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Are British Tactics Not So Stupid After All?

 Are British Tactics Not So Stupid After All?

You expect me to believe that this man is a genius?

When continental football connoisseurs talk about beautiful football, the Premier League is never mentioned. Spain provides passing, technical quality and thrills from teams outside the big two. Italy, while being dour, somehow manages to be elegant at the same time, with its midfield maestros working amongst its Gattusos. Case in point, Barcelona and Villareal just played one of the purest games of football that I’ve ever seen, the technical quality was just astounding. Europeans will tell you that you won’t see that from Chelsea vs Manchester City, and they’ll outright laugh at the prospect of watching Stoke City vs anybody.

Let’s face it, British football has often been an easy target for jokes. Its apparent preference for 11 men who “play for the shirt” and “go hard in the challenge” as opposed to those with real technical quality have earned the United Kingdom, and its managers a bad reputation. Yet somehow one of the most ‘British’ teams I’ve ever seen has somehow managed to play some of the most attractive, and more importantly effective football that I’ve ever seen.

Tottenham are unapollagetically British. They play lots of 4-4-2 or 4-5-1, they can use a big target man or a combination of a target man with a speedier poacher. Their wingers are fast and hug the touchline, getting crosses in and their midfield has enforcers in it. I’m not a Spurs fan, and I don’t think they have a particularly great squad, but you can’t deny that they have performed extremely well against decent, and maybe even great European teams. Not to mention, that even in the Premier League, where their form has been more patchy, they are still hugely entertaining to watch.

When Gareth Bale embarrassed Maicon, it was just more sophisticated kick and rush, at one point just punting it past the Brazilian and beating him to it. Peter Crouch has always been successful in the Champions League, and to a lesser extent internationally, because nobody knows how to deal with a big target man. The likes of Bale and Crouch aren’t seen outside of England, and there was nothing brutish about the performance against Inter to make observers turn their noses up. Bale wasn’t just running around, he was putting balls into the box with real technical quality, similarly Crouch’s cushion knock downs and knack for drawing defenders make him far more than a brute.

So if these old-fashioned tactics can work for Tottenham why can’t they work for England? When fully fit there are wingers with great capability in Walcott and Johnson. Crouch is available with a natural finisher to be his partner in Defoe. International teams don’t see players of this style any more than Inter or Wolfsburg do. Admittedly the playmaking in Tottenham still depends largely on European exports such as Van Der Vaart and Modric, yet players like Gerrard and Wilshere seem to be able to produce the same level of quality.

This isn’t to talk up England for 2014, or 2012 or to suggest that they will be anything more than a disappointment in those two tournaments. It just occurred to me, that much of the blame for the World Cup fell to the feet of the tactics employed, I thought they looked out of date myself. Yet, Tottenham has beaten the European champions (who have a far better squad), with tactics that are just slightly tweaked from Don Fabios. Interesting.

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25 Responses to Are British Tactics Not So Stupid After All?

  1. Ed says:

    Have you watched Liverpool?

  2. mumphLT says:

    I look forward to seeing Stoke take Europe (with no quarter given or prisoners taken).

  3. I agree that English tactics should not be faulted because they have intrinsic value and surprise against other opponents (IE Inter Milan getting drubbed). And yes Gareth Bale was able to beat Maicon with speed alone, but without Van Der Vaart and Modric that team falls apart. They lack the short passes and visionary minds of these continental talents, It kind of signifies that English tactics alone (crossing repeatedly to inapt target-men and harsh challenges) wont suffice for club or country. I’m sure Emile Heskey would agree.

  4. Matt says:

    “Admittedly the playmaking in Tottenham still depends largely on European exports such as Van Der Vaart and Modric, yet players like Gerrard and Wilshere seem to be able to produce the same level of quality.”

    one name in here doesn’t fit. guess which one.

  5. Earl Reed says:

    As they say in the National Football League in America, “Defense wins championships.” I think that isn’t so true in European football, but can be true in the Premier League.

    The reason is that I don’t think the depth of talent in the British Isles is strong enough for a 20 team league. You don’t have 20 teams who are gunning for a championship; you have 5 teams making a serious charge, another 5 who are praying that everything goes their way, and the other 10 who are grasping at every straw they can to avoid relegation.

    So when you are one of those 10…and perhaps even one of the 10 who are experiencing the step up to the Premier League level for the first time in years…how do you approach an Arsenal? Manchester United? Chelsea? You don’t have the talent on paper to outman them in the offensive end. So you bulk up in the back. You put out 3 defensive midfielders with 4 backs. You literally try to choke a point out of them. That’s the state of the game, and much of the reason why a salary limit is both necessary and detrimental long-term.

    The option I see to help create better football in England would be to shorten the league table by 3-5 teams. Institute salary minimums, as well as a luxury tax like in baseball…if you have the money to spend, you’re going to have to help the smaller clubs build their team through a tax.

