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.