Is Vine Affecting The Way We Watch Football?

The sudden omnipresence of Vine has had a wide range of consequences for football fans. Most of them are undeniably good: we can now view goals, passes, tackles, fouls, saves and bizarre or hilarious moments from all over the world, wherever we ourselves are stood or sat, within seconds of them occurring. Fans are rushing to the medium en masse and they’re gaining more and more knowledge of football all the time.

The drawback is that when we watch a Vine we’re not gaining useful knowledge or a deeper understanding: we’re seeing an incredibly complex ninety-minute exercise between twenty-two players and two managers reduced to a looped six-second video. We can see that Mario Götze has scored another spectacular goal for Bayern, but not how Bayern created the chance, started the move that led to it or managed the game until the point where Götze struck the ball into the net.

That’s not a problem in and of itself. If the viewer is simply looking to stay up to date with current events, and it’s probably fair to say most people only want to do that, then Vines do the job better than anything else. They’re much more reliable than football matches, too: they show the viewer something fun within a few seconds of pressing play, whereas there’s no guarantee when they watch a full game that anything interesting will happen for an hour and a half. For anyone with a deeper interest in the nuances of football, however, lots of what’s exciting remains completely invisible on Vine.

It’s a bit like going to see Apocalypse Now at the cinema and finding that everything has been cut except the shots of napalm bombs being dropped on the jungle. It’s still spectacular, but without context, and a proper understanding of that context, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just some trees and some massive flames. The image will probably stay with the viewer, but they’ll have no idea what was going on, who was involved, where it was, why it happened, or what it really meant. They won’t even get to see Robert Duvall say the line about loving the smell immediately afterwards.

There’s a notion that Vine has shortened our attention spans and dumbed down our consumption of football in the process. If that were true, global attendances and viewing figures would be going through the floor as people sat at home on their phones binging on instantly gratifying goal loops. As things stand, the vast majority of fans still go to stadiums and watch on TV for ninety minutes, only using Vines to keep abreast of events elsewhere.

The suggestion that a potential Pep Guardiola will slip through the net because his or her ability to pay attention was destroyed by Vine is obviously fundamentally flawed. Perhaps the rise of Vine suggests that the armchair fan will become an even more casual consumer, but the real die-hards will always understand that Vine is essentially an add-on. It’s no substitute for the real thing and it never will be.

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Brendan Rodgers Has Managed Steven Gerrard’s Decline Perfectly

Few of this season’s stories will run and run like that of Steven Gerrard’s decline. It’s obvious to even his most fervent defenders that age has caught up with him and the 4-2-3-1 formation Brendan Rodgers is using at the moment makes his captain a liability. Gerrard’s contract runs out at the end of the season, and while Rodgers has confirmed that talks regarding an extension are already underway, this is the first time that a sizeable number of Liverpool fans would argue against prolonging his stay.

In truth, many of the problems that have contributed to the club’s current malaise have been unrelated to Gerrard – the losses of Luis Suárez to Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge to injury have had a bigger effect than anything else, while the fact remains that almost all of Rodgers’ signings have been laughably bad – but it’s undeniable that this season Liverpool’s midfield has looked impotent, porous and incapable of competing against sides that look much weaker on paper.

It’s one thing getting outplayed by Real Madrid or Chelsea – that will happen to almost every side those two face this season – but quite another when the likes of West Ham and Aston Villa are taking the points and looking incredibly comfortable while they do so. Every team Liverpool play pinpoints Gerrard as the weak link, focusing on drawing him up the pitch whenever possible and then overloading his zone with runners, knowing that he can’t make it back. Chelsea did it to brilliant effect at the weekend and they won’t be the last to succeed with this idea.

Anyone can see that Liverpool’s midfield would be better – or at least more structurally sound – if they went back to the diamond system with Lucas at the back, Emre Can and Jordan Henderson further ahead and Raheem Sterling in the hole behind Sturridge and Mario Balotelli. Despite lacking the mobility to be anything but a passenger in the increasingly physical upper echelons of football, however, Gerrard remains the first name on the teamsheet.

Every week that passes with Gerrard playing in a midfield two brings another bad performance and with it more questions over Rodgers’ reluctance to take Gerrard out of the line of fire. Results have been so bad that we’re getting to the point where any criticism of the Liverpool manager is accepted as valid: his loyalty to a dog that’s had its day is just one more example of his naivety or his incompetence, depending on how fed up of him the speaker is.

I would argue that far from mismanaging the situation, Rodgers has handled it perfectly. While he hasn’t exactly succeeded, he’s kept himself in the job – and even for elite-level managers, self-preservation is the priority. He’s probably had this scenario in mind from the start: it simply had to get to this point before he could take Gerrard out of the team without making a rod for his own back. There was no other way forward.

Rodgers knows that he’s only the manager of Liverpool, whereas Gerrard is Liverpool. Without Gerrard, they’re just another Tottenham or Newcastle or Everton: another once-great club with massive support struggling to keep up with the oligarchs and the Glazers by filling the squad with hired guns from all over the world. Gerrard represents a genuine link to the fans – he’s half the reason people go to watch Liverpool in the first place. Unless success is absolutely guaranteed by his absence, he has to play, regardless of his usefulness, until it’s painfully clear that he just can’t hack it any longer.

Examples abound of managers who failed to realise the sanctity of iconic players when working at a big club. Ask André Villas-Boas what happened at Chelsea when he dropped Frank Lampard, John Terry and Ashley Cole and the team’s performance levels went through the floor. Ask Luis Enrique what happened at Roma when he decided Francesco Totti and Daniele De Rossi weren’t automatic starters and didn’t serve up a Scudetto. Ask José Mourinho what happened at Real Madrid when he benched Iker Casillas and ended the season trophyless.

If a manager as young and inexperienced as Rodgers had taken Gerrard out of the team a year or two ago, he’d have gone down in history as the man who sacrificed Liverpool’s identity in order to impose his own. Given that Liverpool would never have been able to beat Man City or Chelsea to domestic success having done so – and could conceivably have fallen apart, Moyes-at-United style – it would’ve been easy for the fans and the media to turn on Rodgers and hound him out of his job.

Rodgers didn’t keep Gerrard in the side for this long because he really believed Liverpool’s ageing talisman had something to offer. He did it because to do otherwise was to commit professional suicide. Now the time has come for Gerrard to be eased out of the team, and over the course of the rest of the season he probably will be. Rodgers has got a lot of things wrong in his short spell at Anfield, but he’s got this one exactly right.

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“Why Are There No World-Class Centre-Backs These Days?”

This question gets asked every so often and although I’ve answered it a few times – and Gary Neville gave a very similar view in a recent column for the Telegraph – it’s probably worth putting a short post up that explains why it appears there aren’t as many top-class defenders around today as there were in eras past.

While many pine for defenders like Franco Baresi, Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro, Sol Campbell and Carles Puyol, the reality is that none of those players would look as good playing elite-level football in 2014 as they did in their respective eras. The job they had to do was relatively easy compared to the one defenders have today.

Football has evolved a lot in a short space of time and the way in which teams attack has changed almost entirely. Given that defending is essentially reacting to attacks and preventing their success, if the method of attack changes then the method of defending has to as well.

When the universal method of attack goes one further and changes into something totally new almost overnight – and the players who are carrying out these attacks are better than ever – then defenders are left at a significant disadvantage. For a few years even the best will be made to look stupid on a relatively routine basis. This is why we have seen such a rise in the number of ridiculous scorelines in big matches in recent years.

For centre-backs who grew up playing in a deep, rigid back four, always having a full-back alongside them and occasionally a holding midfielder in front, modern systems – in which the line is positioned much higher up the pitch, the full-backs play as wingers, holding midfielders don’t exist and most box-to-box midfielders neglect their defensive duties – more or less leave them high and dry. There’s simply too much space to cover and most attacks they face are just too fast and, crucially, well-structured.

Whereas coaches used to take their teams through hours and hours of defensive coaching, drilling them on collective positioning and running through scenarios they were likely to face on the pitch, this majority of time tends nowadays to be devoted to organising surgically precise Dortmund-style attacks or working on rotational movement to enable pass-and-move combinations to dominate possession.

The basic quality of the centre-back hasn’t changed. The likes of Sergio Ramos, Pepe and Thiago Silva aren’t significantly worse than the defensive demigods of yesteryear. It’s just that the game has changed, and the world’s centre-backs are still in the process of catching up.

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Why Argentina’s Primera Is The Perfect Antidote To The Premier League

This article originally appeared on The False Nine.

Although the subject is hotly debated, it’s generally accepted that the English Premier League is now the best division in the world. Its unmatched wealth, rich history and aggressive marketing make it hard for any other division to keep up. Crucially, the league is well-organised and located in a country with no possibility of political or social upheaval that could lay waste to its schedule. It’s a well-oiled machine and now generates nearly £2bn in TV money per year.

