I remember in primary school being jealous as hell of the kids that could paint and draw. I gave up trying to emulate them, drawing a straight line was troublesome enough. I suppose I did what most do when they are devoid of the necessary talent, I tried to copy. So you'd get your pencil and carefully place a transparent page over some wonderfully constructed picture, tracing carefully over the key figures. And you know what, it worked great to start with. The beginning of those traced art works of my early youth were certainly more aesthetically pleasing than my authentic scribbles thats for sure. Then came the addition of colour, now I was in trouble once more. What about the subtle touches the tracer didn't allow you to detect? Lets not talk about depth or perspective. It was demoralising. I guess it was a compliment, I saw what my friends created, thought it was magic, beautiful even and said 'ya I'll have a bit of that'. That's what they say isn't it, 'imitation is the greatest form of flattery'. Well the passing of space and time has taught me different. You see I didn't have talent for drawing, because I didn't love it, I never invested in trying to do it my way. The jump to tracing was a leap of a faithless boy. Had I truly loved it, I would not have given in so easily.
Fast forward a few decades and my travels have taken me to Melbourne, in the state of Victoria and the land they call Australia. If you are a follower of these pages you may remember a trip to Patrick Vieira's New York City FC, the MLS I reported was awash with teams looking to play out from the back. Here in Australia the top league known as the A league is MLS like in many ways. Both Leagues are franchises, without relegation. Both leagues have fans who drink local beer and sing imported songs! However, the focus of these paragraphs will be on another comparison, both leagues have a stream of copycat coaches. And I get it, Pep Guardiola's Barcelona of a few years ago revolutionised the game, it was a renaissance. I am not saying he invented anything new, or even re-invented what he had learned from the late great dutch master. Pep himself is not afraid to copy. Drawing inspiration from the coaches he himself hired and from the coaches he encountered as a player in Spain and Italy. Then there was his sabbatical, the first one pre Barca B, He went all over the globe looking, listening, learning. Its well documented that Guardiola is a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, but then again, that word 'disciple', its not quite right. You see, following, thats a little like the child who could not draw but chanced tracing. When you truly love something you do not follow, you walk alongside it.
Back to the copycat coaches. Watching an MLS game or an A league game is like watching Groundhog day but without Bill Murray, whats the point I hear you ask? Exactly! But Why? Well, this may seem harsh but the coaches don't love the game enough. Let me qualify what I mean. They do love the game, just not enough. Antonio Conte said recently that he sleeps 5 hours a night, keeps 3 hours for his family and the rest is football. Thats very different, markedly so, to his life as a player. It's possibly the reverse. Just like Oasis were influenced by the The Beatles, these guys the Guardiola's and the Conte's have their Trapattoni's and their Cruyff's. The key word here is influenced. These copycat coaches however don't take the time like my artistic childhood friends did, to play with all sorts of colours until the mountains actually looked like mountains. These copycat coaches peep through the transparent tracing paper and see playing out from the back. They arrive to the training pitch with their plan typed out and stuck in their clipboard. The plan is missing details, the kind of detail that makes everything work. In the hit tv show 'The Wire' a character by the name of Bubbles, a drug addict, is schooling a young drug addict on the perils of using counterfeit money to buy their drugs. The less seasoned addict simply photocopies the money, but bubbles adds coffee stains to give it 'that money feel'. You see when addiction takes over, detail becomes a play fellow.
So, the issue is not with the sudden upsurge in teams trying to play out from the keeper. I am all for that, but as George Michael used to say 'if your gonna do it, do it right'! Its a numbers game, the whole premise of playing out from the back. Move the ball about until you find the free man, get the free man to carry the ball forward or to meet the ball in space. Yet, wether I'm watching my beloved Limerick FC, or New York City FC, or Melbourne Victory, it would appear to me many sides are either doing it because they are being forced to. Or they simply do not understand the objective. So many modern professional teams play out with the conviction of a five year old who has just been made apologise by his mother. Playing out with conviction sees the keeper actively seek a back pass to provide an extra passing option. You see central defenders chooses carefully when to go back, when to play in, when to step in. Full backs who go home with chalk on their boots and a slight pain in their standing foot from the sheer volume of crosses they executed. And midfielders who know when to show and when to go. Alas, not here, here is where imitation splatters. The hapless coaches of the world, stealing a living. They are the tracers, the unauthentic counterfeiters of their profession. They do not just steal a living, but their lack of art, invention, detail, innovation, results in the kind of football that gives the anti-football propagandists an amplified voice.
Let us end with a leap of faith, bringing us full circle from the faithless and depthless child. Love. Love flatters. If you believe in possession based, free-flowing, attack minded creative football then challenge your players to solve the numbers problems themselves. If you do love this style of play it will lead to an obsession. That obsession will turn on a tap to an ever-flowing fountain. Take a look at the session plan section of our site for some guided practices on this style of football. And remember as a wise man once said, its not about finding the right answer, its about posing the right question. Learn long and prosper and as always thanks for stopping by.