The war for excellence
Have you ever thought about what happens in elite sports? How it develops, changes, expands its vision, so that records constantly get broken, old truths get demolished? It is because of a war, a war between the old guard and the new, the previous generation and the now. And, of course this is a football column so I will concentrate on that but other sports provide a clearer, starker emphasis on what I mean.
Pep Guardiola - found guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs in 2001 but then cleared on appeal
First we must go back in time. When we talk about the greatest teams ever in football, we think of the Hungary side in the 50’s, Real Madrid also in the fifties, Brazil in 1970, Liverpool in the 70’s and 80’s, etc. I would say if you took any of these teams in their prime and put them against say Fulham, exactly halfway in the Premier league, Fulham would win easily enough. Not because they are better footballers, but because they run harder and longer, they have everything done for them, diet, training, physiotherapy, modern medicine (painkillers, etc.). Not for them eating greasy chips and kebabs washed down with 10 pints of beer and an ashtray full of cigarettes.
The New always beats the Old
Of course, the comparison is spurious, as the old teams had heavy pitches, heavy balls, and different rules to contend with. Sports science was in its infancy and football was slower than most Olympic sports to utilize the power of pharmacy. The logic being that drugs cannot make you a better player. But if you can run harder and faster, you can press your opponent every time they come near the ball, not let them settle, and use your modern advantages to win. Ergo my belief that even the greatest teams of the past could not win against an average modern team. And why Olympic records are always broken. The sum total of the controlled life of the modern athlete gives them an advantage over competitors of the past.
Arsene did not believe in cheating
And so Roger Bannister’s miraculous 4 minute mile in 1954 is now a distant sum with more than 17 seconds faster being achieved. But nothing has been achieved, no matter what the sport, without the fact and suspicion of performance enhancing drugs. I believe football is no different. Here is Arsene Wenger: The Frenchman lamented that his Arsenal side had "played against many teams" using performance-enhancing drugs and stated later: "I'm not satisfied with the level of testing."
The drugs do work
In Hajo Seppelt's 1999 documentary "Indictment Doping: The Legacy of East German Sports," he put forward his suspicion that footballers were partaking in the use of illegal substances.
Hajo Seppelt has the right suspicions
"People who say that there is no doping problem in football, that's bull**t," Seppelt told CNN.
"People say the drugs have no benefits, but look at the science and the distances covered by players in the game today."
He is absolutely correct. Please go and look at a great game of the past on the internet, say Man Utd and Benfica in the European Cup final in 1968. The movement was much slower. Then, technique, vision, ball skills, dribbling and defences that would kick the ball anywhere away from the goal were the norm. Now speed is the critical factor, you push the ball past your opponent and outsprint him to get around him.
Dick Pound has similar suspicions
Here is Dick Pound, the founder and president of the World Anti-doping Agency:
“We have always had trouble attracting FIFA to the problem. For many years, they sort of didn’t think the world anti-doping codes should apply to them. At one time, the world’s largest sport’s registered testing pool consisted of just 10 players, and you’re never going to catch anyone doing that.”
They cheat, we cheat, and everyone cheats
So what are we left with? The strong suspicion that drugs are endemic in soccer and that the authorities are not too interested in changing that. In all honesty I have stopped caring about many sports, athletics, swimming, cycling because I don’t believe they are clean. I clung to the belief that in soccer they cannot make you a better player but nowadays when I see the speed, the stamina and the 90 odd minutes of haring around a field I am pretty certain that players are using drugs. It goes back to the point I was making at the start. Anything that gives you an advantage must be used. Your best player is injured? Give him an injection and send him out. If your opponents are doing it you must, it is as simple as that, no matter what it is.
