Jonathan Wilson from The Guardian argued that there are two types of attacking - reactive and proactive - in his well-written piece called "The question: What is attacking." He put the difference as "playing with the ball, looking to control possession against playing without the ball, looking to play on counter," which is correct. Nevertheless he then tried to equalize the theoretical strength of neo-total football (yes, that is the name) with counter-attacking, by giving the example of Gegenpressing: "Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund showed how stirring counterattacking can be, while many came to find the relentless possession football of Spain wearisome. But that's where the association of proactive/reactive with possession/non-possession starts to fall down. For one thing, Van Gaal's United had 58% possession against West Ham, yet fans clearly didn't think that was attacking."
This is where Wilson's theory becomes problematic, given that he compares Gegenpressing, which is very different from mere counter-attacking, with Van Gaal's strategy, which has no common ground with neo-total football except as regards ball possession. Thus the comparison is misleading and makes us overlook the structural and theoretical difference between those two as if they are on the same rational level. Nonetheless the real difference is not being proactive and reactive, as you can benefit from both according to the momentum, but the real philosophical difference is between being subjective or objective. In other words, whether your strategy is self-sufficient, does it produce opportunities on its own regardless of the opponent's strategy, or dependent on the deficiencies of the opponent's mistakes?
Of course, you might ask how a strategy can be opponent-free or disregard the opponent's game play while football is based on mistakes. Here, the most crucial element of the neo-total football comes in, the utilization of time and space. Yes, your opponent will try to prevent your game, but as Pep Guardiola's Barcelona best exemplified, if you have a concrete plan about how you are going to create the opportunity via organizing both areas with the ball and without the ball, the ball itself give you the upper hand and you start to shape the game. This is broadly the subjective approach, where you pray for yourself to yourself.
On the other hand, the reason why any counter-strategy and even Gegenpressing cannot be compared to this philosophical school is that eventually they rely on the individual talent and leads teams to chaotic game play. Even Leicester City, which actually executes Gegenpressing better than Klopp's Dortmund times, in the end depends on the fast, imbalanced chaos to score. Added to that, Gegenpressing was always included in neo-total football with a more rational approach. Guardiola uses it to both press the opponent to their half and make the ball circulate around the opponent's penalty box. Therefore, Gegenpressing is just another way of pressing and only meaningful when it is a part of a bigger plan.
Yet this is a highly effective football strategy, given that most coaches still do not dare to play neo-total football and Gegenpressing is a great way to intercept the ball in the opponent's half. But if the goal here is to philosophize about football and attacking, there is no way to put this strategy into rational grounds, because rationality demands an clear framework created by a superior mind, which is the coach.
However, when it comes to finally creating the final moment to score, which is what football is all about, neo-total football will always be superior to counter-attacking. The reasons are simple, everything starts with the ball, thus it is and the effort to take it back is precious, why should we lose it for unpredictable and irrational efforts?Furthermore, please, stop equalizing the dull, circular quasi-tiki taka game with neo-total football. In the former, yes, all of us get bored of meaningless passing without a context, but the latter does these passes in order to create its final moment, it is meaningful provided players know what they are targeting. If you choose the former, like the false prophet Jose Mourinho said, your own game looks terrifying to you and cripples you, but the latter sets the power of collective action free. The fact that playing with eleven friends and teammates is truly realized when a strategy like neo-total football destroys the classical position assumptions. The only strategy is composed of the love of football.
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