Friday, 8 October 2010

Points vs Technical Merit

In an interview with Matt Hughes in Wednesday's Times, Cesc Fabregas commented on the difference in styles between English and Spanish club football and the cultural differences between fans in both countries in accepting style and results.

"In Spain we believe in one style of football. The way we play is most important. It is not just about winning, it's about how you do it. If you lose, you go again. You will never play the ball long or do things you are not used to. We want to win by playing football. No Spanish teams would play like Bolton. Here in England it is all about passion - the fans love it when there are hard tackles and you play long balls and counter attack. But if you do that in Spain they will boo you even if you win."

Na na, we make more passes than you...

Now people will point to Spain and say, World and European champions and suggest that maybe Fabregas has a point. But Spain are blessed with technically excellent players and their big two clubs are blessed with significant transfer funds, therefore winning with style tends to come easier for them than other teams and, last time I noticed, points and trophies are awarded for winning matches. It's not 3 points for a win and 5.9 for technical merit.

Firstly, I find it really disappointing that he chooses Bolton as his example of ugly football. They still seem to be tarred with the long ball brush, usually by lazy media pundits who fail to see the changes made to the way they play, particularly under Owen Coyle. Yet even in the Allardyce days they played with noted footballers in a team containing Okocha, Djorkaeff and Campo amongst others. The goals they scored were often spectacular as much as direct and I don't think any of the three players mentioned ever complained that the tactics and style inhibited their performances or enjoyment of the game. 

Ask any Bolton fans, would they have preferred to see a few more passes in the build up to their goals when they finished 6th in 2005 and qualified for the UEFA Cup? I doubt it. Maybe they would have preferred their team to play differently when drawing away with Bayern Munich, when they became the first British team to win at Red Star Belgrade and when they knocked out Atletico Madrid? Clubs like Bolton, live within their means and play within their means, I see little wrong with that. It is noticable that the other English clubs (outside of the usual suspects) to achieve greater UEFA Cup success since Bolton reached the last 16 (Middlesboro and Fulham) have multi-millionaire's backers who have invested significant sums to achieve similar success.

Success is what drives a majority of fans in this country and it's what drives clubs. Never mind trophies, £800k prize money per place in the Premier League means the extra point gained, sat playing deep at the Emirates and hitting on the counter, can lead to a significant windfall. The reward structure is the direct cause of teams setting out to frustrate when visiting the Big 4.

Now I don't see a huge amount of the Spanish football live on Sky, so I cannot comment on the style of football played by Deportivo De La Coruna. However, I struggle to believe that fans of a club who played Champions League football 5 years ago, would not mind a bit of direct football if it brings the goals and victories that would lift them from the foot of La Liga. Would new boys Hercules not sacrifice style, if it elongated their Primera Liga tenure? 

I asked freelance Spanish football writer Mike Holden about how fans react to performances in Spain. He told me "They don't like losing, but they just stop going if their team keeps losing. Spanish fans are passionate but many can take or leave the match experience. To English fans, matchday is their life."

Therefore if  Cesc's claim is right, the Spanish support will boo their team when winning ugly and just stop going altogether when they are losing. Maybe Fabregas is basing his comments on his beloved Barcelona, but that is hardly indicative of Spanish football as a whole. 

Maybe I am a footballing neanderthal, but we have to accept that every team has it's limits. As much as we would love to see our teams play the beautiful way, there is not the talent to achieve it and the structure of the game means tipi-tapi with little end product costs points and costs money. By all means continue playing your way Cesc, but maybe you and your teammates might have to compromise your footballing principles to get the results that will bring Arsenal a first trophy in five years. I am guessing that the Arsenal fans might like one?   

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