Maradona - didn't understand that cocaine makes you a worse footballer
We all know that cheating is normal on the field of play, stopping an opponent on a breakaway by any means possible is what is expected. As is diving and buying a freekick or penalty. Surrounding the referee and putting your hand up for everything is commonplace. But that is the cheating we see. What goes on that we don’t see? And as I have said, there are teams of people working in football who are trying to figure out any way they can get an advantage, no matter how small. Soon, a normal plane will not be enough to ferry your team to an away match and only a Boeing 777 will do.
Cheating is now the only way to improve
The thing is, they have most likely exhausted long ago any safe or legal way to improve performances across all sports. My suspicion is that the only way now is to cheat.
Suppose you have talent and you are willing to train hard. Your mentality is strong enough to withstand the abuse you receive when you play a bad game, or make a silly mistake. But you know that your opponents have an advantage and it is them that will win the trophies, get the huge money, and the acclaim of being champions. In short, if one does it, then all have to. Otherwise you are Real Madrid of the fifties being unable to beat a mid-table team today. The sport moves on and you must move with it. Every little advantage must be taken up, legally such as tactics, sports psychology, diet, training, good pitches, and so on but also the underground stuff, the drugs and the cheating, the corruption and the scandals.
Diving is now expected cheating
Can anything be done to change it? Answers on a postcard, please. To me, at least, it is depressing that my heroes on the football pitch are probably utilizing performance enhancers. Let’s take Arsenal, we have divers, we have referee intimidators, we have hands going up for everything, we commit professional fouls, we waste time and it is because all teams do it. We cannot let an opponent have an advantage. So, do you believe we don’t keep up with underground practices also, that we can’t see on the pitch? We can’t see it, so it is not there? The unhappy fact that you must keep up and always improve, could well lead to the death of professional sport and there are very few talking about it. So, this time, my C’mon Arsenal is to show the way, to stop the cheating on the pitch and off it even if it means we cannot keep up. I doubt if many agree with me.
A Wilde Year
And so we have had a Wilde year, we reached the peak as being acclaimed the most brilliant team in both London and the UK. We were fashionable, adorable, flamboyant and prolific. But like our dear Oscar, it all went wrong. But let’s look first at how it all went right.
Oscar -Flamboyant, briliant but doomed
Palace, Leicester and Bournemouth were dispatched as if they were nothing but vessels to throw goals into. Then Villa and Fulham but not so easy. And then we had our first big shock, Man Utd had a strategy that unnerved us, a long ball over the top enabled them to get 3 goals to our one. Like Wilde, being exceptional didn’t matter, we had a weakness that could be exploited. But we went all Wildean after that. We must have read from the master the following line.
“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise”
Because we won our next eight, including several in the Europa league. We hammered Brentford, the team that caused problems for everyone, 3-0, a revenge for last year, we beat Tottenham, we beat Liverpool, and home or away didn’t matter, we were flying at the top, acclaimed as the most brilliant of our time. We were beautiful and everyone wanted to be us.
This has to be our goal
But Southampton brought us back to earth , the team we are coming to hate drew 1-1, despite being laughed at by most other teams. But it hinted that there was a frailty to our genius. That we couldn’t perform against teams that do well against us. There was a struggle with belief. But then we took our cue from Oscar:
“Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.”
We went on a great run of victories, although we stumbled against Brighton in the League cup as they beat us for the first time at home. It didn’t faze us, though, as we won 7 matches around it including 5-0 against Forest, a revenge away against Brighton, 3-1 against West Ham and beating Chelsea at the Bridge, something we haven’t done too often. London teams were being sent home crying as the Kings of the capital surfaced again.
We are the real Kings of London
A dogged Newcastle side came to the Emirates and carved out a 0-0, spoiling the party and again hinting that there was a weakness to be exploited. Once again, though, we threw away any assumptions that we weren’t the real deal. We bounced back with wins at Oxford, at the shiny new Spud home 2-0 and got a nervy revenge against Man Utd 3-2. But the real challenge was then faced.
“A good friend will always stab you in the front.”
