Archive | September, 2006

Replacing Penalties

Posted on 29 September 2006 by JamesHamilton

Sepp Blatter has tired of penalty shoot-outs at World Cup Finals, and wants to replace them with.. well, he doesn’t really know. Counting corners, taking players off one by one during extra time, just playing on until someone scores – like a lot of us, Blatter senses that there’s something cheap and unsatisfactory about penalties, yet coming up with an alternative that isn’t actually worse is extremely difficult.

Penalty shoot-outs are a product of the 1970s. If you didn’t know that before, I doubt you’d be surprised to hear it. They’re a German idea, allegedly sprung from the fertile brain of Kurt Wald (although claims are made for the Israeli Yosof Dagan too). Back then, they were a replacement for a simple drawing of lots, and at first, one team took all of its initial five kicks before the other team took theirs, the shoot-out ending when the winner became obvious.

I’ve spent a lot of time since England’s World Cup exit mulling over why it is that we are so poor at penalties, and it’s just my kind of luck that they look likely to be pulled just when I think I’ve come up with a relatively foolproof way of preparing for them. Thank heavens the same methods work for golf. But there’s hope yet. The alternatives to penalties are all worse.

The principle weakness of the penalty shootout is that it encourages weak teams to defend with ten men behind the ball in the hope of fluking a passage against superior opposition. Or, two unadventurous teams can come to a silent compact on the pitch, and put all of their faith in the shootout. The dire match between Switzerland and the Ukraine epitomised the latter: no one who was there will ever forget the way they can’t remember a single incident from the game. It’s probably also worth saying that shootouts can accidentally reward the wrong team. I don’t really think that’s ever been England’s fate – but I do feel sorry for Spain over England’s penalty victory over them in Euro ’96: Spain were by far the better side on the day, and had a perfectly good goal disallowed before succumbing to David Seaman when extra time failed to find them a winner.

All that is better than drawing lots, of course. It’s been said many times, and it’s still true, that penalties at least allow the players themselves to decide matters. What about some of the other ideas?

One that is often put forward is a kind of penalty-max. The attacker is one on one with the goalkeeper, but has to begin his approach to goal with the ball at his feet from the centre circle. From there, he can beat the keeper in any way he chooses. I’d enjoy watching Alonso or Beckham try this in their own inimitable style.. Obviously, this would be more time consuming than simply taking a penalty kick, and there are other complications. What happens if the goalkeeper fouls the attacker – especially if the foul takes place outside the area? How long do you give the attacker – he can’t roam the field all day plucking up courage. Of course, if this method were to be adopted, the pratfalls committed by terrified attackers in the glare of the world’s gaze would make for some wonderful and eternal footage. But the trauma would be unfair on the worst of players; missing a penalty is one thing – we’ve seen the worst of that, in Beckham’s slip against Portugal in 2004 – what players might have to recover from under this new system just beggars the imagination. What’s more, it would bring the seriousness of the occasion into disrepute.

Counting corners is another favourite idea. The team who have won the most corners over ninety minutes and extra time win the match. No need for penalties, and allegedly the result would reflect the balance of the game. But it wouldn’t, of course: a Mourinho or some similarly tactically-literate coach would soon be on top of the new situation, and that coach’s team would straightaway be generating corners to excess and in the most unusual ways. Top matches would begin to resemble croquet or bar billiards. It would mean the renaissance of the old-fashioned English centre-forward as teams sought a Geoff Hurst or an Alan Shearer to meet all of those corners, but is that really what you want to pay to watch?

