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Author Topic: The dog ate my tactics  (Read 352 times)

Online dave.woodhall

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The dog ate my tactics
« on: May 08, 2020, 11:20:30 PM »
From no. 181, March 2013.

You may be aware of a new website from the makers of this very magazine which has spewed itself on to t'interweb. It reproduces articles from past issues, offering the reader every emotion from nostalgia to deja vu depending on what season the piece originates from. Come to think of it, it offers two emotions but that should be enough for anyone.

Off the back of this new offering of old stuff (as I believe they euphemistically say on most cable channels) the editor and I were chatting about some of the things we've written in the past. Thankfully, it wasn't a mutual appreciation society. Phrases like, “We thought we could change the world” and words such as “obsessed” liberally sprinkled a starkly honest conversation. So often the things we do which seem great at the time don't quite evince the same “brilliance” when revisited. You'd hope so anyway as it's an indication you might be getting better at what you do. Of course if you've just released Ziggy Stardust it may be tough to beat however long you try, but most of us have jobs and hobbies which should allow for improvement over time. Even so, I'd bet Bowie would change something about those early masterpieces if he was working on them today.

I guess what I'm saying is none of us are perfect and it's bloody healthy to acknowledge it. We can make all sorts of excuses for our limitations; blame others; curse circumstances; deny failings; deflect blame. Usually it's self-delusion. True, you can only work with the tools and talent at your disposal. Equally true, you can be honest about whether you did everything you could and remain dispassionate when looking back on your handiwork. Not everyone manages it though.

For me, the biggest positive which came out of the defeat to Manchester City was when Paul Lambert was asked if he thought there was a foul leading up to their goal. We're so used to managers finding an excuse from somewhere but our boss just said: “No, there was nothing wrong with it.” He didn't claim he thought it was a foul at the time, therefore the ref should have seen it the same way. No falling back on that old favourite: “I've seen them given.” Presented with a possible excuse he politely declined. Well done that man.

That wasn't the case everywhere. I give for your enjoyment the comments of three managers from the first weekend of March.

“In the first half there was nothing [in it] and then we were 2-0 down. I don't know how it happened. I feel sorry for the team and the fans, because when you produce so much in a game and come away with so little it's a big disappointment. I feel we were on top of the game when we conceded the goals, and that is most frustrating. If you're dominated and the opponent scores you can accept it, but the way it happened is difficult to swallow." Arsene Wenger - Spurs 2 Arsenal 1.

Ah, Arsene. The world's most put upon man. Although his arch nemesis famously stooped to the ultimate excuse of “Our shirts were the wrong colour so we couldn't see each other,” even Ferguson has been known to acknowledge the occasional failing or justified beating. Not Arsene though. His assessment of the Spurs game was the definition of predictable. The correct appraisal would have been: “Once again we couldn't turn excellent approach play into goals. We too often find ourselves wanting in the final third and pay the price for it. All the fine possession in the world isn't worth a single goal.”

It's happened so often now you'd think he'd accept he works in football, not synchronised swimming. He's like a reverse Martin O'Neill. Our erstwhile boss wouldn't fault effort, workrate, power, speed, but couldn't accept his tactics left you often without possession, defending increasingly deeply and knackered in the last 15 minutes. There was a predictability about watching Villa under him which other sides eventually twigged. Although Wenger's sameness is much more pleasing on the eye, you can understand the frustration of some Arsenal fans who year after year see the beautiful game trumped by the other side's ability to score goals. But in the Wenger view, it's unfair that you can dominate games and not automatically be gifted the end result. One thing's for certain, it's not his fault.

At least he didn't blame the referee this time. If you were to believe the managerial post-mortems you'd think the only important people in a game of football are the officials. They are alleged to be responsible for so much you have to question the need for managers and players. Refs can alter games. Our favourite is Vidic in the League Cup final, but despite our justified annoyance there's always the nagging knowledge we couldn't beat them 11 v 11 and with a one goal head start. What am I thinking? It's the ref's fault:

“For 74 minutes I thought we'd get something from the game. But it wasn't a corner and then we conceded. We can't blame the referee but the second goal led to a capitulation. The two goals that followed came as a result of us thinking about the misfortune we suffered. Up to then Brighton hadn't hurt us very much.” Mark Robbins – Brighton 4 Huddersfield 1.

Just take in that scoreline. Four-one. Huddersfield lost comprehensively because a corner was incorrectly awarded. It wasn't just the goal that resulted, presumably through a lingering sense of injustice rather than poor defending. That travesty understandably immobilised Robbins's players who could do nothing but fall into a pit of depressive despair as Brighton, on a high from their good luck, took advantage of the static, weeping zombies around them. It was a nice touch by Robins to say “we can't blame the referee” and then blaming the referee. God forbid Brighton were just much better.

You see, the problem for managers is sometimes the other side fail to see the big plan. Opponents have this irritating habit of ignoring what you're trying to achieve and, well... opposing you. If the other side are going to insist on trying to score, what can you do?

“We knew we would come under the cosh against them, they play high tempo. I don't think it was down to our system or tactics.” Lee Clark – Hull 5 Blues 2.

It certainly couldn't have been and shame on anyone who says otherwise. Clark carefully devised tactics aimed at scoring more, or at least same number of goals as Hull. It's not his fault the end result was different. Maybe those dastardly northerners weren't paying attention. Maybe his dog ate his team talk? Or he left his fuzzy-felts on the bus, or one of the big kids nicked his school book. But if it wasn't down to a failure of the system or tactics, what could have caused five shots to nestle in your onion bag?

I know it's not easy to be presented with a microphone just after the final whistle and come up with a thorough assessment of what's just happened. The questions don't really help, being either inane or leading in the main. But there never seems to be a difficulty in plucking a handy excuse. Managers aren't so crippled by the intensity of the game they can't immediately drag out a patsy to blame. Just occasionally it would be nice to see them man up and say they tried, but it didn't happen. The other side scored more. We couldn't stop them. Must do better.

You're not fooling anyone you know.

Simon Page


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