Put Down The Chalkboards And Let Football Entertain You

Ollie Irish

11th, January 2011


By Guy Gorman

We’re all football nerds now. If you didn’t know that the way to stifle a diamond midfield was to exert pressure on the opposition full-backs whilst simultaneously using a False nine to harass the opposition’s deep-lying playmaker… well, you’re not a true football fan.

It seems that the prevailing mood is, if you’re not aware of tactics you are a football pleb.

Football’s Magic Eye

Sometimes when I watch football, I see only a chalkboard – a little blue dot on the screen each time Darren Fletcher intercepts the ball. Many of us were shocked and appalled when Roy Hodgson ditched Liverpool’s progressive 4-2-3-1 in favour of a prehistoric 4-4-2. What a dinosaur, Woy. Everyone knows Liverpool need a player in the hole; it is how Fernando Torres thrives. All he has done however is moved the wingers back 15 yards or so, and a midfielder forward 15 yards or so. We all knew it would fail, we were on to it. This grand old man of football, with some 35 years of experience, was clearly a fool. The growing flocks of football nerds up and down the shores of Albion knew exactly what would happen to Liverpool. If only Roy had listened…

But I have come to realise that most of us know nothing (Wilson, ZM and co. are notable exceptions). We have merely embraced a trend. I think we need to cool off, put the pencil and paper down, switch off the Belarusian football network, dsiconnect the illegal internet stream of the Copa America, and pour ourselves a massive drink. Now think of Cristiano Ronaldo. He is a fine example of what makes watching football fun. Ronaldo, Bale, Taarabt, Ibrahimovic, Arshavin… I am well aware none of them are as tactically astute as Javier Zanetti, nor do they track back as much as Dirk Kuyt, but their sheer inconsistency and occasional touch of maverick brilliance is not only entertaining, it’s what makes football the sport that it is. We’re not gridiron fans, damnit.

List your current three favorite teams to watch in the Premier League at the moment. You said Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Blackpool, right? They are by far the most entertaining and attack-minded teams, and with the greatest respect to their managers, it is refreshing to see that they couldn’t give a toss (relative to the likes of Roberto Mancini and the gone-but-never-forgotten Big Sam) about the tactical virtues of a dedicated ball-winner in the centre of the park (amongst other things). Arsenal’s midfield three is a joy to watch, but would that be the case if Alex Song sat in a disciplined role in front of the back four distributing the ball to his more illustrious team-mates, a la Claude Makelele? Would Tottenham be where they are now if they inverted their wingers and stuck both Palacios and Sandro in the middle of the park? Would Blackpool be the loveable rogues that we know and love if, in his Westcountry wisdom, Ian Holloway decided that the best traits for a team tipped with certainty for relegation was to “Get narrow at the back and hit ’em on the break”? The answer is no, they wouldn’t.

At the opposite end of the spectrum you need look no further than Jose Mourinho’s unprecedented accomplishments at Inter last season. Mourinho was the most entertaining feature of that team. We may celebrate his achievement of turning mercurial Samuel Eto’o into a workhorse winger, but that feeling was tinged with sadness. We don’t want these great players tracking back, we want absurd backheels and tantrums.

As important as tactics are (vital really), we all know in our football-shaped hearts that the best part of the sport is watching a dazzling, spontaneous attack unfold before our eyes. Telling the grandkids about the time you witnessed the greatest display of catenaccio there has ever been will not impress them; telling them that you witnessed Guardiola’s legendary Barcelona team humble Real Madrid 5-0 will.

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  1. SamHumphreys says:

    Fantastic, a great read and really sums up modern football (y)

  2. Kipp says:

    “Formations are neutral – it is their application that gives them positive or negative qualities” – Jonathan Wilson

    Yes the merits of a 4-2-3-1 may get on some people’s wick but if you point blank ignore that Roy did not just use a 4-4-2 he fucking hoofed the ball forward aimlessly at a player who has never dealt in flick ons and bringing people into the game is ridiculous and deserves to be highlighted.

    Also watching Barcelona is a joy, they pressure the ball relentlessly and play football in passing triangles. This is routinely practiced at their training ground and instilled from youth. You don’t need to see that they are playing a W-W to acknowledge this. There is an aesthitically pleasing way of playing the game and we want to see that promoted. West Brom, Blackpool, Arsenal play this brand and it’s a nod to the fans but also it’s successful and that’s why it’s maintained. If Holloway had led Blackpool to relegation from the Championship I doubt his tactics would save him from the sack.

    Finally Ask Eto’o which he prefers, his bagful of goals this season or his 3 treble of winner’s medals from last season. He tracked back because it was how to win.

