Football Roundup - Scotland, Hearts and beyond
The Glasgow-dominated media have filled dozens of column inches - and hours of football phone-in programs - condemning Craig Levein`s tactics in Friday`s 1-0 defeat in Prague, when he appeared to play with no strikers. While the game was terrible to watch (from Scotland's point of view at least), the ensuing outcry prompts me to think that these latest rumblings carry with them yet more evidence of bias and hypocrisy from the herd of journalists who claim to be knowledgeable about football.
They seem to be equating the "no strikers" admission from Levein as meaning "we don`t intend to try to score a goal". Are they really suggesting that Levein didn`t want ANY of his 6 midfielders to try to get into scoring positions ?
Incredibly, Pat Nevin argued that just because the Czech Republic "aren`t the team they once were", then they must be "there for the taking". Hmmmm… I`ve always detested that phrase - it always seems to get used in retrospect after an underdog has FAILED to beat a "bigger" team !!
Who could honestly argue that Scotland have looked capable of beating anyone in the last 2 years - big team or wee team ? In short, we have no world-class outfield players - and our team often contains players who would not even have got near an international squad 30 years ago. Craig Levein is no mug - he knows Scotland is severely limited in what it can achieve in any match nowadays. Sadly, the gulf between Scotland and the Czech Republic in basic football skills like accurate passing and ball control was shown on Friday - and it is surely this fact alone which renders debate about tactics and formations pointless. Hence his safety-first strategy - which basically achieved its aim of preventing a goal from open play. However such a plan relies on good ball retention and hard work from all the players, otherwise they get worn down from not getting any respite from the continual onslaught from a clever opponent. As Friday`s game wore on, that was what happened - the Czechs got more and more possession and increased the pressure on Scotland, since we couldn`t hold on to the ball for long.
Does it matter what formation Chelsea or Arsenal or Man Utd are deemed to adopt, when they have highly mobile players such as Lampard, Drogba, Rosicky, Arshavin, Rooney, Scholes etc roaming all over the pitch to make themselves available to receive a pass ? At that level, moves seldom break down after only 2 passes.
Of course, Scotland doesn`t have anyone remotely approaching the skills of these guys - but that shouldn`t prevent us from wanting to see professional football snap out of its current rut. Where are the midfield players in Scotland who can sense where some space is going to open up… or play an accurate one-two to generate a shooting opportunity ? Is there a Strachan or Collins anywhere these days ?
The Dutch called it "total football". Players like Cruyff and Gullit scored plenty goals from forward positions, but they were not "strikers" - simply clever footballers with good basic skills. Brazil and Italy seem to instil a similar "multi-function" aspect to how they play football also, based again on superior ball skills and awareness to ours. To describe these teams as 4-3-3 or 4-2-4 or any other combination of numbers is meaningless.
Only 3 weeks have passed since Walter Smith`s game-plan at Old Trafford - which revolved around hard work and concentration from every Rangers player just to stop Man Utd scoring - yielded a precious point. The Scottish media produced a token "it wasn't pretty, but they had to do it that way" type of response - even Walter admitted as much after the game. Although Rangers carried a bit of luck that night, the mission was ultimately successful. Not such an easy ride for Levein though. I think part of the humbug being thrown at him stems from his decision not to select current media darling Kenny Miller in the starting line-up. Although I`m sympathetic to Levein due to his Hearts background, he has very little scope for improving things - the raw materials are just not there. The team may well produce a livelier performance against world champions Spain - with or without Miller - however does anyone really believe that there is any alternative to adopting another safety-first game-plan ?