This is a blog post mostly meant for Norway since it is about Norwegian football. But I translated it and it took me forever to do it Its a long post so please bare with me on this one if it is difficult for my English followers
I read an article in nettavisen.no about how Drillo (Egil Olsen, the national coach) and his style of playing football is killing Norwegian football. The biggest critic Arild Stavrum (former professional footballer and football coach) says he would have turned of the television if he was dutch or Spanish, and he wants Norway to copy the dutch way of playing football. Which in its self is good, because there is nothing that I would wish for more than that we could play football like Holland or Spain. But we have to be sober enough to admit that that’s not gonna happens in near future, because we simply don’t have the players to do it at this moment. But we have to take a look at what this discussion is all about. Is it about the formation 4-5-1 or our direct way of playing football? Lets have a look at the formation first.
In Norway there is a general idea amongst a lot of people that 4-5-1 is a very defensive and boring way to play football, and that 4-4-2 is exciting and attacking. But the formation is just the start up position. In 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 there is at best marginal differences, defensively the wingers have to run back and attacking they have to run forward. Spain for instance plays with to wide wingers and one single forward. That means that they play some sort of formation with four defenders, five midfielders and one forward. Whether you call it 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 makes no difference. Chelsea who often plays a traditional 4-4-2 formation with Drogba and Anelka up front defend with at least ten men, often elleven. When Chelsea is under pressure Drogba often falls back to help defend. He uses his strength and physics and they fall back in a 4-5-1 formation. In modern football you win nothing if you’re not well organized defensively and have a clear attacking plan. Spain is the best national team in the world and Barcelona is the best club team. They are very defined in their defensive play. Their strength is the extreme aggressive pressure they put on the opposition when they loose the ball, preferably high on the pitch. It gives the opponent very little room to start their play and they are pressured to make mistakes. If the opposition can play their way out the whole team falls back to defend, even the center forward. If you look at Chelsea, Manchester United and Inter Milan they are extremely well organized. In that matter I have difficulty to see why it should be negative for us to be well organized. We don’t have as good players as the best in Spain, Holland, England, Argentina etc. That’s why we have to play in a matter that we win. I have difficulty to see why it should be better for Norwegian football to loose 4-3 in an entertaining game than to win 2-1 away against Iceland on a bad day.
Our direct way of playing football is nothing new in international football. Chelsea who won the Premier League last season has an extremely direct style, and they are very well organized defensively. When United won the league with Ronaldo and Rooney they where extremely good on turnovers and counter attack, and they used the speed of the two mentioned gentlemen to the full with back room passes. They where also very good defensively. Anybody seen Rooney with a full hearted run home to help defend? Yes I think so. Of course these teams are way better than we are against a well balanced defense. But then again they do have the best players in the world in every position. How about the dutch then? The guys they want us to copy. How did they play in the world cup final? Well, they played a hell of a lot more destructive than we do. The attacking dutch style was not present at all, first and foremost they tried to destroy the Spanish play. Of course it’s charming to watch them play their best football. But we simply don’t have the material. If were as good as Gerrard, Torres, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Messi and Rooney of course we would ply more possession. And for that matter it makes no difference to have the ball 70% of the time if you can’t do anything with it when you have it. Liverpool the last few years often have possession of the ball, even against the other big teams, but they don’t always win, the disappointing 7th position last season shows that. How about Germany in this world cup? Well organized and deadly on counter attack. Boring? I don’t think so.
Portugal hardly created a chance against us, they are number eight on the Fifa rank list. In may they where number three. We created way more chances then they did on play, shots and set pieces. If we had played the exact same way and scored on several on them and won 3-0 or 4-0, would the critics say we’re killing Norwegian football? Or that it’s not entertaining? We win the chance statistics against most teams, mostly because we plays on our strengths. The speed in attack, overview and one touch in central midfield and passes from me and John Arne Riise. We have just beaten France and Portugal. A French team who have something to prove and Portugal in an Euro qualification match. We just beat Iceland away an an Euro qual. match. And if people think it’s just to go to the saga island to pick up points they are not only lacking knowledge they are also disrespectful towards a good Icelandic team. What more is expected of us? That we should do it the same way as Spain? Well then I got news for you. It’s not gonna happen in near future.
The critics is worried that the youth teams will copy the national teams way of playing football if we qualify to the European championship. Do they really believe that it is better for Norwegian football if we don’t qualify? Do they believe that the top teams in Norway have no effect on youth teams? How about Spain? Barcelona? Manchester United? I know that when I was a youth player we tried to cope Manchester United more than the national team. I think the critics have a one sided and crisis maximizing point of view. Have they been following the development in football. The fastest growing sport in Norway is 5-a-side futsal, and that’s not exactly helping develop long ball type of football. The crisis the critics see in Norwegian football I don’t see. I see more and more gifted and talented players in Norwegian football.
Morten Gamst Pedersen