Pep Guardiola showed he is a friend who will give you no quarter as Man City beat us 1-0 in the F.A. Cup. It was starting to go wrong. The Blue Mooners were showing that they will do anything to stop us. This defeat seemed to unnerve us as Everton then beat us, yes, Everton who couldn’t win a match to save their lives and were ready to fall out of the division. Brentford drew with us at home and we then had Man City at home.
Next year we want to be the friend that stabs you in the front, Pep
Guardiola lived up to Oscar Wilde’s quote as he stabbed us in the front 3 times. Yes, maybe we were brilliant but our weakness was now showing. Our enemies smelled blood and were ready to spill it. We seemed unsure who was friend or foe, we were arguing amongst ourselves and our next match was against Unai Emery and Villa. He had transformed them from being relegation candidates under Steven Gerrard to becoming the form team in the league. And they were at home. What could this broken Arsenal team do against a Unai Emery desperate to prove he was a great manager? And we had lost our friends in the media who were only recently praising our shining talent. We were hurting and had to try and pick ourselves up. Our trial was starting.
“The only people I would care to be with now are artists and people who have suffered: those who know what beauty is, and those who know what sorrow is: nobody else interests me.”
But we came out fighting. We beat them 4-2. We beat Leicester. We trounced Everton 4-0 to pay them back for their audacity against us. We beat a resurgent Bournemouth. We drew away against Sporting Lisbon to leave ourselves an easy task at the Emirates. We trounced Fulham at the Cottage, showing once again who the Kings of London were.
Not from Oscar but the bible
And then came what I regard as the unveiling of our Wildean spirit, an overconfidence that we had beaten our enemies, that our genius is declared and is enough. Sporting Lisbon beat us on penalties at our home. Our penalties were weak, our character being once again under scrutiny. Our enemies were watching and taking note.
“If you cannot prove a man wrong, don't panic. You can always call him names.”
The name calling had began in Earnest. Even from some of our own fans. We were bottlers, hadn’t got the temperament for the big occasion. A trophy that seemed much easier to win than the Premier league was thrown away.
Enjoy your name calling - we will be back stronger
But we laughed at such childish name calling. We trounced Palace and Leeds 4-1. We were showing we were Arsenal and we were back. Then we marched up to Anfield and quickly ran up two goals and Anfield was silent and Liverpool were hopeless. We all thought that Arsenal finally had left our frailties behind. Until Granit Xhaka got involved in a needless fight. The Anfield crowd woke up, Liverpool came back and it was 2-2. Still it was Liverpool away. It was no disaster.
We went away to West Ham and also ran up a 2-0 lead quickly. West Ham were mostly rubbish all season so we were back on track, except we weren’t, they came back at us as well. But at least we had Southampton next at the Emirates. A win there would get the confidence flowing again. Useless Southampton drew 3-3 and the name calling restarted big time. But this time our weakness was about to be exposed. Not the same weakness of Oscar Wilde but our enemies circled as Man City tore us apart 4-1 and our dream was all but over. The glory and the fame of being champions had slipped away from us.
“Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working”.
Now we only had hope left. But we did respond. We beat Chelsea and Newcastle in a strange season in that the one that was normally hard to beat became easy. A slip up by City and we could do it. But Brighton and Forest beat us in our next two games. We learned, like Wilde, that you cannot take on the establishment and win. And so we were sent to prison. The prison of being second, that hardest position in football, the one that drains you the most as Liverpool learned last season.
We must always work no matter how we feel
We ended with a glimmer of hope that we can be released. 5-0 against Wolves gave us a sign that when we get out of jail next season we can make a comeback. We must work hard, we must not give in to tired legs, and we can once again show the genius that once made us champions and made us Arsenal. Let’s go, the Gunners!
