Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Attractive Style Shouldn't Matter So Much in Soccer

Fabio Capello, as manager of Real Madrid in the 2006-2007 season, won La Liga, which was Madrid's first domestic league title in four years. One month later, he was fired. Why? Fans and club executives didn't like his defensive-minded style.

Felix Magath, as mananger of Bayern Munich from 2004-2005 until the middle of the '06-'07 season, won two Bundesliga titles, two German Cups, one German League Cup, and reached the Champions League Round of 16 (eliminated by AC Milan) and the Quarterfinals (eliminated by Chelsea). When he was fired, Munich was 10-4-5 in the league and had won Group B in the Champions League. Why was he fired? No one liked his management style, which placed a premium on discipline and hard work.

It brings up the question that I've really never heard talked about at any length.

Why does creativity matter so much?

The last time I checked, the object in a game of soccer, and this holds true in any sport, is to win. That's the bottom line. Win.

To me, it's not about how you do it, it's about doing it. You can play the most technically sound, beautiful style you want. If you don't win, it doesn't matter. At the end of the day, people remember the team that came out on top, not the team that played the most attractive game. If that team is one and the same, then that makes it even better, but playing "joga bonito" shouldn't be the be-all and end-all.

José Mourinho has been the most successful European manager this decade in my opinion, having won four league titles, a Champions League, a UEFA Cup, two Carling Cups, an FA Cup, a Portuguese Cup, and a Portuguese SuperCup. Did his teams play an aesthetically-pleasing style? Hardly. Some of Mourinho's best players have been guys who did the grunt work and received few accolades and little recognition from mainstream media for it, like Claude Makélélé.

Fabio Capello has won five Scudettos, two La Liga titles, a Champions League, a European Super Cup, four Italian Super Cups, and been to two other Champions League finals. He uses the 4-2-3-1 formation, which employs two holding midfielders and a lone striker. Definitely not what I would call creative, but it gets the job done.

One of Capello's former clubs, AC Milan, uses three defensive midfielders in Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, and Massimo Ambrosini. What has that done for AC Milan? Just helped them win a Champions League last season and go to a final in 2004-2005.

The point is this: There are many ways to go about winning games, but it's wrong to value how you win over actually winning. It's not about looking good while doing so, it's not about pleasing the fans or club executives, it's about doing the job you're supposed to do, and that is win games and trophies. You can't ask for more than that because there is nothing more; it's unfair to put stipulations on being victorious. Playing the most attractive style doesn't always work and in fact, I'd argue that it works less often than playing a more defensive-minded formation.

Either way, the bottom line is winning, and doing whatever it takes to do so. You can't please everyone with how you do it; some people want to be entertained when they watch a game, some don't. You caan, however, please everyone by doing it.


Smithsie said...

Sure creativity doesn't ensure victories but England has been poor because WE LACK THE SORT OF CREATIVE PLAYERS OTHER NATIONS DEVELOP.WE RUN OUT OF IDEAS. WE RUN OUT OF HOPE.

In other words we need some creativity. Sure some teams that are more creative than others don't win, but teams with no creativity do not win at all.

MJ said...


You're exactly right, I'm not saying you need to play a 4-5-1 every game to win, that's not my point at all. Every team needs to have its playmakers and guys who can make everyone around them better, there's no doubt about it.

I'm saying that the means to an end (in this case, winning) shouldn't be valued more than the end itself, as long as you get there. You can have all the creativity in the world but if you don't win with it, it doesn't matter. You can play the most unattractive, boring style you want but if you lack that finishing touch in front of goal, it doesn't matter. What matters at the end of the day is the W, no matter how you go about getting it.

USA in 2010 said...

Look at the US: We play with two defensive midfielders at all times and no traditional #10.

The results have been pretty good using this lineup. The one concern is counting on wide play is tough on narrower fields.

When we played South Africa at Ellis Park we were restricted by what was obviously a Rugby field. The same for the match in San Jose at the lamentable Spartan Stadium against China. But at least we won both matches!

Anonymous said...

Well argued although I respectfully disagree!