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England’s Win Over Spain Illustrates The Different Philosophies of Football

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.

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  1. np

    November 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Ask england fans whether they would rather win or play well and they will say win. The fact that england are now the biggest under-achievers and england fans have had to put up with poor displays at the euros and world cups they will take winning ugly over what they have seen in past years.

  2. Andrei

    November 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    What different philosophies are we talking about here? England had to play defensive game because they were over-matched. All they proved is that an average team have a chance to beat a superior opponent by staying organized, not making defensive mistakes and scoring lucky goal. And with the opponent having an off day and missing few clear chances. This is old news. After all Switzerland beat Spain in the same way in WC. It wasn’t a match of equals so it had nothing to do with game philosophy.

  3. SoccerLimey

    November 17, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Let’s cut through the BS here.

    First of all, the Spanish media in years gone by were the first to criticize their team because they were the all-time under achievers at all of the tournaments. They were “The Cinderella’s” who made the last eight or even the semi’s but never could get to the last dance. For them to now say that they would “rather lose and play the beautiful way” is laughable. If their team doesn’t pick up the pace, then they might just have to test that theory out sooner than later.

    As far as the English media are concerned, I firmly believe that they have been pretty realistic about the result without going overboard, except for the “toilet rags” such as The Sun and Daily Mirror. Most of the respected pundits recognize that the 1-0 win was at some level, a little tongue in cheek but nevertheless a win is a win.

    We’ll all take that.

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