Арсенал победи Уулвс със 5:0 в последен мач от Висшата лига за този сезон. Попаденията в срещата бяха дело на Гранит Джака (2 гола, съответно в 11-та и 14-та минута), Букайо Сака (27-ма минута), Габриел Жезус (58-ма минута) и Якуб Кивиор (първи гол за клуба, 78-ма минута). Лондончани играха с видно желание с една едничка цел - да зарадват всички фенове за един последен път през вече приключилата кампания. Гостите от Уулвс нямаха абсолютно никакъв шанс в нито един момент от мача, а головете във вратата им можеха да бъдат и повече. Като в сценарий за някой филм Гранит Джака си взе подобаващо сбогом с привържениците на Арсенал, като изнесе едно страхотно представяне и съвсем заслужено грабна приза за играч на мача. Швейцареца се разписа на два пъти, като дори беше съвсем близо до хеттрик. По всичко изглежда, че съвсем скоро той ще поеме в посока Байер Леверкузен. Определено той винаги ще бъде помнен с лидерските си качества на терена и в съблекалнята!
Победата снощи сложи край на една доста негативна серия, а след постигането й ''топчиите'' завършват сезон 2022/23 на второто място с актив от 84 точки или иначе казано на 5 точки зад Манчестър Сити и на 9 точки пред третия в подреждането Манчестър Юнайтед. Е, също така на 24 точки пред Спърси и на 40 (40!) точки пред Челси. Мисията на този етап е изпълнена, а именно завръщане в ''Турнира на богатите'', като Лондончани ще попаднат във втора урна при тегленето не жребия за груповата фаза. През сезона играчите на Арсенал ни накараха отново да нямаме търпение за Matchday, а връзката им с нас, привържениците, било то на стадиона или не, е толкова силна, че емоциите на моменти идват в повече. Определено възпитаниците на Микел Артета показаха израстване и затвориха устите на критиците, които твърдяха, че този отбор няма да я добута дори до 5-то място. Май са ни сбъркали със синята част от западен Лондон... Или пък с бялата от северната част на столицата... Да, тези момчета не грабнаха титлата, но отново грабнаха сърцата на запалянкото! Арсенал върви по път, който води към светли небосводи...
Фото кредит: Арсенал
Стартов състав и резерви снощи:
Фото кредит: Арсенал
Смени по време на мача: Рийс Нелсън замени Букайо Сака в 60-та минута. Двойна смяна в 75-та минута, когато на терена се появиха Фабио Виейра и Смит Роу. Заменени съответно бяха Гранит Джака и Мартин Йодегор. Леандро Тросар отстъпи мястото си на Еди Нкетия в 79-та минута, а минутка по-късно Кийрън Тиърни замени Якуб Кивиор.
Репортаж от мача: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP_y0dXT-T0&ab_channel=Arsenal
Микел Артета след края на двубоя: ''След мача бях доста емоционален. Аз съм човек и все пак си имам чувства. Привържениците ни бяха страхотни за пореден път и всички ние успяхме да усетим любовта им към нас. Чувството е наистина неописуемо. Изпратихме един много емоционален и успешен сезон. Заслужавахме да го завършим подобаващо. Сега имам нуждата от това да се усамотя и да размисля върху доста от предстоящите неща за нас. Трябва да почувствам как всички ние ще стъпим на едно следващо, още по-силно ниво. Една от най-големите ми мечти при завръщането ми беше връзката с привържениците да се възвърне. Желанието ми бе отново да свържа феновете с клуба. Така че съм изключително горд, че в крайна сметка това се случи. И ние можем да го почувстваме. Повярвайте ми, всичко това е просто страхотно и много важно за нас. Поели сме на едно приключение, по времето на което ще имаме нуждата да усещаме любовта на всички свързани с Арсенал.''
Фото кредит: Арсенал
Завършваме ревюто на мача, че и на сезона с кратка статистика. Бъдете здрави, бъдете Арсенал!
Арсенал постави нов личен рекорд за най-много вкарани гола в сезон от ВЛ - 88 (предишният рекорд е 87 гола от сезон 2004/05). Арсенал достигна рекордът си от най-много победи във ВЛ в рамките на един сезон - 26 (за последно се случи през 01/02 и 03/04).
