Rydström’s Malmo – Tactical Revolution or the Element of Surprise?
Most football fans would not think of Malmo if someone mentioned a Brazilian-based football revolution. Instead, the mind will bounce from Pele to Samba, the Maracanã to Copacabana or even the ‘Ginga’ play style that formed the foundations of how people across the globe view Brazilian football. However, Malmo, a club who play in the Allsvenskan, the top tier of Swedish football, are bringing the next wave of Brazilian influence to the shores of Europe.
European football has always focused on structure. Even Total Football, maybe the most fluid European tactic, revolved around structure. A player may start at left back but end up at right wing…but the right winger would then move to left back, and so on. Yet, in South America, specifically Brazil, fluidity has often overtaken structure as the driving force behind tactics. The Ginga playstyle that enchanted the world at the World Cup in 1958 was fuelled by flair. A 17 year old taking the world by storm, surrounded by countrymen buying into flamboyance, embracing the fun of the game to the highest level. Not only was this World Cup in Sweden, but they also beat the host nation in the final, who’s game was based on structure and discipline.
Thus, it is in a poetic sense that over half a century later, a Swedish team is the first in Europe to truly embrace the next wave of Brazilian footballing influence, that being ‘Dinizismo’.
Fernando Diniz & Fluminese
Fernando Diniz is the current coach of Fluminese and has developed a style of play unlike anything seen anywhere else. Rather than focusing on control, something that the likes of Pep Guardiola craves, Diniz prefers to relinquish control and grants his players the freedom to express themselves and continuously adapt to how the game progresses before them.
Diniz insists that players perform in clusters, defying the traditional notion of spreading the play and making the pitch as big as possible. Much like a swarm of bees, players move into tight areas of the pitch in great number and overwhelm the opposition due to numerical advantage. They then seek to move up the pitch as a unified unit. To do this, they are meticulously trained to pass accurately, dribble efficiently and have the confidence to play in tight spaces, made smaller by not only the opposition but their own team. Luring the opposition into small areas, they can then quickly spring to another area of the pitch and progress like a wave of bolting horses. Plus, if they lose the ball, they are already heavily enforced in that area and aim to win it back as soon as possible due to their numerical advantage, suffocating any chance of a counterattack. In attack, ‘Escadinhas’ are formed, translated as staircases/ladders, diagonally and vertically up the pitch that provide a means of progressing the ball in tight areas.
Traditionally, European teams aim to obtain control of the game, setting a tempo and suppressing their opposition to their will. As seen above, Barcelona have positioned their players well away from one another in order to spread the pitch and subsequently the opposition. This creates space and through space they can let their attacking players flourish.
Despite the widespread success of this, Diniz has adopted a more chaotic approach. Players have no fixed position, sometimes called ‘apositional‘. It was Sun Tzu who in Art of War said, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”, and Diniz embraces this fully. Players will roam, press, attack and defend all as a swarm, disregarding the opposition’s desire to resort back to a conventional, structured game.
However, despite the outlook, this chaos is highly organised, with each player knowing their exact role and how they can execute this complex strategy with the goal of perfection. This approach has propelled Fluminese to the Campeonato Carioca title in the most recent completed season, and has earned Diniz the opportunity to keep Carlo Ancelotti’s seat warm as head coach of the Brazil national setup for the upcoming season. This is proof that the powers at be in Brazil highly respect Dinizismo and are willing to trial it on the international stage.
A Kalmar legend, with a 20 year playing career as a one club man, Henrik Rydström came through as a youth coach all the way to the managerial spot at his club. But, given his successes, was appointed head coach of the most successful team in the history of his country. His tactical influence – Diniz’s Fluminese. Utilising the ‘Escadinhas’, Rydström has created a similar system but with a European slant. When asked about the connection, Rydström said, “it’s fun, partly for Malmo’s sake and partly for Swedish football’s sake…there is no one in the Allsvenskan who plays like us” However, he isn’t blindly copying the Fluminese style. Instead, he is creating a way of playing that incorporates the same ideas, but adapting them for the benefit of his own players. A prime example would be that Fluminese have Ganso, a traditional number 10 who floats around as a playmaker, whereas Malmo have two natural 10s who play a similar role in the Malmo system. Thus, Rydström is maximising the output of Malmo specifically rather than trying to implement a style his players aren’t naturally suited for. A dish comprised of Brazilian Dinizismo with a Swedish jous.
Ultimately, football is a results driven business, and this approach is driving such success. Before taking over, Malmo had failed to win the title, the bottom line of its fans, however, at the time of writing, Malmo sit 1 point off the top with a game in hand, have conceded the least number of goals out of any team, and have a 70% win rate in the league under Rydström. Further, success has not been driven by the transfer market either, with the team having only 6 players registered who were born outside Scandinavia, the majority of which are homegrown Swedish players, Malmo had a net profit of €4 million in the most recent window. If the team maintain this trajectory, Malmo will soon have the opportunity to demonstrate this in the Champions League, potentially on the biggest stage and against the biggest club sides in Europe.
Therefore, with relative success in Sweden, can this tactical approach be more widely utilised? The Rydström twist means that potentially this will be possible. Building from the back, they still operate with a traditional back 4, with a double pivot sat in front. This means that they can utilise their set build-up patterns, like most European teams, to escape a high press and progress up the pitch. That double pivot then becomes the base of the attack, allowing both full backs and the rest of the midfield and attackers to interchange and create the Escadinhas. This allows Malmo to have structure in the defensive part of the game, which helps prevent conceding a lot of goals as a result of the chaos they create. When the opposition have the ball, they resort back into a very traditional 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 formation and sit back and try and prevent the opposition from scoring. This is organisation blended with chaos, versatility and inspiration. Diniz and Fluminese aim to create total chaos and profit from it. Rydström and Malmo are trying to create chaos when it suits them, and benefit from tried and tested structure when it might not.
Could this therefore be the next tactical revolution? Maybe.
Diniz taking charge of the likes of Neymar, Vinicius Jr. etc at the national team will be interesting to say the least. If he persists with his ideology but has the options of some of the world’s elite players, this could broadcast Dinizismo on a world stage, or it could highlight major flaws when facing up against high quality international opposition.
Guardiola’s Barcelona had accusations of ‘pointless possession’, and now most of the world down to sunday league try and play out from the back. Will Dinizismo or potentially ‘Rydströmimo’ have such impact and influence…let’s wait and see.