The soul of soccer under threat

By Paul Gardner

Future historians -- say some 200 years hence -- researching the regression of soccer back into the brainless, bloody melees from which it sprang, will do well to study the 2012 statements of two Premier League coaches, Tony Pulis of Stoke City, and West Ham United’s Sam Allardyce.

Both men were defenders in their playing days, 19 years for Allardyce, 17 for Pulis, beginning in the mid-1970s. Both retired in 1992, having spent most of their time shuffling between smaller clubs, and never having won a major title.

The vision of the game, for both coaches, is understandably from the defender’s viewpoint. It is a stern outlook. These two hardy champions of a more bruising, more manly version of soccer have recently provided us -- and those future researchers -- with neat encapsulations of their thinking about the sport.

Here we have the sort of soccer action that excites Pulis. From a recent Liverpool-Stoke game, Pulis singles out this incident as particularly memorable: “There was a challenge in the first half when [Liverpool defender] Glen Johnson and Jonathan Walters both went up for a header, it was a real full-blooded challenge and I thought Glen did absolutely fantastic to bounce back up and get on with it. I went over to him and said ‘well done.’”

Allardyce talked at greater length in a recent column in the London Evening Standard about the joys of defensive soccer and “being thrilled by a top tackle.”

What these guys are after hardly needs spelling out -- a vigorous, thud-and-blunder type game where players thump into one another and the referees don’t blow their whistles. After all, as Allardyce says, once soccer “becomes non-contact you don’t have a sport any more.”

So we then ask the obvious question: what sort of sport do we get if soccer is played according to the rugged Pulis/Allardyce formula? Conveniently, we don’t need to theorize here. We just had, on Monday, a game between West Ham and Stoke, between Allardyce and Pulis, a game that allowed us to judge just what these two coaches have to offer.

The verdict -- OK, my verdict -- is that both Pulis and Allardyce should be charged immediately with aggravated soccer abuse and banned from the game for a couple of decades. First of all, whatever the clock may have said, I’m quite sure this 90-minute game lasted at least twice as long. The first half was tedium defined. We got a goal -- a nicely worked corner kick by Stoke. A set play, be it noticed. The chances of either team actually constructing a goal through anything that looked like soccer were non-existent. High balls, long balls, mis-controlled balls, loose balls, ugly, scrappy tussles for possession ... and, really, what was the point of trying to possess a ball that was almost certain to be immediately given away?

West Ham was dreadful. It got better in the second half, while Stoke got worse. It finished 1-1, one point apiece -- but this was dire stuff, the sort of soccer for which points ought to be deducted. There probably were moments of skill and artistry buried in this anarchic, frenzied mess of hustle and bustle, but they were difficult to spot.

Thank you, guys, for making your message so unmistakably clear. This is what you want -- “full-blooded challenges” for Pulis, and, for Allardyce, “the art of good defending.”

Allardyce has spelled things out, explaining about “defending being the key element of success in football.” There are, he says, “some fundamental football values which cannot, must not, be lost.” Yes, indeed there are, and I’d put dribbling -- surely the fundamental soccer value -- at the top of that list as the sport’s most exciting and most endangered skill. But not for Allardyce. He doesn’t even mention it -- the skills he sees as under threat are “heading, tackling and defending.”

Defending, he says is “a declining footballing skill.” How, then, does he account for the worldwide decrease in goalscoring? Maybe he hasn’t even noticed it. But he has noticed that “good tacklers are almost an extinct species” -- where is where he gets himself involved in one of those contradictions that always beset the champions of physical soccer. His remark can only mean that the modern game is full of bad tacklers and bad tackles. Which must in turn mean plenty of foul tackles.

Allardyce does not admit that. Pulis has another way of dealing with it. He simply accuses opponents -- opponents of Stoke, that is -- of diving (if the diver should happen to be a Stoke player, Pulis declares it to be a rotten call by the referee; he did that recently when his player Charlie Adams was yellow-carded for a dive -- and as it happens he was right, it was a rotten call).

