SOCCER: STYLES OF PLAY
BY COACH BRADY
Does soccer really have different styles of play or is style irrelevant and do the ends (goals) simply justify the means? The answer is, there are most certainly styles of play and ironically for serious soccer cultures, style is the objective, it is the end. They believe the score takes care of itself, so long as the manager properly implements the style, so convinced are they in their philosophy of how to play the “beautiful game.”
Interestingly, style is important to culture or region because style is the complex manifestation of many varied components unique to the people and history of the region. There are many things that influence the style of a region: former trade routes and the importation of ideas from sea-faring powers, the music and dance of the region, the weather and topography, early local tactical geniuses, the politics of the area, and political structure – democracy vs dictatorship, the way in which the people solve problems – practical application of efficient logic vs emotional zeal, and the general body size and shape of the people of the region. Given all this, it is easy to understand why Germans might want to see the ball move in a certain way up the pitch that differs from the Brazilians.
By way of recent example, consider the affairs of the German team Bayern Munich. After their 2013 Champions League final victory they were universally considered the best professional team in the world. They had just won the treble, the Bundesliga Championship, the DFB-Pokal Cup and the coveted Champions League Trophy. The man who led them to these heights was German manager, Jupp Heynckes. For somewhat mysterious reasons, Heynckes, who is in his mid-sixties, announced his retirement four months before his outstanding side had earned their three cups. The Bayern board hired the best available manager, Pep Guardiola, to take the helm of the best team.
Pep’s pedigree of success was uncontroverted. He had left the Spanish giants, Barcelona, after winning every available domestic and international trophy, including two Champions League cups. He drew on a lineage of style passed from the Dutch master Rinus Michels to Johan Cruyff to Barcelona to Pep. Guardiola achieved international success by managing a style of play centered around passing and possession dominance, quite often possessing the ball as much as 70% of the game. It was the Spanish adaptation of the renowned Dutch concept of “Total Futbol.” Guardiola would say that it is very difficult for an opponent to score when they don’t have the ball. The style tends to be an exhibition of skillful passing and receiving. Skeptics called it Tikki Taka and suggested that passing for the sake of passing accomplished nothing. Nonetheless, during the same time, the Spanish National Team won two European Championships and one World Cup.
In the two years Guardiola has managed Futbol Club Bayern, they have won two league championships and one league tournament cup (DFB-Pokal) but understandably have not achieved the remarkable success of the 2012-2013 team. What he has not won is the complete respect and affection of the Bayern fans. His critics are many and vocal. His style of play was an issue from the start and that has not changed. Many fans do not like the possession-dominated game, they claim it is boring and it’s not the German way. Bundesliga fans are used to a fast-paced attacking and counter-attacking style of play. It is the WWII German blitzkrieg on the soccer pitch. Clearly, they say, this style of play has cost them their supremacy.
To Pep’s credit, he did adapt to the Bundesliga and employs a rather blended approach. Even he says that passing for the sake of passing is not quality soccer. And, in his defense, no team has won back-to-back Champions League titles and his Bayern team has been plagued by an unusual number of injuries to key players.
The point, nonetheless, is that there are numerous soccer styles and they can be a sense of regional pride. No one wants to openly admit that the soccer style that they have grown to love is inferior to the style of another region, particularly if they are an economic world power. That is why Guardiola was fighting an uphill battle when he took the Bayern job. If Tikki Taka came to dominate the Bundesliga, Germans would be forced to question their superiority, and Germans don’t like to do that.