За последно Арсенал е завършвал на тази (или по-висока) позиция през сезон 2015/16.
За последно Арсенал завърши в Топ 4 през сезон 2015/16.
За първи път в историята на Висшата лига Арсенал има двама играчи, които отбелязват 15 гола през сезона - Мартин Йодегор и Габриел Мартинели.
Букайо Сака (14) и Габриел Жезус (11) преминаха границата от 10 гола.
Букайо Сака записа най-много асистенции за Арсенал - 11.
Като включим асистенциите на Леандро Тросар и за Брайтън, той записа 12 такива във ВЛ през сезона.
Аарън Рамсдейл записа 14 сухи мрежи.
Мартин Йодегор бе избран да бъде новият капитан на отбора в началото на сезона.
Микел Артета спечели наградата за ''Мениджър на месеца'' 4 пъти.
Мартин Йодегор и Букайо Сака спечелиха приза за ''Играч на месеца във ВЛ'' по веднъж.
Аарън Рамсдейл спечели наградата за ''Спасяване на месеца във ВЛ'' на 2 пъти.
Най-убедителни победи през сезона - 5:0 съответно срещу Нотингам Форест и Уулвърхямптън.
Най-големи загуби - 1:4 от Манчестър Сити и 0:3 от Брайтън.
Най-дълга победна серия на отбора - 7
Най-много поредни мача без загуба - 13
Най-дълга серия без победа - 4
Най-много поредни загуби - 2
Арсенал завърши сезона без червени картони!
Итън Нуанери и дебютът му, с който се превърна в най-младият играч, участвал във Висшата лига!
Арсенал е домакин на Уулвърхямптън в мач от 38-ми и последен кръг на Висшата лига. Независимо от изхода на този двубой, ''артилеристите'' ще завършат на 2-ра позиция в крайното класиране. В момента те разполагат с актив от 81 точки, докато ''вълците'' са с 41 точки и заемат 13-то място. За вече приключващата кампания на Лондончани може да се каже и изпише много, но със сигурност едно от най-важните и позитивни неща е растежа, който този отбор постигна. Тази сплотеност, която играчите изградиха не само в съблекалнята, но и с привържениците е толкова ценна, че пък за нея може да се каже, че е неизменна част от постигнатите успехи към днешна дата. През този сезон Арсенал отново накара противниците си да се съобразяват с него, а освен всичко друго бе подпечатано и завръщането в Шампионската лига. Усещане, което бе леко позабравено. Със сигурност има още доста работа за вършене пред Микел Артета, Еду Гаспар, фамилия Крьонке и самите играчи, но всякаш новите визия и амбиции на този клуб са начертани - първото място догодина да бъде атакувано с още по-големи сили. За тази цел разбира се по всичко изглежда, че през лятото ще са нужни нови попълнения в редиците.
Още подробности преди мача в следващите редове:
Кога: От 18:30ч. българско време
Стадион: Емиратс Стейдиъм
Телевизия: Срещата няма да бъде излъчвана на живо
Рефер на двубоя: Андре Маринър
Новините в Арсенал: Мача пропускат контузените Уилям Салиба, Такехиро Томиясу, Олександър Зинченко, Мохамед Елнени и Габриел Мартинели. Под въпрос до последно пък остават Букайо Сака, Леандро Тросар и Рийс Нелсън. Всички останали играчи в отбора са на разположение за селекция.
Във вторник Букайо Сака преподписа с Арсенал. Новият му договор е до лятото на 2028 година. Младата звезда в отбора съвсем заслужено ще получи четворно увеличение на заплатата или поне такива са слуховете. Но в крайна сметка не това е важното, а нагласата на самият играч да продължи да носи червено-белите цветове. През този сезон Букайо Сака има 13 гола и 11 асистенции във Висшата лига. Тези дни в социалните мрежи се появиха и слуховете, че от Арсенал сега ще се насочат към преподписване също така с Мартин Йодегор и Рийс Нелсън.
