How to save enjoyment in industrial football?

Published 20.07.2018 20:33

In my last article, I argued that the French national team won the World Cup because it was the most fervent worshiper of football's new principle: Collective defending first. I must add that it was not only the French who has enjoyed this new principle; Uruguay, Russia and Sweden all made it far into the tournament only by defending collectively.

Although almost all the teams in the competition prioritized defense, the only side disturbed by this new principle was the fans. It did close down the gap between the strong and the weak teams, but at the expense of entertaining football. Lost in the dilemma of choosing between playing a beautiful game and good results, football lost its magic for many fans around the world.

I would argue that football has reached a very natural phase, and pushes for a new one. The game is enjoyable when it is played to win, but it is the same mentality that prioritizes defending.

Even though relying on defense is more natural, attacking has more potential for winning than defending. Attacking is also more difficult than defending, but when you attack, you also control the game. Think of it this way, if the ball is on your side of the pitch, you cannot concede a goal, and your opponents have to position themselves according to your position. Therefore, even though the defending side would not have any creative responsibility, they are always one step behind of the positions since it is the attacking side which dictates how the game will be played.

This argument relies on one strong premise that the ball is always faster than humans. Regardless of the speed of a defending side, they will not be able to move as fast as the ball. This means that there will always be a window of opportunity for the attacking side. Then, it is a coach's duty to create that window with a proper strategy, since physics is always on their side. This argument proves that although defending is easier, attacking has more potential for good results. Thus, the next era of football should be rendered with this principle: Whoever attacks collectively controls the game.

Although it has not prevailed in football yet, this strategy is slowly gaining the upper hand in the top leagues of Europe. Manchester City, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain won their respective league titles by attacking first and controlling the game.

Manchester City under Pep Guardiola, in particular, pioneered a new way of football by creating a collective attacking strategy, not only effective in possession but also in transition. This also proves that teams do not have to be one-sided; rather they can counterattack or dominate when needed. But the crucial point is, whenever a team solely defends, they lose the initiative and the attacking side can shape the game however they want. If coaches can hold onto this argument, football can enter a more enjoyable era.

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