Monthly Archives: October 2013

Glory

What is Glory?

The game is about glory. But what is Glory? Is Glory winning matches? Is Glory playing beautiful football, through victory and defeat? Is Glory playing 11 Dawson’s and Townsend’s, players who play with their heart in their sleeves? Is Glory scoring off a instinctive and superbly choreographed free-kick, corner or throw-in? Is Glory playing horrible and still winning? Is Glory playing beautiful and still losing?

Glory can manifest as anything, in truth. Glory is what you want it to be. I’ve asked this question to a number of people the question; “What is Glory about?” I have received all of the above answers. I know a person who would say it’s about winning matches. Another would say, actually, I would say it’s about playing beautiful, gung-ho football through thick and thin. Another person would say it’s about playing 11 players who play with their hearts in their sleeves. A person, a West Ham fan, would say it’s scoring off an superbly choreographed set piece.

Tottenham Hotspur has a philosophy and, call me an idealist, but I don’t want to lose that for anything. Not for money, not for trophies, not for success.

Glory.

Glory is whatever you make it. For me, glory is daring to do. For me, glory is playing beautiful football through thick and thin.

Winning Ugly or Losing Pretty:

Which match did you prefer? The 6-4 win in 2008 against Reading or either of the 3-1’s against Reading last season. Answering that question can go a very long to deciding what side of the debate you’re own.

One game was a professional performance. A game where Spurs went ruthlessly about eviscerating Reading.

One game was a bad performance. Plain and simply but the brilliance of Dimitar Berbatov saw us through.

I enjoyed one match and I didn’t enjoy the other.

I had seen the exact same match a number of times before. The set-up is always the same with Spurs. We control possession, get 11 men behind the ball when defending, never attempt the killer pass until it’s a certainty to work, shoot a lot from long range because we lack creativity and concede from a set piece. We play the percentages. It was exciting for a while.

I’ve seen it all before and it no longer excites me. It’s like watching a Verdi opera or a Coen movie for the fiftieth time. The first time you saw it, it was swashbuckling. The second time you saw it, it was brilliant. The tenth time you saw it, it was exciting. The sixty-ninth time you see it, it’s turgid.

A Club I used to know:

What we have now isn’t what I fell in love with as a child. Don’t get me wrong, I think the squad is very talented. Success has never gotten me very excited. In the search for success, we have lost track of our identity. I grew the team doing brilliant things but it never led to anything material.  Sure it wasn’t very successful, but it got me on the edge of my seat.

I was able to enjoy the 90 minutes because the team was so ramshackle. It was held together with masking tape, almost.  Those 90 minutes every Saturday and periodically every Wednesday. Those 90 minutes were exhilarating, I never knew what was going to happen. That’s what football is all about. It’s about excitement.

Especially, in the modern era of commercialization. The big clubs are only going to get bigger. They’ll stock-pile squads of incredibly talented players, some of whom can’t even get on the pitch. Their squads will be too big and strong for any other clubs to compete. They’ll win everything. Clubs that don’t have petro-dollars backing them will have to find solace with smaller, simpler things. Like playing with a certain philosophy.

Don’t Dare to Do:

Much has been made, entire arguments have been made on the perception that the turgid football Tottenham played against Hull (and have for a while) is just a stepping stone. It’s our time in purgatory until we reach heaven. A necessary evil. A trade-off for future success.

This is not not so. What we see here is what we get. Obviously, the performances will get better but the attitude, the pragmatism will stay the same. Here are a few excerpts from the foreword by Luís Freitas Lobo in Andre’s Villas-Boas’ biography ‘Special Too.’

In his ‘Ten Commandments’ of ball possession Villas-Boas prefers, as a ‘fundamental commandment’, that players hold on to the ball rather than the speculative attitude of waiting to recover the ball then breaking fast towards the opponents goal (the so-called quick transitions). Instead of four or five long passes, Villas-Boas doesn’t mind if his team take 14 or 15 short and squarer passes, until they reach the opponents area

Keep in mind, that Villas-Boas censored this.

Even if it means that to get the shape of the team right there is the need for a back-pass or to pass the ball around at the back.

Also, this is probably relevant.

Persuading fans to be patient – by nature they are intolerant of a tea, which seems slow in taking the initiative to attack. the opposing team – is I believe the greatest triumph for a manager other than achieving the right results.

The key quote is “players hold on to the ball rather than the speculative attitude.” Villas-Boas doesn’t play expansively. He keeps things tight at the back. He tries to control possession and the flow of the game and doesn’t allow anything as uncontrollable as individuality.