Фото кредит: Арсенал
Почти сигурно е, че днес Гранит Джака ще изиграе последния си мач с екипа на Арсенал. След това за него предстои предизвикателство в Германия, където ще носи фланелката на Байер Леверкузен. ''Аспирините'' ще се сдобият с услугите на швейцареца срещу сумата от 15 млн. евро. Гранит Джака бе привлечен в отбора от Арсен Венгер през 2016 година от Борусия Мьонхенгладбах и несъмнено ще бъде запомнен като безспорен лидер на терена и в съблекалнята.
Фото кредит: Daily Cannon
Тази вечер футболистите на Арсенал ще играят с представената в петък нова фланелка за сезон 2023/24. От гиганта Адидас решиха концепцията да бъде посветена на 20-годишнината от постижението на Непобедимите. Както всички знаем, през сезон 2003/04 ''топчиите'' не допуснаха нито едно поражение в първенството и с това записаха златни страници в своята история. За край на новините преди мача ще завършим с това, че всеки може даде своят глас за ''Играч на сезона за Арсенал''. Линк за гласуване: https://www.arsenal.com/news/vote-our-202223-mens-player-season
Фото кредит: Арсенал
Микел Артета преди мача: ''Искаме да отдадем заслужена благодарност на привържениците, които ще дойдат на стадиона, за да ни гледат. Всички те бяха страхотни през този сезон и заслужават нашето уважение. Желанието ни е да усетим тяхната енергия за един последен път през тази кампания и да я завършим със стил. Бих описал сезона като едно страхотно пътуване. Надградихме и постигнахме много неща. Да, имахме желание за нещо наистина голямо, което в крайна сметка не успяхме да постигнем. Ние обаче ще продължим да следваме принципите и амбициите си и ще се върнем още по-силни за него.''
Are Tactics nonsense?
“Players lose you games, not tactics. There's so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes.“ Brian Clough
Brian Clough - probably the greatest manager ever at a small club
The problem with tactics is that in soccer, everything happens simultaneously. In chess, you can have tactics because it is one move at a time. In soccer, there are 22 players all moving at the same time, or at least thinking about moving. 22 minds all with what is going on in their own head. You cannot get 11 players to have the same tactics because they often interpret instructions differently or they decide to do their own thing.
"I always threw the ball in, because then if I got the ball back, I was the only player unmarked" Great strategy by Johan Cruyff
I believe that many of the tropes of tactics are illusory. What exactly is 4 4 2? Or 4 3 3? Or a high press or a long ball game? Let’s take 4 4 2 – it ostensibly means 4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 attackers. But in the modern game players are attacking and defending and winning the ball in midfield. Plus for a set-piece, all players from both sides are in or around the box rendering 4 4 2 or any other a farce.
Watch any game from the stands and you will see that generally, all players are in one half or the other, with the exception of goalkeepers. The ball gets forward normally in 2 ways, a fast break often heralded by a long ball, or a patient slow build-up. I feel that formations are rarely adhered to, and if they are rigid, are easily exploited by the opposition. A patient build-up allows players to get into position to defend and a long ball game can be countered by keeping some players back to attack the long ball.
11 minds and one formula?
This is the crux of what I am saying, trying to make tactics work across 11 minds is close to impossible. Even if you manage it by a miracle, then all the opposition has to do is figure out your tactic and counter it. A high press is vulnerable to a long ball and the vagaries of offside. As a defender, you may take risks with offside by very fine margins by having the press as high as possible only to find that you got that margin wrong. You must have both fast players and ones with clever antennae to make a high press work. And of course, you need to have players willing to run very hard for a whole match. This can only happen when your adrenaline is high, and the match important.
This cannot be replicated in friendlies as there is nothing at stake. The same with training. But I wish to get back to this later as it is essential.
