Football has changed in the last five years. What used to be called a ‘full court press’ in basketball, usually adopted by smaller teams against bigger teams, is now the new norm in football. Barcelona, Dortmund, Munich all play this high octane style. Even Real Madrid runs like a scalded cat these days when they lose the ball. Rinus Michels’ ‘total football’ has just reached a tipping point.
To play this style you need a team of players who are comfortable dribbling and generally playing the ball, physically able and willing to put a hard shift, track back and defend vigorously when the ball is lost, disciplined not to play out of position, and ultimately trusting each other. It is more systematic football.
English Premier League may be the most competitive league in the world with more tight matches and any team able to beat any other team on its day, but except for a few clubs all others are still caught up playing football from the last century. Arsenal has been a beacon of hope for almost two decades but has failed to consistently unlock the true potential of its style, falling from the heights reached circa. 2003. European football has left English football in its dust.
The recent trail seems to run from Barcelona to Dortmund and finally to Munich. Real Madrid is trying a blend of total football with stars. This style has a short lifespan for players as it is extremely taxing and fatigue/injury prone. We can see players peaking early and fading pretty soon. The day they cannot run past an offender will be the day they have to hang up their shoes. Look at Barcelona today.
The fact that smaller teams are playing more systematic football can be seen when bigger teams enjoy (?!) disastrous results when losing focus, even momentarily. Napoli, Barcelona, Atletico have all seen such results in the last few weeks.
Thinking of some of the mighty clubs in the EPL, it is a pity that Manchester United will not be one of those clubs adopting modern football. MU seems to be having a hangover with last century’s ‘scrappy football’ that was plaguing Germany for decades. It will give you reasonable success, but when you meet the might of modern day Bayern or Barcelona, forget it!
The next decade is going to see some of the best football played on earth. There are lots of good players coming through and the managers seem to be doing better all the time. One of the most exciting English teams to have latched on to this journey is Swansea City. They are the most exciting newly resurgent team on the block.