Sunday, September 25, 2005

The power footballer

The recent talk about football becoming boring got me thinking as to why, but, reflecting further, there are reasons that are not just economic. The rules of modern football fail preserve play based on skill and talent. The Premiership, Serie A, La Liga, etc are all being besieged by the emergence of the ‘power footballer’ and for one, I think it stinks. Chelsea new boy Michael Essien, Real Madrid new boy Julio Baptista, Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona’s Ronaldinho, and Inter Milan striker Adriano are prime examples of this trend.

Football was supposed to be the game anyone can play regardless of size, speed or strength because the game is based on skills, not physical prowess. But football has changed; the modern scouts and managers are looking for taller and physically stronger players. Its not because these are the attributes that make for a better football side, it’s because the rules don’t punish rough and tumble defending and teams are responding the only way they can.

I’m guilty of this myself. I often write about players in terms of physical strength and height. There is nothing wrong with being big and strong like Adriano but what happens when this shift reaches its logical end and places for smaller players become available only at smaller clubs?

Football is worthless without flow. Talk about attacking play all you want but without flow, the attractive offensive attack is being replaced by goalkeepers launching goal kicks 70 meters down the pitch, bypassing the midfield. Adriano and Baptista, in my view, is a response to the ever increasing size of the central defender. The ever increasing size of the central defender is, in part, a response to the 70 meter goal kick.

Moving thru the midfield is becoming more and more a mine field for offensive players. Why? Obstruction and tactical fouls.

How often do you see defenders caught short on numbers gain an advantage from blocking an offensive player off the ball to draw a foul? The referee blows the whistle, defenders have a change to run back into position and the chance to see a goal dies. This happens over and over again in a game. The quick restart has helped but even the 3 or 4 seconds gained is priceless.

The other annoying thing about tactical fouls is that offensive players fake injuries and dive to draw penalties and yellow cards, a further disruption of play.

When defenders obstruct too often you see the referee raise three fingers and tell the player, hey, that’s the third time, yellow card. 3rd time? Multiply that by all the players on the field and just count the man advantage counter attacks the viewer just missed out on. Bloody hell!

Counter attacks are the best chances to see goals. Defenses know that and if they can stunt the counter attack by using the tactical foul with very little punishment, why not?

Obstruction is also destroying virtually the last open space on the pitch, the wings. Ronaldinho, talent aside, is very successful because he can fight off challenges. Look at the tree-trunk legs he has; if he just had tricks he’d be in trouble. As for Cristiano Ronaldo, just look at how much he has bulked up in the last 2 seasons. This doesn’t make Ronaldo quicker and more exciting, it makes him more able to fight off challenges and maintain possession.

I’ve watched Michael Essien a few times for Chelsea and what strikes me about him is that he’s really not that skilled a defender. He’s successful because he wins shoulder challenges and can knock smaller players off the ball. What I wouldn’t give to replace Essien’s power with some of the sublime skills of someone like Bobby Moore. Chelsea coach Mourinho is right of course, he’s responding to today’s climate. Pragmatically, he’d bring in smaller, more skilled players if the climate of football was different.

Historically, you just need to look at the some of the best players ever such as Maradona, Pele, Cruyff and Zidane; they contributed to the flow of the game. They are not large players but have the skills that create excitement, goals and wins. The larger the players get the more football will lose touch with what makes it fun to watch, not because they are larger players, but because the rules and refereeing of the game won't allow for skill to be displayed other than for brief flashes between 70 meter goal kicks.

*note: I'm looking for football fans in countries all over the world to interview about football in your country, here is an example: Argentina

Please email if you'd like to conduct an interview (over email) or if you know the name of a weblog in your country.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say: "Mourinho is right of course, he’s responding to today’s climate. Pragmatically, he’d bring in smaller, more skilled players if the climate of football was different." What? Do you mean someone like Sean Wright-Phillips? A third of this summer's signings were exactly like that. Your arguement is flawed.

9/25/2005 9:05 AM  
Blogger Football Commentator said...

You are right, SWP is tiny and skilled, but Mourinho was also qouted as saying he didnt want Ashley Cole as a full back because, at 5'8", he's too small.

There will always be small players but the TREND we see is wingers are also increasing in size.

9/25/2005 9:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know anythign about football? Essien is a midfielder (despite filling in at left back yesterday) not a defender.

9/25/2005 12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Football nowadays is no different to the football from years gone by. The great Liverpool teams of the 70s and 80s didn't set the world on fire with their football and were extremely pragmatic in their approach. Look back in history and name a 'great' team that didn't have at least 3 enforcers.