Bottlers? Prove them wrong next season
If I was to criticize Mikel Arteta’s tactics, it is the rigidity which makes it easy to counter. He likes a slow patient build-up in which all players move into the opponents half with the aim of keeping it until a goal chance occurs. Normally the ball is moved out to the wing to Saka or Martinelli with the main intention being a pullback to an attacker coming from deep. The obvious counter to this is a park the bus approach with 2 banks of 4 and 5 with only one lone attacker. This allows a levelling up of inferior teams who hope for a win but are content with a draw. If we don’t get an early goal, it becomes a hard slog of a match with both sides cancelling each other out like tic-tac-toe.
Strategies are the key to greatness
I believe that instead of tactics, you are better to have strategies depending on the opposition and what is actually happening in the match. Ten Hag did that with his Manchester United team at Old Trafford this season, relying on a long ball to counter the Arsenal high press. They won 3-1.
He knew a bit about soccer, this guy
But the biggest example was Arteta’s mentor, Mr Pep himself. For the recent Arsenal game he resorted to a long ball game with one objective, get the ball to Haaland. The Arsenal players didn’t know what hit them. City allowed Arsenal to press forward then hit them with the startling speed of De Bruyne and Haaland. City could have had 10. Arsenal needed to park the bus, crowd the attackers and rely on a fast break themselves. They needed to accept that a goalless draw was the target. Frustrate City and they had a chance. Guardiola knew how Arsenal would play but Arteta assumed wrongly he knew how City would play. City had the perfect strategy for a team that will come at them.
Teams learned how to deal with us
Brighton did very similar, allowing Arsenal to come at them but turning their high press against them by not allowing Arsenal’s wingers to cause mayhem. Nullify Arsenal’s wingers and you nullify Arsenal. Always Saka, Martinelli and then Trossard had a fullback devoted to reining them in. Arsenal weren’t allowed to play their normal game and couldn’t adapt. Jesus ran around like a headless chicken, frustrated at not getting the ball.
"I find it terrible when talents are rejected based on computer stats. Based on the criteria at Ajax now I would have been rejected. When I was 15, I couldn’t kick a ball 15 meters with my left and maybe 20 with my right. My qualities technique and vision, are not detectable by a computer." Johan Cruyff again on the modern day obsession with making football complicated
So this is my main point, teaching players strategies should be the main focus of training. Players need to be able to change tack when needed. Arsenal were too predictable and teams were, at the end, able to turn it against them. You need to mix everything up, sometimes play a long ball, sometimes play through the middle, sometimes through the wings. Sometimes a patient build-up, sometimes allow the opposition to come at you, and frustrate them by not giving them room. All strategies are good, if used in moderation.
Simplicity is best
In one sense, football is a simple game. Pass the ball to your own player and things will always go well for you. And that is what you can work at in training, and in friendlies, finding each other. Arsene Wenger was famous for insisting on this, short one twos, knowing where your colleague was and being able to find him. He didn’t care so much for tactics..
It is far better to train players to do different things depending on what is happening on the pitch. A strategy for this scenario, a strategy for another scenario. It has to be better than trying to get 11 players to keep to a tactic when the opposition is not doing what they expect. And it makes it more like chess, you take into account what your opponent is doing and act accordingly.
I started with a quote from Brian Clough and he was one of the most successful managers ever, and probably the best ever at a small club. He believed in getting the best player for every position, that a defender must defend above all, that a midfielder must win the ball and distribute it wisely above all, and attackers must score above all. He didn’t do too badly. He had 2 more European cups (Champions league) than Arsenal.
A simple truth
The opposition must never know how you are going to play. Train strategies, always based on players finding each other, and keep mixing it up throughout matches. Leave the rigid tactics to the park the bus merchants whose objective is to hope for a win, but play for a draw. That can work for them because they know they can never be contenders. True champions can mix it up. We must also.