Of course, the teams could just play on until someone scores – changing ends every twenty minutes. The golden goal, in fact. I must admit to missing the “silver goal”, where a team scoring without reply in the first half of extra time won the game, and the “golden goal” itself, if it came, was a moment of huge emotion and drama, the footballing equivalent of the destruction of the Death Star. But we’ve only ever had the “golden goal” in situations where, should it not come, penalties are still sitting just over the horizon. If the “golden goal” applied in a penalty-less situation, then the problems that would present are actually quite severe. Cast your mind back to England’s game with Brazil in Japan in 2002: how long are you going to ask players to continue in those hot, humid conditions? And even in bearable temperatures, how long can players continue without actually losing the physical energy necessary to get up the pitch and score? Will a tournament be distorted by the exhaustion of the winning team spilling over into later rounds? Will players be left on the field carrying injuries – and do themselves lasting damage as a result? Games like this might very well suffer a kind of heat death, as two listless sides pass the ball between themselves, all passion spent, just longing for the whole thing to be over.

What about the idea where each team begins to withdraw players one by one as extra time progresses, opening the game up, until one team scores? Again, it sounds good in principle. But the problem of just playing on and on until a goal is scored – exhaustion, and its effect on later rounds of a tournament or indeed a player’s later career – is magnified here. Players who are already tired are going to be asked to cover more and more of the pitch. One team may be carrying more injuries than the other, and are going to be disproportionately disadvantaged. What’s more, knowing what’s in the offing, teams are going to start conserving their energy earlier in the game, meaning that matches will slow down. Teams will save themselves for the moment when the balance of their opponents’ side is disrupted by a withdrawal – and everyone in the stadium or at home will be forced to watch them saving themselves. And anyway, I can’t be the only one who thinks that this method just feels wrong.

Counting shots on goal? No, see counting corners. Some of the best teams make fewer attempts than their opponents – but craft better chances.

For all the disasters they’ve brought upon England – and they really intrude on the national consciousness these days – penalties still seem to be the only workable solution to a tied match in a knock-out tournament. Unless you want to try St George’s luck with a toss of the coin. No. From England’s point of view, the only option is to take Sir Clive Woodward’s advice. We have to stop throwing up our hands and bemoaning the impossibility of preparing for penalties in any real way, and make taking the blasted things (blasted in the Shearer sense, I hope, not in the Waddle) under crowd and situation pressure a part of our Saturday and Sunday afternoons, our weekday evenings. A national, season-long penalty competition. Private practice but under severe psychological pressure (the Army might be able to supply some ideas – I notice that they don’t take the attitude that you can’t prepare a man for combat). All this would require a spectacular change in attitude from the players especially. At present, they’re likely to make fun of all of this. And of course, if they’d rather, if we’d rather, have a giggle now and the long failure trudge back to some dressing room as another World Cup or European Championship goes the same way.. well, we all have to respect that. Don’t we?

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Fray Bentos, Steam and Football

Posted on 27 September 2006 by JamesHamilton

Not quite what it sounds. Fray Bentos is one of the more charismatic Flickr contributors, and the title refers to this of his photographs here:

Plenty else there well worth exploring.

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Review: Leo McKinstry, Sir Alf

Posted on 27 September 2006 by JamesHamilton

Leo McKinstry’s other football book, Jack and Bobby, was my desert island volume. That’s the Charltons, not the Kennedys, and this time it’s Bobby who gets to be President and no one is shot unless you count Jack’s interest in game birds. Sir Alf is cut from the same quality of cloth. Painstakingly researched and beautifully written, I am able to disagree with McKinstry’s interpretation of Ramsey purely because the book gives me enough to do so.

We all know the Alf Ramsey story by now. Born in Dagenham, a keen footballer who didn’t get into the game until during the War, shining at Southampton and Spurs, an unusually regular player for England and sometime captain before his international career ended in the debacle at Wembley against the magic Magyars. He loses the race to boss Spurs to Bill Nicholson, then takes Ipswich from the Third Division (South) to the First Division title before succeeding Sir Walter Winterbottom as England manager. He scraps wingers and wins the World Cup, before losing it in agonising circumstances in 1970. Rapid decline follows, and England fail to qualify for the 1974 Finals after a brilliant display by “clown” goalkeeper.. and I don’t think I can bring myself to type the rest (unless the Daily Express is prepared to pay me).

McKinstry’s book is in many ways an old fashioned apology for Ramsey, a defense of the man against his critics. They’re nearly all dead now, of course, and I wasn’t aware that the deed needed to be done – but done it has been, now, and done well. I’ll take McKinstry’s points in turn.

