A page containing quotes and excerpts from Gianluca Vialli's study (with journalist Gabrielle Marcotti) of two great footballing cultures: England and Italy.
"We begin with footballers,
the basic building blocks. Where do they come from? Why are they different
in Italy and England? How do we teach them? How can we make them better?
Then there are the managers and the coaches, those who who bring it all
together. How do we choose our managers? How do we decide when to let them
go? Why do they use certain tactics?"
- Gianluca Vialli, from the foreword
~ Veronica, Mary and Me: A Footballing Love Triangle
~ The First Few Kicks
~ The Footballer
~ Two Boxers
~ The Manager
~ Chasing The Big Bucks
~ A Few Modest Proposals
~ The Other: Fans and the Media
~ Beyond The Book
# A FOOTBALLING LOVE TRIANGLE
Football is love and
passion ó like that for a woman. But there is a world of difference between
England and Italy. If I had to reduce my feelings for the game in either
nation to how I might feel about a woman, I would describe two very different
women, Mary and Veronica.
Mary is faithful, bubbly, comforting. She may not be a natural beauty, but, when you are with her, she gives everything she has and makes you feel special. Sometimes you think it might be nice if she took more pride in her appearance, but she never holds back and uses every ounce of her body to please you. Sheís the girl next door, the one who you know you can always return to and be welcomed with open arms.
Veronica is passionate, vain and envious. She is drop-dead gorgeous and knows it. She uses her beauty to intoxicate and manipulate. She gives you just enough to keep you coming back, but preys on your insecurity. Sheís obsessed with detail, impeccably made-up and elegantly dressed. But your relationship is never easy, when you're with her you're rarely happy, yet you always go back. She disappoints you, she ignores you, she cheats on you.
...I still donít know if I prefer Mary or Veronica, but I do know that I can no longer imagine life without one or the other. Which means that, footballing-wise, Iíll just have to be in a permanent ménage à trois.
# THE FIRST FEW FICKS
It all begins with a ball and a child. The ball is usually some kind of plastic/rubber compound (leather is for the big kids) and, these days, it originates somewhere with cheap labour. The child, of course, is flesh and blood, yet he or she is drawn to this artificial object, mesmerized by its shape and its unfamiliar smell. It looks solid and inert but as soon as it's nudged, a wonderful thing happens ó it moves! Anyone who has seen a child approach his or her first football may relate to the wonder they experience as the little leg stretches out to kick, and, magically, the ball rolls away.
It may sound clichéd, but at that age, that moment of first contact between child and football, everyone is the same. The Italian child is like the English child, and they are no different from a Venezuelan or an Inuit. What is striking, though, is how quickly the footballing paths diverge when the outside world crashes in. Even in the earliest kickabouts with parents, siblings or friends, footballing differences begin to emerge, and grow with the child, particularly in those who, like me, have the good fortune to turn their relationship with the ball into a life-long profession. Climate, culture, social class, economic conditions, all play their part. They divide the footballing world ó but that is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it enriches us. Without it, there would be no 'Italian football', 'English football' or 'Brazilian football'.
We all have a sense of what those terms mean. We know that football is different in different countries. In fact, we have a mass of stereotypes: German football is disciplined; Italian football is defensive; English football is direct; Brazilian football is full of flair. I wasn't satisfied with these descriptions. To me, they seemed like convenient short-cuts to explain a far more complex reality, one which is rapidly changing. I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted to understand, as best I could, the way things really were and how they were evolving. I wanted to figure out how, when and why those differences developed.
We spend a lot of time talking about football ó all of us, whether we're players, coaches, the media or fans.We talk about it pretty much incessantly. We've got twenty-four-hour television sports channels, radio stations, daily sports newspapers in Italy, lengthy sports sections in the English papers and, of course, the constant chatter in bars and pubs from Rome to Rotherham. It struck me that much of this discourse is both immediate and specific. We are drawn to it because it's so vast and colourful.We think about who won or lost and why, which player or team is better, whether the foul was inside or outside the box, how it made us feel. And that's all wonderful. But we don't generally think about what lies beneath: why we see and experience football as we do. Why do some places produce certain types of player? Why do some supporters prefer a certain kind of football? Why do some countries prefer certain tactical schemes? If we all start in the same place, why do we end up all over the footballing spectrum?
Of course, I am only one man and I don't have all the time and resources in the world, so I have focused here on the two footballing schools I know best: Italy, the country of my birth, where I lived and played until I was thirty-two, and England, my home for the last decade, where I have played, managed, married and started a family.
>> Read the full version of this chapter at Transworld
# THE FOOTBALLER
Even when I was a child, a common thread linked me with my peers: we played our first football matches with friends, in streets, courtyards or parks, not in any organized setting. It's another stereotype, which goes right back to Pelé and his ball of rags in the favelas of Bauru, in the state of S?o Paulo, but it certainly holds true. Every professional today has a story about their first epic football battles. In fact, everyone who has played the game at any level, whether competitive or not, will probably find them familiar.
"We lived in tenements
and there was what we called a back court where women put their washing.
At each end you had two poles, which served as goals.Along the side, for
maybe twenty odd yards, we had these dykes, which served as cellars for
the shops nearby, and at the back there was a wall, so it was fully enclosed...
It gave us a foundation where practice became our life. You didn't know
you were practising, you thought you were playing a game you loved."
- Sir Alex Ferguson, recalling the games of his youth
That foundation built on the streets or in the parks is so important that, today, some coaches believe in integrating it into their training of professionals. Since he arrived at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho has revolutionized the training regimen by, among other things, replicating the street scenario.
If playing in the streets gives you the fundamental
skills to become a great footballer, and if becoming prosperous means fewer
kids play in the streets, and we're all becoming more prosperous, doesn't
it follow that we will produce fewer great footballers?
If this reasoning is correct, it would certainly appear so. And the only way to halt the slide is to improve the way we teach kids about football, somehow replicating the street in an organized setting ó which is what Mourinho and others try to do at Academy level.
Yet thinking of this "Prosperity as an enemy of talented footballers" argument led me to identify one of the most notable differences between England and Italy, indeed, perhaps between England and the rest of Europe. I thought about the many footballers and ex-footballers I had met, and it struck me that while in most of the world they come from all walks of life ó some are the children of millionaire industrialists, high-powered lawyers, university professors ó in England the vast majority are from working-class backgrounds. The exception, as always, are the kids of former athletes, guys like Frank Lampard, Jamie Redknapp or Michael Owen, whose fathers were professional footballers and who therefore grew up in a more comfortable (at least financially) environment.
The theory is that the sacrifices involved to become successful are too great for the privileged: first, they have too much to lose educationally and therefore are less likely to provide the kind of single-minded commitment required to succeed. And, because they have to prove themselves among so many, working-class kids are tough mentally and physically, which often makes the difference between success and failure.
It's an interesting theory, but I have serious doubts about it, not least because my own background was relatively privileged and I can think of several successful footballers who come from upper-middle-class backgrounds ó Fernando Redondo, Oliver Bierhoff, Kaka, and Andrea Pirlo to name but a few. Are they merely the exceptions that confirm the rule? Or is there more to it than that?
The conclusion I reached was that while economic background plays a part, societal attitudes are just as important. This was where I came upon one of the first and most obvious differences between England and most other European countries. In England, football was traditionally a working-class sport; elsewhere it cut across social divides. "In Italy and France I met footballers who were born poor and others who grew up wealthy, " says Marcel Desailly. "The social extraction varies immensely. In England, there are no sons of doctors or lawyers or bankers. I think it's because football in Italy and France is seen differently. In those countries if a family has a son who is a professional footballer, it's something to be proud of. In England, if your son is a footballer....well, I won't go so far as to say that it's a reason to be ashamed, but for many it's a sign that the parents have somehow failed."
It may be that in England you're much more aware of class than we are on the continent. In Italy, we have marked regional accents, but generally they have nothing to do with social class....In England, there are also strong regional accents, but there is also, for lack of a better word, a "posh" accent, which tends to override the regional inflection. As soon as someone has opened their mouth in England, you can make an informal guess what the level of education they received or the level of privilege they enjoyed. This is simply not the case elsewhere. Also, rugby and cricket have traditionally been the sport of the privileged in England, while football belonged to the working-class.
In Italy, youth coaching is about turning kids into the best possible footballers. In England, it's about using sport to understand values such as teamwork and sportsmanship. And it's about fun. Football does not exist in a vacuum and there are historical and social reasons for this. In England until the early 1990s the Football Association (FA) was dominated not by former professionals or club chairmen, but by teachers or representatives of local, often amateur football... to these men, football was just a game. In Italy, the FA is highly politicized... it's greatly influenced by the big Serie A teams, whose needs are regularly prioritized.
Kids in Italy train the way professionals do... A boy's first experience of organized football affects his vision of a game... For many English kids football is an extension of school ó the 'fun' part.
[Nature, Nurture and
the Uncomfortable Genetic Taboo]
If you speak to some football people privately, including several I interviewed for this book, they'll say that black footballers tend to be more athletic than white ones. They'll point to the fact that, in general, they are faster, quicker and more powerful. Obviously, we're speaking in general terms here ó John Terry is clearly more powerful than Shaun Wright-Philips and Michael Owen is quicker than David James ó but there is a clear belief that black footballers are more athletic.
This idea is rarely discussed publicly in England, unlike Italy, where, in many ways, it is accepted fact. I don't think it's hard to understand why: England is a far more diverse and multi-racial society than Italy and it's a sensitive issue because of the underlying implications. If blacks are naturally better athletes than whites, it's as if they have a God-given advantage, and this belittles their achievements: it implies that whites must have to work that much harder to compete with blacks. Or that blacks can afford to be lazy. This is close to ugly, long-held racial stereotypes and understandably makes people uncomfortable.
I thought back to my black teammates and the black players I have coached: in general terms, many tended to be more athletic ó quicker, stronger, more co-ordinated. I look beyond football: why are the best and most athletic basketball players black? Why are most of the top sprinters black? Or is this not so? Had I been infected by the stereotype?
I decided to do some reading and see if science could come to the rescue. And that is when things got really interesting. The first point is that, when we think of black vs white athletes the terms "black" and "white" are purely descriptive, referring only to skin colour. A more accurate ó if wordy ó term for black athletes would be "of African descent". Because that's the common link between Ronaldinho and Michael Jordan, Asafa Powell and Sol Campbell, or whatever contemporary black athlete you might think of. And, remarkably, not only are they all of African descent, they are, more specifically, of West African descent.
Far from being a racial argument, it's a geographic one. It's not blacks are more athletic than whites. It's West Africans who are more athletic than Caucasians, Asians, East Africans, North Africans, just about anyone you care to name.
Except that's not entirely true either. The next question to which I wanted an answer was, why does West Africa produce "better" athletes? Professor Kenneth Kidd, a Yale University geneticist, mapped African diversity as part of the Human Genome Project. His work inspired Malcolm Gladwell and Jon Entine, who writing separately, have taken a totally different slant on the issue. They argue that West Africans aren't more athletic in absolute terms: they simply have a greater degree of variance in athletic ability. This means they produce proportionally more great athletes than Caucasians or Asians, but also more bad athletes and fewer athletes of average ability.
But of course, genetic or "natural" ability is just one ingredient in making a top professional footballer, and in broad terms, as Tony Colbert (Arsenal's fitness coach) says , there is in that regard no difference between the English and the Italians. The athletic differences, as he suggest, is largely learned. And I can see why he believes foreign players to be more "supple" and "coordinated" than the English. I think of the great English defenders, such as John Terry or Sol Campbell, and neither looks as elegant to me as Paolo Maldini or Alessandro Nesta. There is a certain stiffness about them, a lack of fluidity in their movements and turns.
The cliche is that the Premiership is a "fast-paced" league played at a million miles an hour. In reality, what makes it fast-paced is that there are no lulls; the speed is constant, but not particularly high. By contrast, Continental football, particularly Italian and Spanish, features more pauses but also more periods of acceleration, when the pace suddenly picks up, often reaching levels beyond that of the English game.
[The Elements of a
"At 8 or even 12, you should be focusing on two things: having fun and improving your technique. The other aspects can come later. What's the point of trying to build up the fitness of a 10 year-old if his body is still growing? And what's the point of cluttering his mind with tactical notions and formations?"
- Fabio Capello
There is the overused but distinct quality we call genius: the ability to envisage and conceptualize actions that are beyond the scope of an average footballer. Think of David Beckham scoring from 60 yards out against Wimbledon. Or Pele dummying the Uruguayan goalkepper in 1970... what makes them special is the spark that preceded each of these moments: the instinct to do something most of us would never even contemplate... But if that's what we call creative intelligence, there is another form of footballing intelligence which is just as important: analytical intelligence. If creative intelligence is the domain of artists, analytical intelligence is that of doctors and lawyers. It's the ability to assess and analyse a situation, then come up with the right decision. To me, one of the best exemplars of footballing intelligence was Franco Baresi, the great Milan defender. His reading of the game was remarkable: he could see a situation develop and accurately predict how it would unfold.
When I was growing up, I was not encouraged to take a dive, yet I picked things up in subtle ways. Back then, many did not view such tricks for what they are: cheating. They were seen as clever or, as we say in Italy, "furbo". When an opponent won a penalty against us by diving or making a meal of slight contact, the attitude among players and coaches wasnít to condemn him for cheating but to point the finger at our own defenders for allowing it to happen. "He was clever!" we were told. "He tricked you and he tricked the referee." We were engaging in footballing realpolitik. Bad things happen; it's up to you not to allow it.
Italians take the "real world" with them on to the football pitch at youth level. And because itís real, the rewards go to the winners, not the nice guys or those who play by the rules. It mirrors life. English kids ó traditionally ó have been spared that little life lesson, that you can get to the top by cheating as long as you donít get caught. Italians, however, are taught that many succeed by cheating, which is why they have to be careful not to be cheated themselves.
The Italian system teaches kids to protect themselves. The English system doesn't accept cheating as inevitable, but condemns it as something to be eradicated. In that sense, English football strives for Utopia, while Italian football is rooted in realism ó which is one step away from cynicism.
English fair play and sportsmanship is more than just a cliché. In terms of ethical football culture there is no doubt that Italy has more to learn from England than vice-versa.
Diving was a necessary weapon in the strikers' arsenal. Away from the penalty box, we would be kicked, elbowed, and shoved with impunity, but in and around the area the balance of power shifted back to the striker.
"We Italians are tough,
but we're also technically gifted. But most of all, we are the most tactically
evolved nation in the world. We have a versatility that nobody else comes
close to, anywhere in the world."
- Marcello Lippi
In England the traditional attitude towards youth football was ideal for the 99.9% of young footballers who never turn professional, but for those who wanted to make a living out of the sport, it was wrong.
At youth level, particularly the 12-16 age group, there is a tremendous trade-off between size, strength and athleticism on one hand and technique on the other. The simple truth is that results in those age groups are often meaningless in terms of predicting future success as a footballer.
Diversity ó of playing styles, training techniques, tactical systems ó is at the heart of footballing success.
>> Read an edited version of this chapter at The Times
[It's The Wind, Stupid!]
"Itís all about the climate. I had a long discussion about it when I went to Scotland to see Andy Roxburgh. I worked with a Scottish youth side and had them do the same drills I would do in Italy. I realised that, between the wind, the rain and the cold, there was no way they could do it. How can you possibly teach anybody anything in those conditions? To me, itís pretty obvious and it explains why Brazilians are more technical than Europeans and, in Italy, the further south you go the more technical they are."
- Fabio Capello, on the cultural differences behind footballing styles
I looked at three English cities (London, Birmingham and Manchester) and three Italian cities (Milan, Turin and Rome) and evaluated data on average temperature, wind speed, rainfall and hours of sunshine per month.
The research showed clearly that there was no substantial difference in temperature and that it rained more in Turin than in London. So why did it feel colder in London? The answer came when I looked at wind speeds. The average monthly wind speed in the three English cities was 15.3 kilometres per hour, compared with 10.3km per hour in the Italian cities. That meant that in England the wind blew some 50 per cent harder than it did in Italy. A substantial difference. And if we exclude the non-footballing summer months, the gap increases. The average in Manchester, Birmingham and London is 15.6km per hour while in Milan, Turin and Rome itís just 10.1km per hour.
I felt vindicated. It supported what I had suspected for a long time ó that wind, more than any other climatic factor, influences the development of a footballer. It seems basic, it seems simplistic, but it is an absolutely huge factor. And itís not just something that affects young players: it has an impact on how a team trains and, therefore, how it plays, even at professional level.
"One of the first things
I had to get accustomed to as soon as I arrived in England was the weather.
And I donít mean the temperature or the rain but, most of all, the wind.
The wind ruins everything. It forces you to do only one type of exercise.
It forces you to work on either speed or continuous movement. Itís very
rare that you get the chance to sit calmly and work on technique or on
tactics. You have to keep the players moving, otherwise they get cold.
And this is something which begins way back when they are children."
- Arsene Wenger
The wind affects everything. You can be the most technical footballer in the world ó you can be Zidane and Maradona rolled into one ó but if a fierce wind is blowing, you wonít be able to do any meaningful work with the ball in the air, whether itís volleying practice, heading or keepy-uppy. Even any kind of passing over ten or 20 feet becomes pointless when itís windy. And itís not just down to the way the wind affects the flight of the ball. No. As Wenger points out, the wind makes everything feel colder. You donít want to do a shooting drill or individual ballwork when players spend lots of time standing around. You want to keep them moving so that their muscles stay loose.
I have clear memories of standing on a training pitch in Italy as the coaches explained what they wanted us to do tactically in excruciating detail. We would play for about 30 seconds, then everything would stop and they would explain it again if somebody made a mistake or didnít make a crisp enough run. All of this, of course, was in addition to the time we spent in front of the blackboard. This type of tactical work gave us a base in terms of movement and reading the game. In England the wind makes it impossible to replicate that kind of work.
Does it explain why, generally, Italian players have better individual technique than their English counterparts and why in Italy we spend much more time on tactics? Not on its own, but itís certainly a factor. More than any other climatic factor, the wind determines what kind of players are produced and their characteristics, both technical and tactical.
>> Read an edited version of this chapter at The Times
# TWO BOXERS
Imagine two amateur
boxers. each aspiring to turn professional one day. Boxer A is aggressive
and direct. His stance isn't dictated by the need to defend himself; rather,
it's a point of attack. What it's all about is pummelling the opponent.
And if he gets hit too, so be it. The ability to withstand punishment is
a mark of pride. It's about being the last man standing and giving everything
you have. Otherwise, what fun is that? Boxer B sees it as a question of
survival... He's in no rush to win. Staying alive is enough for him. In
the meantime, he waits for the right moment: the opponent's mistake...
He knows all about strike and counterstrike, about using the opponent's
force to his advantage.
Boxer A is fearless. He knows that defeat is part of the game and he has learned to accept it. As long as he gives everything he has in the ring, he can live with defeat. His opponent, like him, is just another fighter. And if he's stronger than his adversary, he will win.
Boxer B is congenitally insecure. The fear of defeat keeps him up at night... Boxing is survival, and to survive you need every edge you can find.
One of the most important aspects can be summed up in one sentence: "To the Italian footballer, football is a job: to the English footballer, it's a game."
"In England you are
put under pressure if you don't fight and work hard. In other countries
you are criticized if you don't perform. Here a striker is criticized if
he doesn't chase his opponents, in other countries he gets criticized if
he doesn't score. It's about philosophy, it's about attitude, it's about
what is important to the people watching... Here they can forgive you if
you show attitude, commitment."
- Jose Mourinho
It's not just about winning, it's about competing. And if the English fan suspects you're not competing, he will turn on you. English fans want to see a game, Italian fans want to see a result. You can't have a game without effort.
"We were playing Parma
who had Brolin, Asprilla and Zola. Arsenal had one shot, Alan Smith's goal,
and then it was the Alamo for the rest of the game."
- Nick Hornby, on Arsenal's Cup Winner's Cup final win over Parma
There is far greater respect for authority in England... Respect does not mean fear. Nor does respect necessarily engender obedience. It implies and understanding and appreciation of authority, even when you choose to defy it. In Italy, we tend not to differentiate between the his role.
Arsene Wenger feels that English footballers have a greater respect than Italians for their managers and are more likely to follow orders because they feel a natural bond with their boss. That bond is probably also nurtured by the fact that in England, clubs are slow to sack managers... Wenger maintains that the English player lives up to the militaristic metaphor whereby he is going into battle and the manager isn't some general hiding in camp, but leading the troops from the trenches.
Wenger also mentions
an example from the 2003-04 season, when Claudio Ranieri, the Chelsea manger,
was often attacked and criticised by the press. By the spring everybody
knew that, come what may, he would not be back the following year. Yet
throughout the season most Chelsea players, particularly the English ones
such as John Terry and Frank Lampard, defended him to the hilt, praising
him at every occasion.
You certainly would not see such open, fully-fledged support for an embattled coach in Italy. This is not because in Italy we're horrible or ungrateful, it's just that we weigh our words differently. Obviously, you don't criticise your manager directly, because that would land you in trouble. But then neither can you say everything is wonderful, the gaffer is doing a fabulous job and the players are all behind him, as you might in England.
Why? For several reasons. First of all, if the team are doing poorly and you say something like that, people will assume that you are either lying or stupid. And it's not good to be seen as either in Italian football. Second, even if you genuinely believe the boss is blameless, you probably do not want to be too closely associated with him. If the team is under fire, the president may well sack him and you don't want to be seen as the "old boss's guy" when a replacement manager comes in. These are the kind of mental acrobatics many of us go through in Italy.
"It's in the blood
of the English, it's this almost military attitude with which they approach
everything. They do what they are told, they follow orders, they do not
question authority and they never give up, not even when they are three
goals down and there are two minutes to go. I don't think it's a coincidence,
every time there is a war, the English almost always win. The Italians
on the other hand..."
- Arsene Wenger
"Who do you think is
better at thinking, processing information and making decisions? The brain
of one manager? Or the brains of 11 footballers on the pitch, striving
towards a common goal?"
- Jorge Valdano
The trick, of course, is knowing when to question and when to obey... The manager needs to now how much expression and dissent to allow, from whom to allow it, and when and how to allow it. Because chain of command obedience is a double-edged sword. It may have worked in the trenches during World War One and it may have helped Wenger when he first arrived at Highbury, but, sooner or later, it has to evolve in to something else, otherwise it becomes negative.
>> Read an edited version of this chapter at The Times
"They were there to
do a job and they did it... For someone like me, who came from a club like
Juventus, it was quite a shock. It was like going back to elementary school
after having worked at university."
- Giovanni Vaglini, on training English players
Because football was a 'game' to the English players, training was something they tolerated, a necessary evil they had to endure if they were to get into the starting 11 on Saturday... At elementary school, your teacher is a giant, all-seeing and all-powerful. You do the lessons to keep the teacher happy, but you don't concern yourself with why you're studying what you're studying... At university you seek out dialogue with your professor. And you question: you question the professor, you question the texts. you question all of academia.
The tendency to criticize and analyse every command can obviously be negative if it leads to indiscipline or delays decision-making. Then again it can also be an opportunity for dialogue, for introspection, a chance to evaluate and question methods.
"In Italy, football
is no longer a sport, it's a job, an industry. You have lost something,
you are too severe... Look at the environment in the dressing room before
a match. In Italy or France they are tense, they are fully concentrated
on the game, they are thinking about what they need to do. In England,
it's like a disco. There is music, fun, chaos... The English view football
like an old-style fuel, a fight to the death, come what may. When an Englishman
foes into war, that's is, he either comes back triumphant or he comes back
- Arsene Wenger
In the dressing room, English players are fully relaxed, and, at the same time, fired up. Isn't Italy supposed to be the country of the fun, of creative, fun-loving people, relaxed attitudes, and full on passion? Isn't England supposed to be a dark, dour, rainy place, filled with stiff, joyless, business-like people, the nation of shopkeepers, and repressed passion?
Sometimes giving up is rational: sometimes it's best to walk away, and live to fight another day. I always wonder what really goes through a person's mind when, say, they are 3-0 down and score a goal... An English player would believe in some kind of miracle, while the Italian would focus on damage limitation.
Letting a two-goal lead slip in Italy is perhaps a greater sin that losing 6-0: it means that, mentally, you got it wrong... Think of the 2005 Champions' League final. The media, particularly in Italy, speculated endlessly about what went wrong as Milan began the second half with a 3-0 lead in a game they were dominating, then allowed Liverpool to get back to 3-3... Milan's trauma that night probably lingered over the team far longer than any other defeat.
"We, and I include
Portugal with Italy, forget to teach the other side of football, the one
which is also beautiful, the one which says itís a game. Sometimes, here,
the crowd controls the game. We drew 2-2 at home to Bolton last season
and it was a disgrace. An Italian team, a Portuguese team, a French team,
all of them... if they are winning 2-0 in the second half the game is finished."
- Jose Mourinho
"To me, attacking football
happens when Makelele gets the ball and passes it to the central defender
who passes it to the right-back who comes forward and judges the situation.
If he can do something he passes forward or runs with the ball, if not
he gives it back to Makelele who builds the attack again. That is attacking
football. In England attacking football is giving the ball to Makelele
and having him hit it forward no matter what, even if everybody is marked."
- Jose Mourinho
The two forces that most shaped the Italian political and social landscape between 1945 and 1990 were the Roman Catholic Church and the Communist Party, both of which preach helping one another and working towards the "common good". In football this rears its head in a rather unfortunate way, particularly in Serie B where, late in the season, if a team has nothing left to play for, it will too often throw matches if its opponents need points.
When the fixture list is drawn up in the summer, the coach and general manager will get together, study the last six games and say something like: "Against so-and-so, weíre OK. If they need points, weíll give them points, and if we need them, theyíll help us out..."
This is so common that late in the season many bookmakers wonít accept bets on such matches. It is taken as read that this will occur. In fact, it is seen as rude and churlish not to give your opponent the points if you donít need them. Itís as if youíre gratuitously condemning them.
In England, things could not be more different. On the last day of the 2004-05 season, none of the relegation issues had been decided and Fulham had nothing to gain by beating Norwich City. Nothing at all. And, in fact, they had something to lose: had they allowed Norwich to win, they would have been owed a favour in future. Now (after beating them 6-0), they had nothing.
In an Italian setting... it was far from rational. It was foolish, selfish and mean-spirited. In an English setting it was a display of sportsmanship.
# THE MANAGER
On a fool or a madman would believe he can play football better than Thierry Henry or Alessandro Nesta. They are simply different from the average person. They are superb athletes blessed with technique and skill. Managers are another matter: anyone can imagine themselves as a manager. In fact, most of us could impersonate one, at least outwardly, because a manager's traits are mental, not physical... The skills of a Gerard Houllier or a Alberto Zaccheroni are hidden from view, like much of the work they do. A manager's work is once removed: you only see the reflection of his work on the pitch. And that reflection is channelled through 11 men.
In Italy, coaching is seen as a profession that, like all skilled trades, requires study and often an apprenticeship... In England on the other hand, it seems that many view the ability to manage or coach as innate: it's not something that can be learned, either through an apprenticeship in the lower divisions, or, indeed, at a coaching course.
Over the last 10 years, non-Englishmen have been running the top five English clubs for 78% of the time. Italy produces more top coaches than England. Why? I imagined it would have something to do with the paths undertaken to become a manager and where they diverge.
