Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all”. Spanish fans echoed similar sentiments following their recent 1-0 loss to England in an international friendly. It was a brave defensive display by England’s somewhat makeshift lineup missing the likes of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Jack Wilshere and Ashley Young. When you read that list of absentees, the lack of potency in England’s attack becomes clear. But Capello clearly played to the strengths of the personnel available. They were compact, stubborn, and very disciplined against the Spanish world beaters who were predictably dominant in possession but lacked real creativity in the final third. England got their chance and took it resulting in a somewhat surprising win.
International breaks have been largely uninspiring and, though this match will quickly fade from memory, it has sparked considerable debate. Many in the English and Spanish press have greatly criticized Capello’s tactics as being ultra conservative and unadventurous. Certain Spanish pundits proudly stood behind their squad stating ‘we would rather play beautiful football and lose, than play as defensively as England did and win’. Make no mistake. This was a friendly. But there was no shortage of reaction. The debate has become philosophical in nature.
Who defines what is ‘football’? Perhaps the Spanish are the current writers of history as they are the most recent victors on the world and European stages. Therefore, Spain and Barcelona’s slick passing, intricate, possession based style rules the day. Though I would argue that Barcelona’s defensive tenacity from top to bottom is their biggest difference maker.
I often hear pundits use the phrase ‘they’re a good footballing side’. Of course, I understand their opinion. They are referring to teams that keep the ball on the floor and try to pass their way through opponents using technical ability. But that phrase has always struck me as a strange one. For example, every team in the Premier League has earned the right to play at that level regardless of their style. Each team takes to that green pitch and plays on the same stage. The manager uses the tools at his disposal and comes up with a strategy to beat the opposition. If Barcelona’s personnel were not so technically gifted, they would play a different way.
Is it not the diversity of footballing styles that makes the game so interesting? If every team played the same way, would it not become predictable? Fortunately teams are made up of individuals with differing talents based on physique, training, footballing background and culture. I think that is one of the reasons why the Barclays Premier League is so attractive to viewers. There are so many different styles of play. Even recent Premier League history is filled with successful teams of differing styles: the free flowing attack of Arsenal’s Invincibles, the impregnable rock that was Mourinho’s Chelsea, the counter-attacking dominance of Ferguson’s Man United with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Many people would like to see Barcelona play at Stoke City’s Britannia on a cold, wet Tuesday night… well except for Stoke. Though this is often said in jest, it speaks to the curiosity of viewers and pundits in the clashing of styles, environments, and cultures within the game. So I do not reject the ‘Lord Tennyson’ view of football as it is an opinion. But for me, it is the differing philosophies that make the game great.
I invite you to share your opinions on some of your favorite teams of the past and their unique footballing philosophies.