By John Cartwright
Prior to 1950 England, ‘sailed an independent course in the waters of world football’. We played ‘friendly’ international matches but did not enter into major international competitions until 1950. The World Cup of that year was played in Brazil and was won by an exciting Argentine team; we lost 1-0 to the USA and failed to qualify for the latter stages of the Tournament. It was from this point, in my opinion, that confusion and mis-interpretation of how we should play entered our game.
Our football pride was further damaged in 1953 when the fabulous Hungarian national team ‘destroyed’ us, first at Wembley and then in a return game in Budapest. We had ‘lived’ in our own football world for too long and were now suffering the consequences. Although we had some outstanding, self-made players we were miles behind the leading nations when it came to producing performances that utilised this talent collectively.
The ‘search’ for a playing style began. We have played ‘copy-cat’ to numerous nations that have succeeded in international tournaments over the years; Brazilian -‘master-classes’, Dutch -‘total football’, German – ‘organisation’, French – ‘free spirit’ and Spanish -‘Ticki-Tacki’ football have all been introduced into our game in some fashion over the years. To add to the confusion, in the late 1980’s the FA introduced their version of a game-style – ‘Direct Play’. The result over time of these multiple attempts to copy the cultured football of others whilst immersed in the principles and practice of Direct Play’s ‘long ball’ method has made our game a bloody, confused mess! ……..But let me say here, we need a playing formula that promotes a suitable combination of force with finesse, for force, intelligently used, can provide the opportunities for the game’s skilful aspects to be displayed
At present it seems we have hit a ‘brick wall’ when it comes to finding a way forward that suits our national culture, our beliefs about the game and how to achieve lasting success. Old habits are hard to dismiss, none more so than when it comes to our thinking, teaching, playing and watching of the game of football. We need to visualise a true picture of how we should play the game and then set about bringing that picture into reality. The wholesale introduction of ‘copy-cat’ playing methods should be dismissed with only small variations introduced into the system as deemed necessary or desirable over time.
We must accept a basic principle about playing the game of football; – players must have the skills to play it! Limited playing ability lessens standards of performance and we are not producing skilful players with all the ‘tools of the trade’ to do the job properly!
Our latest attempt to copy another country’s football is that of Spain and their possession-based game-style. Our attempt to copy it however, fails miserably due to our woeful inability to produce the skills and intelligence that their game-style contains. It seems we have not realised two important things with regards to Spanish football; firstly, they have spent a considerable number of years perfecting the way they play and in developing the players to play it; secondly, Spanish football has recently had to modify and vary their game-style to offset the effects of difficult defensive tactics used against them. They have been able to make these variations quickly and successfully because they have talented players who are able to make those changes!
‘Nothing stays the same’, so the saying goes and whilst the successful nations of the football world ‘juggle’ and make adjustments to the way they play the game, we ‘muddle’ with our game and rely on copying the latest successful method of someone else……….which we have neither the know-how to teach or ability to use. …..…. ‘DAFT AINT IT’!