It seems all the rage. Ever since Pep Guardiola started playing tiki taka with Barcelona thanks to having three of the greatest footballers of a generation in his team (ie Messi, Xavi & Iniesta) everybody now thinks “we can all do that”.
But proof might suggest otherwise as we saw after 30 seconds in England’s match with Kosovo last week. In fact Guardiola’s latest total football attempt at Manchester City helped play their way to a defeat against newly promoted Norwich City at the weekend whilst Arsenal, ‘doing it since Wenger’ did exactly the same under Unai Emery in throwing away a two goal lead against bottom of the table Watford on Sunday.
But why do they bloody do it?
OK I get that football evolves, I get that this ‘new’ philosophy is an idealist big tick in the modern coaching manual and I get that starting kids off at the earliest age possible to pass to their mate is the way to go… But I’ve been to under 8 Academy games and in 7 a side the two defenders in the team are splitting the box to encourage that the goalkeeper passes to them when in possession. If I’m an under 8 boss I’m saying to my strikers “go stand on them” and what happens next??? The Goalkeeper has no choice but to kick it long (or as long as their little legs can kick it at least).
From kids that are recommended to play out from the back to young footballers that now believe this is the only way. Take Jose Mourinho, some would say a negative coach that prides his team on defensive shield and shape without the ball more than what his team do with it. Kids don’t like listening to what he has to say these days, his ideas are outdated, too much like hard work getting back into shape and making yourself hard to beat, “just give me the ball and let me play” it’s a new way of thinking that seems to forget that art of defending is just as important as your craft in attack.
These days almost every team wants to play out from the back, the ‘latest’ new rule that allows defenders to stay in the box when a goal kick is taken is possibly the most obvious version of how to make your players and coaches look like prats in two passes. Teams at the top, teams at the bottom, teams who’s keepers have two left feet, teams who’s defenders are big lumps continue to attempt it. Goal Kick version A is Goalkeeper plays a two yard pass to centre half before defender attempts to pass it across goal to his fellow centre half which then gets intercepted. Version B is Keeper passes to defender who’s standing next to him, he gives it back to the keeper, who then tries to find his full back and it gets intercepted, invariably both attempts leading to a chance on goal for the opposition. Is this not fighting with fire? Or are footballers and coaches so far up there own arses these days that they know best?
After all they will probably tell you that playing ‘this way’ creates a press and leaves space in further behind, but all it really does is pushes the oppositions defence further up the field so that they can condense the play and make it harder for the attacking team to get out of their own half? It’s nonsensical. If the pass is not on, don’t do it. But that’s too obvious hey?
Maybe I’m looking at football from a negative perspective? Having played full back for over 30 years I would “tell the keeper” when I thought he should go long. If you’re 1-0 up with 10 or 20 minutes to go for example why ‘take the risk’ don’t play it to me? Take your time, go long, get us set for the seconds and play from the centre of the park with eight men behind the ball. After all they say you defend from the front, but in modern football I keep seeing more goals being scored when defenders have the ball and are trying to play out. How can you bring ‘defending from the front’ into play when it’s your own stupid fault you’ve given a goal away whilst conceding possession?
These dinosaur opinions of mine will no doubt ruffle a few feathers of those that think they can play, but playing in the right areas and in areas of less risk lowers the opportunity you give to the opposition to score. I remember George Graham (A Manager who was known for having a top defence) saying something like “90% of goals are scored inside the box.” So if it’s that simple, get the ball out of your box, make sure you do everything you can to ensure the ball is outside the box, and I would fancy as a defender offering that 10% chance in the opposition getting a long range goal by defending my box properly and for one not pratting around with it by passing it from keeper to centre half and back before they invariably get pressured (at best) in kicking it out of play.
Another theory is that 99.9% of goals in the Premier League this season have been scored inside the defensive teams half? So having the ball in the opposition half you are more likely to score than you are ‘playing out from the back’ and knocking it sideways between your back four. I’ve always loved the term ‘playing percentages’ which for 150 years has been so true, but perhaps is no longer in the UEFA scripted coaching manual that the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Brian Clough, Bill Shankly & Bob Paisley, Johan Cruyff, Ernst Happel, Rinus Michels and more never read.
Now I don’t want to come across as all negative and ancient as I do see a time and a place for teams to play from the keeper to the defenders and build from there as it can be often co-operative in building attacks, but what I don’t like is that teams will now force the initial pass rather than do it because it’s natural, they know the pass is not on, but the Coach told them to do it, so they do it regardless even if they know it’s not best when more often than not the best decision is the most natural decision. This after all is why footballers are paid so much, to make these decisions for themselves. If the pass is on and there’s space then yes, do it every time for me, but if it’s not, don’t do it, don’t force it, don’t make a prat of yourself and don’t think you’re better than you are because more often than not you’ll be left with egg on your face for doing something which is quite simply risky, ludicrous and tactically arrogant rather than being beneficial for the team.
Hopefully when we look back we can put all this all down to ‘just a phase’ in football and soon a more ‘sensible’ approach to keeping possession with intent will kick in but until then, we’re probably going to see an awful lot of goals scored by silly avoidable self-made mistakes from across all ages and at every level from junior to senior whilst every Coach in the country who adheres to ‘the Manual’ will simply pat Chesney/Raheem/Harry on the head and say “hard luck kiddo, you’re only doing what I told you to”.