  3. dena says:

    Don’t see why you can’t enjoy the entertainment side and tactical side of football, they are not two completely different and separate things.

  4. Guy says:

    I just wanted to entertain…..

  5. Pedro says:

    Fair enough, but it’s all about suiting the tactics to the players you have available. Most teams don’t have the kind of personnel that could mimic Barcelona’s style of play. Arsenal try and fail and don’t tell me they’re awesome to watch because I watched them play against United at OT and they were abject. United weren’t great either, but at least they don’t pretend to be ‘The most exciting team to watch in the Premier League’ (TM), a competition of the exclusive domain of Norf Lahndan clubs, apparently. More to the point, I’ve seen Jorge Jesus attempt to introduce a fluid 4-1-2-1-2/W-M at Benfica in the past two seasons, modelling his tactics (not formation) on Barcelona’s high pressing/high defensive line style of play and we’ve been found out by teams in Europe regularly while contriving to lose against minnows who simply sit deep and defend and hit us on the break. Sure, we were enthralling to see last year, but we only won the league and league cup and we’re already 8 points off the top this year, with Porto combining skill, sheer physicality and aggression in a more pragmatic, and thus more effective, system. In short, Barcelona are to be admired, but let’s not pretend everyone could play like that and get away with it.

  6. Gaz says:

    I know ZM – Zonal Marking
    But what is Wilson??

  7. K says:

    I agree with Dena, there is no reason you can’t enjoy both and there’s no reason you need to enjoy one at the derision of the other.

    You make the assertion that “most of us know nothing” as if Jonathon Wilson and Michael Cox were born with an encyclopaedic knowledge of football tactics and learning is preserve of the academic elite.

    It’s ironic that you should bring up Makalele as some kind of example of tactical ingenuity that is a blight on the game when he was actually the facilitator of one of the most attack-minded, show-boating, flamboyant teams of recent times. It’s also ironic that you venerate “Guardiola’s legendary Barcelona team” who feature such a player in Sergio Busquets.

    Tactics aside it’s implicit that you don’t really appreciate the defensive art of the sport, a well timed tackle, an opportunistic interception, neither of these feature several step-overs and a back-heal no look pass.

    English football appreciation has for too long been stifled by clichéd expressions of macho ignorance that not only fail to inform the audience but patronise them as well. Finally we’re starting to go beyond “Crouchy brings another dimension” & “I don’t know what the defender is thinking!” towards genuinely informative statements.

    It doesn’t have to be all geeky blogs and chalkboards though, here’s a decent analysis from Euro 2008 by MOTD.


    I really liked Gavin Peacock as a pundit and it’s a great shame he gave it up. His analysis is simple and clear with good examples that add up to form a greater understanding of the match as a whole.

  8. James says:

    And this is why English football will never be successful internationally – a disdain of the tactical side of the game.

  9. The Yank says:

    Tactics don’t make the players work, players make the tactics work. It is up to the players to make those decisions and execute them and those with creativity will be able to open up doors we’ve never been through before. Yes, Zanetti is brilliant, but the reason we watch football in the first place is to witness the greatness of players like Pele, Zidane, Scholes, Del Piero, and Ronaldo move toward the ultimate prize, a goal. Remember how you felt the first time you watched a World Cup Final, innocently…

  10. Guy says:

    I bare full responsibility for Englands World cup failures

  11. Kipp says:

     Bear  /bɛər/ Show Spelled [bair] Show IPA verb,bore or (Archaic) bare; borne or born; bear·ing.
    –verb (used with object)
    1.to hold up; support: to bear the weight of the roof.

    Bare  /bɛər/ Show Spelled [bair] Show IPA adjective,bar·er, bar·est, verb,bared, bar·ing.
    1.without covering or clothing; naked; nude: bare legs.
    2.without the usual furnishings, contents, etc.: bare walls.
    3.open to view; unconcealed; undisguised: his bare dislike of neckties.
    4.unadorned; bald; plain: the bare facts.
    5.(of cloth) napless or threadbare.
    6.scarcely or just sufficient; mere: the bare necessities of life.
    7.Obsolete. with the head uncovered; bareheaded.

  12. Guy says:


    pe·danti·cal·ly adv.

    These adjectives mean marked by a narrow, often tiresome focus on or display of learning and especially its trivial aspects: a pedantic writing style; an academic insistence on precision; a bookish vocabulary; donnish refinement of speech; scholastic and excessively subtle reasoning.

  13. Jeff says:

    Writer: Someone who shouldn’t make mistakes with grade school vocabulary.

  14. Guy says:

    Throwaway remarks in a comments Section: Not really a piece of writing is it?

  15. Josh says:

    Another excellent read Guy!

    The epitome of intelligent wit: Jeff

    Well done Jeff…

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