    Blackpool has proven that an attractive brand of football, with rather meager talent, can survive the first two months in the English Premier League. But as we’re seeing, in the long run Holloway will either have to revert to the dreaded Allardyce School or accept his club’s descent back to Championship.

    • Chris McQuade says:

      I think that isn’t so true in European football, but can be true in the Premier League.

      I haven’t actually read the rest of your comment because if you didn’t notice how Italian football is played then i fear for your footballing knowledge. Inter won the first Italian Treble by playing Samuel Eto’o as a defensive winger…..wow! I mean that was recently! Did you watch the world cup? Holland – free flowing football was it?! Jesus!

      • Jay says:

        Come on Chris, you missed the best bit:
        “The reason is that I don’t think the depth of talent in the British Isles is strong enough for a 20 team league. You don’t have 20 teams who are gunning for a championship”

        And the continental leagues are the model of top to bottom competion? Really?

        • Earl Reed says:

          Then suggest something. Anything. All I see are people pissing and moaning about Sam Allardyce and Mick McCarthy, but they have no solution. They don’t have an answer. Heck, maybe posit that we fashion a gallows and hang the bastards! At least that has a result, as opposed to sitting on the sidelines criticizing someone who tries his hand at figuring out why you have the freaking Fat Sam’s of the league.

          • Chris McQuade says:

            Wolves are playing lovely football at the moment. Do you watch the highlights past the big 4?

          • Dave C says:

            I think people complain about “physical” teams stretching (and breaking) the rules of the game, in which case the obvious solution is to simply improve the enforcement of the rules to stamp out the dirty tackling, time wasting etc.

            I have no problems with teams playing defensively against the big-boys as long as it’s fair.

        • Dave C says:

          The reason is that I don’t think the depth of talent in the British Isles is strong enough for a 20 team league. You don’t have 20 teams who are gunning for a championship

          I laughed at this bit too. The number of teams in the league does not have to be “supported by the depth of talent in the British Isles”, since clubs can recruit from abroad.

          And what league, in any sport, any where in the world, features ALL teams gunning for the championship? None.

          And the bit about defence not being so important in European football…wow.

          I notice this guy has written a tactical write up of the West Brom game too…can’t wait to read that.

          Are you Lou Reed in disguise?

      • Earl Reed says:

        You’re right, I’m not the most schooled of football geniuses. I’m still enjoying learning about the history, players, etc…but it would seem a logical tactic (regardless of league or competition) for a lesser-talented squad to resort to stifling formations and hard challenges to overcome that deficit.

        I think my point was that there is this stigma that European football is more appealing…and is an easy image to help perpetuate. Any brand of football will be more appealing when you have the talent to carry out the necessary tactics. Of course Lionel Messi’s going to generate more excitement than Marlon Harewood. The question becomes…how do you influence teams like Blackburn and Wolverhamton to play a more attractive brand of football, when the best shot they have to succeed is to stifle the more talented squads with manpower and physicality? And in the same breath…how do you attract the Messi’s to the EPL when they know there’s a good chance that they could have a target on their right shin?

        • Chris McQuade says:

          The question becomes…how do you influence teams like Blackburn and Wolverhamton to play a more attractive brand of football? By winning that’s all the game is about. Would you rather have José Mourinho (noted defensive genius and title winner extrodinaire) or Ian Holloway (Foggia esque- look it up – attacking mentalness, hasn’t won a thing in years)?

          Stigma of European football – you mention Leo Messi then run off chuckling. Don’t care to mention Javi Martinez? Hulk? Eden Hazard? – no, because you’re wrapped up in the Champions League.

          If i were to ask you the best, most exciting young prospect in european football right now, how many guesses until you get to Romelu Lukaku.

          I appreciate endeavour, i do. But don’t make points if you’re still asking questions. Instead…ask questions and I’ll answer.

          On that note: how do you attract the Messi’s to the EPL when they know there’s a good chance that they could have a target on their right shin?

          *DEEP BREATH* Lionel Messi was signed from argentina at a painfully young age because his club and parents couldnt afford medication that would allow him to literally grow into the player he is today. As such he is indebted to Barcelona and will never EVER leave them unless to return to Argentina.

          How do you attract Messi’s – operate in a country without work permits. Messi couldn’t have signed in England at that age because of immigration laws. How to bring them to Wolves and Blackburn grow your own – heard of Phil Jones, Jordan Henderson? Or buy from lower leagues – Chris Smalling was in non-league football not too long ago.

          • Earl Reed says:

            I wasn’t trying to provide all the answers. I was trying to be a part of the conversation. My apologies.

          • Chris McQuade says:

            Well fake apologies aside. If you are going to serve up generalities then you will get questioned on it, particularly if they are demonstrably wrong. I don’t discourage conversation, I would discourage uninformed conversation.