Alex Ferguson said a few years ago (when Arsenal won the league and Liverpool the 2 Domestic Cups) that football was changing and that he needed players who were tall, strong and fast like Thierry Henry. As a result, he bought David Bellion who failed miserably.

All good players adapt to their league. If Cristiano Ronaldo was young and hadn't developed fully when he signed for Manchester United. Therefore it was inevitable that he would fill out.

Zidane is over 6ft and has never exactly been skinny. Whereas Maradona was chunky and Pele had tree-trunks for legs so your last point is slightly flawed.

Skillful players have always found their way in football and always will. If your post is correct then I suppose we can expect an African team to win next years World Cup seeing as they have the post 'Power' players.

9/25/2005 1:29 PM  
Blogger tbh said...

Well, anonymous the second, you know how Americans like to write in terms of "offense" and "defense" – is there a gridiron word for midfield? Quarterback?

Height and size are very misleading factors. Tenacity is a very potent leveller – just ask Edgar Davids or Roberto Carlos. With regards to what you mentioned about Essien, many things boil down to tenacity. Vieira started off as a playmaker, but always got by with his tenacity. Gattuso was a bumbling, clumsy right-back who made his tenacity count. And so on.

Football, like any other competitive sport, goes through a very Darwinian selection process over time. The Peter Crouch type may well be the norm one day – do you prefer one who's tall, strong and nimble, or only one of the three?

But, as somebody else pointed out but not completely, the best players in the world are seldom remembered for a physical attribute. Zidane's not the weakest crayon in the box – but he's never really used his strength to get his way when a nimble prouette could do even better.

Adriano, Baptista and Essien will never join the big time unless they are better known for their tenacity than their size.

9/25/2005 1:58 PM  
Blogger Football Commentator said...

I don't recall calling Essien a defender, he's a defensive midfielder.

Maybe you should read more closely before asking if I know anything about football, in fact, I think my article discussed the midfield more than anything.

9/25/2005 4:34 PM  
Anonymous grim said...

There are worse players in my book than Júlio Batista and Essien, but they are waaaaay behind Adriano... Adriano is physically a mountain and yet a very skilled forward at the same time.

9/27/2005 1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I question your knowledge of football at all! Arsene Wenger is a great fan of the 'power footballer' and as well he should be. You seem to forgot that footballers are athletes and naturally you want your players bigger and stronger. Strangely enough the players you mention are perhaps some of the most technically gifted players in the world, and their size is a great advantage.

You talk about midfield players, well of course they are going to be big and strong, that is why African born players are a popular choice in center mid (Vieira, Diop, Makelele, Essien..etc), but all these players combine great skill and ability aswell as strength and power. I have read your article and struggle to see the point you are making. Looking at the comments posted it would seem you are alone in the point you are poorly attempting to make.

9/28/2005 10:23 PM  
Blogger Football Commentator said...

My point is simple:

Football is being damaged by the enforcement of its rules. The game is allowing too much physical contact to the detriment of skills and flow.

Teams are responding to rough play by placing larger and larger players on the pitch, not because athletes are getting bigger and bigger, but to combat the trend. The more this happens the more football's flow is damaged. Even professional ping-pong players are getting bigger and stronger, so what? Is it hurting ping pong? No. But it's hurting football.

You miss the point: if rules were better enforced this trend would disappear. (of course players would continue to get bigger, but that is evolution)

My article was not intended to be an agree-fest. I'm glad to see the debate, regardless of your shallow comment of whether I know anything about football.

9/29/2005 7:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess that anonymous know it all 2 posts up loves all the fouling and stoppages of play.

If you like that and big players go watch the NFL and leave those woh know something about real football alone.

9/29/2005 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see what your sayin commentator i agree with some of your points and would find it an interesting research topic. But your sayin the rules allow for more physical contact and less skil.... Football hasnt changed that much defenders have always big and clumsy thats why they defend and the more athletic, agile skillful players attack.

11/23/2005 12:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Footballers are getting physically bigger, because that is the norm for a scout to look for now. If you have 2 outstanding U16 year old players in a team, which one would be picked, if one is 6 ft and the other one is 5 ft 3, and their ability levels are almost the same? 9 times out of 10 it's going to be the bigger player. Coaches can train technical skills, you can't train someone to be tall or tenacious. The other 1 time out of 10 is when a pure footballing genius is born (the ronaldo's,ronaldinho's,Zidane's,Maradona's )of this world!

6/07/2007 11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2 fouls=yellow card maybe? I hate fouling football, thats how Porto and Boavista got to win anything here in Portugal, by being masters at fouling, pressuring referees, etc. Dont you just hate it when a much weaker team nullifies a much classier team by loads of fouls?

7/27/2007 4:07 PM  
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