That business about the lost art of tackling, though, is interesting. Allardyce backs up his assertion by claiming that, “You don’t see tackling in coaching manuals any more, it’s now all about staying on your feet and intercepting.” But that is not something new. In fact, Allardyce is wildly off the mark. I have here a coaching manual from 1973 -- the very year that Allardyce started his playing career as a 19-year-old -- which states “When challenging for the ball it is vital for a player to stay on his feet ...” That was from “Football Tactics and Teamwork” -- a book that bore the official imprimatur of the English Football Association.

Anyway, the idea that tackling is a skill that can be practiced and refined through reading a manual, seems unlikely. And how does one organize practice sessions for tackling? Does any club ever have such sessions? You would need some guinea-pig dribblers -- who would they be? Youth team members exposed to the possibility of serious injuries? How likely is that?

Until they invent a machine to simulate a dribbler -- with all the sudden stops and starts and swerves and moves and feints the skill entails -- tackling will be what it has always been, something that is picked up as you go along, that is absorbed from more experienced players, that is learned on the job.

And the level of that learning will be governed by the prevailing atmosphere within the sport. If that atmosphere is indulgent to hard tackling, then the learning process is likely to stop well short of perfection. Why bother to seek perfection if you can get away with something less, if the referee is not going to call the foul, or maybe will give a yellow card for diving?

But Allardyce’s tangled thoughts ignore the possibility -- I would rate it the reality -- of poor tackling completely. He believes the opposite -- that “smart tackles now are constantly being punished by yellow cards ...” He offers no definition for “smart tackles” but he commends them because “they very rarely injure players.”

That may well be true. But what is at stake here is injury to the game itself. The approach advocated by Pulis and Allardyce is one that is bound to reduce soccer to a game dominated by physical strength -- and hence, big players. Pulis, on his current Stoke team, has 16 players over 6-foot tall.

That ought to worry those who see soccer as a much more intelligent and sprightly game. But coaches stick together. Brendan Rogers, trying, it is said, to teach the intricacies of a possession and passing game to Liverpool, will not criticize Pulis’s team: “I don’t think Stoke were over physical. They’re a bunch of big men who make it very difficult for you. There’s no right or wrong way to play this game.”

A highly questionable opinion. No right or wrong in the legal sense, or the moral sense, or even in the sense of the game’s own rules. But we are talking about right or wrong in the sense of the very soul of soccer, the spirit of the game. The future that Pulis and Allardyce advocate flies in the face of that spirit.

The future soccer that they envision must result in the death of dribbling, will have no place at all for ball artistry, no time for subtlety. It promises a bleak activity dominated by “the art of good defending” with plenty of “full-blooded challenges”. And not many goals.

The preview of this future -- the West Ham-Stoke game earlier this week -- wasn’t as bad as that. But it was bad enough. The inevitable blighting of a lively sport by unimaginative minds.

27 comments about "The soul of soccer under threat".
  1. Lou vulovich, November 21, 2012 at 5:36 a.m.

    paul, dont we already have rugby

  2. john davies, November 21, 2012 at 8:02 a.m.

    Well sir the discussion about soccer or as i call it football in England cannot be fully discussed in one comment. But I do agree with most of what you say, it is of course the very reason why England have not won a major tournament since 66, when i was just a lad. In England at every ground on a Saturday afternoon the paying customers demand that EVERY player works their butts off for the good of the team, the England punter wants what I call chug a lugs, players like Ray Wilkins who would run all day sweat pouring off of him, but when you looked at what he did most of the time he had done nothing but he worked hard. Its why we in England are the square ball kings, and worst of all the back pass kings. Watch any game when an English player gets the ball especially our midfielders what do they do first if they can they pass back to the player who just gave them the ball, compare that to foreign players who will turn and go forward first, we don't create innovative players, I would not be surprised if some teams would say Messi is good player but he does not defend enough, did Pele defend, and how many of these teams would have turned him down. But when we get a innovative player we tear them apart, we like the types of players that Sam and Tony are talking about.