I never trust any reporter outright. A few anecdotes of my own. When we’re defending corners, Villas-Boas brings everyone back. 11 men are in the vicinity of the box. Freitas Lobo states in ‘Special Too’ that this is because counter-attacks are ‘uncontrollable.’ Villas-Boas is afraid that a player could get caught out of position on the counter-counter-attack. This exudes a philosophy of pragmatism. A-don’t-dare-to-do-anything-wrong philosophy.

We have lacked creativity against teams that park the bus since the beginning of time but Villas-Boas hasn’t changed anything to rectify that. Against Hull or any bus parking team, for that matter, it’d be so easy to play Holtby in his preferred position in the pivot and play Eriksen in the hole. This would give us two adept passers and those passing triangles that AVB loves so much. The trade-off is less defensive cover.  This is why Villas-Boas hasn’t played both Holtby and Eriksen. This, as well, exudes pragmatism and a don’t-dare-to-do-anything-wrong philosophy.

His philosophy is, I wouldn’t go as far to say the polar opposite but it’s certainly different from what I want to see. Not to beat around the bush, AVB isn’t the type of coach I want coaching my club.

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The First Green Shoots

Whether it was the full moon on Sunday night, I will never know but the superstitious part of me believes it, but Tottenham Hotspur did not play with the motific high line. It has been a stalwart for us this season and last. Never leaving  our side. In the three games since we beat Cardiff 1-0 in Cardiff, we’ve caught opponents offside 19 times. an average of 6.3 offsides per game.

Against Villa we caught two opponents offside. Two.

It’s also noticeable how much closer to our own goal that Chiricheş and particularly Dawson are compared to other games.

Image

To cut a long story short, because of the full moon for whatever reason Tottenham didn’t play the high line versus Aston Villa.

This is really, really good. It’s the first sign that Villas Boas is becoming tactically flexible.

Tactically inflexibility cost us:

The biggest qualm I have had with Villas-Boas over the last year was his tactically inflexibility. It is admirable in some cases but good managers can only play one way or are afraid to play any other way. Great managers can and aren’t scared to play in multiple different styles. They change their game play to suit the opponent and to suit what they have at their disposal. This is what has impressed me about Brendan Rodgers and Pep Guardiola this season. Both don’t have fetish for possession any more and are more willing fall back onto a plan B or C. A long ball or a mazy dribble.  When that plan B is giving the ball to Franck Ribéry or Arjen Robben you can see why it’s working out.

In football, you have a game plan unless you’re Alan Pardew. Like everything else, there is a way to anaesthetise that game plan. West Ham executed that 2 weeks ago. Unfortunately, we’re not Barcelona even though that is what Villas-Boas has in his vision for us long term. We cannot bulldoze over teams if our game plan isn’t working.

Not even Barcelona:

Not even Barcelona can afford to be tactically inflexible. Even Barcelona can’t bulldoze over a team now with a defunct game plan. Gerardo Martino has freed up Barcelona. They now play the odd, very odd, long ball or go on a mazy dribble. It isn’t pass-pass-pass until the ball is in the net. The point is, it’s easy to find the anaesthetic. Bayern found it last season. You needed to play really, really physically and cross the ball a lot. When Bayern beat Barcelona. 5 goals came through crosses. 1 was a ludicrous foul on Jordi Alba by Arjen Robben and the other was a moment of brilliance by Arjen Robben.

This is why I genuinely think West Ham would beat Barcelona (last season). But whatever.

The point is it’s easy to find an anaesthetic for any team no matter how good.

Baseless speculation:

I’m going to try and second guess AVB here.

I believe that Villas-Boas saw that Aston Villa are phenomenal on the break, one of the best counter attacking teams in Europe and the best in the Premier League and decided it would suicidal to play a high line against this team.

Which it would be.

I believe he also saw that Jan Vertonghen would be up against Andreas Weimann. Vertonghen is incredibly talented but very slow and carrying a bit of timber. Vertonghen struggles against direct opponents because of his lack of mobility and pace.

Which Weimann is.

Agbonlahor and Weimann are speed merchants and Kožak is nothing to be snuffed at. Villas-Boas also thought that Christian Benteke would return from injury. 

This is the first sign that Villas-Boas is finally becoming tactically aware and flexible and it’s the best thing to happen all season.

