Archive for the 'football' Category

The four secrets of Barcelona’s system

10 August 2013

Yes, we’re talking football. And although Barcelona’s star has, for the moment, been partially eclipsed by Bayern Munich, it’s always intriguing to understand the methods that underpin the type of dominance in Europe that Barcelona has enjoyed for the past few years. In the latest edition of The Blizzard, Simon Kuper takes a forensic look. The modern Barcelona was built by Johann Cruyff, but he concentrated on attack. What Pep Guardiola brought to the team when he became manager was equal concentration on defence and transition. 

  • Pressure on the ball. “Barcelona start pressing the instant they lose possession.” There’s a reason for this: the player on the other team who has won possession has taken his eye off the game to make the tackle or interception, and has expended some energy. He needs a few seconds to reposition himself in relationship to the game. In other words, the moment at which you win the ball is also when you’re most vulnerable to losing it again.
  • The five second rule. If at first you don’t succeed in winning the ball back, if you haven’t done this in five seconds, don’t chase it. Retreat to form a ten-man barrier across the pitch with your team mates, waiting for the right moment to start pressing again. The moments? When a player miscontrols the ball, or when he reduces his options by turning back towards his own goal.
  • The “3-1 rule”. When an attacker does bear down on the Barcelona penalty area, one defender will go towards him. Another three will provide a shield just behind, something Guardiola picked up in Italy. But the other half of this – see “pressure on the ball” above – is that when they win the ball back, they don’t try to do something clever with it. The tackler is in the worst place to read the game; their job is to deliver the newly recovered ball to the feet of a teammate who has time and space to start the attack.
  • The one second rule. Barcelona believes that the success of a move on the pitch is decided in less than a second. If a player needs more time than this, because they don’t read their team-mates’ game properly, then the other team will have time to reorganise, the move will break down. It’s a reason why fine players from elsewhere (Thierry Henry, for example) never quite fitted in, while less gifted players who have come through Barcelona’s youth scheme (Pedro) continue to flourish. And the reason that the club was so keen to bring Fabregas home again.
How much of this will Guardiola be able to transplant to his new role at Bayern? That’s not clear. But there’s a telling quote from Fabregas in the article which suggests the answer might be less rather than more: 

“Everything [at Barcelona] has been studied down to the last millimetre. In my first matches I really had to adjust. I was so used to Arsenal, where I could roam around the whole pitch without worrying about anything. Here it’s really very different. Everyone has his own position and you can never lose it from sight. I had to go back to my youth days at Barça to master the basic principles again.”

And at only £3 for a digital download (less if you’re skint) The Blizzard remains terrific value if you want more to your football coverage than the sports pages offer.

The photograph at the top of this post is by Andrew Curry. It is published here under a Creative Commons licence: some rights reserved.


Avoiding expensive transfer market mistakes

30 August 2010

I’m a Sunderland fan, and there’s been much complaining on the Blackcats fans’ list I read about the sale of the striker Kenwyne Jones to Stoke for £8m without an apparent replacement on the horizon. I like Jones, and one of my fond memories is of him scoring the goal against Fulham which ensured that Sunderland stayed up a couple of seasons ago. He also has a flamboyant goal celebration. But I recently read Why England Lose, which devotes a chapter to why football clubs waste money in the transfer market, and one of the rules of how to avoid doing this is “Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth”. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, the book’s authors, suggest that Lyon’s rise in France is almost completely down to managing the transfer market well.

And since there is still about 36 hours to go before the summer transfer window closes, by way of a public service here’s their 12 rules in full:

  1. A new manager wastes money on transfers. Don’t let him.
  2. Use the wisdom of crowds (get groups to assess transfers)
  3. Stars of recent World Cups or European Championships are over-valued. Ignore them.
  4. Certain nationalities are over-rated.
  5. Older players are over-valued.
  6. Centre-forwards are over-valued; goalkeepers are under-valued [except by Sunderland]
  7. ‘Gentlemen prefer blondes’; identify and avoid ‘sight-based prejudices’.
  8. The best time to buy a player is when he is in his early twenties.
  9. Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth.
  10. Replace your best players even before you sell them.
  11. Buy players with personal problems, then help them deal with their problems [Brian Clough did this brilliantly].
  12. Help your players re-locate.

The picture is from the Modern Anthology blog, and is used with thanks.

Spotting the ball

21 July 2010

What’s the difference between English football, and the end of Danny Boyle’s film Trainspotting? Not a lot it seems. Big spoiler alert, but if you’ve seen Trainspotting you’ll remember that at the end the mostly druggie pals find themselves with a bag with £16,000 in it and try to work out how to steal it from each other.

Here’s Wikipedia’s account:

As Begbie and Sick Boy leave to order another round of drinks, Renton suggests to Spud that they both steal the money. After a moment of hesitation, Sick Boy returns and notes that the two friends have not already run off with the money. Sick Boy then asks why they haven’t, indicating that he would have. … Begbie savagely attacks another customer over a spilled beer. As his friends try to stop this senseless attack, Begbie slices Spud’s hand open with a knife. This incident convinces Renton to go through with the plan of stealing the whole £16,000 from his friends.

And here’s Owen Gibson, in The Guardian, explaining why the Football Association and the Premiership haven’t been able to agree on a winter break for football, despite a general consensus that it is a good idea:

The FA would seek assurances that clubs would not arrange potentially lucrative overseas tours during the break and that players would be available for an England squad get-together. … Premier League clubs, meanwhile, would want binding assurances that the FA would not seek to fill the gap with a lucrative Wembley friendly.

In Trainspotting, of course, Renton, who’s cleaned his act up, gets most of the money, and gives some of it to Spud. Begbie gets arrested. It’s as happy an ending as could be contrived for such a bunch of characters. In the footballing sequel, none of the characters are as likeable.

The poster, designed by Paddy Dunne, is for Devious Theatre’s 2008 stage production of Trainspotting.