  3. john davies, November 21, 2012 at 8:02 a.m.

    The biggest problem with football in England today is of course Money, look at what happened today a manager got sacked after 8 months because the results were not going well, he only won the FA cup and European cup in 8 months,what the hell. But money drives the game, when you have only 4 or 5 teams that can honestly look at winning the league, and the rest of the leagues number one priority is to get to 40 points and premier status for another year so the chairman can stuff his bank accounts, what do you think those teams are going to do. They are going to fill their teams with players who work hard at defending, because lets face it, most teams don't go especially away from home to win they go not to lose, hence the type of games you have on Monday. Most supporters don't care, they want to see their teams win, or not lose and they don't really care how they do it, my son summed that thinking
    up, he of course lives over here in the states and supports UTD, he does not care if they play good just as long as they beat City ETC. Same with England, most English fans don't really care if we play well, we must not lose. As for Sam's observation about tackling he is spot on, and I will prove it, watch any game on any day, and just watch a corner kick, watch the defenders, what do they do, they do not even look at the ball, that's bad enough but then they put their arms out to stop the forward from moving, last weekend one commentator (who by the way generally have no knowledge of the rules of the game) said that its ok to put your hands on an opposing player, WHAT if you put your hands up to touch a player its because you do not have the technical ability to tackle him correctly,and as far as i know its a foul, one of Sam's points, yes the game as changed but if its OK to lay your hands on an opponent then we need to change the laws of the game, and as the first comment states we should make the game more like Rugby. As you can see i could talk and have for a long time about this but the bottom line is, when money is the God, managers who are scared for their jobs and who can blame them, will try not to lose in most games, the mentality you speak of will prevail in the English game of football. Happy thanksgiving to all my American Cousins.

  4. Brian Something, November 21, 2012 at 9:21 a.m.

    On the same weekend we saw a brilliant match of football between Arsenal and Spurs – including many exciting British attacking players like Walcott, Oaxlade-Chamberlain, Defoe and Bale – Paul is focusing on the two most paleolithic examples of football in the Premier League. I think you prefer being grumpy to actually enjoying football.

  5. Bobby Bluntz, November 21, 2012 at 9:28 a.m.

    In reply to Brian, I think we need pieces like this to remind us and to champion the cause otherwise the darkside will definately be over represented. The witch hunt on diving gets plenty of air time and rough tackles and fouling players in the box is "not enough for me" according to every announcer, so we actually need a voice in the media to support the evolution of the game in, particularly for me, the states.

  6. Daniel Clifton, November 21, 2012 at 11:04 a.m.

    I think PG makes some great points in this article. I also appreciate the comments of John Davies. The problem with all pro sports is the God, as Mr. Davies puts it, is money.

  7. Kent James, November 21, 2012 at 11:37 a.m.

    While I don't doubt that the game between West Ham and Stokes was tedious, and certainly getting big players to knock each other down and have the ref swallow his whistle is a recipe for a horrible game, I wish Paul would recognize that such tactics are not good defense, that there is an art to tackling (which he even makes clear in the difficulties in practicing it), and that good defense makes a game more exciting, not less. A game without defense becomes like a lot of all-star games, which have some entertainment value, but provide no interest in terms of competitive sports. Good tacklers need not be big, but their timing must be superb, and good tacklers have no reason to foul. As referees have allowed play to become more physical, bad defenders have unfortunately been able to become more effective (since they rely on clutching and grabbing and niggling fouls that refs refuse to call), which has led to a decline in the art of tackling. For a defender to strip the ball from a good dribbler and start a counter-attack is a very entertaining part of the game. And while slide tackling should be a last resort, a good slide tackle never touches (or endangers) the opponent because it is focused on the ball; and again, an offensive player streaking down the flank who is dispossessed by a good slide tackle is an entertaining part of the game. Gardner should recognize that good defense is what drives good offense to be better. Good defense is a skill, not thuggery.

  8. dennis hillyard, November 21, 2012 at 12:02 p.m.

    Whilst PG does make some valid points I would still take issue with some of his comments.
    By practically outlawing both, the slide tackle and tackle from behind has introduced an element into the game where 'attacking' players DELIBERATELY hit the turf on the slightest contact leaving the referee the thankless task of determining whether it was a dive or not ?
    Like it or not both examples if correctly performed were 'works of art'.
    Don't believe me then take a look at some old video's of the late, great Bobby Moore.
    QUESTION: Bale, Walker. Ashley Cole are all praised for their tremendous pace and crossing abilities. Why then do we Rarely mention their DEFENSIVE qualities
    Baresi for former Italian sweeper was the master of the slide tackle yet today I doubt if he would stay on the pitch for 30 minutes.
    Basically football is a game of TWO qualities. Defense and attack. Neither can function effectively without the other. If we are going to totally eliminate the slide tackle etc, then for heavens sake let's get back to teaching young defenders how to mark properly, how to remain in touching distance of the ball etc. Watch the 'modern' defender today. He stands 4 - 5 yards off the player with the ball and then, relies on his pace to gain possession.
    If not then surely there should be just ONE formation 1 - 10 !!!!

  9. dennis hillyard, November 21, 2012 at 12:22 p.m.

    JOHN DAVIES: Whilst we are all entitled to our opinions, i find your criticism of Ray Wilkins totally unfounded. When Ray returned from playing in Italy to play for MU our great British football public immediately labelled him THE CRAB. Why?
    Because when the long ball pass was not on he would imply play a pass sideways thus retaining possession for his team.
    Today practically every team home and abroad utilize this method!!!
    Actually Ray did HUFF and PUFF all over the pitch. His stay in Italy had taught him how at times to mark SPACE rather than the opposing player but once again his critics saw this as something negative.
    Anyway no hard feelings. Let's just agree to disagree,

  10. Carl Walther, November 21, 2012 at 1:19 p.m.

    These guys are know as "eurotrash." Plain and simple.

  11. Kevin Sims, November 21, 2012 at 3:12 p.m.

    Amen, PG! Soccer is most prized when artistry and aesthetics excite.

  12. Bobby Bluntz, November 21, 2012 at 4:08 p.m.

    Dennis Hillyard: I agree that there is an art to tackling and I think PG recognizes that it should be an art rather than a crutch. The fact that you mentioned attacking players going down under the "slightest contact" shows the very problem with the issue: if a player doesn't go down the foul isn't usually awarded even if the advantage is gained by the defender commiting a "slight" foul. It's a foul after all and it should be called. When a slide tackler comes in and wrecks a player and then points to the ball in disgust, replays showing he got none of the ball, it should be cautioned every time. This would then re-inforce your point about the art of the better get it just right or you will be cautioned for it. I hate to bring up the obvious, but Spanish football embraces this philosophy and at the moment, nobody can argue that it's the best.

  13. Ken Jamieson, November 21, 2012 at 8:46 p.m.

    As a manager, neither has won the Premier League, neither has won a cup. Other than advancing out of the lower division, neither manager has any honours of distinction. Both clubs are looked at by the upper levels of the league as pesky opponents that try to take you off your game and hopefully steal a win (and given their records, this doesn't happen too often).
    Like hockey coaches that preach following through on checks or gridiron football coaches that tell players to tackle and play to the whistle, these two managers preach anti-football more from a position of lacking talent than a true belief that their brand of football will ultimately prevail.
    Do you honestly believe if either was at the head of Real Madrid or Manchester United they wouldn't want the finesse players to flourish?
    Because victory comes not from merely keeping your opponent off the scoreboard but also from putting the ball in the onion bag, purely defensive-minded managers will never enjoy sustained success.
    While "purists" will extoll the virtues of a well-played defensive struggle, "fans" will always prefer a 5-3 goalfest over a 0-0 battle.
    Final point, there is a reason why neither Allardyce nor Pulis is managing a top four club, they don't have the managerial acumen to do it.

