Roberto Baggio

Roberto Baggio
Il Divin Codino

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The North-South Divide

After Brazil had won the World Cup in 1958 using a back four, the rest of the world were forced to react. Almost overnight the old-school W-M formation, which dominated tactical thinking almost everywhere else, seemed outmoded and needed revision. As a result, teams essentially took one of two routes – and the route they chose was determined almost entirely on national grounds, with that choice continuing to have an effect on the basic tactical template in those countries today.

The revolution in Brazil was actually a process of evolution, with the 2-3-5 line-up enduring even after the 1925 change in the offside law which prompted a rethink in Europe. However, when the Hungarian coach Dori Kurschner was appointed at Flamengo in 1937 things started to change.
Kurschner wanted the centre-half and two inside-forwards to play deeper, but the change in style was unpopular with many and the coach was forced out in 1938. The club turned back to Flavio Costa, the man Kurschner had replaced and who had acted as his assistant.
Although Costa had undermined his boss at every turn, mocking his new tactical outlook, he privately recognised the wisdom of the formational changes. He repackaged Kurschner’s ideas as “the diagonal” by pulling one of the half-backs a little deeper and advancing one of the inside-forwards, thereby beginning the process that would eventually culminate in the creation of 4-2-4 in the early 1950s.

Swiss influence
The tactical developments in Switzerland were far quicker. Karl Rappan, who was fed up with seeing his semi-professional players at Servette overrun by fitter opponents in the 1930s, pulled back his half-backs to flank the full-backs, one of whom operated as a sweeper behind the defence – the verrou (bolt) – creating a 1-3-3-3 formation.

The Swiss influence over football in Italy was particularly strong at the time. Vittorio Pozzo, who coached Italy to World Cup success in 1934 and 1938, spent two years with Zurich club Grasshoppers, while Francesco Cali, who captained Italy in their first-ever international in 1910, was educated in Lausanne. Furthermore, most teams in the north of the country fielded at least one Swiss player in the years between the wars. These influences probably helped sow the seeds for the arrival of the Italian catenaccio defensive system, which took off in the 1950s.

Giuseppe Viani, one of the pioneers of the system, claimed he had devised catenaccio while taking a dawn walk by the docks at Salerno in 1947 and saw a fishing boat using a reserve net to sweep up any fish the main net had missed.

By pulling a half-back behind the back three, Viani began the process that would lead to Milan and Internazionale becoming major forces in European club football in the 1960s. By then the system had evolved to feature a sweeper, a marking centre-back, a right-back who would tuck in and mark, an attacking left-back and a right-winger – the tornante (returner) – who would shuttle back to fill the space left by the narrow right-back.

Elsewhere in Europe, subtle and not so subtle variations began to appear, often quite independently of each other.

In the Soviet Union, Boris Arkadiev had been dabbling with a back four from the mid-1940s as he sought a platform for the “organised disorder” of his highly mobile midfield and forward lines at Dynamo Moscow. The famous Hungary side of the early 1950s used their left-half, Jozsef Zakarias, so deep that he almost functioned as a fourth defender, while in England the process was much blunter, with a half-back dragged back to make the back three into a back four.

By the mid-1960s, another Soviet coach, Viktor Maslov, had developed a “pressing” game, in which his players hounded the ball in packs, confident that his zonal marking system was sophisticated enough not to leave opponents free in dangerous areas. And in Holland it became apparent that pressing was even more effective when combined with a high offside line.

During the 1960s, Europe effectively split into two camps: one half preferring a libero, and the other half favouring a back four and a pressing game. In general terms, the north – Britain, Holland and, eventually, Scandinavia – went with pressing, while the south – Italy, Yugoslavia and Spain – adopted the libero. Two key exceptions were Germany, who only really ditched the libero in favour of pressing in the mid-1990s, and the Soviet Union who combined pressing with a libero.

It’s tempting to speculate why this should be, particularly as, in western Europe, the split mirrors the Protestant-Catholic divide – even down to the odd hybrid position of Germany. Could it be that those brought up with a Protestant work ethic feel the need to always be doing something, hence the constant movement of pressing? It could equally be the case that in the warmer climate of southern Europe a more reactive style of football was preferable. Whatever the reasons, few countries seem to have diverted from the stylistic path that they adopted following the demise of W-M.

There are, of course, revolutionaries, the likes of Arrigo Sacchi who brought a pressing 4-4-2 to Milan or Jim Smith who used a 3-5-2 at QPR, but they self-consciously went against the grain.

The back three
Italian football under catenaccio got used to having three de facto centre-backs with one wide player who covered the length of each flank, so it makes sense that it is there that the revival of the back three has been at its strongest. Italian football likes the comfort of a packed centre, but found last season that its preferred 4-3-1-2 was too narrow.

Udinese and Napoli showed that by pulling a midfielder back and advancing the full-backs they could have width higher up the pitch. In fact, so widespread has the shift to 3-4-3 been in Italian football that, on one weekend in January earlier this year, 13 of the 20 sides playing in Serie A deployed that formation at some stage. But then they were preconditioned to do so.
The great split of the 1960s – the divide between pressing and playing with a libero – continues to shape football today.

Originally written by Jonathan Wilson 

Sunday, 8 April 2012

UEFAlona Conspiracy: Truth or Myth

Background + Disclaimer: On 27th April 2011, Real Madrid coach José Mourinho accused UEFA of purposefully favouring Barcelona through refereeing decisions in the post-match press conference after a 2-0 defeat to Barcelona at home. This caused plenty of controversy, with a large number of fans supporting his accusations while others disagreeing with the Portuguese tactician’s arguments. Hence the purpose of this post is to address and shed light on the claims made and as a result, controversy and criticism are inevitable therefore it is necessary to insist that any biased intent is avoided in writing this post other than merely voicing the writer’s personal views on how certain refereeing mistakes have had impacts on Barcelona’s success over the past few years. I have, more likely than not, missed a few incidents which I apologise in advance and also ask if you mention them below (with reference, preferably a video or image link where possible).

Scandal of Stamford Bridge

2008-09 Champions League semi-final – second leg (Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona); There are not many Barcelona fans who will forget 6 May 2009. Despite perhaps being inferior to one of the strongest Chelsea sides in history, a late equaliser by Andrés Iniesta meant Barcelona would go on to win Champions League and consequently the famous sextuple and being regarded as one of the best club teams in history of football, awing the football fans around the world with their beautiful brand of play. But there were a number of strong penalty shouts that were denied by the infamous Norwegian referee Tom Øvrebø in the second leg. The entire Chelsea squad blasted the referee with players such as Lampard, Ballack and Drogba (who called the UEFA officiating a f**king disgrace) used strong words towards the referee. Chelsea's temporary manager Guus Hiddink also questioned the quantity of referee's judgements that went against Chelsea and felt the decisions were “hard to digest”.

Guus Hiddink's men had five penalty claims. These penalty shouts ranged from Éric Abidal’s slight pull of Didier Drogba's shirt, the episode involving Drogba and Yaya Touré wrestling for the ball, Dani Alves hauling down Florent Malouda which might have happened inside the box but a free kick was awarded and handball appeals when Gerard Piqué and Samuel Eto'o blocked Chelsea's attempts at goal with their arms, of which two of them were very strong claims (both handballs). Not many neutral football fans will disagree that Barcelona deserved to have at least a couple of those penalties against them.

 It sure does look like a bit of conspiracy looking solely at these evidences. But let’s go back a week earlier to Camp Nou where a strong call for penalty (Bosingwa’s shirt pull on Henry) was ignored in the first leg.
 The referee also failed to send off Ballack, and also harshly booked Carles Puyol, forcing Barcelona to start a left-back at centre-back, and a centre midfielder at left-back in the second-leg.
 Also during the second leg, Abidal was sent off in 66th minute with a straight red card for a challenge outside the penalty area. But video replays show there was in fact minimal/no contact made by Abidal on his compatriot and Nicolas Anelka in fact tripped over his own feet.

Conclusion: This is a tough decision but most agree that Barcelona got more decisions wrong in favour of them than against.

Scandal of Camp Nou I

2009-10 Champions League semi-final – second leg (Barcelona 1-0 Internazionale); An infamous and controversial decision during this match was the dismissal of Thiago Motta with a straight red card. The former Barcelona midfielder, at the time of incident was already booked with a yellow card in the tenth minute. There certainly was contact, but there is no doubt that Busquets made the most of the situation. However, a second yellow was inevitable for the Brazilian born player hence it would not have mattered whether he received a second yellow or a straight red from the referee.

Now, let’s go back a week earlier in San Siro, where Diego Milito’s goal gave Internazionale a 3-1 lead. Replays show that Argentine striker was in offside position where the ball was played to him

Not to mention a late goal by Bojan Krkić was disallowed and called handball Yaya Touré while the Ivorian’s hand was closed on his chest. This goal would have taken Barcelona to final.

