Price of failure – not Benitez and Mourinho – to blame for ‘death of skill’

May 8 2007

Former Real Madrid coach Jorge Valdano thinks teams like Liverpool and Chelsea are taking the skill out of football with their conservative approaches to the game. He likened their Champions League semi-final to “a shit hanging from a stick”.

I’m not entirely inclined to agree with him – there are no rules in football as to how you should go about winning, and both Chelsea and Liverpool are capable of playing fairly attractive football – but I do think he has a point. The style of football both teams play is arguably a result of a coaching style that relies on dossiers and statistical analysis which calculate hard running and defensive solidity to be of greater value than individual expression.

Valdano attributes the two teams’ direct tactics to their respective managers’ failures as players, arguing that, as they had no talent, they are unable to trust the talent of their players, and rely instead on compactness and physicality.

While it’s a commendably interesting argument, I feel the aforementioned tactics are symptomatic of a wider malaise affecting football around the world.

With the money currently sloshing around in the game (particularly in England), the financial risk of failing is just too great. Quite simply, cash-strapped clubs run on tight budgets can’t afford the extravagance of having flair players in their team. They need solid, honest grafters who are going to keep them in the league.

At the same time, weak teams are learning that, by being organised and hard-working, they can achieve success. You just have to look at what Greece achieved in Euro 2004 to see that a relative absence of talent needn’t be a barrier to achievement.

The sad fact is that a lot of teams no longer go out to win. Instead, they go out not to lose, and the popularity of the lone-frontman 4-5-1 in the Premiership bears testament to this.

You can see it in the way results have evolved over the years. Look at the Premiership. When was the last time one of the smaller clubs got absolutely spanked? Teams occasionally score four or five goals, but if you look at an average weekend of First Division football from the 1950s, you’ll see that such hauls were more regular occurrences.

The same thing is happening on the international stage. Germany’s 13-0 mauling of San Marino last autumn caused such a shock because results like that just don’t happen any more, particularly in Europe. The Republic of Ireland can certainly testify as to how far San Marino have improved in recent years.

Smaller teams are getting organised, and as a result, the game as a spectacle is suffering. You can hardly blame them, but then, when the stakes are so high, you can hardly blame Liverpool or Chelsea either.

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3 Responses to “Price of failure – not Benitez and Mourinho – to blame for ‘death of skill’”

  1. Dave Says:

    How about a basketball style scoring system, with goals scored outside the penalty area are worth 2, and ones inside just 1. That’d be interesting

  2. Dave Says:

    Ooh, or like with rugby or cricket where in some competitions you get bonus points for large victories, so say 4pts for a win by 3 goals or more, 3pts for a normal win, 1pt for a draw, none for loss

  3. Tom Williams Says:

    I dunno Dave. Incentives for attacking play might encourage teams to attack more, but it wouldn’t necessarily make for better football, and the last thing you want is teams limiting their attempts on goal to speculative punts from outside the box in the hope of picking up a bonus point.

    Too much emphasis on attacking football, and the game would lose the subtlety that is one of its joys.

    Much as the defensive tactics employed by many teams dismay me, I’m not sure ambitious rule changes are the way forward.


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