Thursday, 10 February 2011

Is there a Right or Wrong way to play Football?

Football is changing. Our perceptions on football are changing. We are becoming more and more conscious of how our team plays. Some will argue that were becoming even more critical of how our teams play. The press, opposing players and managers are continuously criticising their opponents’ strategies.

But is this fair? Are we in an age where football has to conform to what the football society deems as acceptable? Football is an art. It’s a game where different cultures and strategies go head to head, and some of the most fantastic entertainment stems from that. Obviously football has to be played within the laws of the game. But why are certain footballing strategies deemed as ‘the wrong way of playing football?’

A perfect example of this was Cesc Fabregas’ comments after Arsenal were defeated by Ipswich. ‘I don’t know if it is long ball or it is a rugby kick.’ It’s an injustice that the captain of Arsenal can criticise the opposing teams strategy. What exactly did Ipswich do wrong? They played within the rules and found away to beat Arsenal. Fair play to them. But Fabregas and Arsenal aren’t the only player and club to criticise an opposition strategy. It’s happening more and more now. It’s as if clubs and players are saying, everyone needs to play in our way, or if there not they are not playing the game properly. But surely part of the game of the game is being able to overcome the opposition’s tactics and strategies. It shows the weak mentality of some footballers and managers who think football has to be played in a certain brand.

Nowadays, it’s seems like a complete sin if you play defensive football. You are branded labels such as being ‘anti football.’ Defensive football is simply just keeping it tight at the back and as a unit. And reducing the number of chances the opposition gets. While attacking in a pragmatic manner. Is that a crime? Where in the rules of football does it say your not allowed to have men behind the ball? It’s ridiculous when people criticise this strategy. They are playing defensively because they want to increase their chance of getting something out of this game. They don’t want to hand the result to their opposition.

The phrase ‘anti-football’ has been branded quite easily over the past few years. Even Chelsea were branded that tag when they played against Barcelona in the Champions League semi final in 2009. Andres Iniesta commented, ‘We [Barcelona] tried to attack and score a goal, but when the team in front of you [Chelsea] do not want to play football, it becomes complicated.’ It’s an incredibly harsh comment towards Chelsea. They haven’t got to the Champions League semi final by ‘not playing football.’ Of course they have played football. Can’t Chelsea play defensively against the favourites, especially as Barcelona are at home? Its crazy. Suddenly playing pragmatically is a crime and is the 'wrong way' to play football. Chelsea are well within their rights to play in a strategy which they believe will assist them in getting through the ties. There is nothing wrong with that. Some players and clubs can’t take it if a team plays football which is directly built to nullify their opposition’s strategy. As Chelsea did with Barcelona’s in the first leg. Chelsea have done nothing wrong.

Closer to home Stoke are often labelled as a ‘direct and physical’ side. Which to be honest, they are. And I don’t think manager Tony Pulis nor the Stoke players will deny that either. But Stoke come under great criticism for being a physical side and direct side. Fulham Captain Danny Murphy heavily condemned Stoke’s strategy, ‘you get managers who set their teams out to stop the other teams playing which is happening more and more like Stoke.’ The most provoking aspect is that Stoke are playing by the book. It’s a common assertion that because they are a physical side it means Stoke fouls a lot. It doesn’t mean that at all. It simply means they are physically stronger than their oppositions. It’s as if the modern football forgets that football is a contact sport. Stoke are well in their right to assert their physical attributes as long as it’s within the law. It doesn’t mean Stoke are playing football the ‘wrong way.’ It simply means they are playing to their strengths.

Stoke’s throw-in specialties have also come under criticism. Just because the tactic is unorthodox it suddenly becomes the ‘wrong way to play football.’ Yet, Stoke’s tactic is faultless. They are not infringing any laws. There simply better than other teams when it comes to taking advantage of throw-ins. But this still gives them the label of being ‘Anti football.’

Nobody has the right to question Stoke’s strategy. After all it works. Stoke were promoted to the Premier League with Hull and West Brom. Hull have been relegated. Whereas, West Brom were relegated then promoted again. During that time Stoke have continuously kept in the Premier League. You can’t knock Stoke’s tactics.

One thing which I’ve recognised in the past few seasons is that whenever a team play the ball long, or clear it long, it's met with boo’s. This demonstrates how conscience the fans have become over the idea of playing the ‘long ball.’ But these boo’s send out a clear message. It suggests that playing the long ball isn’t accepted in the footballing culture anymore. This is rather sad. As it’s not anti football or the wrong way to play football. It’s simply another strategy, yes, its not the most aesthetically pleasing but if it works for the team so be it.

Nowadays, when a new manager joins a club they always seem to promise to play an ‘attacking brand of football.’ That’s all and well. But it’s easy to forget that, you need to play to your team’s strengths in order to be successful. Some teams playing lovely passing football as it’s their strength. But for other teams playing defensively and on the counter is their strength. Is that a crime? No. But the way football is portrayed nowadays its as if it’s a crime to play like that. Even though their playing to the their strengths and within the rules.

For me the beauty of football is two opposing teams with different styles battling it out. But it seems that all teams need to play in a certain way, the ‘attacking brand’ strategy. How boring would it be if every team played like Barcelona. The beauty about Barcelona’s play is that they are the only club in the world who can play like that. Football needs to encourage different styles of play, rather than criticising certain styles and branding them as ‘anti-football.’

Football is an art. Let’s not lose the beauty of the game.

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