As we continue to simper at the jaw-dropping futebol served up by Manchester City, it is often impossible to avoid a sneaking thought about City B.G. versus City A.G. (Before Guardiola / After Guardiola).
City B.G. did not really prioritise short passes. Coaches and players alike believed that launching ‘hail Marys’ or punts into Row Z were unavoidable methods of escapology. B.G. teams were mostly reliant on the exquisite skills of a few individuals to break the deadlock in tight games. And there were also often those lengthy spells of head tennis.
The nostalgia is killing me…
Received Wisdom concerning the necessity of frequent tackling was unquestioned and unquestionable. It scarcely mattered if a defender was able to ping the ball accurately to friendly feet as long as he could block crosses, defend set pieces and generally be Charles Bronson. The art of defending was the preserve of specialist units together with one or two borderline-violent centre-mids in mastery of the dark arts. Muscular physicality trumped technical skills. Artisans over artists.
Not so much with the poets…
The majority of goals came from one or two hired gunmen and headed-goals-from-wide-crosses were a much-loved and trusted ploy. (Respect, Quinny…)
In City B.G. there was no such thing as the high block. Front-men were often not involved in gegenpressing or in the build-up play either. Luxury players were tolerated in the good old days and merely encouraged to perform additional duties. (Hi, Kinky!) If a player was a winger for example, so long as he could beat-a-man-get-to-the-byline-and-swing-a-decent-cross-in, then anything else he contributed was a pleasant bonus.
Can we not knock it?
Although the fashionably imported rondo was a regular enough part of training in the 90s, there was generally no overarching preoccupation with rapid-fire one-touch passing as a defensive strategy and as we all know, keepers were not tasked with using their plates of meat for anything other than pfaffing the ball as far down the park as poss.
Most of all, possession of the football for long periods in a game was not exactly deliberate practice. If it could be achieved, great. This would please the crowds and look good in end-of-game stats but in my memory at least, it was never considered to be of extraordinary value.
City A.G. though, is soooo much easier on the eye and restorative to the soul. The ball stays on the deck and is whipped to and fro within a maelstrom of rapidly moving parts.
Each player is a total fussballspieler – and that includes the keeper who just as easily could play in midfield. Short passing is now a highly valued skill cos if you’ve read Pep Confidential, you’ll know Pep‘s mantra:
‘I get the ball, I pass the ball. I get the ball, I pass the ball. I get the ball, I pass the ball.’
Again and again and again…… until……… automaticity.
Nowadays, the only long-flighted, long distance punts you’ll be likely to see will come from Ederson when he spots an outlet for one of his particular God-given abilities, that of arrowing a throw or a precision-toed chip-on-a-sixpence for a grateful, gleeful forward.
Gone are the days of Kolarov‘s ambitious ‘diags’ from left back…
The much maligned playing-out-from-the-back technique has been pilloried by the media specialists. Whilst risky and only to be used with a certain breed of player, this presents any opponent with a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t conundrum.
Try to press in numbers and you are likely to be pierced by the out-ball that will leave you and two or three of your mates hopelessly stranded:
Zero to sky-blue blur in a matter of seconds….
However sit back, and let the build-up happen, and you are then faced with a pulsating. rhapsodic and rhythmic deluge that you allowed to get out of its infancy, as it escalates into territory you conceded – and which then forensically picks holes in your rearguard like a sniper.
In City A.G., tackling has largely been replaced by the skills of blocking and interception. The need for a one-trick hachetman would simply rob Pep of an additional attacker. (Hi, Nigel!)
And why on earth would you want that?
In the Pep-olution, goals are now shared around (Sergio, Leroy, Raheem, Gabriel, Stones, Fernandinho, Delph, Otamendi), unnecessary touches of the ball are frowned upon, any one of half-a-dozen players are potential game-changers and the bench-warmers are just as adept as the starting eleven!
Best of all, we now possess a twin-eights duo of assist-kings in Silva and De Bruyne who are free to comport themselves however they see fit in the final third – Guardiola does not flatter himself that he knows their job better than they do, as he reminded us in a recent interview. The possession and pass accuracy stats are already on a record-breaking trajectory with each successive game…
And in Sterling and Sane, we have a pair of fleet-footed Olympic-standard sprinters who together embody the maxim of many a road safety campaign:
See you at the Theatre-of-The-Parked-Bus, Maureen.
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