April 16, 2018


How Pep Guardiola stuck to his principles and was proven right at Manchester City (Jack Pitt-Brooke, 4/16/18, New Statesman)
English football has always been as anti-intellectual as any other aspect of our national life. Pragmatism and common sense have been the values, winning football matches the only goal. Woe betide the foreign manager who arrives talking about a 'philosophy' of football he intends to implement. Andre Villas Boas and Louis van Gaal had their faults but they were both always fighting a losing battle, for the temerity of having an idea.

This is nothing new and nor is it limited to football: it is part of who we are. "As Europeans go, the English are not intellectual," George Orwell wrote in 'The Lion and the Unicorn' in 1941. "They have a horror of abstract thought, they feel no need for any philosophy or systematic 'world-view'". Ideas, especially foreign ones, have never taken much root in our culture. Even the history of the Labour party, as Harold Wilson said, owed more to Methodism than to Karl Marx.

All of which explains why when Pep Guardiola arrived in England in 2016, with his own ideas and his own philosophy, so many people told him to compromise. Possession football might work abroad, he was told, but England was different. Every Premier League champion had power at the core of the team, as Gary Neville famously said. The revelation that Guardiola did not "train tackles" after his team had lost 4-2 to Leicester City despite having 78 per cent possession was met with incredulity. Jamie Redknapp described it as "one of the most bizarre statements" he had had ever heard in football, saying City could not win this way. [...]

Of course City do not play like the Barcelona team that won the 2009 and 2011 Champions Leagues. How could they without Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta? This team plays with wingers, and has found a route to goal that is difficult to stop: David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne through to a wide player, who cuts the ball back for a simple finish. 

Wingers crossing the ball back to the middle is the essence of British soccer.  The point is that he can't just walk the ball through the middle the way he'd prefer.

Posted by at April 16, 2018 4:33 AM