Anti-intellectualism is embedded in the psyche of football fans in this country and it is a huge reason why our success on the international scene has been limited. The problem is showed best by the reaction to Sam Allardyce’s appointment as England manager. He is by no means a bad manager, but his reputation as an innovative one is over the top. Allardyce did embrace new technologies over a decade ago during his successful spell at Bolton, but the game has developed a lot since then. England needed a complete overhaul in strategy after the abysmal showing at Euro 2016. Although Allardyce is an improvement on Roy Hodgson, his appointment once again shows the lack of forward planning in the English approach.
Alan Curbishley has recently commented that British managers are being squeezed out of the game in this country. This is a particularly lazy view and suggests that there is a bias against homegrown managers, but that isn’t the case. The explanation for the reducing number of British managers is much simpler. It is because they aren’t as good as their foreign counterparts. There are people in this country who are sceptical about Pep Guardiola’s achievements in the game because he has always inherited world-class players, but rate Alan Pardew highly, despite him achieving next to nothing in the game. It is attitudes like these that are holding English football behind the rest of the world.
The way we view the game in general has often raised eyebrows across the world as we value passion and hard work above natural talent. This is seen at football grounds across the country on a weekly basis. A slide tackle made in the defensive third to prevent a chance is applauded and revered, while across Europe they are seen as a last resort. The need for a tackle shows that a mistake has been made in the midfield press. An interception should be applauded as it shows an impressive ability to read the game, but in England tackling is seen as a better quality.
Luckily for the game in this country, the domestic game in this country is beginning to understand the need to embrace intellectualism in terms of tactics and analytics. They have both been criminally undervalued in this country, but we now have some of the best managers operating in England. Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are regarded as three of the sharpest tactical minds in the game. Now all three are operating in the Premier League and that will only have a positive effect on the game in this country.
Pep Guardiola has spoken a lot about people telling him that he can’t play his way in England and win, due to the physicality and uniqueness of the Premier League. However, he wants to prove them wrong and during his first match in charge, he used a fluid formation which became a 2-3-4-1 when in possession, with the full backs dropping inside to block off central areas. Nolito and Raheem Sterling provided the width, while Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva were allowed free roam in the middle of the park. Sunderland couldn’t deal with the high intensity, high pressing game and only managed to record 23% possession. It is only the first game and the cutting edge was lacking, but there are early signs of a tactical revolution due to take place in this country.
Liverpool’s win over Arsenal also showed qualities that represent the other style of play fast becoming the norm on the continent. Jurgen Klopp is a huge believer in gegenpressing and that was on show on Sunday. After half-time, Liverpool were relentless in their press and gave Arsenal no respite, while their fluid movement on the ball led to three goals in 15 minutes. It was unbelievable to watch and showed us a glimpse of what they are able to do in a short amount of time.
It is great for English players to work under these coaches and it could have a positive effect on the national team, but it is doubtful whether Allardyce is the right man to channel these philosophies. Adam Lallana is a great example of a player who has developed massively under the management of Klopp. He was one of the standout players on Sunday with his work rate and technical ability making him perfect for the German’s system. Meanwhile at City, John Stones and Raheem Sterling are going to be vital under Pep Guardiola, which is great news for English football.
Going back to Curbishley’s point, although there are no elite British managers now, there is a group of young coaches with the potential to reach that level. Eddie Howe at Bournemouth has been talked about for a long time as a great coach and he is showing that in the Premier League. Meanwhile, Karl Robinson, Gary Rowett and Lee Johnson are developing well in the lower leagues. All four be given the chance to observe the likes of Klopp, Guardiola and Conte up close, both in matches and on the training ground.
There is a great opportunity for the game in this country to finally stop being cautious of intellectuals and new technologies in the sport. We are lucky to have some of the greatest minds working in this country and we must take advantage of that, allowing our brightest coaches to learn from them.
The sport in this country has been interpreted in the wrong way for generations, let’s finally change that.