our game is played at a constant speed with little concern for the arts and crafts of the game… ‘If you can’t run, you can’t play’… seems to be an ever-increasing concept within our game. We must find the answers to the problems sooner rather than later, for our game is rapidly falling behind other football nations as we become too reliant on foreign talent to bolster skilful performance at domestic levels.
Whatever playing method preferred it must contain five important ingredients; it must teachable – it must be playable – it must be variable – it must be watchable – it must be ‘winnable’. The game of football is not a simple game as so many (non-players) seem to believe, it is a difficult game that requires quick decisions and alternative actions to counter interference from opposition. Individual skills, speed, strength, stamina, attitude and game understanding are necessary attributes for high performance in competitive games. Any playing style must incorporate all of the previously mentioned aspects if it is to achieve and sustain success over a considerable period of time.
Reliance on a single playing style may deliver some success in the short term but will falter as opposing teams’ apply different tactics against it; this was clearly demonstrated by Bayern Munich’s powerful and skilful display against Barcelona’s ‘Tiki-Taki’ style; consequently, Barcelona have had to ‘tweak’ their possession based game-style to include some quicker, forward passing. With their players who have high individual ability and game understanding, the introduction of alternatives to a long preferred playing style is less difficult than for those attempting changes with players of lesser all-round ability. Game-style changes here have shown more success when foreign ‘imports’ have been heavily involved on the field or in managerial positions. Changes have been less successful when attempted with ‘home-grown’ talent and I believe this is entirely due to poor development methods producing mediocrity in both coaching and playing areas of our game.
So how should we play? Well in accordance with what I have already stated, any radical changes must accede to those points mentioned and set as an envisioned target for a national game-style; it then becomes possible to create development programmes related to age and ability towards the playing vision. These programmes can be constructed in such a way that development can be introduced from senior levels downwards or from junior levels upwards……… because the playing ‘target’ is understood, each of the stages can be set towards achieving it. I have also consistently stated that British playing strengths combined with skill and tactical variations more often seen abroad must be taught and introduced to our players throughout all playing levels……. the PREMIER SKILLS coaching and playing methodology was envisaged and then created along these lines. Tactical variations and team formations must always possess the ingredient of team balance; whether attacking or defending, a team should always have sufficient players available without becoming defensively exposed or inadequately supported in attack. I have championed the importance of rotational play and this will become an ever-important feature of the game in the future as it allows far greater team movement and tactical variations whilst maintaining team balance.
I have also said for many, many years that our players are better than is generally believed…… Brendan Rodgers is now suggesting this. The trouble I believe has always been associated with a game-style that has restricted individual skills and has made it difficult for players to reproduce any real ability they have. The tendency towards performances requiring 100% effort is important but a change in game-style must include many more opportunities to display other associated playing skills. The sequence of 1v1 ‘fights’ and straight-line movements that are a consistent part of our present, tactically naïve game-style must be eliminated as much as possible. By introducing a game-style that contains all the necessary playing requirements, our players and teams would be in a far better position to compete with the best football nations in the world……. and win!