4-3-3: Ramsey’s abandonment of wingers was not a result of excessive caution or disbelief in the quality of his players. No, it was a recognition that Thompson, Connelly and co. were not quite international standard – and that the likes of Peters and Ball were better suited to a more compact formation. That Ramsay doesn’t seem to have settled on the 4-3-3 formation until halfway through the actual 1966 tournament was not indecision but an attempt to hide his tactical intentions from the teams he saw as England’s real opponents, the likes of Portugal, Argentina, France and Germany.

I say: I believe that Ramsey was undecided, in fact, about his team until very late in the day – later than Erickson was allowed when his turn came. However, he did indeed find a formation that worked very well, in the end, and that’s all that can be asked. I think it’s significant that England line-ups vary hugely until the 1966 quarter final, and hold firm for almost a year after the Final. And Ramsey was right – the best winger England had in the 1960s was Bobby Charlton, and come ’66, he was playing in central midfield. None of the others really made much of an impact.

Jimmy Greaves: McKinstry explains the dropping of Greaves after the quarter final as a combination of two principal factors: Greaves wasn’t a team player, and he didn’t quite fit the team plan Ramsey had in mind. Greaves’s attitude whilst with England was lacking – he was one of the prime troublemakers, and never really respected Ramsey as a coach or as a man. (Interestingly, McKinstry hints similar things about Greaves’ great friend, Bobby Moore).

I say: Greaves’ omission was made possible by the very late emergence of Geoff Hurst. Hurst was an England debutante in 1966, which puts the emergence of Peter Crouch into some kind of perspective. He was better in the air than Greaves, an ability that was, it turned out, decisive in England’s progress. Greaves hadn’t scored in the early rounds, whereas Roger Hunt had put away three – indeed, Greaves had come into the World Cup on the back of a series of inconsistent displays, scoring four against hapless Norway but failing to feature against better teams. In short, dropping Greaves was the right decision on purely footballing terms, and one that benefitted England in the following years.

Ramsey’s Man-Management: McKinstrey’s Alf was a man uncomfortable in the world but utterly at home in football, and an incomparable communicator to footballers. McKinstrey has researched Alf’s football conversation in incredible depth – the book digs up long inquisitions on train journeys, in dressing rooms, on pitches surrounded by 100,000 baying fans – and the story is consistent. It’s backed up by players from all parts of Ramsey’s playing career – including the last, disappointing England years after 1970.

I say: McKinstrey’s case is very strong. It’s not bullet-proof. Ramsey seems to have had as much trouble as other coaches in telling certain players that they weren’t playing – and Greaves was left looking for the white or black smoke in 1966. But Ramsey’s strong tactical eye, combined with his ability to talk to players and make his ideas understood, were real and achieved results.

Luck, dearie, had nothing to do with it: McKinstrey has Alf running out of luck in 1970 when Gordon Banks fell ill on the eve of the quarter-final against Germany. Peter Bonetti, a talented but nervous keeper, let in goals Banks would have saved, and in the process exposed Ramsey’s substitution of Charlton as a mistake.

I say: England rode their luck in ’66 to a degree that must have had Erickson ruing his in retrospect. Rattin’s sending off in the match against Argentina, plus Nobby Stiles’ staying on the pitch against France, a linesman with an agenda in the Final.. luck plays a huge factor in football, and we in Britain seem reluctant to give it its due. In 1970, what happened to Banks was just gutting (sorry) and in the context of a 2-0 lead, taking Charlton off to rest him made perfect sense. Sometimes, the dice just roll. Think of Rooney’s injury in 2004 and Campbell’s disallowed goal; think of Rooney’s sending off in 2006, which a more alert referee might have been able to avoid – and remember John Terry’s terrible miss later on in the game. Think of injuries to Gerrard, Beckham, Neville (twice), Owen (effectively twice), against Ramsey’s loss of one key player across two tournaments.

