I haven’t written a blog recently. This is partly due to the fact that I have been selling and buying a new home, publishing my second book and with the whole Super league mania it felt like there was more than enough being written about football. I am now back putting pen to paper, or more accurately finger to keyboard. I feel a need to write this because I have been watching a lot of Premier league football recently as with the clocks going forward the time difference in China has become more manageable. For example a 4pm kick off in the UK is 11pm here in Ningbo. England certainly seems to be the place to watch football now with two teams in the Europa league league final and the two Champions league finalists both being British. But, honestly, I am finding the football being served up in the Premier league dull and soulless.
A typicle game involves two teams persisting to try and pass the ball out from the back no matter what the opposition does. I find myself watching games that are decided by which team gives the ball away in dangerous positions the most times. Time and time again, I see defenders and midfielders giving the ball away in dangerous positions trying to overplay. I would love to see the numbers for how many goals are scored from teams losing possession in their defensive third. I would imagine it is very high! Now the quality of the passing out from the back has improved immensely in recent years but there are still a lot of defenders who would do well to stick to the mantra of head it and clear it, simply put, they look like the oppositions best attacker most games. I can remember very early on in my all too brief footballing career being told that good players know their players. In other words, there are some players you don’t pass to unless they are well away from your goal. I played for years with my mate Darren who was a very gifted footballer who happened to play in defence and he used to take all kinds of risks with very rarely any consequences. The amount of times players alongside him would try and do the same thing with comically terrible results. Rule number 2, know your limitations!
It seems all the more bizarre that ALL the teams seem to try and do it in an age when data is so readily available. It makes me question what I am seeing with my own eyes. Is there data out there that suggests that this way of playing is the only way? Because week in and week out I see teams being given chances from teams trying to overplay in defence. In an age of high presses you would think that the odd clearance or long pass out from the back would prove more effective. Don’t get me wrong I do not like long ball football, but even Brazil would occasionally hoof the ball when under pressure. This pass, pass, pass and then pass some more is so boring to watch. When Barcelona used to do it they were always probing and looking for the forward pass whereas now it seems more like passing the ball for the sake of it. Here are some examples:
The ball is passed and passed and eventually gets out wide in the final third. The forward players make runs into the box and the wide player turns out and passes it back to the full back and then back to the centre half, some times then all the way back to the goalkeeper! Cross it Man! Strikers must be puling their hair out.
The ball is passed well and the team progress quickly up field they are now in the final third and the other team are short of numbers. If the player on the ball can play the right forward pass or take on their man they have a great chance of scoring. But, instead, they turn away from the opposing goal and pass it back to the midfield who turn and pass it back to the defenders, who sometimes then will pass it back in goal. They have gone from a dangerous attack to their goalkeeper passing the ball to the defenders who are now stuck on the edge of their own penalty area. Meanwhile thousands of fans are screaming at their TV!
I always thought that passing teams were successful when they passed with a purpose instead of just passing to not lose possession. A good player always looks forwards if possible. I would love to see the data the teams are basing it on. It is like man marking at corners against zonal. My eyes tell me that zonal seems to be less successful but this cant be the case as everyone seems to go for zonal.
I am fast becoming a football dinosaur. I want to see players with flair and personality, mistakes made by referees in the moment, not made by another referee who is watching it on a screen and still getting it wrong. It is hilarious that red cards given by VAR seem to constantly be overturned! I want to see tackles, not dangerous tackles but honest tackles made by committed players. I want to see crosses and dribbling. I want teams to live within a budget. I want to see players celebrating goals without worrying that it may be chalked off at any second by a line drawn on a computer screen at the point they believe the ball was kicked. I want fans back in stadiums and wouldn’t it be great if lot of them actually lived or where bought up in the local area. I want commentators talking about football like it existed before 1992, talking about the great players who went before. The Premier league is just the first division re branded. Jimmy Greaves is the best goalscorer ever, half of the young supporters will have never ever heard of him. I find myself now drifting in and out of the football as players try and bring up their pass percentages, that never used to happen when I was gripped by the football and literally on the edge of my seat.