Buidling Dreams Together


Are Tactics Contributing To The Death Of Individuals In The Beautiful Game?

The topic has seen much debate over the years, whether that’s between fans on the concourse or some of Europe’s elite managers.

While the similarities of Louis van Gaal and the late, great Johan Cruyff seem obvious on the surface, their philosophies almost couldn’t be more polar opposites.

The latter was a football purist who believed in entertaining the fans, endorsing individual brilliance from a number of players who could seal victory single-handedly. Being able to call on the likes of Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov, Romario and Gheorge Hagi would be seen as an embarrassment of riches.

On the other hand, the methodical and structured philosophy of van Gaal, which while entertaining in its own right, does not provide the freedom of his counterpart’s style of play. The system always came first and profiles determined who was signed.

Van Gaal demonstrated this strict model when he controversially sold the exciting winger Bryan Roy. Cruyff promptly criticised his rival claiming that he did not appreciate individual brilliance. The reason given for his sale was “he did not mind running for the team but could not think for the team.” 

Dribbling In The Modern Game

Modern football has now seemingly become almost entirely focused on tactics, borderline obsessed. Whether that’s pressing triggers or inverting full-backs to gain a numerical advantage in the middle of the park.

This is not a bad thing by any means, the craft of gaining an advantage over the opponent is fascinating. However, there is a case to be argued that it does hinder players who sparked fans’ love for the game as star-struck youngsters.

Think Ronaldinho, Paul Gascoigne, Ronaldo or Eden Hazard. They could all change the complexion of a game almost at will.

Who could forget the iconic solo efforts of Diego Maradona vs England or Lionel Messi vs Getafe which were moments of brilliance that made spectators watch in awe?

Following his £100 million move to Manchester City, Jack Grealish has been on the receiving end of plenty of criticism. A player who was all the rage during his time at Aston Villa was suddenly a ‘flop’ whilst learning the intricate details of Pep Guardiola’s system.

Talking to L’Equipe in October 2022 he said: “At [Aston] Villa, in theory, I was playing on the left, but in matches, I was authorised to change position if I felt it necessary.

“With Pep [Guardiola], it is different. He tells me to feel free, but in a structured shape, with a precise position on the pitch.”

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – AUGUST 19: Manchester City player Jack Grealish in action during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle United at Etihad Stadium on August 19, 2023 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Chris Waddle made his thoughts known for the Daily Mail a number of years ago. Questioning why despite having the best pitches possible, players dribble less than before and claiming it to be a ‘dying art’.

Changes To Shooting Distance

However, it’s not just dribbling but shooting from distance has also seen a decline over the years. The percentage of shots taken from outside the box fell from 47% to 38.2% between the 2011/12 season and the 2020/21 campaign, coinciding with Graham Potter’s plea directed at fans who urged his Brighton players to shoot in 2022 to stop doing so.

Logically speaking, teams aim to create the best goal-scoring chances and the birth of xG has only educated fans more on the importance of chance creation. Whilst that makes sense, there’s also no better sight than a rocket clipping the crossbar on the way in from 25 yards out.

While the sport itself remains just as compelling, the question is, has it lost some of its artists along the way?

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