June 13, 2009


The Question: Are defensive forwards the future?: Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool are among the teams to have realised that attacking players must be prepared to function in less glamorous ways (Jonathan Wilson, 4 June 2009, The Guardian SportsBlog)

[S]ince Rinus Michels took charge there in 1971, they [Barcelona] have favoured the classical Dutch model, which demanded pressing and an aggressive offside trap. "When I went to Barcelona," remembers Marinho Peres, the Brazilian defender who joined the club in 1974, "Michels wanted the centre-backs to push out to make the offside line. In Brazil this was known as the donkey line: people thought it was stupid. The theory was that if you passed one defender, you passed all the others.

"But what Cruyff said to me was that Holland could not play Brazilians or Argentinians, who were very skilful, on a huge pitch. The Dutch players wanted to reduce the space and put everybody in a thin band. The whole logic of the offside trap comes from squeezing the game. This was a brand new thing for me. In Brazil, people thought you could chip the ball over and somebody could run through and beat the offside trap, but it's not like that because you don't have time."

Arrigo Sacchi, whose philosophy was developed from Total Football, believed that a side pressing would ideally allow only 25 metres between centre-forward and centre-back, but such a thin band seems impossible under the liberal modern interpretation of the offside law, which is one of the reasons that it has become increasingly common for sides to play in four bands instead of three. (In fact, it could be argued that one of the reasons that United were so outplayed was that Barcelona's system was discernibly a 4-1-2-3, while United, perhaps because of the absence of Darren Fletcher, perhaps because of Anderson's indiscipline, were stuck in a far more rigid 4-3-3. Given rough equality of talent in that midfield area, a triangle will always beat a line.)

What Barcelona achieved, in other words, was to find a way of pursuing the classic tenets of Total Football – short passing, intermovement of players, winning the ball high up the field – under the modern interpretation of the laws.

The offsides trap is one of the things that prevents soccer from being more exciting (an obviously relative concept), all too often bringing back long passes and breakaway runs. The game would be better served by having a blue line (like hockey) and a rather deep one that would be the only portion of the field where onsides was enforced. This would prevent a Dimitar Berbatov (which is soccerese for Phil Esposito) from standing next to the goalie for the entire game, hoping for a cheap poke in, while allowing for increased fluidity and creativity on the rest of the field. You'd reward teams that are looking to attack, which would only help the game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 13, 2009 7:24 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus