FDA News Post

Do tactics or players win matches?

Posted 22 May 2012 10:00PM

It seems odd in this age of English football, that the “system” chosen by a manager gains as much analysis, plaudits and criticisms as they players on the pitch. The sheer number of formations that are now employed by managers throughout Europe and the world of football seems to boggle the mind.

In past eras there were defenders, midfielders and forwards. While in these systems there were variations in the ways that teams employed the system, the premise was essentially the same. These formations held guidelines for players, however it was individuals who made their decisions on the pitch.

These times now seem gone with further restrictions on players. The 4-3-3 has now become a 4-3-2-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-2-1-3 or 4-1-2-3 and has seemingly “placed the handbrake” on the midfield. The decision is no longer between a 3, 4 or 5 man midfield but rather between a single or double pivot in the centre of midfield.

This is further emphasized on the decision to appoint Roy Hodgson, ahead of Harry Redknapp, as the English manager for Euro 2012. The debate was about the style of coach required: in Redknapp and Hodgson, the FA were choosing between two men at complete opposite ends of the football coach’s ideological spectrum. Redknapp is all about individuals. A wheeler and dealer in the transfer market, he is regarded as a good man manager. However Redknapp’s sides often have a sense of anarchy to them, with Bale, van der Vaart and Modric often moving where they want to. He’s perfectly honest about it his lack of regard for a system. “Whether it’s 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 – the numbers game is not the beautiful game in my opinion,” Redknapp once said. “It is 10% about the formation and 90% about the players.”

This follows the mantra employed by Guardiola during his spell of unprecedented success at Barcelona. Inheriting an extremely successful side, who were well versed in the traditional 4-3-3 under Frank Rijkarard, Guardiola went about revolutionizing the way the team played at the Camp Nou. Guardiola’s system moved further towards controlling the midfield battle and possession, once even fielding an unbelievable 3-6-1 formation against Santos, to negate the threat of Neymar.

Hodgson is the complete opposite, the ultimate ‘system’ manager. His teams are very simple – they defend the same way, with two banks of four supplemented with two outright attackers – either two forwards or a lone striker supported by a number ten. Whereas Redknapp employs an army of coaches to do his work on the training ground, Hodgson personally drills his players relentlessly in training so they’re completely at home with the zonal defensive system, going through the same exercises again and again.

While Redknapp’s Tottenham and Guardiola’s Barca have enjoyed great success in recent times, Hodgson’s most recent post in charge of a “big club” at Liverpool cannot be remembered so fondly. However the question remains, do tactics or players win matches? The answer will be found in England’s run through Euro 2012.

Blog written and posted by Andrew Dind, FDA.