By John Cartwright
It is generally accepted by all countries around the world involved with Association Football that here in Great Britain we play the game with fierce determination; without doubt, this is an important ingredient for success. However, from our dismal results over the years it seems that we have not realised that success requires more than a ‘let’s-get-at-‘em’ attitude.
It seems we consider playing the game with a ‘Bull-dog’ spirit rather than with skill and intelligence as the way for us to achieve success. Sadly, over so many years, our hearts have ruled our heads and our game has become more a contest of fitness and futility instead one of consideration and appropriate decision-making.
Football is a military-styled game in which effort and bravery in all its forms is required and tested; these physical aspects must be integrated along with the skills and understanding of the game. Too often our game, devoid of sufficient skill and understanding, lurches into untidy, ‘scrimmage-type’ football as our 100% effort playing mentality overwhelms the need for patience and panache — resulting in a game-style resembling Rugby scrimmaging than flowing football !
Time after time in games we seem unable to turn the ball away from tight situations into open space and our game flounders on unnecessary ‘battles’ instead of cultured movement. There is a deceitful attempt to improve ball possession in our game — passing the ball backwards and sideways when forward play is possible; but even when space and time has been achieved there is little advantage gained as we tend to continue towards yet another ‘scrimmage’ as opponents quickly close space down and we lack the all-round playing qualities to offset their tactical pressure.
The ability to play with patience, appropriate speeds, skill and game understanding is, at the moment, probably best displayed by Barcelona FC. They have a history of producing and acquiring highly skilled individuals who are directed into the Barcelona playing methodology. Recently, they have ‘tweaked’ their game-style to incorporate more variation to their passing lengths and crossing (as I said they must several years ago in a previous ‘blog’ you may recall). Their game is built on individual abilities first with team-play as an attachment, whereas we subscribe to an opposite approach – structured team-play devoid of individual all-round ability. All great teams over the years have had players capable of playing in tight situations who are able to change the direction of play from limited to open space when situations require them to do so. From these open spaces they are able to retain possession of the ball and exploit any attacking advantages that may become available. Barcelona, have become equally famous for their ability as a team to close-down on opponents to regain possession should they lose the ball, but on regaining the ball it is a rare occurrence to see the game enter a scrimmage phase — once regained the ball is ‘locked back’ into their possession playing style and their game is ‘tidied-up’ in preparation for any attacking opportunity that may arise .
In comparison, our game is a ‘mish-mash’ of effort and impatience over ability and understanding leading to a tendency to ‘force’ attacking play rather than to play it with thoughtful ‘composure’.
This ‘stuttering’, battlefield style of play begins at junior levels and continues unabated through all age levels before emerging as the ‘fightball’ football that reflects our senior game.
The full title of the game of Rugby is called Rugby Football and ‘scrimmaging’ forms an important part. It might be appropriate to rename our version of Association Football to Football Rugby for we seem to closely follow the playing methods of the game with the oval ball.