According to Jose Mourinho, you need the all-important ability to 'think football'. "There are great players who do not think football," he says, "and they do not become good managers. Then there are people who think football even though they were not good players, and they can make it. But you have to be in football to be thinking football."
The background of Italian and English coaches is not dissimilar. Generally, they tend to be former professionals and a fair proportion former internationals. One of the main differences, however, lies not so much in the type of people who become managers but at what stage of their career they do so. And here the differences are massive. Simply put, in England managers reach the top flight at a much earlier age and with far less experience than they do in Italy (with some exceptions), where you only get a shot at the big-time after a long apprenticeship. It shocks most international observers that English clubs can even consider a player-manager.
An average Italian Serie A manager has spent 7 seasons in lower-league football, while his English counterpart had spent less than half as much time, 3.4 years, outside the Premiership. This shows that English top-flight clubs place little importance on experience, and on coming through the ranks.
"Once upon a time clubs
would look for managers who came through the ranks of the football pyramid,
but today there is such a huge gulf between the Premier League and the
rest of English football that it's difficult to do so. I mean, there's
an abyss in every sense."
- Ray Wilkins
I think it is clear to see that giving jobs to inexperienced managers has damaged the English game.
In the Premiership, a manager is not just a coach, he is responsible for many other aspects of the game, including scouting and transfers.
The irony is that, for all its outward traditionalism, English football has, on occasion, been very progressive in adopting new ideas and concepts. The English league was among the first in the world to award 3 points for a win, and one of the first to introduce play-offs for promotion to the top flight. Countless English attitudes appear immutable but, in fact, are relatively recent developments ó such as the practice of throwing recently retired players in at the deep end of coaching... The old process of working your wy up the ranks has largely been abandoned in favour of 'fast-tracking'.
Charlie Hughes was one of the most influential figures in the English game throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He was the FA's technical director and his "Football Association Coaching Book of Soccer Tactics and Skills" neatly codifies a certain vision of the game; it's close to the stereotype of English 'Route One' football. Hughes's view of the game was based on his statistical analysis of matches, and in particular, a study of the areas of the pitch from which goals were scored.
Hughes figured out that if a team increased the number of set-pieces awarded to them, it would increase the number of goals they scored. It was pure mathematics and probability. And how do you earn more set-pices? More often than not they result when the opposition is under pressure. The way to do that is to play with a direct, up-tempo style... His thinking was all about creating the circumstances for something positive to happen.
Hughes's brand of football worked when both sides employed it. Or, rather, when both teams play 'long ball', the one one who plays it 'the most' tends to win. If neither side values possession it's clear that the team who gets the ball forward more quickly or most often will emerge victorious. But if one team can play possession football ó or vary its playing style ó it will have the upper hand.
Nottingham Forest, winners of the European Cup in 1979 and 1980 played a modern, flexible formation. Rather than simply waiting for the ball, they often retreated to help out the midfield, thereby creating space for teammates to run into... When the other team had possession, the team retreated into their own half, waiting for the opposition, goading the to come forward, like a cobra ready to strike... As soon as they won the ball they came forward with a direct but intelligent counter-attack.
Tactics are about gaining an advantage over your opponent and it has been around for thousands of years. Sun Tzu, a Chinese military historian who lived nearly five centuries before the birth of Chirst, summarized a number of such concepts in his book "The Art of War." It's about military strategy, of course, but many of the ideas are regularly assigned in the dog-eat-dog world of MBA courses, and Luis Felipe Scolari, who coached Brazil to the 2002 World Cup, gave a copy to each of his players and ordered them to read it... Proponents of Sun Tzu argue that his principles can be applied in any confrontation, negotiation or even something as mundane as a football match. His tenets are at the heart of what we call tactics and gamesmanship.
Deception... is about making yourself seem weaker than you are, lulling your opponent into a false sense of security, then striking without mercy... But if your opponent already thinks you're stronger, make him believe you're even stronger than you are. It can be a good way to demoralize your opponent before even going into battle.
Sun Tzu advises us to plan an approach based on the opponent's qualities and characteristics. This is hallmark of Italian football. We pride ourselves on being 'tactically flexible', which means we will adjust and counter whatever moves he makes... Tactical flexibility is not necessarily negative or defensive, though it is often associated with being reactive, rather than proactive. The basic assumption is that the weak are reactive, while the strong are proactive... When a manager changes formations in Italy, he is seen as looking for solutions... In England the idea of varying formations or personnel based on your opponent seems, in every sense of the word, foreign.
"I seldom play 442.
I learned to play with one striker up front when I was a player... When
I became manager of St Mirren, I implemented the system... At United we
had Hughes and McClair, then Hughes and Cantona, then Cole or Yorke with
Sheringham... If you have two up the park, you only have one point of attack,
whereas, if you have one guy dropping off, you have two points of attack."
- Sir Alex Ferguson
Multiple "points of attack" is the basis of what we call the trequartisa (literally, three-quarter man), the guy "in the hole" behind one or two strikers. The idea is that this player operates "between the lines", behind the opposing midfield but not quite level with the defence. A player in this position is difficult to defend against.
"I think 442 is simply
the most rational formation in most cases. In fact, it's the essence of
reason. With a 442, 60% of your players are occupying 60% of the pitch.
No other formation is as efficient in covering space."
- Arsene Wenger
I can sum up my ideal tactical scheme with three adjectives: rational, balanced and flexible. A system must be rational because it has to suit the players at your disposal... Balance means finding an equilibrium that suits the coach's philosophy, whether it's offensive or defensive... Flexibility is not just about changing formation: it's about changing the way players play within the same scheme. Thus, you can have a 442 where the full-backs push up aggressively, or another in which they sit. Same system, different interpretation.
In Italy, many different managers employ so many different systems that it is essential for a player to be well grounded tactically. Changes of manager are frequent, which means that a player has to be ready to change systems.
"Some managers in this
country, not just the English ones, donít do well in Europe because they
never change. We at United do better in Europe than other sides because
we change with every game. Tactically, we always adjust to our opponents."
- Sir Alex Ferguson
People see English football as conservative, yet in many ways it has been progessive and trailblazing and probably far more open in some respects than that of other nations... The English game has been very good at importing foreign ideas, but the last area to fall to foreign influence is tactics, where the English 4-4-2 is the system of choice.
442 means that English teams can't tailor their tactics to the players at their disposal. A team may have three of the best central defenders in the world but, because it only knows how to play 442, one ends up either on the bench or out of position... Another negative effect of the 442 is that it does not allow for players with unique gifts or talents. Had Ronaldinho been born English, where would he have played in a 442?
There is another reason why lack of variety is hurting the English game. Teams are so used to facing 4-4-2 that when opponents vary things they struggle. An example of this are Arsenal, whose own 4-4-2 is nominal, as Thierry Henry moves out to the left and Dennis Bergkamp drops off.
"If the opposing right
back goes forward, Henry goes into the space behind him and Pires cuts
inside. This works very well, which is why Iím sure Arsenal would be happy
if everybody stayed 4-4-2. Itís why some teams are starting to change when
they face Arsenal. We always keep the right-back position filled. Henry
needs space to play. If you give it to him, he destroys you."
- Sir Alex Ferguson, on Arsenal's 442 variant
Chelsea use a different system entirely: one striker, two wingers and a triangle in midfield.
"The top English teams
are not playing a pure 442 and this is a problem for the others because
their football is based on stopping pure 442. If I have a triangle in midfield,
Makelele behind and two others just in front, I will always have an advantage
against a pure 4-4-2 where the central midfielders are side by side. There
is nothing a pure 4-4-2 can do to stop things. Thatís why I think the popularity
of 4-4-2 will come to an end in England. It has to. It does not work against
teams like us."
- Jose Mourinho
One of the goals of the English game should be developing a way to make tactical awareness suit English football. Not the other way round.
[Getting The Bullet]
In Italy we are far quicker to decide that a manager's *stint* is a failure, but we are far more reluctant to determine that the manager *himself* is a failure. Italian football lets managers back in time and agin. In English football a manager is given every chance to fail before he is let go. Managerial tenures are far longer... The problem occurs after the manager in question is sacked: then he is viewed as "damaged goods". He may get another opportunity further down in the same division or possibly a league below. If he fails again, however, unless he has a big reputation, it will be difficult for him to find another job... I wonder how many great managers have been lost to the English game because of this.
There are many different reasons why a manager and a club might part ways, and while the coach is always responsible for his side, it is not always his fault when things go wrong. Furthermore, he might have made a mistake but he is not necessarily a bad manager. And there is plenty of truth in the old maxim that "You learn more in defeat than in victory." ...Good managers learn from their mistakes.
In Italy, being sacked is not a capital offense. Neither does it scar you for life. If you look at some of the most successful managers around ó such as Marcello Lippi, Carlo Ancelotti, Giovanni Trapattoni ó you'll see that an unuusally high proportion have, at some point or another, been unceremoniously sacked.
[What Makes A Good
"I always tell young coaches, don't seek confrontation, it will come to you, just be prepared. And, if you do get into a fight, make sure you can win it."
- Sir Alex Ferguson
In Italy, public opinion routinely analyses a manager's work with a fine-tooth comb. How is the tactical system working? What are the fitness levels like? Which players are improving under his guidance? What you rarely hear there is what you almost always hear in England: talk of passion, inspiration and enthusiasm, and whether the manager is transmitting them to his players. In England, more so than in Italy, everything is personalized: a manager's character is on the line every time his team takes to the pitch.
Because they are two great 'schools' of football, both Italy and England view the outsider with a degree of suspicion... Italian football has gone through several phases of employing foreign managers... But while we admired and appreciated foreign coaches in Italy, we always sceptical about whether or not they could do well... Perhaps we felt that our game was so layered and complex that only Italians or foreigners who had spent long periods in Italy could grasp it successfully.
"The English feel that
this is a special country, with special football, and even if you are good
it is not easy for you to adapt... I don't think they are anti-foreigner...
I do think, however, that they are sceptical of foreigners and whether
they can adapt to their football, because they genuinely believe their
football is different and special."
- Jose Mourinho
Learning to trust your players implicitly is not easy, particularly if you have played at a high level and know what constitutes a good footballer. Yet you must learn to do it. It is the greatest leap of faith of all.
# CHASING THE BIG BUCKS
"I tell my young players.
You don't need to chase money, money will come to you. But today you are
dealing with a different individual."
- Sir Alex Ferguson
It's hard to believe that a player's life would change substansially if made another million pounds in a season. After all, there is only so much you can buy... But footballers are human and to many wages are a way of 'keeping score', a means of knowing where you stand vis-a-vis your colleagues. That's what most of the 'greed' stories are about... If you make X amount more than another pplayer in the same position, you are somehow better or smarter because you got a better deal.
Once you've reached a certain level of financial security, chasing money can be counter-productive... A man can only spend so much money, but for some, it appears sometimes as if they define themselves by their bank balance rather than by caps, goals or trophies.
Once the Bosman ruling
kicked in, the relationship between clubs and players became necessarily
adversarial, at least at certain times. To clubs, having a star player
(or, at least, a player whom they considered an asset) enter the final
year of his contract without a new deal was a terrifying prospect... If
you want to represent the "balance of power" graphically it would look
something like this:
Years To Go: 2 Advantage: CLUB
Years To Go: 1.5 Advantage: EVEN
Years to Go: 1 Advantage: PLAYER
Years to Go: 0.5 Player has no special incentive to sign
With 18 months to go, we reach the tipping point, with both sides negotiating on a level playing-field... From a neutral's perspective, this is the best and most loigcal time for a contract extension... In the last 6 months of his contract, when he is allowed to negotiate with other clubs, not just his own, he becomes effectively an under-contract free agent. At this point, he holds all the cards. Strictly speaking his club is no different from any other and he can simply sell his services to the highest bidder.
Among football's many ills in England and in Italy, the flow of money between clubs, players and agents needs to be regulated in the strongest possible way. Agents fulfil an important function: they make the market more efficient, tey bring people together and they look out for players' interests. But they cannot go unchecked. There should be a clear distinction between agents working for players and agents working for clubs. The former should be paid by players, the latter by the clubs.
Sponsors may yet serve as a civilizing force in football. I know many purists complain about the commercialization of the game and lament that, to a sponsor, football is simply a way of flogging a product. That may be true. But it does not mean that the interests of sponsors and fans are not the same, at least in certain cases. Fans want a healthy, competitive sport. Sponsors want something that is at least perceived to be the same. They don't want to associate their product with something corrupt or boring.
# A FEW MODEST PROPOSALS
"When I compare what
football was like in 1977, when I made my debut, to what it is like in
2005, it's like comparing the present to the Jurassic era. The football
played back then was a different sport."
- Pierluigi Collina, legendary Italian referee
"Italian and English
referees reflect the football that is played in their respective countries.
In Italy, where people are more clever and tricky and there are more tactical
fouls, it's obvious that referees blow their whistles more often. In England,
they let play go on, partly because there is less of the above, and partly
because this is what the fans want."
- Marcel Desailly
In Serie A, there are 60% more red cards (0.31 compared to 0.18) per match and 20% more yellow cards (3.80 compared to 3.09) than there are in the Premiership. But the real difference is in fouls. On average, a Series A match features 14 more than a Premiership game. This is particularly surprising when you consider that English football is played at a higher pace so there are more collisions and more contact between players.
I'm a traditionalist
when it comes to the laws of the game, but there are a few innovations
Iíd like to see introduced. The first is controversial, but I would like
to have two 30-minute halves, with the clock stopping every time play is
interrupted by the refereeís whistle. This would help eliminate time-wasting.
There would be no point in rolling around feigning an injury or taking
for ever before a goalkick because the clock would only start once the
ball is in play. It is amazing how little football is actually played over
the 90 minutes. At the 1990 World Cup, the ball was in play on average
for 52 minutes, and in some games it was as low as 45.