          • Earl Reed says:

            It’s not fake. I am sorry, because I must have passed myself off as an expert when, like you and Dave C have so generously pointed out, I’m a relative novice. I don’t have years of watching the sport. My life cannot revolve around watching 40 games a week in 5 different leagues.

            You have proven that I am not as knowledgeable as you are. I really appreciate that!

          • Dave C says:

            Sorry if anything I came across like a jerk. I know the internet has that effect on people. I don’t mean to discourage any new-comers from getting involved, and I wouldn’t label anyone as uninformed.

            But at the same time, if you’re going to come on a soccer forum and say something along the lines of “defense isn’t so important in European football” (I appreciate I’m paraphrasing somewhat), or proposing sweeping changes to the format of the EPL, you’re going to get mocked. Just like if I, as an NFL novice, went on an NFL blog and said “Hey I think blocking and tackling isn’t particularly important in the NFL, and the NFL should have less teams “.

            ps I actually read your West Brom tactical article and thought it was pretty good. So you’re obviously not as naive as some of us might have assumed.

          • Earl Reed says:

            Dave – Thank you for your response, and my point was not to propose some form of major overhaul to the sport. I see your paraphrase, and if I came across that way, then that was my poor wording. There really isn’t a team sport (or a GOOD team sport, sorry you need alcohol to make a better ball worth it) where they can simply rely upon offense to carry the day. My point was to contrast the “English tactic” (which presumably is Fat Sam’s Stodge and Dodge) versus the more elegant open attack (Wenger et al).

            Compared to most of you I probably am a novice. I’ve been trying to learn. I appreciate your comment about that match report, I really want to use these opportunities to become a more informed lover of the sport.

          • Dave C says:

            I think proposing cutting the premier league down in size by 3-5 teams is a pretty radical overhaul (especially when the number of teams doesn’t have to be proportionate to the depth of talent within Britain).

            Actually I think the whole discussion of “English/British tactics” is kind of vague and misleading. The article itself was using Redknapp’s Spurs team as an example of succesful English tactics, not Fat Sam. I think both men have approaches too distinct to both simply be lumped into a single box and labelled “British Tactics.” Redknapp seems to employ a kind of laissez-faire, “just go out and play” attitude (although I think this might be a smoke screen). Big Sam seems to be a lot more strict in terms of defensive responsibilities, everybody “doing a job”, and worship of pro-zone stats.

            For what it’s worth, I think the term “British tactics” itself is pretty vague. I could argue that neither Big Sam’s or Redknapp’s approaches fall into what I would call traditional British tactics.

          • Chris McQuade says:

            I too am sorry for my passive-aggressive comments. I understand that as someone who reads and writes about football you don’t have time to catch every match that has ever been played ever like me.

            Also I realise that such ideas that Italians are good at defending and Spain are a two team league come from years of constant television watching and not from some sort of accumulated knowledge from years of following a sport.

            I am also passive-aggressively sorry for relaying to you where you were wrong as having written in the comments section of a forum giving your opinion, however incorrect and not immediately praising you for not only being able to find the url, put a name and email down but also typing words in sentences in english. So kudos to you, for growing up, learning to read and write. Watching some football developing sarcasm, writing on the same blog as I and then posting your ideas up. I should not criticise someone after such a long journey. Can I buy you a cup of coffee, for you see it is bitter.

          • Kip says:

            There’s a theme running through these replies that Holloway’s enjoyable, attacking Blackpool will be relegated and Allardyce’s dour, defensive Blackburn will survive.

            Let’s hope that’s wrong.

            After a decade of management Steve Bruce finally realised on Sunday that if you’re prepared to lose a game you might just win one unexpectedly. That only leaves McLeish, Allardyce, Grant and McCarthy with the old skool 10-behind-the-ball mentality. Add Wigan to that list (only because they’re not very good – nothing wrong with Martinez) and hopefully you have your three relegation teams.

            After a dreadful WC of negative football – Spain are technically fantastic but you wouldn’t want to watch that every week would you? – there’s a feeling in England that football needs to learn how to entertain again. Especially in economic hard times when people pick and choose their leisure time.

            Attacking football needs to succeed if football is to continue the lifestyle to which it has become accustomed. Successful seasons for Blackpool and Tottenham in the PL and CL would go a long way to achieving that.

  6. Vious says:

    It comes down to execution of the system…period

    England does not win major tournaments b/c they execute poorly when it counts….and then their fans go off the ledge blaming everyone

    If they got the system down pat, it wouldn’t matter what they ran (4-4-2, etc…)

  7. Ringo says:

    Funny that this comes almost at the same time that Van der Vaart has gone to the press saying he loves Spurs because Redknapp employs NO tactics. He just selects the side and allows them to go out and play free-form football. A very interesting revelation, for sure.

  8. FIDEL says:

    The truth is English football is over rated and unfortunately most part of the world have access to it than other leagues.

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