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Player Development and its Fundamental Flaws

The precedent

Football is a profession. A footballer is like a carpenter, very like a carpenter, in fact. Replace the saw, gauge, a chisel & clamp with boots, socks, a ball & shin guards. The ability of a carpenter to build a house is the equivalent of a footballer to play football. When  a carpenter takes up the profession he learns the basics in school. There is an equivalent in football, a football academy. A school of football.

This is where the disparity enters.

At this stage a carpenter would take up an apprenticeship.

At this stage a carpenter would go out on loan to League 2 or 1 or the Championship.

Don’t tell me England doesn’t produce good footballers

In short, the player is being told how to play in a different way. The wrong way. This is why so much young English talent falls by the wayside. English talent at a very, very young age, before their talent gets tainted by the inept League 2 or 1 managers is as good as you can find.

3 years ago, England won the U-17 European Championship against Spain against a team that including Gerard Deulofeu, the player who continues to impress on loan at Everton, & Jesé Rodríguez, the player who Floretino Pérez was so unwilling to sell to Tottenham this summer, with Bale going the other way, showing just how good he is.

At this stage of their careers, English talent is just as good as anyone.

This is where player development in Britain becomes unbelievably stupid.

He’s doing it wrong!

The type of football in lower leagues is totally different to the type of football of the Premiership and of the modern teams today. Teams are comprised of hard-working, technically inept journey-men. For the most part the only thing going for a player in the lower leagues is that he runs a lot. This is reflected in the English, Scottish & Welsh national teams. They are comprised of 11 James Milner’s, Danny Welbeck’s and Charlie Adam’s.

The football academy is a school, a place where a footballer learns the basics of his game but when a player ‘goes on an apprenticeship’  i.e. goes on loan he is immediately told to forget everything he has learned in school, he starts to learn a new style of football. A reactive brand of football based on hard-work and lacking fluidity and offense. 

How can a player develop when he’s learning to separate styles of football? He can’t.

Am I doing it right?

A master worth his salt would teach his apprentice to perfect his trade. He teaches the tricks of the trade such using a shotgun shell filled with salt to artificially age a cabinet. The apprentice is actually benefitting from the apprentice. He is learning from it. He’s learning how to properly make a cabinet. He doesn’t learn something completely different to what he learned in school. He knows, in no uncertain terms, what is right and what is wrong.

A footballer is sent on loan to a lower league team and told to learn by himself. He’s told to use trial and error to find out how to perfect his trade. There is no master here. There is nobody to tell a young English player what he’s doing wrong. A young, aspiring footballer is expected to go to a strange environment, with people he doesn’t know, with a manager tactically inept manager and with hierarchies firmly embedded and develop as a player

How ludicrous is that? It’s very.

THE MEDIA

The media effects both good players and bad players in different ways. The end result is always the same. A player who never achieves his potential.

Bad players 

I will leave this to Neville Southall:

It’s like a half-finished Mona Lisa. If you walked in on Leonardo Da Vinci when he was in the middle of painting the Mona Lisa and you’d probably say ‘that’s shit’. But you need to wait until the end to see the finished product and suddenly it’s a masterpiece.

Joe Hart. When Manchester City left to the Westfallonstadion, Joe Hart was a world class goal-keeper. Since then his every mistake has been scrutinized to a nigh-on exploitive extent. A couple of bad games and all of a sudden we should play Fraser Forster, who is just as inconsistent in the Scottish League. A footballer is like a carpenter. If you shout in the ear of a carpenter while he’s making a cabinet, there is no he’ll make the cabinet right. His head won’t be in the right place. Thanks to the media, Joe Hart’s head is never in the right place. He won’t be able to goal-keep properly. He will never reach potential until the media stops badgering him.

Good Players

The same thing has happened with Jack Wilshere. I can say with absolute confidence that the same thing will happen with Ross Barkley, James Ward Prowse, Luke Shaw and  Saido Berahino. The pressure on the shoulders of these four 19/17 year olds is ridiculous. It’s too much for them and they will more than likely crack under it.

I couldn’t develop as a player if a country had it’s hopes pinned on me. Only very few could.

The starkest example here is Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. The welsh media hasn’t pinned it’s hopes on Ramsey but Wilshere has nearly been canonised as Saint Jack by the English media. Ramsey has developed to where he should be. Wilshere has not.

Of the squad that won the U-17 European Championship just one of them have went on to be regularly feature in the Premier League.

Don’t tell me that English players simply aren’t as talented as others. They simply are but the defunct, archaic model with which we develop our players from 17 onwards is stone-age compared to the Spanish  model.

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Filed under English Football, Player development