Route one is just as important as passing
15 February ~ It often seems as if there's little room for nuance when it comes to discussing modern football. The tendency to over-simplify an issue is especially prevalent with regard to playing styles. In the minds of many there is a clear divide between the purist and the pragmatist, the thinking man and the caveman, Brendan Rodgers and Big Sam. With the rise of Barcelona and Spain to dominance in the club and international scenes, and the trophy haul that has come with it, their unflinching emphasis on possession has become de rigueur.
Anything more direct is now laughably outdated, a best-forgotten relic of the time when matches went untelevised, tickets were affordable and the ball bobbled across uneven mudheaps. Slinging in a cross is no longer merely passé, it's a mark of the offending team's inferiority. In their eagerness to appreciate the game on an aesthetic level it feels as though some have become fanatics for a misguided cause, championing short passing to the extent that any other approach is considered crudely neanderthal, almost philistine football.
The effect of seeing things in such stark terms is reductive. In reality there is no "right way" to play the game and impressions of a certain manager's "philosophy" are often based more on anecdotal evidence than fact. Under Owen Coyle Bolton presented themselves as an adventurous side far removed from the supposedly risk-averse, route one days of Sam Allardyce and Gary Megson. Despite playing more long passes in his debut season than they had the year before this notion went largely unchallenged, showing that it's often a case of marshalling opinions instead of facts.
This sort of brand management is best illustrated by the inflated reputation of Rodgers. At Swansea he was fortunate to have inherited the impressive groundwork of Kenny Jackett, Roberto Martínez and Paulo Sousa but, upon arrival in the Premier League, these longstanding principles were popularly rewritten as the effort of Rodgers alone. He now finds himself in charge at Liverpool, struggling to impose these values in a new environment while, with a couple of canny additions and tactical tweaks, Michael Laudrup has Swansea performing well in the league and awaiting their first major cup final.
This season a significant number of goals from leading scorer Michu have been headers, implying that even the staunchest advocates of passing football are willing to mix things up when required. But more than just aiding one club's success, it's important for the sport as a whole not to limit itself on the basis of flawed ideology. Entertainment is key and it can come in a variety of forms. Ultimately, that last-minute winner will be equally as joyous whether it arises from an incisive move, a desperate hoof into the area or something inbetween. Sean Cole