Association football tactics are always evolving. Once teams have learnt to emulate a recently successful tactic, the next batch of successful teams are already playing in a different way.
The best teams lead the evolution, whilst the rest are always playing catch-up in their attempts to copy the latest fashionable trends.
From Chile to Barcelona, and from Swansea to Dortmund, the leaders in their field are constantly evolving, looking for the next advantage on the uneven playing field which football exists on.
Other teams will simply look to buy the best players, but even they need a manager competent enough to get them playing in such a way that they can be somewhere near the front of the tactics race, even if they don’t lead the way.
Those at the forefront of new tactical movements are often clubs who need to make up for a lack of resources in other areas. They can’t be bullies in the transfer market, and will nearly always lose their so-called best players to other clubs.
The buying clubs sometimes get a shock when they acquire a costly star from a lowly but well run side, as their shiny new player doesn’t seem to play as well in their own tactical system. There are many examples of such players, and many solutions when it comes to avoiding them, as written in this article for The Tomkins Times.
There is no right way to play football, only effective and ineffective ways. If playing out from the back, from the goalkeeper to the midfield via the centre backs, worked for one team at one point in the sport’s recent history, then it doesn’t mean it will work for a team now.
This trend to play out from the back is one obvious example of ineffective game plans and poor tactical coaching, as teams across the globe continue to try and emulate a Barcelona and Spain side which they’ll never get anywhere close to.
Teams are set-up so that their centre backs drop to opposing sides of the area, allowing the goalkeeper a short pass out so that the team to build an attack from the back. Failing this a defensive midfielder will drop to receive the ball, or the goalkeeper, who’s now asked to be a footballer too, can look for the ridiculously difficult short lofted pass to a full-back who’s moved up to the halfway line.
Even if a side has players with the technical ability to perform such feats (and many teams who try these methods don’t), opposing teams with any sense have now learned to press high and in numbers, limiting the goalkeepers options, and often creating their own attacks by winning the ball back from a hapless defender high up the field.
The innovators will learn to exploit the high press, as the evolution of tactics move into another of its infinite phases. Some sides have already learnt, and have simply started bypassing the defence. A movement which could eventually see the return of a good old fashioned target man.
Jonathan Wilson wrote in the Guardian earlier this year, about Louis Van Gaal’s successful use of Marouane Fellaini as a different type of target man. One who attacked from deep and was able to emerge victorious when his team-mates played diagonal long balls into him. Wilson wrote that:
“It may not be subtle, it may not be the style that stereotype would demand from a master Dutch strategist, but it is working.”
True football strategists shouldn’t fit a stereotype. They should be constantly moving forward, formulating new ideas, and working out solutions to new problems. Even if the new ideas are just be a reinvention of an old one, as they inevitably are, they need to be moulded to fit the modern game.
They need to be bold, fearless, and most importantly they need to make sense to the players in the team. One thing they don’t need to be, is fashionable.