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The Runs
by Paul Gardner, May 8th, 2008 6:45AM
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I suppose it's a pretty safe bet that no one would argue against the idea that soccer is all about movement? Running, jogging, jumping, twisting, turning, falling -- that sort of thing.

So . . . how is it that the idea that players should be "making runs" during a game is these days presented as a tremendous discovery? I mean, was there ever a time when people played soccer by standing still?

Why is it that one cannot listen to a soccer telecast without the play-by-play guy and the expert analyst (when they're able to take a break from exchanging platitudes) going on about the runs that players are alleged to be making -- as though there is something almost supernaturally clever in just, well, running.

Well, dammit, of course players make runs in soccer. They've been doing it for over 100 years -- though for the first 70 or so of those years, they had no idea they were "making runs" -- any more than they knew they were "creating space."

So what's the big deal here? Frankly, I don't think there is one. This is largely flim-flammery. The sort of obscure, pseudo-clever talk that coaches come up with, that is then taken up by journalists whose job it is to keep up with the coaches. Or at least, to make out they know what the coaches are talking about.

There are, you will have observed, various types of runs. Well, actually, not too many different types. The one that usually gets singled out as being something quite stupendously marvelous, is the diagonal run. This is supposed to confuse defenders, even though they've been dealing with it for decades now. It's also supposed to be quite breathtaking -- wow! let's go out to a soccer game and watch those diagonal runs!

OK, quite right, from time to time, players do run across the field instead of up and down its length. Very often, they choose the diagonal route because if they ran straight forward, they would end up in the bleachers within a few seconds. In others words, their position on the field, to say nothing of the positioning of their opponents, and the circumstances of the game more or less force certain movements. There is nothing seriously clever in the movement. Nor is there anything marvelous about seeing an overlapping defender galloping into flank space -- that is precisely what one would expect him to be doing.

But it is those sort of runs that call forth encomia from the experts. Even when they accomplish nothing. Or when the guy with the ball doesn't see the run, or maybe chooses to ignore it and to pass the ball to someone else. That's when the experts pounce in all their fury. What is the guy thinking? I mean, his teammate has just made a run, surely he must respond?

Fact is, there are always runs going on in the game, in various directions, at various speeds. There is an implication, among the run devotees, that a run, to be worthy of the name, should cover some distance, and should be made at speed. It should, of course, end up with the guy who made the run receiving a pass, and whacking the ball into the net.



Lovely. But unlikely, as a moment's thought will reveal. If there were only one guy making a run at any time, well, OK, maybe he should get the ball, But there will be more than one guy making a run -- or at least, moving , maybe only even leaning, in a certain direction. So the guy with the ball has three or four options. Which to choose?

Actually he has two more options: he can choose not to pass at all, and go it alone (very dodgy that, as far as the experts are concerned, who seem to feel that a run -- a long run, that is -- must always be rewarded). Or the final option, maybe the trickiest: he can, so to speak, invent a pass that will prompt the movement, the quick response, of a teammate. An unlikely, unforeseen pass, that has defenders floundering -- but that a teammate, hopefully, will be quickest to respond to.

My point here is this: enough of this run stuff. The word "run" should be returned to baseball where it belongs (and they can send "pitch" along with it). Of course there are runs in soccer, dozens and dozens of them in every game, some good, some bad, some long, some short, and so on. All part of the intrinsic movement of the game.

The idea of the TV experts that they have discovered something when they prattle on about runs, that they are revealing to we poor slobs who don't know any better, some telling secret of the game, is a joke.

Worse, it distorts the game, and diverts attention away from where the real action, the real soccer action, is going on. Inside the brain, the soccer brain, of the guy with the ball. He's the one who has to be aware of all the changing positions, the one who has to decide immediately, which particular movement, if any of them, to respond to.


That is, of course, assuming that the guy with the ball knows what he's doing. If he doesn't, then he'll probably make the wrong decision. And he's not much of a player. But we don't hear much about that when we're deluged with all the good news about all the fantastic runs that are being made.

It's worth remarking, too, that the runs we're constantly being told to admire (the ones we wouldn't have noticed without the expert help) involve mainly strenuous physical effort. Speed, and distance are the thing. The subtler movements, the shorter darts and twists and feints -- we don't hear so much about them, they don't seem to have the glamour of "runs." Which is a pity, as they're much more interesting.

 



0 comments
  1. John Callahan
    commented on: May 8, 2008 at 8:56 a.m.
    well said...

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