Ramsey and negative football: McKinstrey defends Ramsey against charges that he ended the English tradition of attacking football and brought in a cowardly, negative approach to the game that it has never quite shaken off since. England’s 4-3-3 produced flowing, attractive games against opposition who were also interested in playing their game, as seen against France, Portugal and Germany. England’s game against Brazil in 1970 is thought by many (including me) to be the best ever played.

I say: There are deep similarities between the way Ramsey’s teams were reported upon and the way Erickson’s were. Too much caution, players not knowing how to play together, undemonstrative coach, lack of imagination… it’s all there. If lesser coaches than Ramsey adopted 4-3-3 without possessing the players to make it work (something similar’s happening now with 4-5-1) that’s hardly Ramsey’s fault. Somewhere out there in the ethereal imaginations of football writers and journalists are the teams who swashbuckle uninterrupted, led by men who… churchillian inspiration… motivating the players…

Ramsey was slow to rebuild England: McKinstrey has a certain amount of time for this view. His loyalty to his players was part of the strength of his teams. Loyalty to players is favoured by the press when it’s least in evidence – at other times, it means, not good man-management but lack of courage and failure to stand up to superstars. Perhaps Moore was kept on too long by England – perhaps Ramsey was too slow to allow in great young players and too impatient with them when he did.

I say: England were successfully rebuilt between 1966 and 1970. Only Moore survived from the defence, Hunt and Stiles were gone, and Hurst, Peters and Ball (all very young players in ’66) were coming into their prime. Only Peters survived to see the crucial game against Poland in 1973. But… in ’66, it could be argued that the England side did indeed represent the best players available. Between ’73 and ’78, England had available Bell, Lee, Currie, Marsh, Osgood, Worthington, Hudson, Latchford, George and Mackenzie.. and, by and large, failed to use them. Ramsey is perhaps less at fault for this than Don Revie, but wherever the blame lies, it remains the fact that the standard of English players probably rose in the early 1970s, at a time when the national team was at an all-time nadir.
It can’t have helped that Alf Ramsey was something of an all-out xenophobe, a fact McKinstrey would have been forgiven for keeping out of sight. But such a good biographer doesn’t decline to his subject to that degree. A great manager, perhaps less of a success in his dealings with the world outside football, is a fair assessment.

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Review: David Peace – The Damned Utd

Posted on 27 September 2006 by JamesHamilton

There’ve been relatively few great football novels. The best of them all, of course, was Hamilton of the “Ringers”, 1959, in which a chap named Hamilton joins a First Division side as an amateur, and in his first season as centre-forward helps the Ringers to the title and the FA Cup, helps himself to some England caps, and finds himself a wife. I must have read it a hundred times, and it’s yet to lose its shine. Then there’s How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup by J.L.Carr, which might have been the inspiration for Graham Taylor’s Watford. It’s a charming fable about a village team who are taken under the wing of an enigmatic foreign manager, who teaches them the long ball game with stunning results.

The Damned Utd isn’t like that. In its way, it’s actually the first successful football novel. As opposed to the first football novel in which I’m successful..

David Peace is our primary chronicler of that complicated time between the end of the post-War boom and the end of Britain’s decline; from the 1973 oil crisis, say, until the 50th D-Day Anniversary celebrations in London in 1995. His trilogy of novels about, among other things, the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, are what he’s best known for, and The Damned Utd grows straight out of these and shares their purpose and atmosphere.

The Damned Utd consists entirely of first person narrative, one first person narrative, and our interlocutor is one Brian Clough. Peace’s first achievement is to prevent that one thing alone derailing the novel as a novel. You are never tempted to treat Peace’s Clough as an attempt to explore the real man – this is clearly not biography, and Peace trims his Clough to fit his method.

The narrative follows two timescales, which play tag with one another as the novel proceeds. Timescale one concerns Clough from the moment of his career-ending injury to the fallout from his resignation with Peter Taylor from Derby County. The theme is Clough’s revenge upon his fate. Timescale two covers his 44 days as manager of Leeds United, when he alone, without Taylor, plays successor to Don Revie.