  14. R2 Dad, November 22, 2012 at 1:44 a.m.

    Yeah, not every team can afford to hire skilled players and coaches. The good news is that this style of play has moved out of favor in the BPL. I would like to see an analysis of styles in the Championship, League 1 and League 2. Can teams in lower leagues play possession? I would argue that teams at all levels should be able to maintain possession (vs direct play). Does the UK talent pool provide for it, or must all the skilled players come from the continent? I'm not trolling here--it's not like the US has thousands of professional-level players at that skill level, either, and we've a much larger population base.

  15. Millwall America, November 22, 2012 at 10:51 a.m.

    The great thing about soccer is that the game is big enough for route one, blood-and-guts, defensive teams like a Stoke and also for high-possession, high-passing, attacking teams like a Barcelona. Allowing Tony Pulis and his band of orcs to exist and play their brand of football does not mean we are doomed to have every team in world soccer play the same way. I for one appreciate the variety a team like Stoke provides to the global game. As for results -- Stoke (1) don't have a lot of money compared to other teams and (2) still managed to get to the FA Cup final and the Europa League in recent years. Give Pulis credit for achieving what he can with what he has.

  16. Lou vulovich, November 23, 2012 at 6 a.m.

    There are a lot of great points made by different people in this blog, particularly JD and BB. The point I think PG and others are trying to make is the emphasis on attacking skilled soccer, not that all players should resemble MESSI or RENALDO. I don't think watching SPAIN or BARCELONA play resembles an all star game, the intensity is as high as you will see anywhere, and it is the intensity combined with skilled creative players that makes for a great game not two rams battering each other. I also don't think this problem exists in Britain alone it is a problem in most of Europe. Every country in Europe has highly skilled creative young players it just so happens that as they are trying to become pros they start to run into result oriented coaches who are trying to advance their own careers and they are more interested in results than great players. It is much easier to teach a physical, destructive way of playing than it is to teach attacking football, with the latter a coach has to loose some control and trust his players, with defensive, destructive soccer a coach has total control all the glory goes to him he is the genius. To incorporate skilled creative football it must start at the youth level and continue to be pushed into the pro level as BARCA has done. Go to any high level youth tournament in the US or Europe and you will see a lot of great young players, look at US ACADEMY players there are a lot of quality young players, highly skilled creative, where do they go not in the MLS. The commitment to great football starts with OWNERS AND MANAGEMENT not with the coach who is only interested in RESULTS and his next long term contract. THE PROOF IS SPAIN, NOT IRLAND. A skilled player can run and tackle just as much as a non skilled one, it just so happens that he will be more fun to watch and will be more appreciated. STEVEN GERARD just to name one. The greatest ENGLISH player of all time and one of the top 20 players ever to play football. And please don't say he is not because he won nothing with ENGLAND. The best generation of ENGLISH players ever, destroyed by the now nothing ENGLISH FA and the worst coaches in the world. PERIOD

  17. Peter Skouras, November 23, 2012 at 10:43 a.m.

    My comment has nothing to do with Premier League coaches, Tony Pulis of Stoke City, and West Ham United’s Sam Allardyce...why? Because they're seasoned Professionals both as players and coaches PERIOD!

    PAUL STATES: "Both men were defenders in their playing days, 19 years for Allardyce (Paul forgot to mention the Tampa Bay Rowdies for all interested,) 17 for Pulis, beginning in the mid-1970s. Both retired in 1992, having spent most of their time shuffling between smaller clubs, and never having won a major title."

