MONEY BUYS QUALITY. Quality in football is, to a large extent, determined by the individual actions of a player that are measurable. Goals scored, passes completed, assists given, interceptions made; the list goes on.
As analytics in football continues to develop more advanced and nuanced ways of measuring and interpreting this data, more detailed questions can be asked about a player’s actions and subsequently, their contribution. Has a striker outperformed their xG values? What percentage of a midfielder’s interceptions are converted into counter-attacks? These are the type of questions that the recruitment departments of clubs all over the world are asking (or should be asking). And they are good questions – questions whose answers will go a substantial way to deciding the location of the bank account into which millions of pounds will be deposited. Money buys quality, right?
The problem here is that, as with so much in the contemporary interpretation of the game of football, we are too concerned with the ball itself. These metrics are almost exclusively based on actions that involve, in one way or another, the player touching the ball. Now, given that on average a top flight player in Ligue 1 is in possession of the ball for an average of 53.4 seconds per game (Carling, 2010) it would be reasonable to deduct that their ‘on the ball’ actions, valuable as they are in determining the outcome of a game, constitute only a small percentage of their overall game contribution.
The issue that analysts, recruiters and scouts are faced with is that, at the present time, it is extremely difficult to collect the kind of data that could help us measure the elusive off the ball actions that could well hold the key to unlocking a new epoch of football strategy and theory. These are the unicorns of football analytics.
There are measurements like ‘distance covered’ or ‘number of sprints’ completed in a game by a particular player. Unfortunately, without the necessary context these numbers can only help to give us what is a pretty rudimentary understanding of a player’s general willingness to run. It would be reasonable to suggest, although perhaps not always true in reality, that any professional footballer should be willing to run.
The kind of metrics that would be of far more value than a Map My Run style distance value are harder to measure because they are harder to see. A value such as ‘percentage of turnovers resulting in ball oriented sprints’ might be of particular interest to a coach who is looking to identify a player that is strong in counter pressing. ‘Average distance between left back and left centre back in the defensive phase’ could be useful for recruiting players who are well-disciplined in the principle of compactness.
In The Numbers Game, Chris Anderson and David Sally deduce: “One goal for is greater than not scoring, 1>0, but keeping a clean sheet is more valuable than scoring a single goal, 0>1.”
This is an important finding. It validates the importance of player metrics that are concerned with ‘off the ball’ actions given that all of a players actions in the defensive phase are indeed made off the ball. When the interception or tackle is made, the team is no longer in the defensive phase as it looks to transition into attack. Because these complex networks of individual defensive off the ball actions are often happening without an immediately tangible effect on the dynamic of the game, they are difficult to see. Each one is an incremental preventative measure. They are working in the shadows to minimise the effectiveness of those coveted on the ball actions of the opponent.
These individual defensive off the ball actions are incredibly important in football, according to Anderson and Sally, the result of their successful implementation – a clean sheet – is of more value than what Uruguayan football romantic Eduardo Galeano tastefully describes as “soccer’s orgasm” – the goal.
The transfer market, however, does not reflect this. We see as valuable what we have been conditioned to believe is of value. Goals, assists, passes. Even feints, flicks and tricks seem to add value to a player’s fee. It’s the ‘Denílson Effect’ if you like. Of course there is value in these commodities, no-one is saying that there isn’t, the point is that they should not be considered as more valuable than off the ball qualities. Do you want a 20 goal a season striker if they contribute nothing to the defensive phase? Clubs that sign players like Zlatan Ibrahimović would argue yes.
Read | The Zlataner Effect
A player like Zlatan does indeed add attacking value. His goal scoring record along with a hugely impressive roll call of league titles confirms this. He also possesses an almost unparalleled level of technical ability which fans pay to ogle in awe of every weekend. Unfortunately players like Zlatan, Messi, Ronaldo and any number of top-tier elite footballers are wholly unaffordable out-with a very select group of European super clubs.
Money buys quality, and quality is defined by on the ball actions. Therefore the best ball players will go to the richest clubs. Higher wages, better facilities, more glamorous cities and a higher probability that our star ball player will end their career with an impressive array of silverware and medals. No problem, it all makes sense. Gout-ridden European aristocracy gorging on the ball manipulating talents of young players plucked from humble beginnings from across the globe. And the big clubs win. They win and win and they win, spurred on by the power of continuously upgraded qualitative superiority. Millions upon millions of pounds, euros and dollars floating in between a few select bank accounts. Money talks, and money buys quality.
It is hard to see how this oligopoly could ever even be challenged let alone toppled. The good news is that there is a resistance to this neo-liberal model of football – an antidote to the homogeneity of prize-winning lists. And the good news for clubs with significant financial constraints and for the vast majority of players who can only dream of Lionel-esque ball mastery, is that it doesn’t much involve the ball. Well, at least not too much of it.
I. Real Madrid/Politik
So is it time for the proletariat to take up arms and rise from their humble provinces and ghettos to once again wheel the guillotine out into the Place de la Revolución? Well, not really. The fact, of course, remains that as much as it may be to the lament of many with an interest in football, the actions of the Oligopoly are, or at least appear to be, within the boundaries of legality.
One may indeed feel a disconnect with owners such as Sheikh Mansour who, as a result of genetic and geographical lottery, has landed softly in a situation by which he and his family are able to play the ultimate game of Football Manager. One may find it hard to identify with Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Roman Abramovich, whose opulent corporate empires sprawl across continents and industries as local fans struggle to afford match day tickets to attend the festivals of apathy created by the gentrification of the congregation. The humble prawn sandwich suddenly doesn’t seem quite so decadent. Perhaps ‘langoustine bisque brigade’ would be more apt.
Disparities between fans and owners are of course nothing new. Discrepancies in the various modus operandi of stakeholders and directors are commonplace regardless of the sphere of industry. Conflicts of interest within organisational structures and hierarchies are in essence what drives the most important of debates: the political one.
Discussing the various ideologies concerned with the organisation of society dominates headlines and columns all over the world. And rightly so. One’s politics calibrate the moral compass by which one navigates life’s labyrinthine maze of hypocrisies and contradictions where the trap doors of ethical conundrums lie in wait around every corner. If then, it is one’s position regarding the organisation of society that is of importance, what better microcosm of society to examine this through than football? A group of individuals, bound by a common objective; to win the game. Indeed, the great philosophical absurdist, Albert Camus famously proclaimed, “All that I know most surely about morality and obligation, I owe to football.”
Now, life is not about winning, it’s about existing. Football, on the other hand, is all about winning. The objective of football is to outscore the opponent within the allotted time period. If you’re not trying to achieve that, then you are playing the game badly. How you choose to go about achieving this numerical superiority in the scoreline is another question entirely, a question which soon becomes: how are you going to organise your society in order to achieve this objective?
Broadly speaking, everyone will approach this question from somewhere in between the polarising ideological totems of Individualism and Collectivism. Where you sit on this sliding scale will go a long way to determining how your society will look. Will it be a Marxist worker’s co-operative built upon foundations of egalitarianism and equal wealth distribution or will it look to embrace a more neo-liberal acceptance that prosperity and privilege should be enjoyed by those who, by whatever means, have ended up in a position to enjoy them? Perhaps somewhere in between might be good?
This is, of course, an overly simplistic snapshot of what is a vast and nuanced political spectrum. A spectrum upon which every position will come with its own situational caveats. Nevertheless, the idea of a football team as a society with a specific political alignment is useful in terms of establishing how the game is played on the field.
For example, Real Madrid’s Galácticos project clearly values Individualism as its core tenant. Florentino Pérez’s obsession with buying the best footballers money can buy and asking a high level coach to act as facilitator to the stars is well documented. Whether or not you deem it a success is pretty subjective. They have won two Champions League trophies under his guidance after all.
Read | Remembering Florentino Pérez’s Pavones, the players Real Madrid forgot
What is not up for debate is the fact that Pérez craves quality. His great idea is to fill every Madrid shirt with qualitative superiority and send the boys out to show it. Get enough of the ball to these lauded Princelings and the quality will eventually tell. Just as it did when Zinedine Zidane swung his left boot at a ball that had been dropping for what seemed like an eternity out of the Glasgow night sky.
To continue with the Spanish example, the antithesis to Pérez’s conveyer belt of top of the range quality merchants was the model preferred by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. This was collective football – a meticulously designed matrix within which the Barca players were asked to operate and co-operate. The frameworks and ideas involved in Guardiola’s societal organisation were, and still are, collectively known as Juego de Posición.
In order to comprehend just how co-operative this style is, it is important to understand the principles of play which Guardiola’s strand of Juego de Posición demands. Adin Osmanbašić outstanding feature on it is a good place to start.
The point is that Real’s methodology would be considered right of centre on the political spectrum. It is Individualistic and relies on capital to buy the most valuable commodities –remember our ‘on the ball’ metrics here: goals, assists, pass accuracy – that are currently available on the market. Pep’s Barça’s model was different, but also the same. Different in that the collectivism of a game model like Juego de Posición would be from a left of centre position on our political spectrum. Guardiola himself has spoken in these terms: “We play leftist football. Everyone does everything.”
Despite this fundamental difference in the approach to societal organisation, Guardiola’s model, along with the vast majority of European super-clubs, shares common ground with that of Los Merengues. It is the need for on the ball qualitative superiority to execute the game plan effectively. The need to have the best ball players and the need to play with the ball. The need to play what our friend Eduardo Galeano inexplicably labels “good football”.
II. What’s left and what’s right?
Clubs dining at Europe’s glazed mahogany top table are mesmerised by the idea of playing with the ball. But don’t be fooled, for this is not refined taste. The notion is outdated. It has become the game’s Ortolan. While the image of super-club owners sitting around a chandelier clad dining room with towels over their heads as gamey slivers of Armagnac slide down their chins, guffawing as much at the prospect of the imminent entrance of the cheese trolley as another title-winning season may involve a degree of artistic license in its conception, the principle remains a pertinent one.
Effective possession based play has become an exclusive members club where entry is dependent on the size of the wad in your Vivienne Westwood wallet. It can only be this way. The best ball players are the most expensive. How can a team on a lesser budget ever expect to win against the richer clubs by playing with the ball? Qualitative superiority will win. Sure, the substantial part that external variables such as Lady Luck herself play in deciding football matches means that there will always be the potential for an upset, but over a sustained period of time it’ll be the same old names that’ll be fighting it out.
So if it is nigh on impossible to beat teams with a superior wage bill by playing with the ball, the question then becomes; why play with the ball?
The issue now becomes one of aesthetics. And so we come to it: what is good football. What is the brand of football that the fans ‘deserve’? For the best part of the last century, dogmatic football writers, coaches and players have been peddling the idea that aesthetically pleasing football can only be achieved through the execution of certain ‘on the ball’ actions. This is not to say that ball focused play cannot be beautiful, of course it can. Watching Barcelona dismantle Manchester United at Wembley in 2011 was poetry in motion. Spain’s demolition of Italy in Kyiv was an elaborate concerto of passing performed by an orchestra of diminutive artisans. A veritable feast for the eyes. But make no mistake, ball players and their devotees do not have a monopoly on beautiful football.
This obsession with the ball and ball players has driven the value of the very best practitioners to astronomical heights and there is a cabal of clubs hell-bent on supplementing this hyper-inflation as they attempt trample their way to success. This is not beautiful. This is frenzied, desperate behaviour. Football is a team game, and it should be played as such. The team comprises of 11 players. Eleven different sets of morals, values and aspirations. Eleven different backgrounds, families and friends. Eleven different biases, egos and prejudices.
Read | Pep Guardiola: the thinker who reinvented the modern game
The aesthetic comes from cohesion, not disparity. La Roja’s Kyiv orchestra could never have sounded as sweet if the lead violinist had demanded more solos. They work together to serve the piece. They work to a plan. Improvisation will always be present in such a human endeavour but there are collective principles that must be adhered to in order for the group to be able to achieve their maximum potential. This is the ‘leftist’ attitude that Guardiola speaks of. This is ‘leftist’ football. The beauty comes from a collective appreciation of team movements and dynamics, with or without the ball.
Be means of anticipation of what is a somewhat obvious argument to be expected at this juncture, it is, despite the necessity for the game to be played in a collective, liberal left of centre way for aesthetics to be truly maximised, necessary to acknowledge the existence of beauty and indeed artistry within individual football actions.
We can explore these ideas through the work of a German academic and a French football coach and philosopher.
III. The artistry (and science) of technique
In his webinar presentation for Inspire Coach Education, Rene Maric describes a training and teaching methodology known as Differential Learning (DL). It is a theory that, although influenced by various historical studies and ideas, has been popularised – to the extent that endorsement from clubs such as Barcelona have been forthcoming – by German academic, Wolfgang Schöllhorn of the Johannes Gutenburg University in Mainz.
Schöllhorn’s ideas are largely concerned with influencing the environment and context within which the learning takes place. For example, in order to help a player increase the effectiveness of their execution of the skill of ‘receiving’, DL would suggest that instead of simply having the player complete a set number of repetitions of the target action, the player should instead be forced to deal with various situational and environmental changes whilst executing the action. This could perhaps involve a 5v5 small sided game where not only must the players execute various football skills – striking, turning, receiving – to try to win the game, but variables such as the pitch dimensions, touches permitted or number of balls can be altered to create interference or ‘noise’ that the player must be able to execute the desired action (receiving) whilst dealing with.
These ‘stochastic perturbations’ (Schöllhorn et al. 2009) increase the number of mental processes that the player must undertake and are introduced in the learning environment in order to force the player into making mistakes. The player will then have to realign their skill execution in order to find the solution to these problems. Once the player is comfortable with their own interpretation of the target action/movement they will be able to exhibit a higher level of retention and execution in what is a simpler or ‘quieter’ match environment than a player who has been trained through isolated repetition.
Maric illustrates this by drawing a comparison between the receiving techniques of Zinedine Zidane and Lionel Messi. Maric suggests that it would be fair to say that both players receive the ball extremely effectively, but also very differently. Zidane’s Swan Lake pirouette’s are in contrast to the glitchy, explosive jerkiness of Messi. So, if you are a coach, how do you train a player to receive if there is no perfect technique? What will you tell your player to do during the isolated repetitions? What is the target movement? Zidane’s or Messi’s?
While these questions are becoming increasingly difficult to answer for coaches who favour an isolated repetition based approach to training, the ideas also identify a vital element of artistry that exists within the pragmatism of elite level football. Technique, trained in this way, is an individual interpretation of an execution of a skill. It is subjective. It is artistic. It can be beautiful.
So yes, there can indeed be pleasing aesthetics in relation to individual actions in football, just as there can be beauty in the lead violinist’s emotive solo. The problem is that football, as has been discussed, very much remains a team game where the actions of an individual, or individuals, however jaw-droppingly incredible they may be, should not be proclaimed as ‘better’ or more satisfying than a spectacle involving a body of players embracing the nuances of the team’s societal dynamic and thus enabling them to work in harmony and unison. Galeano may well disagree.
IV. Wenger’s greatest hits
In a 2015 interview with French sports magazine L’EQUIPE, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger humbly explained to his questioner what he is: “[I] Am a facilitator for what is beautiful in man. I am only a guide. I allow others to express what they have in them.”
Very good. The big problem for Wenger is that his team doesn’t win trophies. Despite the environment, finances and time span necessary to cultivate a cohesive footballing idea for his team, Wenger instead prefers to buy a procession of individual virtuosos capable of the extraordinary in terms of technique whilst simultaneously insisting upon sticking them together in a kind of cut and shut, slap dash manner resulting in a finished product more reminiscent of Bart Simpson’s model of Westminster Abbey than a collectively functioning contemporary football team.
In his book Universality, Matthew Whitehouse identifies a change in Wenger’s ideology that can be traced back to over a decade ago: “Arsène Wenger, being a man who likes to stay ahead of the game, envisaged a growing need for technicians. From 2004 he set out to revolutionise his club in this new image and style. Perhaps he had always looked at developing more of a possession based side over a faster-paced attacking side. It was clear that Wenger felt that football was moving away from the ‘type’ of player that he had built his success on previously; he moved away from size and power and turned his focus to the slighter, more technical player.”
Read | The disputed genius of Arsène Wenger
It is at this point that Wenger appears to have been seduced by the good football of Galeano and the many other ball-based, technique-obsessed fundamentalists that have shaped our interpretation of the game over the last century. It is a preoccupation with moments of individually inspired brilliance and yes, these gifted players are more than capable of linking up to produce combinations that can be spellbinding. Jack Wilshere’s remarkable goal against Norwich in 2013 is testament to that.
But these are exactly that: moments. Fleeting windows within which Wenger’s teams operate. While the YouTube reel is undeniably impressive, the league position is not. The team is not cohesive. It does not function collectively, especially without the ball. Definitely not in the negative transition moment. Every phase of the game must be accounted for and considered in order for the team to truly be cohesive.
To elicit the hallmarks of the aesthetic beauty that is derived from the actions of a collective executing complex game principles entirely in unison. The match choreography must be exhaustive. Wenger’s is not. It appears to be some kind of misguided football verite. The difference being that, unlike an artist such as John Cassavettes, Arsène Wenger operates within the parameters a discipline which is governed by an overriding, quantifiable objective; to outscore the opponent within the allotted time period.
Four hit singles do not make a cohesive album. Four sublime combination goals do not represent beautiful football. Arsenal’s seasons are crammed with ‘filler’. Wenger has not produced a significant, cohesive season since the days of The Invincibles. If you were to ask Alan Partridge what his favourite post-2004 Arsenal album is, the answer would surely be, ‘The Best of Arsène Wenger’.
V: The arrogance of the dogmatic
In contrast to Wenger and many other coaches (Roberto Martínez springs to mind), individuals such as Pep Guardiola, Juamna Lillo and Paco Jémez are able to incorporate a ball-based idea within a collective societal and team structure. This is where there can indeed be beautiful football. Where good football can be seen. Teams like Jémez’s Rayo Vallecano, Guede’s Palestino and Laudrup’s Swansea have all been lauded for their collective approach to possession-based football. Like Guardiola’s sides, these teams not only play in a type of intricate, elaborate and baroque way, but they also play with a collective understanding of all phases of the game.
The problem for pretty much every coach of this baroque persuasion that isn’t Pep Guardiola, is that in order for this method to actually be effective at the highest level, you need the best ball players. And, as we have seen, these guys aren’t cheap. In fact they’re entirely unaffordable. So, if you don’t possess the financial resources necessary to buy these players, do you continue to play with this style and resign yourself to losing more than you win, or do you switch to a method that actually increases the probability of achieving a positive outcome?
And this is where things get nasty. This is where the bogus argument that the alternative – to play without a ball-centric idea – is somehow not real football begins to rear its ugly head. Apparently this approach is not pure. It’s as if it’s tainted in some way, dirty and devoid of artistic integrity. The great toreador of Spain and Barcelona’s possession-centric approach, Xavi Hernández, told The Guardian in 2011: “It’s good that the reference point for world football right now is Barcelona, that it’s Spain. Not because it’s ours but because of what it is. Because it’s an attacking football, it’s not speculative, we don’t wait. You pressure, you want possession, you want to attack. Some teams can’t or don’t pass the ball. What are you playing for? What’s the point? That’s not football. Combine, pass, play. That’s football – for me, at least. For coaches, like, I don’t know, [Javier] Clemente or [Fabio] Capello, there’s another type of football. But it’s good that Barcelona’s style is now a model, not that.
“I’m a romantic. I like the fact that talent, technical ability, is valued above physical condition now. I’m glad that’s the priority; if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be the same spectacle.”
What is actually happening here is that these zealots of ball centric play are in fact merely regurgitating a dogmatic view founded wholly on subjectivity and conjecture. What’s more, the position that devout followers of possession-play claim projects them onto some sort of moral promontory is in fact serving only to perpetuate the oligopoly of the neo-liberal super club cartel. This ideology plays entirely into their hands. Obsess over the ball. Continue with this futile attempt to outplay the best players on the planet on their terms. Just try. You’ll fail. Their players are better than yours. Their quality is higher; quality that is measured by ball-based metrics. Money buys quality.
The position that a possession based, or baroque style is somehow superior in moral and artistic merit is untenable. It is just plain wrong. If you’re arguing that aesthetics are enhanced through a politically left of centre, collective approach to team structure and organisation then there is theoretical logic to the position. As we have seen, a team based around individual ball technique specialists without a collective identity such as Arsenal or Real Madrid, may produce moments of individually inspired baroque play; but the football idea is not holistic. Too many elements of the game model are not considered in enough detail. Beautiful windows do not make a beautiful building.
Teams with a collective idea in terms of a game model – Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Atlético, Leicester, Leverkusen – are able to produce a sustained level of performance through a shared understanding of the mechanics of modern football. And through the practical implementation and execution of these principles comes aesthetically pleasing football. Not just aesthetically pleasing attacking moments. Aesthetically pleasing football. The game during which players touch the ball for less than one minute out of 90 and the objective of which is to win.
The great misinterpretation of the baroque fundamentalists such as Xavi, is that they mistake players with greater off the ball quality for thugs and simpletons when this could not be further from the truth.
Only time will tell whether the advancement of analytics will lead to a reformation of how we come to value the quality of players. Kits with in-built tracking systems are already being trialed and once the positional, anticipatory and reactive movements of defensive phase experts such as Diego Godín are understood more widely, then perhaps their respective qualities will be more fully appreciated.
And already there are signs that a new order, whose principles embrace the collective yet, crucially, appear to entirely reject the baroque, is beginning to rise up and threaten the very fabric of how football will be played in the decades to come.
VI: Cholo the brutalist
Diego ‘Cholo’ Simeone’s Atlético Madrid are a team designed to fulfil the objective of football: they are designed to win. They are a football team designed to win by a process of assessing the raw materials that are at the disposal of the coach and are subsequently constructed in order to maximise the probability of winning the game with the minimum use of excess commodities.
There is no elaboration present within Simeone’s game model. It is based on Sacchiist principles of collective off the ball movement in response to the ball, the opponent, the teammate and the space; Spatial Minimalism. Control the distances in relation to these variables and the opposition’s play will be suffocated as their connections are cut off and their options limited.
Read | Investigating the origins of Diego Simeone’s Cholismo
Atlético seek to control the defensive phase of the game by surrendering possession in favour of spatial compactness; both vertically and horizontally. And on the triggers – of which there are many – a misplaced pass, an imperfect touch, a bouncing ball, a player receiving while facing their own goal, they press aggressively. A coordinated provocation of the positive transition moment.
Immediately upon ball recovery they look to attack; to catch the opposition still asleep around the campfire. If the path to goal is blocked, Atleti can play with the ball if they must, switching the play to the open side in order to create space for the forward pass. Always the forward pass. After all, the goal is forwards. If the forward pass doesn’t find an advanced teammate, no problem. Simeone’s are a group conditioned to react collectively to the moment of negative transition. To move more like a cloud of starlings, or perhaps swarm like a school of piranhas, changing direction instantaneously towards the opponent in order to flood the space in which they have to operate. It is a model unabashed in its search for spatial and movement oriented perfection.
Too often, teams that employ ideas such as these are dismissed as merely being hard-working and aggressive. This is as derogatory as the nickname that Diego Simeone seems to wear ironically as a badge of honour.
These principles of off-the-ball play are meticulously conditioned in an environment that values collective actions over individual ball technique. They know how to move with the flow of the game and the opponent. To sit in what fighters call ‘the pocket’ and await the moment for the knockout counter strike. This is intelligent football. This is beautiful football. The aesthetic comes primarily from the actions of the collective, as it should in any team sport. The difference is that, in contrast to the baroque collectivity of Guardiola, Simeone’s collectivity is of a more brutalist disposition.
It opposes the dogma of ball possession and wealth driven over-valuation of ball centric actions. Sure, as we have seen, there is an abundance of beauty and spectacle at the baroque end of the spectrum. But there is a different, darker beauty that is also present at other points of the artistic spectrum.
Regardless of whether or not Simeone’s Atlético – or for that matter, teams like Ranieri’s Leicester and Schmidt’s Leverkusen – get their hands on the biggest of prizes, they should be remembered as exponents of truly beautiful football. Pure football. Yes, it is different to the ideas of theorists like Johan Cruyff and Lillo, but the fact is that the style will endure.
And even more pertinent is the fact that this collectively brutalist perspective is in opposition to the money driven idolisation of technical quality. It challenges the preconception that good football can only be played by monopolising the ball. It is the antidote to the right of centre, individualistic ideologies harboured by so many of the super-rich. It rejects the notion that money buys quality. It is smarter than that.
Like the Dutch school of De Stijl, its creativity is enhanced by its constraints. It is a different way of playing. A different way of winning. A different beat, the techno played here is very much of the minimal variety. A more nuanced appreciation and interpretation of the variables present deep within the construct of the beautiful game. And this is ugly?
Maybe Luther Ingram said it best in his 1972 Stax Records classic, ‘If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want To Be Right’.
VII: After the argument
By using a matrix comprising of the two sliding scales discussed previously, Individualistic vs. Collective and Baroque vs. Brutalist, it may aid us in trying to ascertain where certain clubs and coaches sit on an ideological spectrum. Of course, this is rudimentary and subjective in itself as metrics must be identified and calibrated in order to chart these measures quantitatively.
Nevertheless, by assessing various coach’s respective game models in these terms, it may go some way to dispelling the long standing myth that the moral high ground in terms of aesthetics is the sole domain of the lovers of the baroque. There is of course no such moral high ground. Beauty is entirely in the eye in the beholder and this must be remembered when we, as coaches, are assessing the viability of each component of any prospective game model. What are our resources? What is our environment? Which is the best way to win?
What should not be debated is the dedication to nurturing a collective environment where each individual’s opinions and attitudes are valued by the group as much as everyone’s idiosyncrasies are empathised with. It is the purpose of this argument to propose that a progressive, liberal approach to team building that prioritises shared values of humility and excellence over those of material wealth and attribute acquisition, is in fact the only valid option if the twin tenants of success and aesthetics are to co-exist.
Whether you are on the baroque or brutalist side of the aesthetics spectrum, well, that is entirely up to you.
By Jamie Hamilton @stirling_j