Don Revie barely appears in the novel, but his presence is always felt. He and his team, his philosophy, his success, his mini-me John Giles, (“The Irishman”) obsess and madden Peace’s Clough. Does he want Revie to notice him, to acknowledge him, or just cease to be? Don is always out there, omniscient and all powerful, and the hard-drinking, hard-smoking insomniac Clough of the novel rages against him impotently before, in effect, falling to him altogether. Left unspoken at the end of the novel, as Clough leaves Elland Road for the last time, is what happens next: the permanant eclipse of Leeds, coinciding with the city’s own eclipse, and the rebirth of Clough and Taylor’s footballing East Midlands, which finally buries Revie’s legacy and leaves Clough, not Revie, as the great hope of the English game.

The Clough/Taylor relationship is thorougly explored, in this case to portray Clough as a torn man, dependent on others but longing to hog the limelight, perpetually in search of dominance (Arthur Hopcraft’s idea of the core drive for successful managers) but unable to gain it without his partner. Taylor is always about to settle for the quiet, remunerative life, money and comfort now: Clough is the risk-taker and visionary who, on the inside, is in a perpetual state of psychological flight.

Clough is also illustrated by his relationships with his two chairmen, Sam Longson at Derby and Manny Cussins at Leeds. Both begin as his closest allies, banking the farm on Clough in the teeth of opposition from their fellow directors. Sharing Clough’s desires for fame, attention and domination, each moves at his own pace to an anagonistic position, Longson over years, Cussins in the space of a lunar month.

Football, and footballers, represent the whole world of the novel – nothing else is admitted as a possibility, nothing else is given the least notice or importance. Frankly, the way it’s portrayed would put you off if you were new to it. Here’s the ’70s working class world in all its unnecessary, put-on machismo and brutality, its deliberate, chosen stupidity and parochial malice. Everyone, except for Roy McFarland! is out for themselves, and quite incapable of appreciating the virtues of solidarity save in rhetoric. The players, except for Roy McFarland! are monosyllabic sharp-stud bruisers, who can’t think.

I can’t resist adding my own reflections on the portrayal of Clough – acknowledging that Peace has written a novel here, not a biography, and that the demands he has set himself are quite different from a biographer’s. The influence of Clough’s autobiography, Cloughie: Walking on Water and Patrick Murphy’s His Way are obvious. There’s Clough’s love for Derby, never matched elsewhere; his family orientation and his attitude to fair play. Peace’s Clough is a hopeless alcoholic from the off, whereas the real Clough only took to drink properly after his trophies were all won. There too is the on-off relationship with Taylor, and the bitter regret at things said. Nothing, really, on what made Clough a great manager. Peace identifies Taylor’s role well enough, and Taylor’s absence from Leeds, heightening Clough’s already intense isolation, is a theme of the second timeline. But Peace’s Derby players come out for Clough – and we don’t really know why: there’s no insight beyond the old saw of “a kick up the backside, a hand around the shoulder”.

In truth, there isn’t room for that – or wouldn’t be without interrupting the real themes of the novel, which is very deliberately a modern Greek tragedy. We know, of course, that the gods were unable in the end to destroy Clough, and neither were the brewers. Clough died of cancer, not from drinking (George Best didn’t die from drinking, either, not by direct means at any rate).

The real Clough said, late in life, that his secret as a man-manager had come from his ability to break a player down until he knew who he really was. True confidence, said Clough, came from accurate self-knowledge: if you are John Robertson and you know you are a tub of lard who can deliver a cross – then not only do you know the worst and can deal with it, but you have absolute confidence in yourself in that place where you do your best work. And you’re that much more likely to be a team player, not a fantasy-prone prima donna or a talent liable to waste energy finding out the hard way where that talent ends.

That’s simple, sure, but also acute – too acute for most of the current professional psychological manuals on low self esteem. Clough wasn’t a “natural psychologist”, but a very clever man able to work his principles out for himself. It’s not that Clough you’ll meet in Peace’s novel – but a compelling character of Peace’s own, in the first football novel that has the game properly, not embarrassingly, built into it.