Today, the average is around 55 minutes. Fifa have urged referees to grant more injury time, but if the ball is in play for 55 minutes, you canít expect an official to grant an additional 35 of injury time, can you? Fifa have said that the game should strive to keep the ball in play for 60 minutes and I agree. Overall, matches would not be any longer, and might even be shorter because there would be less time-wasting and gamesmanship. And there would be more action. The idea has lurked in the background for several years, but now itís time to take it seriously.
In Brazil referees are given a little can of what looks like spray paint that they use to mark the distance on free kicks. When they give a free kick, they count ten yards and spray a straight line on the pitch, marking the exact distance that the wall has to observe. Itís a simple, effective way to combat encroachment, which has always been a problem in Italy and is increasingly an issue in the Premiership.
I would also change
the offside rule so that it only applies in the final third of the pitch.
This would have an even greater effect on the game because it would stretch
teams, forcing them to defend deeper and creating more space in the middle
of the park. If the offside rule applies only in the final third, strikers
can play further up the pitch, the space between defence and midfield increases,
as does the space between midfield and attack. All of a sudden, congested
and cluttered areas free up and the game becomes far more open.
I can think of three obvious reasons why this is desirable. First, it would favour the more skilful players because they would have more room to operate. Second, it would lead to more goals (or, at least, more attempts). Third, it would cut down on offsides and, particularly, controversial offside decisions.
The vast majority of mistakes on offside decisions are made when the distance is great between the player and the ball at the time of the pass. The reason for this is plain: the linesman would have to be looking in two different directions at once. But if offsides only applied in the final third, there would be fewer such situations because the space in which it could happen would be smaller so it would be far easier to call.
Then there is the issue
of technology and video replays. Surely we can all agree on the use of
goalline technology. "All referees are in favour of technology if itís
matter-of-fact technology, such as whether or not the ball is in play along
the goalline or whether or not it crossed the line for a goal," says Graham
Poll, the referee.
To ensure the game is not constantly interrupted, I would limit the number of video replays allowed per game to two per half. The referee would have a maximum of 90 seconds ó calculated from the time he reaches the monitor ó to make his decision. In that time he should be able to see at least six or seven replays of the incident.
I would leave it up to the teams to decide when a replay is used. Each team would get one ďchallengeĒ per half. If, from the bench, they think the referee got something wrong, they would signal the fourth official, who would arrange the video replay. Obviously this would involve each team having someone ó a coach, a scout ó watching the game on a monitor at pitch-side, which would not be difficult to arrange. By placing the onus of 'challenging' his decisions on the teams ó and limiting the number and duration ó we will speed up the game and, hopefully, make coaches think twice before they complain about the officiating.
>> Read the full version of this chapter via The Times
# THE OTHER: FANS AND THE MEDIA
"In Italy and Spain,
the press is a different animal altogether. You've got three daily papers
which are all about sport. That's unbelievable. At every press conference
I've been to in Italy they ask why I did this and why I did that... In
England they don't care about that, they just want a story. That's why
I don't go to press conferences in England. The media don't want to talk
- Sir Alex Ferguson
The Italian media are not blameless. They, like journalists everywhere, love getting footballers and managers to say things, preferably controversial things... but perhaps the difference is that, broadly speaking, in Italy it is generally about footballing matters, rather than personality clashes or off-the-pitch issues.
"In England you don't
get much benefit from talking to the press. First of all, you know that
most of the newspapers are not taken seriously by anyone. And it's their
fault that they're not taken seriously because they are always looking
for controversy and conflict. So speaking with these newspapers simply
does not make sense. You know full well that it is more likely to be a
negative experience than a positive one."
- Marcel Desailly
Between 1980 and 2000 the average attendance in Serie A oscillated between 30,000 and 34,000. In the last 5 years it has fallen steadily, and, as of January 2006, it stood as low as 21,635. It is the lowest average attendance in Serie A since 1964-65. The situation is no better in Serie B... English football is different. Taken in 10-year increments, the top-flight has been moving ever upward: from 21,080 in 1985 to 24,294 in 1995 to 33,890 at the end of 2004-05. And yet, from 2002 to the present, that figure has declined each year... But further down in England it's a different story. The Championship is a roaring success, with an average gate of 17,410 in 2004-05, up from 10,882 in 1994-95. Indeed, it is the 6th best supported league in Europe, after the Bundesliega, Premiership, Serie A, the Spanish Liga and the French Championnat. But the figures show that we have a problem ó even though someone (the Championship) is doing things right.
Virtually all Italian grounds are publicly owned, rather than the property of the clubs. This means it is far easier to justify spending public money on their renovation, which is what happened before the 1990 World Cup, which Italy hosted. But government funding almost always comes with strings attached. In this case, the 'strings' were that the grounds should be, wherever possible, multi-purpose. This meant installing running tracks in the new grounds that were built in Turin and Bari. It also meant building stadiiums which were grandiose and looked good from a distance (indeed, both the Delle Alpi and the San Nicola could probably host the Summer Olympics) but which did not meet the needs of football fans. The sightlines in both grounds are poor, partly as a result of the running track, partly because the stadiums were built with an architectural conceit in mind rather than football fans. There is a reason why some of the best grounds in which to watch football ó such as Villa Park or Ibrox ó are boxy facilities which won't win beauty contests: they are built to be enjoyed and appreciated from the inside, not the outside. The other problem is that both stadiums are far too big.
I work for Sky Italia, which holds the satellite broadcast rights to the home games of 18 of Serie A's 20 clubs and screens every one of those matches live. As a result, almost every fan of a Serie A team can watch their club from the comfort of their living room. The impact is far-reaching. In England, a rule specifies that there can be no live English football on television between 3pm and 5pm on a Saturday, when most matches kick off. It's common sense: because there is no football to watch on the box, a dedicated fan will go out to see his local club play. That's the logic behind it... Televising games hurts smaller clubs more than bigger ones, because the bigger clubs have more fans so still draw decent crowds, and partly because when fans watch football on television, they are drawn to the big clubs, not the small ones. So most armchair supporters back big clubs ó the glitzier teams that get the most coverage.
Television can only hurt attendances as long as it is seen as a substitute for being at a match in person. In England, for a variety of reasons, going to a football match is one thing, watching it on television, another. Both are enjoyable, yet they are seen as inherently different experiences. In Italy that differentiation does not exist.
But even though England has dealt with televised matches far more intelligently than Italy, the situation is far from perfect in the Premiership. Most weekends 5 games kick off at the traditional time of 3pm on Saturday and another 5 are sprinkled over 3 days (Saturday, Sunday and Monday night). The irregularity has had a profound effect on fans, particularly those of smaller clubs.
I suggest that you should not be able to watch on television a live game that is taking place within 50 kilometres of your home, unless it is sold out. So if I live in Rome, my TV subscription would entitle me to see all the away games of Lazio and Roma, plus the home games that sell out and all other Serie A matches. In that way I would be encouraged to go and watch my local club in person when they play at home. This system is used in American football, in the NFL, and it works extremely well. It also has a wonderful side-effect: teams benefit from being on television, but they can only appear if they sell out, so those who take care of their fans (not price tickets too high) and "put bums on seats" are rewarded.
