In our ever evolving online community, where any Joe, Tim or Reba can start a blog, post, pontificate or reminisce, the lost art of responsibility can evade even the most keenly trained eye. As budding young bloggers dressed all in their khakis attempt the fine art of emulation, a shout to their messianic journo idols, a plethora of newbie soccer fans in America, the UK and anywhere else a laptop can connect to a local wi-fi spot fall prey to their misuse and barbarism of all things football related and the written word.
O.K., maybe the ‘B’ word was a bit harsh, and maybe the whole ‘he who is without sin, cast the first stone’ ideology should hit a bit closer to home, yet the few and the proud, those who refuse to aimlessly destroy a chalkboard or snapshot a match review to cater to their strengths, continue to stand amazed at some of the published jargon that appears each day across the width and breadth of the Internet. Truly fascinating, but who to trust?
While I’ll never slate or scoff at those who pursue their passion or simply wish to better themselves through almighty practice, there seems to be a reoccurring theme among the up and coming, the wanna-be’s and even the snobbish as it pertains to football formations and tactics. As the Zonal Marking‘s and Jonathan Wilson‘s of the world continue to enlighten football fans with their other worldly views on ‘how things work’, the charlatans continue to emerge from underneath their day jobs to plop themselves in front of their MacBooks as overnight experts. The problem: the next Jonathan Wilson awoke this very morning deciding he’d like to write tactics and figured he would pursue this new venture with content and not contemplation.
While there continues to be nothing wrong with the pursuit of the Yankee dollar or the warm, cuddly feeling of seeing ones name in all those bright lights up on high, may we at least clear up one or two minor affairs as it pertains to the use of certain terminology?
First off, it’s no sin if you’re a football fan, passionate or lukewarm, to not be able to dissect and analyze a match as experts do for major publications. The implementation of tactics, the use of various formations and the chopping and changing conducted each and every weekend in the Premier League by experienced managers, in a sense, shouldn’t always be understood by Joe in Tucson. Managers in the Premier League and across Europe spend their entire lives studying the art of football, which makes it just fine if normal soccer fans can’t grasp the idea of if a 4-2-3-1 has advantages over a 4-4-2 and why.
Secondly, those random numbers interspersed with dashes in odd sequences do not define tactics. We may like to think it’s that simple, unfortunately, it really isn’t. Think for a second about your favorite band. Not the newest flavor of the week, but one with a decent enough catalog for the example. For the sake of the exercise, I’ll choose Radiohead.
A match of football that ends 3-1 in favor of your team is their most recent release, 2007’s In Rainbows. Easily accessible, straight forward, brilliant (for you) and definitely worth another listen, or, in your case, another viewing. No need to overly analyze anything, your team was simply better in every position. Their straightforward 4-4-2 was balanced and attack-minded enough to overcome their inferior opponent. They flowed through the full 90 without much resistance, think Arsenal at home in August v Blackpool.
The very next weekend, your team draws 2-2 away when things looked to be going smoothly. Let’s define the draw as 2000’s Kid A, same band, but something slightly different, a change in direction from 97’s OK Computer, worth a deeper look and in need of analysis. The manager chose to take a risk and play one up top with a five man midfield. Now is the time for you to consider how the lone striker fared v a central defensive pairing, or why specifically the five man mid couldn’t retain possession the way you thought they would. What were the assigned roles of the deep-lying midfielder?
This is tactics. Kid A was a brilliant mix of risk and reward.
Finally, your team loses the following week at home 1-0. This loss is 2003’s Hail to the Thief, a tricky outing, positives to be taken, but maybe something was amiss, just maybe the result of some misplaced ideas. While your team lost, they reverted back to the 4-4-2 formation from the first example and the 3-1 win. Wait, 4-4-2 worked earlier, what went wrong? Tactics will help to explain, Hail to the Thief was a transition record shaded in discord. The 4-4-2 may not have worked this time because of the assignments undertaken by the full backs to ‘stay at home’, thus creating little width in your side’s attack.
If you’re still following me, the point here simply stated is that a team’s formation can show you a broad view of how they set up and the shape they’ll attempt to keep throughout the match. Tactics are a more specific ‘scrape’ of the formation. If Carlo Ancelotti deploys Ashley Cole at left back in a 4-3-3, that’s a part of the formation. Using Cole’s abilities to get forward at pace and overlap Florent Malouda in midfield was a tactical choice made by Ancelotti.
Is the metaphor flawless in its execution? Probably not. But while students of the game we all are and strive to be, one should remember that formations can be obvious, tactics can be ambiguous. While it’s essential that the two key terms are defined and used with appropriation, it’s all a bit O.K. if you take the match as it comes. The illustration simply defines a point or two we should keep in mind when reading the latest dissertation from the recently converted. After all, to sit back and relax as the game unfolds in the manner you see fit unquestionably defines the meaning of being a football fan, just make sure you’ve got some Radiohead playing in the background.
Jesse Chula can be electronically flicked in the ear on Twitter here.