The Premier League is fast becoming the world’s first and only global league – football’s version of basketball’s NBA. Of course, most of the money and the media attention go to a small minority of teams and those are the giants that players all over the world now dream of representing, but the Premier League’s rapid growth means that even the smallest clubs have entered something of a golden age, pulling off expensive transfers that take the breath away.

Eduardo Vargas’ reward for scoring a World Cup winner against holders Spain was a loan move to newly promoted QPR. Jefferson Montero, one of the most exciting prospects in South American football, chose Swansea as the place to take his career to the next level. Esteban Cambiasso, a bona fide legend, is winding down his career with Leicester.

As any long-time match-goer will tell you, this economic growth has come at a high cultural cost. English clubs have never cared less about their fans in traditional heartlands of support and spend most of their time trying to attract the attention (read: money) of fans (read: potential customers) in North America and Asia. Even the cheapest match tickets are now beyond the reach of most locals and most of the time the atmosphere inside grounds is funereal.

Without wanting to get too misty-eyed and nostalgic, it’s hard to deny that the Premier League’s big clubs have traded their souls for cash. While attendances remain at record highs, the average age of paying supporters is rising in check with attendance and enthusiasm among the young seems to be going down with every passing week.

Those of us under thirty have grown up seeing the Premier League prioritising the needs of Sky TV over those of the fans, clubs referring to supporters as ‘customers’ and talking about expanding their brands, and squads full of mercenaries who couldn’t point to the club they represent on a map before they signed.

The quality of play and the occasional high-profile meltdown keep it watchable, but with such cynical, Randian (a)morality in the boardroom and increasingly predictable outcomes on the pitch, it’s getting harder to sustain real interest. The number of fans walking away from clubs they’ve supported for their entire lives to watch lower or non-league football is on the rise.

At the other end of the food chain is the Argentine Primera División. As one would expect, the contrast is stark. In 2010, Argentina overtook Brazil as the world’s largest exporter of footballers, with 1,716 professional players leaving the country to earn their living elsewhere in a twelve-month period. It’s now readily accepted that if an Argentine shows any promise whatsoever between the ages of 15 and 21, he will be sold on as soon as possible to anyone who offers good money.

There are a number of reasons for this, but the most important are firstly that Argentine players tend to be very good and secondly that Argentine clubs exist in perpetual bankruptcy. There’s little the clubs can do to improve their situation: even if they were well-run – and they’re anything but – the local economy is permanently on the verge of total collapse. The peso loses value daily, so the salaries on offer in almost any other country’s currency equate to several times what’s on offer at home.

Given that anyone with talent leaves before they reach adulthood and generally returns after Europe’s clubs have laid waste to their bodies, it’s no surprise that the standard of Argentine football has fallen considerably in recent years. While the conveyor belt of talent keeps churning out saleable prospects, they vanish before they can make a real impact. There’s little to admire in the average Primera match in terms of quality play, clever management or tactical intrigue.

Despite this, Argentines are as passionate about their football as ever. The atmosphere in almost every ground is routinely brilliant and genuinely inspiring to an English observer. It’s true that attendances have fallen in the last few decades, but this is less because fans are falling out of love with their clubs and more because of shoddy match organisation on the part of the Argentine Football Association, valid concerns about gang-related violence in stadia and the ever-worsening economic squeeze.

The major plus in favour of the Argentine model is that their clubs are fan-owned, democratic multi-sport community epicentres and not fat-cat-owned, profit-hungry businesses. Rather than looking to exploit their fans, Argentine clubs exist to serve their members. Almost all have centres in which a member can practice nearly any activity they like, from competitive team sports to martial arts. Some even offer childcare services to parents and have regular programmes as esoteric as literary workshops and acting classes.

Monthly membership fees are variable depending on age and club, and while it’s true that most big match tickets are probably unaffordable to the Argentine working class, the benefits of membership seem scarcely believable when compared to the privileges ‘enjoyed’ by English fans.

At most clubs, if one presents a membership card at the stadium they can enter the stand behind the goal free of charge. A fee is charged for entry to the stands either the side of the pitch, presumably for the right to a good view. Non-members must pay a considerably bigger price to enter either stand, but any trip to any Argentine ground will show that a healthy cross-section of society is in attendance.

Indeed, rather than making it harder for the less well-off to watch their teams, as the Premier League has through skyrocketing ticket prices and the rise and rise of Sky TV, the Argentine Primera has made it easier. After eighteen years of pay-per-view broadcasting, a complex and highly political stand-off in 2009 saw the creation of the Fútbol para todos (‘Football for all’, following in the tradition of left-wing slogans like ‘Bread for all!’, ‘Freedom for all!’ etc) programme, which now beams live football at all levels of the pyramid into every Argentine home for free.

