Friday, July 22, 2005

Total Football and the Enigmatic Dutch

Ahh, yes.. the famous concept introduced to us by the recently deceased Rinus Michels through his 1970s Netherlands team - led by none other than Johan Cruyff. It was put into breathtaking execution during the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. The Oranje blew away the opposition and redefined the way in which the beautiful game is played. First off, let me qive you a quick definition:

Total football is a system of play in which each and every outfield player is a supreme athlete, adaptable to play any position on the field. In any given situation if a player is moved out of his position then another player immediately replaces him, retaining the intended organizational structure of the squad. In this fluid system the assignment of roles is largely used to identify the players' strengths, but is in no way strictly adhered to. I was going to describe to you a probable scenario but a picture speaks a thousand words, so behold my humble little diagram.



Total Football - Click to enlarge


As you can see, I've stuck to a more traditional 4-4-2 formation for my diagram rather than the Dutch preference for 4-2-4 back in '74 (just to make things a bit easier for myself). In this (extreme) situation you can see the central defender having possession of the ball and deciding to make a run into midfield with it. As soon as he vacates his position, the central midfielder slots back to cover the gap. The defender decides to continue with his run when none of the opposition players approach him (they're too busy man-marking, maybe) and the left midfielder rushes in to cover the central area he has just left behind. As he makes his way towards the goal, the center forward fills the left midfielder's position (therefore dragging his man-marker with him, opposition centeral defender #1 in this case) and as opposition central defender #2 rushes over to cover the maurauding defender's run the second center forward finds himself all alone at the edge of the box. The defender passes the ball to the unmarked center forward but the idiot misses. Goalkick, everyone back to their places, and the structure of the team never deviated from its original shape. Geddit?

This is just an example, and of course during the course of the match many little interchanges like this would happen (similar to the interlap between fullbacks and left/right midfielders seen these days) which would confuse the opposition players as to who they're supposed to be marking. In order to understand why this was so devastating back in 1974 then we must delve a bit deeper into the football psyche of days yore. You see, before the revolution that was Total Football, football was a game of individual battles. You marked your man on defense, you dribbled past your man on offense. South American teams (Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina) dominated their European counterparts using sheer individual skill, so a new system had to be devised. By switching positions continuously the opposition defenders would be pulled in all kinds of different directions, disrupting man-marking responsibilities assigned prior to the match. This naturally led to the development of zonal defense, where the defender would cover an area of the pitch rather than shadowing an individual. Both methods of defending are now used in conjunction with each other within the modern game. Another interesting component of Total Football that carried through to modern times and was the chief reason the system unsettled the South Americans' reknowned offenses was the "pressing" concept. The Brazilians, for example, were used to recieving the ball, standing on it for a bit while they looked around and then either beating their man or delivering an incisive pass through the defense. With "pressing" the Dutch wouldn't allow for that to happen, instantly rushing all available players in the area towards the player on the ball. This ensures that everyone is involved in the play at all times of the match, and it would throw off the creative talents of the South Americans when they saw the whole of Holland charging at them whenever they touched the ball. Very effective. Modern teams have put the pressing system into good practice (either over the entire pitch or on the defensive half of it) and it is the most evident cause of the break-neck speed of the Premiership.

So, to summarize, Total Football involved two main concepts: Player Rotation and Pressing. By nullifying the man-marking method's effectiveness and speeding up the pace of the game when the opposition had the ball the Dutch forced the South Americans to reinvent themselves in further World Cups and gave a semblance of balance to the world game. European teams can now use their tactics to overcome their deficiencies in individual skill, and would stand on much more even ground when facing their ridiculously talented Latin opponents.

While it took a very special bunch of players to execute the entire system of Total Football, many of its components are very valid and are still used quite extensively in the modern game. Supreme athletic conditioning, talented players and creative coaching enabled Mr. Michels to give birth to a concept that has revolutionized the sport and still lives on in football folklore 30+ years after its introduction.

One fact still plagues the Oranje, however. For all of their genius and creativity the Dutch have yet to actually win a World Cup.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Vieira to Juve...aftermath?

Reports have surfaced that a deal is done and sealed between the two clubs, ranging between 12-15 mil pounds.

As an Arsenal fan, Im not that sad about him leaving, he was a great Arsenal player, but next year he is 30, and with Wenger's 1 yr contract policy for over 30 coming, and remembering the fact that he has had 2 average seasons to his standards, and the emergance of Fabregas (the future king of arsenal), its not that big of a loss!

The question is....is he replacable? We certainly dont have replacement now, after selling both him and Edu. Gilberto+Fabregas midfield is not bad, but we need a world class midfielder, but are there any players available anywhere?? Essien is a name heard alot, but Chelsea's 26mil offer was refused, so no way!

Its a confusing time! If you were in Wenger's place, who would you go for?? He promised 2 'world-class' players to arrive, and so far we got Hleb, and Baptista doesnt want to leave Spain, so I guess there still is at least one more world class player! Must be another midfielder, right??

