Across the years there have been many great footballing eras. When they came along it represented times when something new and revolutionary was happening, something that would alter the way that football clubs would try and do things from that point.
The most recent era I feel came in with Guardiola’s Barcelona. Guardiola was undoubtedly the beneficiary of some fine ground work from those that came before him, but his quick passing, probing, possession football with an emphasis on winning the ball back quickly through a high press now looks to primarily be the modern blueprint for top sides.
Before this the Italian style of Catenaccio proved effective and saw the big Italian clubs as the dominant force for a period of time. Well organised defensive systems with devastating quick counter-attacking ability. Even with the newer developments with the high press you still see the art of Catenaccio proving effective today. In fact, it is almost the antithesis of the high press and the style of football most likely, carried out correctly, to still frustrate and overcome a dominant high press team enjoying superior possession.
Going even further back we have had Pele’s Brazil who were just….well they were just Brazil and brilliant. It is likely that a modern top team needs to borrow certain aspects from all the great eras.
One of the greatest eras that saw a revolutionary change in the landscape was that of Totaalvoetbal, or better known to most of us as Dutch total football. It is this concept that I wish to touch more upon today. It could be argued that it wasn’t a completely new concept at the time of its recognised development. The great Brazil, Hungarian and Madrid sides preceding this could have been viewed as total footballing sides. However, it certainly became recognised as an entity in its own right in the 70’s, mainly through the Ajax side of Rinus Michels with the great Cruyff (RIP) as its most famous offspring.
I am sure some of our Dutch contingent can add far more to my more limited knowledge on the subject but the basic idea is that you coach a team of highly technically skilled players that can take up the position of any one of their team-mates at any time in the game thus creating a fluid attacking system with interchanging players.
The question I have is – can it still effectively function on its own in the modern game, to the point where other styles and systems need not be considered? Alternatively, does it still have its place in modern football but not in its full purist all-encompassing style that was seen in the 70’s? Can the total football style still be a key component in a modern football club but it is now necessary to know where its effectiveness ends in the modern game?
In today’s game I feel you can still see great merit in this style of coaching, particularly with the academy player’s skill set development. I will put my neck out and state that I feel that Arsene Wenger adheres to its principles in his footballing philosophy and utilises it in the development of our academy players.
I wonder though if we take it too far in this modern era. By this I mean is it now an effective concept in modern top level first team football beyond the development period of the academy player. It seems to me that Arsene frequently carries its concepts into our first team, and even at this point still likes to move certain senior first team players around into different positions.
Personally I feel the 70’s total football concept is excellent for youth development but that, in the modern game, once a player is considered a regular first team player it becomes more important to discern where their key strengths and weaknesses lie and to identify that players best position and then let them then develop their skills further to become as effective as they can in that role.
I have harboured a feeling for a while that we are almost over-coaching many of our more senior young players, beyond the point of where it is useful, and that then it becomes a hindrance to their further development. Are we creating too many Jack of all trades master of none, and does the modern game requires a greater number of specialists than was required back in the 70’s where a greater number of adaptable players was effective?
The player that really comes to mind for me is Oxlade Chamberlain. I feel he has been shunted around too much and we have not found his best position and allowed him to develop into it. This idea could be applied to other players as well and I do wonder if this is why we are seeing the likes of Oxlade Chamberlain seemingly stall, if not go backwards, in their development as a player once they are more regularly in the first team.
Written by GoonerB