Instead of teams full of millionaires who know nothing of their clubs’ traditions, Argentine football is full of cult heroes, local legends and wonderkids taking their first steps in the game. As in days gone by in England, one can bump into most of them in the street, on the metro or in a nightclub and have a chat, and these bonds matter. Where a neutral might watch a match and find no redeeming feature, a die-hard supporter will look out onto the field of play and see eleven heroes, many of whom they feel like they know on a personal basis.

There are numerous examples of such cult figures that come to mind, but perhaps the best is Walter Kannemann, a left-sided centre-back for current Copa Libertadores champions San Lorenzo. An unspectacular and quite honestly limited footballer, he has risen to cult hero status due to the combination of his indomitable passion on the pitch and his unassuming boy-next-door personality.

A home-grown player and die-hard fan, Kannemann has forged a career that resembles the plot of a Hollywood movie. In 2012, before he’d even signed a professional contract with the club, he scored the goal that saved San Lorenzo from relegation. Just eighteen months later, he won the 2013 Torneo Inicial league title as a first-team regular. In August 2014, he was part of the team that won the club’s first ever Copa Libertadores title. He was one of the first to receive the trophy and for a while it seemed unlikely that he would ever give it up.

As well as being incredibly successful, Kannemann’s exploits have added to San Lorenzo folklore and given the fans an untouchable on-pitch idol. The archetypal Kannemann moment came before the Torneo Inicial title decider against Estudiantes. The club’s then-manager Juan Antonio Pizzi arranged for a motivational video to be shown to the squad the day before the game, in the hope that it would focus the players and give them the additional desire to get over the finish line.

Kannemann was so intensely moved that he punched through a window, badly gashing his arm and almost ruling himself out of the biggest match of his fledgling career. While Pizzi went crazy with anger at his player’s recklessness, the fans saw only Kannemann’s raw passion and fell even more in love with him. There’s quite simply nothing like that in the Premier League any more.

It’s quite common even today for an English fan to say that the club they support forms part of their identity, when events post-1992 mean that it’s more or less impossible for that to be true. In 2014 our clubs are all the same: faceless, heartless corporations that only differ in terms of location and wealth. Their links to local communities are minimal – the idea that a Manchester United fan might after work go to a complex next to Old Trafford and learn about acting from a club-appointed teacher is patently ludicrous.

What we have is high-quality football that we can barely afford to watch either live or on TV, clubs which treat fans with gleeful contempt and a league full of unknowable players that could barely care less about the institutions they represent. Maybe it’s just that the grass looks greener in the other field, but life at the bottom of the food chain seems far preferable to this writer.

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Why Sam Allardyce Will Be The Next England Manager

On Saturday I went to the West Ham vs Manchester City game. As you’re no doubt aware, the home side ran rings around the champions for an hour and deservedly took the three points after surviving a late City onslaught. It was a good, hard-fought match and it told us a lot about both sides.

Like most neutrals, I spent most of the game looking at City and wondering how Sheikh Mansour could possibly have spent so many hundreds of millions of pounds and ended up with only three super-talented players. A couple of days after the event, however, I’m thinking only about West Ham and Sam Allardyce and the latter’s seemingly inevitable ascent to the England job in 2016. It may seem improbable but the wheels are already in motion and if all goes to plan then there’s little anyone can do to stop it.

The most important factor in Allardyce’s favour is that the tabloid press has it in for Roy Hodgson. It’s always going to be hard to win the hearts of the hacks that spend their working lives filling the red tops with hateful half-truths when you’re a courteous, avuncular and slightly odd-looking middle-aged journeyman. It’s next to impossible when you’re all of those things and also a hate figure for the one of the two Premier League clubs which drives most traffic to all major football news sites.

It doesn’t matter that Hodgson is in the process of helping a talented new generation into international football, that he’s got them playing attractive, incisive and possession-heavy football and that he’s won every Euro 2016 qualifier so far. It doesn’t matter that the only reasons England went out of the 2014 World Cup at the first hurdle are that they got stuck in by far the hardest group and that Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge forgot to pack their shooting boots.

What matters is that Hodgson looks a bit funny, gives journalists unexciting, modest quotes and did a bad job at Liverpool once. Short of winning Euro 2016 – spoiler: England don’t win Euro 2016 – there’s nothing Hodgson can do to save himself.