    Shuffling between smaller clubs? WHAT DO YOU MEAN PAUL BY A SMALLER CLUB? You mean a smaller Premier, Championship or Div 1 or 2? Paul, I certainly trust you are aware what it takes to "GO UP" and "BE RELEGATED!" WAR and BATTLE which with it comes $$$ for clubs and players, profits and losses, which with all of this comes "EXCITING FOOTBALL" and the DEVELOPMENT OF PLAYERS THROUGH HARSH HIGHLY CHARGED MATCH CONDITIONS!!! Well Paul, MY POINT IS, here in the United States, if we had any hope of creating a PROMOTION-RELEGATION between the MLS, NASL and USL which could produce "A SOUL" it has pretty much become a pipe dream!!! Don't get me wrong, I am in favor of what ever is best for WOMEN'S Soccer, however, with MLS AND US SOCCER supporting and working with a WOMEN'S PRO LEAGUE THAN "PROMOTION & RELEGATION" between OUR 3 PROFESSIONAL LEAGUES has pretty much SHUT THE DOOR with the game progressing to the next level. Paul, please do the Soccer World a favor...YOU REALLY NEED TO OPEN UP UNITED STATES SOCCER AS YOU MENTIONED, "BY ITS SOUL!!!"

  18. Charles O'Cain, November 23, 2012 at 10:04 p.m.

    Once again a disgruntled ex-pat Englishman writing for Soccer America presumes to instruct us as to the evils and threats offered to his concept of what is beautiful and good by the world's most popular football league, the Premier League. It seems completely evident to me that the world does not share his contempt for the styles of play exhibited by the ever-changing 20 teams comprising this league, and that this variety of approaches (based on the resources of each individual team) must be a large part of the attraction. It is the job of each manager to utilize the resources available to him to accumulate enough points to remain in the league, and failure to do this is punished by relegation (and frequently dismissal). Teams that are consistently successful in staying in the league can then accumulate further resources and aspire to championships, cups and UEFA competition. Allardyce and Pulis will be judged based on their successes and failures in this league structure, not on whether Mr Gardner finds their approaches ugly or beautiful. The world is watching, and is entertained. As am I.

  19. Lou vulovich, November 24, 2012 at 1:39 a.m.

    I know a lot of fans of Arsenal, MU,Chelsea, Liverpool, who get up at 5AM 6AM or 7AM to catch those teams play live. I do not know of anyone who watches STOKE or WH period, except maybe you Charles. You are taking these comments personal and the fact is without foreigners no one would watch English football not even the English. There is a reason for that and it is not contempt.

  20. Karl Ortmertl, November 24, 2012 at 8:06 a.m.

    You're never going to get the physical element out of soccer because it fills a need. Young men, which is what most of the folks at soccer matches are, need something to channel their aggressive nature. They're not looking for a ballet out there. If the fan base wanted Barcelona style football, that's what they would be getting. But blood and guts sells more tickets in most places, so that's what's provided. This will never change. If you appreciate skilled soccer, be happy there's a Barcelona out there and go watch them, otherwise the forces of nature are against you.

  21. Charles O'Cain, November 24, 2012 at 6:12 p.m.

    La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Eredivisie, Liga MX and Primiera Liga are all among the Soccer On TV listings this weekend as alternatives to the Premier League. Does Mr Gardner spend any time sampling these offerings? Or do the other PL-bashers?. If you don't like English Football, don't watch it. You won't be missed, nor will your perpetually negative commentary. Write about what you love, not what you hate (or do you just love to hate?). I'll continue to watch what I love.

  22. Lou vulovich, November 25, 2012 at 7:37 a.m.

    Karl, Barcelona sells out every game, over 80,000 fans I am sure your Idea of a great game is the Colorado Rapids vs RSL with 3 shots on goal, 7 yellow cards and 2 red that would be a perfect game for you and Charles. Charles, Paul points out the faults with the PL not from hate but from love. The Bundesliga, Serie A, and Eredivisie are the same as the PL, with 4 or 5 teams that can play decent football. La Liga, Ligue 1 are better quality. Remember Pele, Bobby Moor, Eusebio, Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Maradona, Zidane, Messi, Ronaldo, All were pretty skillful. That is the reason everyone should aspire to play attractive, skillful football.

