When I was a youngster, I remember listening in to a conversation about football, and one of the lads talking used the term centre-half. I had no idea what he was talking about. I gathered they were talking about defenders, but centre-half? What was that? Was it maybe a defender who played halfway between the two other central defenders? But then, you'd have to lose a player from somewhere else, right? I'd only ever known a 4-4-2 formation. As far as I knew, 4-4-2 was the only way of playing. It was a conundrum. Centre-half?
Later, I asked one of the lads who'd been talking about centre-halves to explain it to me, and he said it was just another term for central defender. I didn't get it. Why not just call it a central defender? Anyway, after a long and - for me - confusing conversation about positions in football, and having my young mind blown, I asked him if he could draw me a diagram of all the various positions in football, and what they were called. He said he would, but he never did.
Nevertheless, this was the start of my fascination and love affair with the subject of football tactics. Over the years since then, I've watched a lot of football- much of it as a long-suffering fan of Sheffield Wednesday FC. I've voraciously consumed football on the TV, as well as playing and managing in (low-standard) Sunday League football. I even had a short spell coaching a youth team. I've read countless books and articles about the game, asked questions of qualified coaches, and played (and become frustrated with) football management simulation games. I've pretty much immersed myself in the subject. I'm now that annoying person who can predict what football pundits are about to say before they say it, and can explain why they are right.. or wrong as the case may be.
There is a saying that football is a simple game. In fact, Liverpool legend Bill Shankly famously said that "Football is a simple game made complicated by people who should know better." Not only that, but Brian Clough, who certainly knew how to win football matches, asserted "There's so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes."
I don't want to be one of those people who the likes of Shankly and Clough would sneer at. But at the same time, I'm not the type of person to assume someone is always right on a subject because they are an authority on the subject. Experts can be wrong, but more importantly, things change. Considering that I'm embarking on a blog about football tactics having never been a professional player myself, and having never taken a coaching badge, I understand I need to adopt a certain amount of humility. However, I also know that the game of football evolves continuously; particularly in the realm of tactics. This leaves me with only one route through discussing football tactics - and that is to treat it as an exploration. As this blog develops, I will cover the basic, well-understood elements of tactics, and analyse them, offering my own observations and opinions, while referring to what the experts have had to say. Along the way, I expect to both help others understand football tactics in a way that will increase their pleasure in watching or playing the game... But I also expect to educate myself, as I go through a very structured and detailed review of what I know and what I don't know.
Is football really as simple as Shankly and Cough supposedly believed? Or is it as hugely complex as I intend to show? What if... what if it's both? How could that be? Well, I like to think of it as being a bit like chess. The rules of chess are really simple; anyone can play it. There's a very clear definition of how to win, and what you can do with the pieces. Easy peasy. Until you try playing against a grand master who can not only plan dozens of moves ahead, but can plan several different strategies dozens of moves ahead, so he can counter anything you try. Chess becomes complex because of its simplicity - the sheer number of combinations of moves from those 32 pieces is mind-boggling. And that's how football becomes complex too; it's the combinations. And this, over the coming articles, is what I'm going to journey into, hopefully with your company. The journey starts next time with a look at formations; supposedly one of the simplest elements of tactics, but one which gets more complicated the longer your look at it. I'll see you then.
FOOTBALL TACTICS -
One bloke's journey through the mire of football tactics - from the most basic concepts to the most mind-boggling complexities.
As you read this blog, you'll see I use the male pronoun pretty much all the time. I'd hate it if anyone thought this was gender bias on my part. I passionately believe in equality for all people, regardless of gender, race or background. And I support females in football - my daughter plays for a well-known local team, actually. So why do I use the male pronoun? It's partly because I can't find a gender-neutral pronoun I'm happy with - I refuse to use they or them for the singular. And constantly typing (and reading) he/she is annoying. So I fall back on he and him because I identify as male and it comes natural. I hope that's okay.