There were also a few penalty shouts in favour of Barcelona which were all denied, namely Sneijder’s tackle on Dani Alves in the first leg as well as Muntari’s pull on Alves the edge of 18 yard box during the second leg.

 Conclusion: Despite many claims, it was Inter who were favoured by referee’s mistakes.

Scandal of Camp Nou II:

Champions League 2010-11 Round of 16 - second leg (Barcelona 3 –1 Arsenal); Perhaps one of the most crucial moments of this match was Van Persie being sent off for time wasting after being called offside 10 minutes into the second half. There were a couple of seconds between the referee blowing his whistle and Van Persie shooting, which is difficult for any player to react to, especially considering the noise levels in Camp Nou. The red card (second yellow card) therefore was unjustified.

Going back to Emirates however, Barcelona were denied a goal scored by Messi as he was onside when Pedro struck the ball. It certainly was a tough decision for the linesman to call offside but it is safe to say that it was the wrong one.

Two strong penalty shouts in favour of Barcelona were denied in Emirates too (Djourou’s handball, a couple of half challenges by Koscielny, not to mention Arshavin could have been penalised for a handball inside the 18 yard box in the end)
Add this to a clear penalty on Messi in the second leg and it becomes clear that Barcelona were certainly not favoured by refereeing mistakes.
Also, video footage shows that Van Persie could have received a second yellow card for a late challenge on Messi as well as a couple of physical fights involving Abidal and Valdés when ball was out of play.
 Conclusion: Contrary to popular belief and Wenger’s post-match comments, Arsenal were favoured by the referee’s wrong decisions over two legs.

Scandal of Bernabéu:

Champions League 2010-11 semi-final – first leg (Real Madrid 0 – 2 Barcelona); From Chelsea to Inter to Madrid, it is no secret that Mourinho’s teams tend to get a player sent off against Barcelona on a frequent basis. In this match, Pepe did the honours by receiving a straight red card for a challenge on Dani Alves. Many fans believe since there was no physical contact between the players and therefore no punishment was necessary and I believe they are absolutely right in the former part of the argument but absolutely wrong in the latter. You don't necessarily have to shoot someone in order to be found guilty. If you point a gun at somebody, you are accused of shooting. Talking football - and these are rules set by FIFA, any dangerous act that can cause injury to a player is punished, whether it injures the player or not. Many argue that if Dani Alves hadn't moved his leg away from the incoming challenge, his shinbone would have been shattered to pieces. A yellow card was without a doubt inevitable for the Brazilian-born Portuguese who is famous for overly-aggressive behaviour. A red, debatable.

In the second leg, another controversial decision occurred with Higuaín converted a chance but the goal was disallowed because of a foul from Cristiano Ronaldo on Mascherano. Replays showed however that the Argentine fell over after minimal contact from an unbalanced Cristiano Ronaldo. This indeed was a dive in the eyes of most and could potentially change the outcome of the match with Real Madrid going 1-0 at early on in the second half.

Scandal of Camp Nou III

Champions League 2011-12 quarter-final – second leg (Barcelona 3 – 1 AC Milan); The latest calls for scandal come from two debatable penalty calls in favour of Barcelona in this match. The first penalty call was from a tackle on Messi, who was in an offside position while the ball was played by Xavi (albeit the pass was not directed to the Argentine). The situation is a 50-50, as the referee’s interpretation could be either a deflection (no penalty) or a miss-control (penalty) from Antonini.

The second debatable penalty call was when Nesta was caught pushing Busquets to the ground before a corner kick was taken. Although pulling and pushing happens regularly during indirect freekicks around the world, the rules clearly say any act of such sort would be a foul in the penalty area and therefore a penalty. In this case however, most argue that since the ball was not being played (even though the referee had given Xavi the nod to take the corner), a foul could not be called. On an off-topic note, shirt pulling, pushing and tugging during indirect free kicks must be stopped and consistency must be shown in refereeing decisions regarding these cases.

Going back a week earlier though, a clear penalty on Alexis Sánchez was denied in the first leg as well as clever push and pull by Nesta on Dani Alves in the 18 yard box during the second leg.

Conclusion: Refereeing mistakes were even for both teams over two legs, if not favouring AC Milan a little more overall.

Final Conclusion: Referees, just like players are not perfect. There are decisions in every match that unfortunately go wrong and can go in favour or against any team. Recently there has been a lot of focus on a number of critical refereeing mistakes which have gone in favour of Barcelona but many seem to have ignored a large number of decisions that go against them. Recent evidence however shows that in general, decisions have gone for and against Barcelona at an even rate.