  23. Charles O'Cain, November 25, 2012 at 1:56 p.m.

    Spanish football is dominated by 2 extremely wealthy and extravagant teams (champion in 53 of 83 years has been either RM or Barca, only 9 teams have EVER been champions, and NO team playing currently in the league below has EVER been La Liga champion) . Many (probably15+) of the teams are weak, so I am puzzled as to why you think the overall quality is better. And The mystery of League 1 "quality" is even deeper ... France has only one win in the Champions League, 20 years ago.They may "aspire to play attractive, skillful football", but they lose. The players you list, Lou, were certainly skillful (you missed George Best), but they represent only a tiny fraction of the player pool and most teams must make do with less.

  24. Lou vulovich, November 26, 2012 at 5:39 a.m.

    Shame on me for missing George, clearly one of the best. Charles lets be realistic Spain, France, can put out 50 quality International players and still be a top European side, do you believe England can do the same, that is a true test to the style of football played in a league. I appreciate a hard working physical player, but your whole team should not be made up by these players. Pulis and Allardyce, are not model coaches and their style is nothing anyone should aspire to plain and simple. You just cant argue with Spanish football today... Look at what Trapatoni has done with Ireland is that not as good of a example as you need, he has done for Irish football what Berti Vogt's did for Scotland, set them back 10 years behind the rest of the world. Sorry I forgot about Erickson, England are just lucky they have a better pool of players than Ireland and Scotland. French clubs loose because all their talent is sold, for huge profit.

  25. Kent James, November 28, 2012 at 10:29 a.m.

    Charles and Lou, you both make some good points. Clearly Real Madrid & Barcelona are two of the best (if not the best) teams in the world, and they play attacking soccer. I don't get to see much of the rest of the Spanish League, but it is clearly not up to the standards of these two (whose dominance Charles pointed out). The EPL may not be as good at the top, but is probably better deeper (though may be worse at the bottom), but the quality in the EPL is largely because the top teams use a lot of non-English players. But rather than arguing about which league is better, I think there are two issues that you guys have elucidated but not addressed directly. When you don't have money to buy the most skillful players, is it better to try to compete with more skilled teams on their terms with lesser skilled players, or adopt a different strategy? In other words, should everyone try to play like Barcelona, with a short passing game focused on ball possession, or should some teams take a different approach, perhaps using taller players and longer passes (in crude terms, "route 1 football"). Is it better for a team to get the best header in the world, or the 10th most skillful player on the ground? Since every team cannot have the most skillful players, how do you compete when you don't? The cynical view is that you hack and foul, and do everything you can to disrupt the skill of your opponents (pray for a torrential downpour to even the odds!), strategies I find abhorrent (though I'm sure there are some advocates). But I do think there is room for the argument that while you work on developing the most skillful players you can, and you buy the most skillful players you can afford, it should be recognized that skill is not just dribbling and short passing; heading, long passes, defense are all skills too, and have a place in the modern game. Maybe you can overcome superior skill with hustle and team cohesion. Messi is my favorite player, and I love how Barcelona plays as a team, but one of the things I love about soccer is the variety of the game, and the fact that there are different routes to success.

  26. Andres Yturralde, November 29, 2012 at 11:38 a.m.

    The soul never dies, PG. There's a lot of good soccer out there, not to mention a beautiful method and craft to tackling. It's just a matter of doing it right. I agree with Kent's last point. There is indeed more than one way for me to make it back home. Yessir!

  27. Charles O'Cain, November 29, 2012 at 8:22 p.m.

    Amen, Kent. I (and I suspect most others) enjoy competition more than exhibition, and for competitiveness and variety of playing styles I don't think the Premier League can be topped. There are lots of foreign players there who also exhibit multiple styles and skills (think Drogba to Oscar), but don't forget Bale, Rooney, Rio and Gerrard. But Real Madrid and Barcelona have and have had their share of "foreigners" on the teams as well.

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