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Back

Posted on 27 September 2006 by JamesHamilton

I’m back, and there’ll be at least two further posts over the course of today.

I spent most of the last week just alone in a chair, with my eyes closed, listening to the world go by. In Oxford, that sound consisted of the occasional bounce-tick of a passing bicycle, in Devon of waves breaking on the rocks. No mobile phone, no landline for that matter; no email, no internet. I missed none of it.

It’s the first time I’ve really stopped – if I can use the word in that completist fashion – for over twenty years. In my chair I could feel the pulse of my failure to do so knocking at my knuckles. wanting to turn into diabetes or angina. Message received. I shan’t be going back to my old routine.

I even ignored football while I was away, partly thanks to the Ryder Cup. (A fantastic tournament, only slightly tarnished by Radio 5′s childish, discriminatory commentary. Some people are just totally blind to themselves. I was reminded at times of Harry of Harry’s Place recent account of his trip to Florida, where he had discovered – apparently to his surprise – that Americans were not all obese, loud, parochial, stupid, obnoxious Jesus freaks. Had he ever thought that they were?)

Nevertheless, I did come across a couple of facts. They’re neither of them remotely important, but both helped my holiday along. Did you know that you can sing Philip Larkin’s late poem “Aubade” to the tune of Match of the Day? You can – but make sure you’re alone first.

And did you know that Sir Alf Ramsey was not eligible, technically, to act as England manager? He’d played football on a Sunday earlier in his career. At that time, the FA disapproved of Sunday football, and you were required to pay a sum of money to them to restore your status had you done so. This Alf neglected to do.

More later.

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September 16 – 24 2006

Posted on 16 September 2006 by JamesHamilton

My plans for the next week chiefly involve hiding away in a quiet back garden in North Oxford, a pile of battered, un-work-related books from Robin Waterfield at my elbow, a cat in my lap and another sitting on my head. Then, a couple of days on the Devon coast.

Have a marvellous week, enjoy today’s games, and see you soon.

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Downtime

Posted on 14 September 2006 by JamesHamilton

More Than Mind Games has been down for most of the last three days. Dreamhost, my normally excellent host, has been conducting complicated repairs and upgrades and all should now be well.

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Manchester United 3 Celtic 2

Posted on 14 September 2006 by JamesHamilton

Were it not for the well-publicised fact that the two clubs haven’t met competitively before, you’d imagine this as one of those floodlit glory nights from the 1960s. Celtic are a better side, now, than they give themselves credit for, and were simply unfortunate to run into Louis Saha in the mood.

Of course, the fantasy Manchester-Celtic game would have matched the ’66 United that saw Law, Charlton, Best and Crerand at their peak, against the Lisbon Lions. It’s sometimes forgotten now how quickly Jock Stein brought success to Celtic, or how completely. It’s forgotten, especially south of the border, that there were TWO European Cup Finals for the hoops..

Stein came to Celtic from Dunfermline and Hearts, having played for them earlier in his career. At Dunfermline, Stein had taken over a side about to be relegated: within a year all that was forgotten and he’d won them the Scottish Cup. It took him slightly longer to win Celtic the European Cup – two whole years, in fact, slow by his standards. Great managers have their impact straight away: they don’t learn their way up from mediocrity.

Stein, like Clough, managed Leeds United for 44 days during the 1970s.

That fantasy 1960s match, by the way, was a high-scoring affair, or would have been had it happened, and had it happened, you might have thought that it all turned on one controversial decision before Best’s extraordinary cameo in the dying minutes put the game on its head and took United through. (To a match against the Wunderteam or something. I really don’t know how these non-existent tournaments work. Perhaps they are round-robin affairs, also involving the 1890s Aston Villa side, who unexpectedly sweep all before them. But as I say, I really don’t know).