A breakaway Premiership seemed unthinkable not that long ago. The simple harsh truth that nobody wants to hear is that clubs are businesses and businesses will tend to gravitate to where it can make money. And, in football at the highest level it's potentially an NFL style European Super League, with teams allocated to cities based on catchment areas, no promotion and relegation and no UEFA to preserve the notion that this is something other than just another branch of the entertainment industry. It we don't want to see that ó and I certainly don't ó then we have to find a business model that works and is fair to everyone. And that includes the big clubs.
"A kid is smart not
to watch his local side if it's bad football... Thanks to television, people
understand the way the game is supposed to be played. And the reality is
that Serie B is downright depressing and you have to be on drugs to watch
- Fabio Capello, with a controversial assessment
"There is a disaffection with the world of football. They don't believe in it any more. The biggest difference between Italy and England lies in what fans think of the players. To an English fan, players are gladiators, who put every last drop of blood on the line in every game. To an Italian fan, players are mercenaries, who do just enough to scrape a pay cheque. Even the ones who are idolized..."
- Luca Locatelli, Atalanta marketing director
In 2003-04, Leeds United supporters lived through the final chapter of a nightmare. Three seasons after reaching the semi-finals of the Champions' League the club found itself relegated. Saddled with a moutain of debt, Leeds were on the verge of bankruptcy. The fans, who had believed their clubs to be one of Europe's greats, saw their dreams shatter. And yet their behaviour did not change one iota... At the final home game of the season, against Charlton, Leeds were mathematically relegated, yet they were applauded on to the pitch as if they were walking out for the FA Cup final... No matter the pain ó and it was painful, as evidenced by the sight of so many young men in tears ó they were determined to show their love for the team. When I tell this story in Italy, people assume I'm lying or exaggerating. Nobody believes fans can behave like this... And yet it is common for a disapponting season to end in tears rather than howls of anger... In Italy, the prevailing emotion is anger, followed by indifference... In England, Leeds' relegation was greeted with sadness and shared mourning. In Italy it would have been about rage ó against the club, the manager, the players.
To many Italians, the joy of football is primarily derived from the result. The emotion a fan experiences from watching his side play is subordinate to the result. Once a team has failed, there is no point in continuing to watch because nothing is at stake. The battle has been lost... In England, when the battle has been lost, being there is a sign of belonging, doing one's duty, loyalty.
For Arsène Wenger, the reasons for this are historical. "Anglo-Saxon culture is all about banding together in small groups which, to survive, had to remain united. British history is the history of thousands of years of warring clans so, to survive they looked inwards, fostering unity. That was their strength. It was very clannish and tribal. Italy and France were also tribal, but to survive they did things differently. Thatís why our history is the history of alliances and betrayals, of the Borgias, of double-crosses, of being with one ally one year and another the next. You loved your colours but you loved your own survival more. The Latins think more, they reason more, they are more analytical. This is why if I were going to war I would want to be alongside an Englishman not a Frenchman. The Frenchman would think too much..."
Unconditional love, like that of the Leeds fans, is irrational: they kept going and supporting the club even when it was "treating them badly" because they were in it for the long haul. It's a bit like being married, sticking together through good times and bad.
One of the mysteries that foreign players encounter when they come to England is that the English public reward effort rather than ability.
"Our game is not about
excellence, it's about trying. We're not focused on winning, we just want
to see effort. If they just aren't good enough, that's OK, as long as they've
- Dave Boyle
"To me it is still
one of things which amazes me most year after year, seeing teams of foreigners
going out there and fighting with the same spirit and intensity as the
- Arsene Wenger
"I can't love Portuguese
football 100 per cent any more and I don't think you can love Italian football
100 per cent, Luca. That's because of what we have seen here. English football
changes you... When you work in England you understand what English football
means and you are never the same."
- Jose Mourinho
To the English public, players aren't idols, they are working-class heroes, one step removed from the average Joe: they get to play football for a living, fulfilling the aspiration of many working-class men, which makes them special. Because they are "of the masses", the masses appreciate what sets them apart. In Italy, the supporters idolize Francesco Totti or Paolo Maldini, but they don't necessarily feel the same kinship.
"If things are going
bad, the board is blamed or the manager is blamed, not the players. The
players are seen as one of us, and when you complain, you don't complain
about your own..."
- Dave Boyle, on English supporters
[Too Much for a Mere
Once upon a time clubs were clubs, with no profit motive; everything was re-invested and the main point was to play football. It was in that context that the English figure of the manager ruled supreme. He was ideally suited to that type of football. Back then, there were no massive sponsorship contracts to negotiate, no stadium securitization deals to negotiate, to shareholdes to appease... In the old English system the manager was omnipotent but that system is disappearing.
The solution, it would appear, is a system similar to the Italian model, with a manager who is really a first-team coach and a sporting director (or general manager, or director of football) who handles transfers and contracts, and liaises with the commercial side. In fact, it's a necessity because the manager's job has simply become too big.
"Here at Arsenal if
I want to buy Kolo Touré I can do it. The risk is entirely mine,
I am the only one who faces the consequences if it doesn't work out."
- Arsene Wenger
Arsène Wenger is able to choose the players he wants and shape them into a side playing football he wants. His position is antithetical to the long established norm in Italy and France, where the chairman and sporting director choose and buy the players. A good manager in that context is the one who can perform best with the players bought for him.
The best aspect of the English system is that when just one person is responsible, the buck stops with him... It seems to me, particularly in Italy, the coaches get all the blame when things go wrong, even though the problem might have been a result of a poor summer-transfer campaign... Sporting directors are rarely held accountable to the same degree as coaches... The next step is to treat managers and sporting directors as a team, perhaps hiring\sacking them as a pair... Football has entered an era where a great sporting director ó like Chelsea's Frank Arnesen or Fiorentina's Pantaleo Corvino ó is worth nearly as much as a top-tier manager. It's time we recognized the good ones and held the others accountable, just as we do with managers.
# BEYOND THE BOOK
"I really enjoy watching
Manchester United. Imagine teams are like boxers. Man United get in the
ring, start throwing punches and say letís see whoís the last man standing.
Chelsea are more cautious. They want to be the last man standing but they
donít want to be hit."
- Gianluca Vialli, interviewed in "The Times"
"One thing Jose Mourinho
said was that English players play with their hearts, Europeans with brains.
Football played with the heart is more beautiful but not as successful...
but Mourinho has English players like John Terry and Frank Lampard driving
the team with a lot of passion and thatís contagious."
- Gianluca Vialli, interviewed in "The Times"
Comparing the characteristics
of English and Italian players, Gianluca Vialli wrote that when he arrived
at Chelsea in 1996 after 15 years in Italy he thought he had consolidated
his way of playing football. "Instead I found myself immediately caught
up in the English spirit. And I saw my team-mates, many of whom were foreign,
equally infected with the English style." Importing Continental footballers,
it turns out, hasn't made English football more European; instead we have
rendered them more English.
- Andreas Smith, "The Guardian"
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