Caution: A slightly long post
There it is then, La Furia Roja are the Euro 2012 Champions. Euro 2012, staged in Ukraine and Poland dished out a wonderful footballing spectacle whetting the appetite of soccer fans. The tournament showcased some very good team performances at various stages by Azzurri, La Roja, Die Mannshcaft , A Seleccao and also some very good individual moments of footballing brilliance like the volley by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the screamer from Mario Balotelli or the panenka style penalty by Pirlo.
Having had the pleasure of watching most of the three week long spectacle in the comfort of my living room but with the pain of waking up at midnight , lot of thoughts came to my mind at various stages of the tournament. Looking back, for me, these are some of the more important of them:
1) Soccer cries for “Goal Line” Technology— “Ghost” goals continue to plague soccer in international tournaments. Even with the presence of extra officials near the goal line there were doubts if the ball had actually crossed the goal line. If it was the English who cried at South Africa in 2010, then it was the turn of the co-host Ukraine now to shed some footballing tears in 2012. In a world where many other Sports like Tennis, Cricket etc. have all embraced technology to some extent; it is intriguing that football continues to be played just it were in Victorian times. To the administrators of the beautiful game: FIFA, UEFA, Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini & Co--- I would say: It’s time to smell the coffee.
2) Tactical Flexibility of the Azzurri: For a fan like me who love the tactical side of the game, I am highly impressed with the tactical flexibility shown by both the Italian coach, Cesare Prandelli and the entire Italian team. The Italians used different formations: 3-5-2 , a 4-3-1-2 and a 4-4-2 diamond at various stages in the tournament. Using three different formations within the same tournament deserves a lot of praise for their overall tactical flexibility in general and their footballing intelligence (of both the coach and the players) in particular. Also what was interesting to note that some of the Italian players could play in multiple positions and to still look very comfortable. Top of the mind, I can recall a few instances: Chiellini playing as a left back; Balzaretti playing as a right back in the semifinal; Daniele De Rossi playing as a central defender in the opener against Spain.
Chelsea did take some Italian lessons on our way to the Champions league final (read: Cateneccio / back to the wall defending; take your pick) but would it not be absolutely fantastic If these lessons of tactical flexibility are also learnt leading to some positive results. Just imagine PL teams in the league guessing whether Chelsea would line up in a 3-5-2 or 4-1-3-2 or a 4-4-2 diamond? Delirious!!!
3) Sometimes a team pays a heavy price for Individual Indulgence: How else can I describe the absolute Non- performance of the Oranje. They had such individually brilliant and talented footballers in Robben, Van Persie, Sneider but then we always knew football as a team game of 11 players. The presence of some big Egos and also the display of selfishness by few of the Dutch players in front of the goal with apathy to pass to a better placed team mate, made them rightly take the early flight back home. It reminded me of some of those “Sturridge moments” we Chelsea fans witnessed the previous season. More importantly, it re-enforces the preference for a “team man”.
4) “Offensive Tiki Taka” – Much Desirable: Until the final against the Italians, whether rightly or otherwise, the Spanish were criticized for their tiki taka playing style and were even branded in many quarters as “boring”. I am no advocate or fan of the “hoofing the ball up the pitch” strategy or the “push and rush” style seen in England nor am I overlooking the technical proficiency required to play those delicate and intricate midfield passes. But the Spain which turned up in the Euro 2012 Final, was more pleasing to watch and much more desirable as a footballing philosophy as there was a purpose to their tiki- taka. I feel, tiki- taka when combined with a strong desire to create a goal scoring opportunity or a propensity to take a shot on goal is much better than just using tiki taka as a “possession procession”.
5) IF It ain’t broke, don’t fix it: This is the phrase which comes to my mind when I look back at the performance of Die Mannshcaft. The German coach, Joachim Loew, did a lot of tinkering with his team selection in an attempt to spring a surprise on the opponent or in some cases over strategizing. The instances I can recall: The starting front man alternated between Gomez and Klose; a different front three against Greece (inclusion of Schurrle and Reus); Toni Kroos included in the semifinal to negate Pirlo. This meant there wasn’t a preferred starting eleven nor could they settle into any sort of rhythm. Incidentally, the Spanish team which took on Italy in their opening group C game was exactly the same one which took on Italy in the Final too.
6) Midfield Playmaker and team success: When one observes the successful teams closely we find the presence of at least one world class creative midfielder who dictates the tempo of the game from the midfield and who also dons the role of a “play maker”. When we look up the Spanish / Italian / German team the role performed by a Xabi / a Pirlo / a Schweinsteiger come to our mind and the effect their individual performance has on the collective team’s performance.
This makes me wonder who is Chelsea’s midfield General—Lampard? More I think on this, I am beginning to wonder if getting Modric this summer is becoming a necessity and getting Hulk, more of a luxury.
7) Penalty- A psychological tool?: It is widely known that mind games are involved in the football matches but it tends to be more “off the pitch” types -during pre -match briefings, rants by coaches / manager / players to the media etc. perfected over the years by Sir Alex and Jose Mourinho. But when the peerless Pirlo did a “Panenka” style penalty( personally, stand out moment of the tournament) and subsequently claimed he wanted to make a statement with his penalty kick and intended to deliver some psychological blows on the English, it made me wonder :Can one play mind games with the way a penalty kick is taken? The performance of the subsequent English penalty takers does lend some credibility to this theory.
8) “Let’s do a Chelsea”: Lastly, as a Chelsea fan, when I read / hear this phrase “Let’s do a Chelsea” it gives me mixed feelings. I am happy that Chelsea is associated with success but sad that the users of this phrase have many times got the context wrong.
This statement seems to be the very much in vogue “tactic” or “punch line” when a team faces a superior opponent or when a football journalist wants to advocate the chances possible for an upset by an underdog. I have seen this phrase being used (read: misused / abused) when Ireland played Spain, when the Greece played Germany and virtually whenever England played in the Euros. Let me explain why this phrase is a misnomer:
The Chelsea victories over Barcelona and Bayern have left a definitive impression on the collective football psyche. What they conveniently forget are: Chelsea did not play the whole tournament that way (Read Chelsea’s demolition of Genk 5-0; of Napoli 4-1), Chelsea had injuries and suspension to key players in the semifinal /Final and lastly, nobody out-passes Barcelona.
More importantly, for me, “To do a Chelsea” requires at least the players of the following caliber: a Drogba , a Ramires, a Cech (in front of a reliable back four). In reality it requires a Mikel, a Terry, a Mata and virtually every on the Chelsea team. But the bare minimums required are, as mentioned above:
a. a forward of Drogba’s quality, not only to do hold up play but also to outmuscle the defenders and convert the only chance which may come up against the run of play.
b. An energetic and lung bursting runner in the mould of a Ramires, who can be very effective in defending but also has the ability to sprint past the opponent’s defense to initiate that lightning counter attack. ( The super ability to chip on advancing keepers like Valdez is a bonus)
c. A certain Peter Cech to thwart any goal bound shots which may have escaped the bodies (read: Head, legs and other body parts barring the arm) thrown around by the fantastic back four.
Without players with the above skill sets in the team, the phrase “Let’s do a Chelsea” is a farce / bogus claim and a misnomer to say the least. So next time we hear this phrase, we Chelsea fans can have a quiet chuckle in the knowledge that “Only Chelsea can do a Chelsea”.
With these random thoughts, I am off to catch some much needed sleep to overturn the sleep deficit I have accumulated in the past fortnight