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Ignorant

Posted on 11 September 2006 by JamesHamilton

From this morning’s Guardian, an article on Sven Goran Erickson’s non-attendance of an international football symposium in Germany. Lennart Johansson says that Sven has had enough of the UK media circus for the time being. I find that entirely understandable. The early days of the World Cup were marked by a variety of newspapers and weblogs rehearsing tired, discriminatory, bigoted clichees about the soccer culture in the United States. That the same people’s treatment of Sven doesn’t make them feel hot with shame tells me, at least, that there’s something deeply sick about the football culture here. But that’s not what’s ignorant. This is what’s ignorant:

Indeed, judging by Johansson’s comments, he could possibly do worse than spend some of it booking private sessions with Bill Beswick, England’s new sports psychologist and guru cum mentor to Eriksson’s successor, Steve McClaren. Yet even Beswick, a relentlessly enthusiastic exponent of the art of turning negatives into positives, might struggle to convince the one-time Lazio coach that his six years with England were a resounding success after all.

I think I’d be flattering Louise Taylor were I to give her the benefit of the doubt by assuming that she knows the difference between a sports psychologist and a psychotherapist: that word “guru” again gives her away.

I suppose if this blog is for anything, it’s for this, so, once again: sports psychology is a branch of psychology proper, which is a largely epidemiological science devoted to the study of human behaviour. Sports psychology exists to discover and propagate successful sporting behaviour. Psychotherapy has few intellectual or academic links with psychology, and is devoted to the attempted relief of various levels of mental distress. For our purposes, they are all but unrelated.

Perhaps I’m kidding myself, but I think this is something that people with claims to intelligence should already know. Then again, it’s becoming a theme here that football is where the English go to be stupid, and the vaguely ladette feel to Taylor’s article suggests that she’s not going to be the one to break ranks.

She goes on to mention that Sven’s previous report to the FA – about Euro 2004 – was thin on tactics. May I suggest that the reason for that is that it’s not Sven who has no knowledge or interest in tactics, but his report’s intended audience? There is something odd about the way we hear on the one hand, and in the same papers, that the England squad are unwilling to look beyond 4-4-2, whilst blaming the manager for their inability to adapt to each other’s play on the pitch. Sven wouldn’t be the first foreign manager to find that his tactical experience became the equivalent of pearls before swine after a move to England. Gianluca Vialli says just that in The Italian Job, and quotes others.

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Lowe, Clifford and Woodward: A Revolution Postponed

Posted on 08 September 2006 by JamesHamilton

A brief “links” post today, as busy between now and Monday morning.

The departures from Southampton of Rupert Lowe, Clive Woodward and Simon Clifford represent to me in stark form the present unwillingness of English club football to do what is necessary to bring the best out of our players and achieve what our national game is capable of. What could have been a story of rebirth and regeneration has become yet another tale of football’s version of the Old School Tie.

Simon Clifford tells his side of the story (Woodward hasn’t yet, and may not) in two Guardian articles this morning. Jeremy Wilson has done a good job of putting Clifford across here and here, although his reference to Humphrey Walters as a “motivational guru” is tiresome and another reflection of our game. For all that it bewails the loss of street football, in most important respects it refuses to leave the playground.

Over at the always superb Hobo Tread, here’s an account of Clifford’s non-league side, Garforth Town.

By way of contrast, the comments on this post of Tim Worstall’s aptly demonstrate what I’ve been saying about sport being the place where the English opt to be stupid. Woodward gets airily dismissed with a world-weary wave of a hand. How obvious it is, that Woodward is nothing but a bullshit merchant: all we need to do is stuff our players with raw steak, “motivate” them, and if all’s not well after that, there’ll always be a scapegoat for the clever people to stick pins into.

It’s going to be a bleak and unsuccessful few years in British sport. We just don’t seem to be aware that there’s a choice to make. Either accept that we care more about fun and entertainment than winning, in which case our John Smith advert phoney no-nonsense amateur hour approach will do, or accept that winning things on a regular basis involves a change in attitude and practice on a fundamental level. Every time we seem to be on the cusp of taking the second route, we come over all CAMRA. We’re doing it again, now. What makes people think it’s going to work this time?

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