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Gordon "the wee man" Strachan

I love that guy, I absolutely do. He was one of the greatest Scottish players during his playing days and earned a reputation for performing minor managerial miracles after he hung up his boots. His coaching career has had its ups and downs, mainly relegation with Coventry followed by the salvage job he excelled in with Southampton.. turning a perenially relegation-threatened team into a side that could break into the top 10, even qualify for Europe. He just came back from some time out of football and has filled the void left at Celtic following Martin O'Neill's departure in order to spend time with his ailing wife. Gordon Strachan has got to be one of the most entertaining managers of all time when stood in front of a microphone.. I'm quite delighted now that he's finally back in the world of football.

Here are some samples of Mr. Strachan's sharp Scottish wit (lifted from a few sources off the internet):

Reporter: 'Welcome to Southampton Football Club. Do you think you are the right man to turn things around?'
Strachan: 'No. I was asked if I thought I was the right man for the job and I said, 'no', I think they should have got George Graham because I'm useless'.

Reporter: 'So, Gordon, in what areas do you think Middlesbrough were better than you today?'
Strachan: 'What areas? Mainly that big green one out there'.

Reporter: 'Gordon, Do you think James Beattie deserves to be in the England squad?'
Strachan: 'I dont care, I'm Scottish.'

Reporter: 'Bang, there goes your unbeaten run. Can you take it?'
Strachan: 'No, I'm just going to crumble like a wreck. I'll go home, become an alcoholic and maybe jump off a bridge. Umm, I think I can take it, yeah.'

Reporter: 'There's no negative vibes or negative feelings here?
Strachan: 'Apart from yourself, we're all quite positive round here. I'm going to whack you over the head with a big stick.. down negative man, down.'

Reporter: 'Gordon, can we have a quick word please?'
Strachan: 'Velocity' [walks off].

Reporter: 'Gordon, you must be delighted with that result?'
Strachan: 'You're spot on! You can read me like a book'.

Reporter: 'This might sound like a daft question, but you'll be happy to get your first win under your belt, won't you?'
Strachan: 'You're right. It is a daft question. I'm not even going to bother answering that one. It is a daft question, you're spot on there.'

Strachan: 'I've got more important things to think about. I've got a yogurt to finish by today, the expiry date is today. That can be my priority rather than Augustin Delgado'.

And to finish the post off, I leave you with an excerpt from Gordon's days as a TV pundit on the BBC and Sky Sports (a way to fill the time between jobs, I suppose):

Strachan was on Sky on Sunday morning. He saw John Terry's goal and said he was impressed that Terry goes up expecting to score. He contrasted this to Claus Lundekvam, the Saints central defender, who goes up for every dead ball and never ever looks remotely like scoring. He said, "If there was a dead body lying in the penalty area the ball would hit it on the head several times a season, which is more than Lundekvam can manage". He said referees should book Lundekvam for timewasting every time he goes up for a corner. When the co-commentator said to the cameras that if "Lundekvam is watching, Strachan was only joking", Strachan assured him he was deadly serious.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Stevie G Speculation

What do you guys think about Gerrard moving to Chelsea or Real? Rumours or quite likely? Who would they get instead of him should he decide to leave?

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Repercussions

You do something wrong, you get punished for it. Simple enough?

Well, not in the world of football it isn't. The way the game's hierarchy works, each country's football association metes out its own punishment for offenses perpetrated by players within its league. These decisions can then be appealed at the national FA, and if the appeal fails then the dispute is transferred to the appropriate continental governing body (UEFA, AFC, CAF, CONCACAF.. you get the picture..) and, if need be, then the case moves on to a legal court in the continent, then all the way up to FIFA.

The punishments vary, however. A classic example is the range of different rulings found in doping cases around Europe. In Italy, a positive test is punished with an average ban of five months (Jaap Stam and Fernando Couto, as an example). In England with the Rio Ferdinand issue, missing a test can cost you 8 months out of the game. In cases of acts of racism by the fans, monkey chants directed towards black players in Spain cost one or two clubs a paltry 500 Euro fine. Other nations crack down much harder, including substantially heftier fines and possible fan bans meaning that home games won't have a home crowd for a game or two.

And now to the point of this post: Roma's recently imposed 1 year transfer ban.

Now, that's the first time I've ever heard of a "transfer ban" but apparently the boys from FIFA were in a no nonsense mood that day. Recent allegations from french club Auxerre about Roma's improper conduct in regards to the transfer of Phillipe Mexes have irked the top brass, and they decided to inflict a highly creative yet ruthless punishment on the Roman club. Auxerre believe that the Italians had actively encouraged Mexes to break his contract to join them, and so FIFA ruled in their favor and decided that Roma should not be allowed to register new players until the summer of 2006. This has some interesting ramifications, since the club was seeking to reinforce last year's disappointing squad with the trio of Shabani Nonda, Samuel Kuffor and Rodrigo Taddei. Those transfers are pretty much done, with the three players having passed their respective medicals and in waiting for the transfer window to commence so that they can prepare to start pre-season training in the beautiful city of Rome. A very large spanner has been thrown in the works, with the recent FIFA ruling meaning that they can no longer be registered on the club's roster. Roma have decided to appeal against the decision.