Allardyce knows that he has two years to build his case to be the next England manager. His name has been in the mix for about a decade now – since the latter days of Sven-Göran Eriksson’s tenure, at least – and the biggest objection to him getting the job has always been the style of football he favours, it being obvious that it only works if you’re an underdog looking to punch above your weight.

Like Hodgson, Allardyce failed at the only big English club he’d ever been trusted to work at because he managed them as though they were the minnows he’d just left behind. Overly wedded to a style of training that improved less-talented players basically by taking all on-pitch agency away from them, he reduced good, creative players to predictably programmed robots and a team that should have been proactive, inventive and potent to one that was exactly the opposite.

The difference between Allardyce and Hodgson is that while everyone remembers that Big Sam did a bad job at Newcastle, the fact remains that no major national newspaper, magazine or website attempts to curry favour on a daily basis by consciously pandering to Newcastle fans. Few journalists outside the North East will view Allardyce’s England reign through the red mist that inevitably colours most coverage of Hodgson.

It’s true that Allardyce became and remains seen as a firefighter – the guy your club hires if its low-budget squad lands itself in a relegation scrap and leaves the fans relishing the distant prospect of perpetual mid-table security. The job he did at Blackburn did little to change that perception and, until now, it’s been the same story at West Ham.

Indeed, the main reason Big Sam’s England candidacy seems so outlandish is that for most of the summer he was on the brink of being sacked by the Hammers. Most Irons fans have always vocally opposed his trademark route-one hoofball and the results that would in Allardyce’s mind have justified the means rarely arrived, which inevitably put him at loggerheads with Davids Gold and Sullivan.

He survived for two reasons. Firstly because although West Ham were unspeakably awful on a regular basis last season, injuries to their strikers and the disappointing form of big money signings like Matt Jarvis and Stewart Downing meant that having a good season was nigh-on impossible. This year, all of his signings have hit the ground running.

The second reason is that Gold and Sullivan, showing the kind of restraint that we don’t often see from owners, kept in mind that despite everything that had gone wrong, Allardyce is still a talented manager. He has a good eye for talent, understands how football works and leaves no stone unturned when trying to improve his side. The chairmen told Allardyce his job was safe on the proviso that the style of play became more attractive.

To Allardyce’s credit, he listened and accepted their criticism as constructive. They weren’t asking him to change any more than they were challenging him to improve. To play more expansively would be mutually beneficial: not only could he improve West Ham’s fortunes, if he was successful with a new style then he could rehabilitate his image as a tactical dinosaur, thereby giving him a good chance of getting the dream job he must surely have given up on.

Watching West Ham on Saturday, it was hard to believe that they were coached by the same man who had failed so miserably at Newcastle, let alone one who declared that “pretty football has never won anything” while Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were hoovering up trophies with play that was as elegant as it was effective, and while the same core of players were European champions and newly crowned World Cup winners with Spain.

The Hammers were everything the Allardyce’s Newcastle should have been. Their diamond midfield was simultaneously fluid and structured, the attacking combinations were imaginative and productive and both of their goals were the result of intelligent passing moves and composed finishes. Most encouragingly, it wasn’t a surprise that they played so well: they have been excellent in all of their games since Allardyce switched to the diamond and Alex Song, Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia came into the side. The importance of the new arrivals can’t be overstated.

On Sunday morning, the Allardyce For England bandwagon began moving as Fleet Street’s best and brightest (ahem) debated his suitability as a successor to Hodgson on Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement. They were testing the water, putting the idea out there, seeing how the public responded. Judging from Twitter (ahem #2), the popular answer seems to be “he couldn’t be any worse than Roy”, which is exactly the kind of answer the Sunday Supplement chaps like: it shows that their organised campaign against Hodgson is doing the trick.

If a week is a long time in politics then two years is an eternity in football, but with Harry Redknapp’s stock falling further with every passing week, Gary Neville still wet behind the ears and every other English manager barely worthy of discussion, Big Sam must know that if he can keep this unexpected surge of momentum going on the pitch and rely on the media to beatify him off it – as they did Redknapp in the last days of the Fabio Capello era – then the job is his to lose.

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Rayo Vallecano 0-2 FC Barcelona: Tactical Review

http://www.barcablaugranes.com/2014/10/10/6956661/rayo-vallecano-0-2-fc-barcelona-tactical-review

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Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 FC Barcelona: Tactical Review

http://www.barcablaugranes.com/2014/10/1/6877571/psg-3-2-barcelona-tactical-review

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