We need something completely different in English football

By Express
Last updated : 03 May 2013

There has been a similar reaction to the fall from the pinnacle of European football of Barcelona. They are being taken apart by the critics, who are nodding knowingly, nudge nudge, wink wink-style, as Eric Idle famously put it.

The rush is on to declare that Barca were never that good anyway. That they are simply a one-man team, lost without the goalscoring dexterity and consistency of Lionel Messi, who did not get on the pitch when the humbling by Bayern Munich was completed in the Nou Camp on Wednesday night. That tika-taka football, with all its passing and possession, is pointlessly artistic.

The much less florid truth is that the game always goes in cycles, which naturally rise, peak and subside.

There are good football brains at work everywhere. The Germans know how to make the best of what they have too. There has been another compelling reinvention.

Did people expect Barca would dominate for ever? That truth also encompasses the fact that Germany’s Champions League finalists, Munich and Borussia Dortmund, and their national side, have found a fabulous new way to ally crisp technique and passing accuracy with tempo, physicality, pace and drive. And that most painfully here in England, we can do neither and have ended up looking behind the times yet again.

There is always a clamour for us to hitch ourselves to these passing wagons. Yet it is laughable to think English footballers might have imitated the Spanish way.

When it comes to this newly ascendant Teutonic brand of the game, however, English football has to ask itself a seriously searching question. Why haven’t we been doing this all along?

Why, in the land where speed, robustness, boldness, teamwork, drive, will to win and strength are prized most of all, do we have an England team which often plays so sluggishly and vaguely?

The answer is the same one as usual: A fundamental deficiency in technique and tactical coherence and the mental discipline required to apply and sustain them.

The German sides work furiously and prize energy. But they value intelligence and wit just as much. They are allied in an impressively purposeful attacking surge. They don’t pass as often as the Spaniards – the philosophy is different – but they show the same accuracy.

Even the expensively-assembled and foreigner-stuffed English club teams have failed to match this; witness Bayern’s evisceration of Arsenal at the Emirates in March. And Manchester City’s double struggles against Dortmund.

Even Chelsea’s stunning defeat of Munich in last season’s final was a statement of defensive defiance against the German wave.

Yet our public has a right to be even more baffled why the national team does not blaze with this kind of German fire when they see all its founding qualities within the Premier League every week. There is no sign of catching up. Nine Germans kicked off in the Dortmund team which thrashed Real Madrid 4-1; five started for Bayern in Spain.

It cannot be said often enough that the Germans restructured their talent building system more than a decade ago, long before we did. So the price will have to be paid here for a long time yet.

This summer’s maelstrom of foreign purchases by the big Premier League clubs will bury the chances of our young talents even more deeply.

In the Life of Brian, the Romans had in fact, delivered to Judea better sanitation, medicine, education, irrigation and roads. Among other things. In the same ironic vein, all that this era’s Barcelona have won is the Champions League three times over the past seven years. All that Spain, their international branch, have won recently is the World Cup and two European Championships.

Over the two legs against Bayern, the detailed statistic told how Barcelona’s possession style was dethroned. They completed 1,313 passes; Bayern 761. The Germans made theirs count to the aggregate tune of 7-0.

This is no reason for smart alecs to crow. It is simply another evolution.

Barcelona’s peak should be celebrated for ever. The age-old joy now will be to see whether they can fight back from all this month’s setbacks.

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