In a recent Foreign Affairs article on the political theory of Game of Thrones, the author posited: “the true moral of the story is that when good rules are disregarded, disorder and ruin follow.” and “the gains that power achieves without justice cannot endure”.
This idealism was certainly born out by today’s football with the (seemingly inevitable) sack of a listless Roberto Mancini and the success of the charismatic Ian Holloway. Holloway’s victory over Crystal Palace’s bitter rivals Brighton has ensured that either he or Gianfranco Zola will be managing in the Premier League next season. In both cases, and specifically Holloway’s, the league will be for the better.
Holloway’s run in the 2010-2011 season with the over-achieving Blackpool was defined by his commitment to attacking and attractive football, bestowing trust in his players to use personal talents their greatest extent. The enrapturing effect of his tenure undoubtedly inspired some of the new young manager’s that have brought forward thinking football to the Premier League since: Brendan Rodgers, Paul Lambert, and Nigel Adkins.
Beyond his tactical style, Holloway has been an entertaining voice in English football, saying (among other things):
- “To put it in gentleman’s terms if you’ve been out for a night and you’re looking for a young lady and you pull one, some weeks they’re good looking and some weeks they’re not the best. Our performance today would have been not the best looking bird but at least we got her in the taxi. She wasn’t the best looking lady we ended up taking home but she was very pleasant and very nice, so thanks very much, let’s have a coffee”
- “In football you need to have everything in your cake mix to make the cake taste right. One little bit of ingredient that Tony uses in his cake gets talked about all the time is Rory’s throw. Call that cinnamon and he’s got a cinnamon flavoured cake. It’s not fair and it’s not right and it’s only a small part of what he does.”
- “I am a football manager. I can’t see into the future. Last year I thought I was going to Cornwall on my holidays but I ended up going to Lyme Regis.”
Holloway seems to make a fan out of everyone that he encounters. The same cannot be said for Roberto. The master of the “is football” press conference, the bewildered stare, and the “this is the referee, and this is his decision”. It was everything that people hated about Sir Alex Ferguson without the scotch/scottish tinged charm or the thrilling results. Mancini was ultimately sacrificed because he couldn’t make an unbelievable team achieve and because his tactics seemed to be: throw on a defensive midfielder if we’re winning, throw on an attacking midfielder/second striker if were losing, switch to 5 at the back if I want acclaim (this always backfired). Modern tactics are a blend of man-management, understanding of space, and understanding of the current state of the game. Mancini didn’t seem to understand how his substitutions would manipulate the space on the field and was often caught out in Europe despite having a preponderance of talent.
Just desserts and all that.
English football seems to only be getting faster paced and more exciting and I, for one, can’t wait for next season.
Some people say football is like life; my life isn’t that shit, unless I’m watching football. Supporting Aston Villa over the past 10 years has become one of the most joyous, proud, and, now, psychologically debilitating components of my life. I am struggling with the pain of knowing that our team is not good and the hope for more. The hope for connection and resonance. The hope that Stephen Ireland will fucking run a few kilometers in a match instead of pouting and admiring his wayward passes. The hope that Brett Holman can cultivate an ounce of class to go with his tremendous work ethic. The hope that Aston Villa can become a successful football club again. These are all hopes because they are not true and they will not be true anytime soon, but I still believe. Belief in lost causes, among all things, leads to pain. We have conceded 12 goals in our past 3 hours of football and scored none, yet what I will remember most from these past two matches is the things outside of the game and how my week of vacation spiraled downwards with the Villa.
The memory of being introduced to 15 people whose names I didn’t remember and whose greetings were so alien that I could not respond. The feeling of otherness, the lack of language, absconding away to watch the match. In this, the Italian men could relate and I was encouraged rather than berated for watching the match in the presence of a feast for family. I pushed through a barrier of language, age, and culture. Of course Villa were shit.
The knowledge of something you are invested in being a losing venture is very depressing. Tottenham’s goals were inevitable, despite the first half clean sheet, I knew it. This Villa side is not good. It is not premiership quality. Watching this team full of bright eyed clumsy 20 year olds recalls a vision of a bright eyed clumsy 20 year old (myself) receiving European kisses and not knowing which side to receive them, sitting in the living room-turned bedroom because it is more comfortable there without with the pain of miscommunication.
I guess that was the most disappointing thing about boxing day. I felt like I could no longer relate to things that I held dear to my heart. We all want to feel understood. This is not the Villa that I grew to love and, although, I truly rate Paul Lambert, its going to be a long, arduous, and, most of all, painful road back to the top half of the premier league. The side lacks purpose and ambition and, because of that, its hard to understand or learn from their failure, it merely frustrates.
Yet, I still believe. I can’t help myself. Bring on the Lactics.
If the first two match days of the Champions League have revealed anything it is that agility, more than any other skill set, is what has become tactically dominant and most valued. Powerfully constructed, possession based teams like Manchester City have been undone by quick counter-attacks time and time again.
One hypothesis as to the cause of this shift away from power is the proliferation of the 4-2-3-1 counter-attacking formation that has been much lauded around the football world. On Wednesday Dortmund lined up with the stocky and creative Gündoğan next to the lithe and powerful Bender in defensive midfield. When one went forward, the other would hold and Gündoğan led many of the successful breaks.
Dortmund’s attacking midfield treble of Reus, Götze, and Błaszczykowski are all most notable for their quickness on the ball and in pressure and this showed against City with Reus jumping on a loose ball from Rodwell for Dortmund’s goal and Götze and Kuba continually opening up the City defense for Lewandowski, who, if his finishing hadn’t been woeful, may have bagged a hat-trick.
City’s defensive minded midfield players Toure, Garcia, and Rodwell, for all their power, were consistently left flat-footed by the small and technical Dortmund team who gave them a bit of a football lesson.
Chelsea clearly recognized this shift this summer as they added Victor Moses, Oscar, Eden Hazard, and Marko Marin: 4 players whose value lies in movement and vision. They have faired much better in their Champions League voyage thus-far (although they have also been in an easier group).
So what has led to this change? The two factors that I can think of would be tighter refereeing that has effectively taken power out of the European game. Whenever you watch European football you can regularly hear the commentators utter phrases like “that wouldn’t have been a foul in England” and there is a glimmer of truth to it, but I’m more inclined to believe that the Spanish Academy system has effectively spread around the football world and made development value technique and quickness more than power and tackling.
The fact that Reus wasn’t good enough for Dortmund as a child because he was “too-small”, but just got bought back for €13.5m tells more about the state of the game anything. Lithe players are the new Destroyers and we’re far more likely to see new Xavi’s than new “Big Dunc“‘s in this era. This change might make for more attractive football, but I can’t help but be nostalgic for the era of balance, when Mourinho’s Chelsea sides could outplay Barcelona through their power and strength.
Tactical diversity is a major part of why I love football and it seems like it is on the way out until another regime change.