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The Brain of Football

John Simkin

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A recent report by the Football Governance Research Centre at Birkbeck College, suggested that the game is in crisis. It pointed out that attendances are in decline. Two reasons are given for this state of affairs: managerial tactics and the price of admission.

Arsene Wengler agrees with the main thrust of this report. He was quoted as saying: “I’m very concerned, I feel the attraction of English football has always been positive but now the trend is to attack less. If this starts to get into the brain of football it will go downhill quickly. We are seeing less chances. Teams are trying not to lose and there is less risk. The grounds aren’t full although perhaps that has something to do with price as well.”

This problem has been increased by the recent success of Chelsea. After playing six games this season Chelsea have still to concede a goal. Jose Mourinho’s safety-first style is something that has spread throughout the game. Although his success has been based on a solid defence, Mourinho has the kind of players who can attack at great speed. They have wingers who have the ability to beat their full-back and whip in crosses that will be met by two or three players who are quick enough to abandon their defensive duties to get into the opposition penalty box. Chelsea have the sort of players who can play this system.

Last night I watched my local club, Worthing, play Walton & Hersham in the Ryman League. Worthing are having a good season and are currently in 4th position. Walton is also having a good season and they also posed a threat. However, the manager, set up his team to obtain a 0-0 draw. This he achieved.

Worthing, who played like the away team, did not have a shot on the Walton goal until the 26th minute (a tame long-range effort that was easily saved).

Worthing got the point they seemed to be playing for and they maintained their unbeaten home record. However, I felt this was very much a defeat for football. Worthing’s defenders were excellent, but do supporters attend matches in order to see their team keep a clean sheet? I began to wonder what my reaction would have been if I had been attending my first Worthing game. Would I have felt that I had “value for money”? After all, the £8 charged by Worthing is the same sum that supporters of Ajax and Bayern Munich have to pay. I suspect they might decide to spend their money in others ways and go back to watching football on television. It might be boring but at least it is cheap.

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Hi John

I do agree the high price of attending a football match, with the consequent drop in attendance figures, presents a real problem for the future of the game.

However, the employment of defensive tactics is a long-standing phenomenon not new to this era. It has been a bane for the game going back to the Sixties when I first attended football matches on a regular basis. With the two-legged European ties came the defensive tactics or bunker defense whereby a team would play a tight away formation to force a 0-0 draw or to snatch a 1-0 or 2-1 win, and that type of play came to be employed in league matches as well.

So what José Mourinho is doing now with Chelsea is nothing new.

John, of course, I do agree that defensive tactics kill entertainment value so that is a concern along with the dropping attendances. How much better to see a lively, incident-full 4-4 draw than a drab and boring 0-0 tie!

All my best


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Hi John

The following article written by veteran Liverpool FC player Tommy Smith, the original Ironman of the famous Liverpool sides of the 1960's and 1970's, is apt for our discussion--

Time to move the goalposts

By Tommy Smith, Liverpool Echo, Sep 21 2005

I CAN'T ever remember going out to play and not trying to win a match.

But it increasingly seems that is what is happening with teams as fear takes over and the first tactic is to make sure you simply do not lose a game.

Right now it is making for stalemates likes the one between Liverpool and Manchester United on Saturday.

And it doesn't do much to endear supporters to football.

At Anfield on Sunday you could sense early on that it was going to be a lifeless, goalless draw.

There are so many good defenders and defensive midfielders around at the moment, yet too few quality strikers or marauding wingers, so that is also partly responsible for the situation.

I honestly think it's time to experiment in making the goals bigger. I'm deadly serious. If we raised the crossbar a foot and made the posts just that bit wider I think it would make a hell of a difference.

How many shots and headers do we see hitting the crossbar nowadays? If it was a bit higher more goals would be scored and more players would be prepared to shoot from distance, particularly with a very light ball.

Modern footballers are more athletic than they were when the dimensions were first put in place, so why not rethink?

I'm not saying we should leap into it in the Premiership or in Europe, but an experiment in the Carling Cup, for instance, would be very interesting to see.

Football is about winning games and scoring goals. And right now it is losing its way.

Edited by Christopher T. George
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So what José Mourinho is doing now with Chelsea is nothing new. 

I don't object to José Mourinho's tactics. I find watching his fast counter-attacks exciting. My objection is to those teams who do not have the talented forwards to carry out this strategy. This is surely Tommy Smith's point when he says: "There are so many good defenders and defensive midfielders around at the moment, yet too few quality strikers or marauding wingers, so that is also partly responsible for the situation."

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