Let’s blooter possession football out of the park
of 2014 would have flooded in.
Punters, however, flooded forth to point out that Barcelona and Spain, arguably the world’s best club and national teams, were the smallest of all and it had never done them any harm.
But this, to me, highlighted a whole different ball game: we are neither Spain nor Barcelona and we shouldn’t be trying to play like them any more than we should be swishing our hoodies in front of bulls before blootering them over the heid with a bottle of Buckie.
As so often, one of our readers got it spot-on when he traced the blame for our situation to the “blind imitation of Alf Ramsay’s successful ‘Wingless Wonders’ strategy in 1966”. Correct, sir.
Though just a child at the time, I remember the debate about this dull “machine football” and how it could kill the game. And it has. Everyone rushed to copy it including, alas, Scotland, previously known for dribbling wingers and midfield flair.
At the same time, the ball was now to be kept on the flair no’ the air. I don’t know if the possession football made famous by Barcelona and Spain developed from that or preceded it but, at any rate, their “tippy-tappy” passing approach also did its bit to spoil the game.
Sure, it’s lovely when Barcelona do it. It was a thing of beauty to see PSG do it against Celtic recently.
But hardly anyone else can do it properly, and it certainly isn’t for us.
I watched a subsequent Celtic league game and they tried to imitate it but, where the PSG players took one touch and played it forward, Celtic’s took three and, often as not, played it sideways.
The result is so dull it makes me weep. And it’s the same everywhere. Television’s Match of the Day excels in skilful editing of highlights to make earlier played English football games look exciting. Watched live, I cannot endure more than 20 minutes of players passing the ball back and forth to each other in front of silent, bewildered crowds.
It makes you want to watch cricket for excitement. Riddle me this: what’s wrong with a long, accurately (or hopefully) placed ball, even one that goes up before being nodded back down by gravity?
To those of you unfamiliar with football, let me explain how nuts it is: when a team is desperate to score a goal in the last two minutes, it lumps the ball up the park and, almost always, excitement ensues. The crowd wakes from its slumbers and, often as not, there will be an attempt on goal.
So what were the players doing the rest of the time? Just this: passing it across the way (or occasionally forward before hastily back again) to no effect. It’s pointless (literally so, on the scoreboard).
What’s the point of possessing the ball in your own half? It tires out the opposition? Here’s an idea for the opposition then: don’t run aboot after it. Let them pass it back and forth while you light up a cigar and read the racing pages.
A former Hibs manager said:
“The ball is round. It’s meant to roll along the ground.” Wrong. The ball is round. It’s meant to bounce. And the more unpredictably the better.
But, in Scotland, we’ve taken our eye off the ball. Here’s another way to get it up the park: run with it. That’s what we used to do. That’s what we excelled at. Scotland should never have given up its traditional game, when there was an “ooh” and “ah” every 10 seconds instead of just an “oh dear” at the end. We should, like we used to, boo players who pass the ball back.
As for size, here’s your spec: big centre-half, full-backs whose width exceeds their height, tiny wingers, middling-sized midfielders, a lithe centre-forward with one stocky inside-right to hold up the ball and a taller inside-left to head it down.
The only genetic problem with Scotland is our lack of belief in ourselves. You don’t have to be Billy Big Baws to win games. Just get the baw up the park. As for possession football? Thanks, but I’ll pass on that.