Thursday, 8 July 2010

Substance over Style: What managers can learn from the World Cup finalists

We now know that on Sunday night a new country will be added to the list of World Cup winners. Neither Holland nor Spain have ever lifted the trophy before but after pragmatic tournaments for both teams one will finally get their hands on the most highly sought after prize in football.

Spain, the favourites before the competition began, are finally delivering the sort of performances that most had expected. They started slowly and failed to excite for large parts of the group stage but their quality has started to shine through in the knock-out stage and there are, for me, three key factors behind their success.

The first is, quite obviously, that they have a superb squad of players. On paper the players they have at their disposal could easily explain how they have reached the final but one thing that ought to have become abundantly clear in this year's World Cup is that a squad of great players does not guarantee success.

The second factor is their tactics. The manager Vicente Del Bosque has been willing to leave the likes of Fabregas, Silva and Torres to warm the bench so as to create a cohesive unit on the pitch. Sacrificing individuals for the good of the team is a lesson that many managers from this summer's tournament ought to have learnt.

The final factor for their success is the strength of the Barcelona contingent in the side. Last night the Spanish set a record for having the most players from one club in an international match with seven players from the Catalan team. Pique, Puyol, Busquets, Xavi, Inneista, Pedro and the recently acquired Villa all started last night and, Villa aside, these players who play together week-in-week-out create the foundations on which Spain's success has been built.

The true test of any national team is to bring together clubs from different clubs wherein they play varying styles of football and to make them gel. Del Bosque's job has been made substantially easier by his the fact he can take the core of the best football team in the world and slot it into his Spanish team. This is why Busquets and Pedro are keeping the likes of Fabregas and Torres on the sideline.

With the 2008 European Champions improving with every game it is hard to see how Holland, who apart from their quarter-final with Brazil have faced relatively easy opposition, can overcome the challenge that awaits on Sunday. The Dutch are underdogs at around 3/1 to beat Spain.

The Netherlands do, however, boast an impressive streak of 14 consecutive wins and although they may not have been playing 'Total Football' they have been the most consistent performers in the tournament.

Fabio Capello, like many managers, can certainly learn from both the finalists, namely their use of the 4-5-1 formation. The road to the 2010 World Cup final has been littered with under-achieving teams while Holland and Spain have managed to find the balance between the personnel and a system that works. Although they may not have been as exciting as some football purists may have hoped, they have still been, for the most part, entertaining teams to watch.

Fans were pleading for England to play with a lone striker in South Africa but their wishes were never realised. Spain and Holland's use of the line-up allows for both side to retain possession, remain solid in defence and play with far greater creative freedom. The rigid 4-4-2 formation used by England became far too predictable and static and the fact that both the teams playing this Sunday play 4-5-1 is, in my opinion, no surprise.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...


  1. Just thought I should say that your fact about the Spanish team setting a record for fielding the highest amount of players from one team is wrong.

    Italy once fielded 10 players from FC Torino in the 1940s in a friendly against Hungary (8 or 9 of these would play on a regular basis apparently). Also, in a world cup, Uruguay fielded 7 players from Penarol in 1966 and in 1970 they started 8 players from a completely different team, Nacional. Also the Soviet union in 86 started with 8 players from Dinamo Kiev.

    Obviously, I didnt just know this off the top of my head. I heard it this morning.

    Maybe you can answer the question of why Spain are really dull to watch when they have so many good players? Barcelona aren't really boring and they calve teams open for fun but Spain don't seem to create that many chances. Without the brilliance of Vila in the tournament thus far we might have seen they end of them.

  2. Jack, apologies for the fact being wrong. I clearly misheard the information but thanks for the correction. Nevertheless, the point remains the same.

    I don't know why Spain have been so 'dull to watch' to be honest. I think the fact they play with not one but two holding midfielders in Busquets and Alonso shows that the team is slightly defense-minded. Having said that I do not think that they have been boring even if they have not been at their best.

    Their ball retention and passing is unparalleled but I just think that they lack directness at times. They seem happy to pass the ball around the back or among the midfielders for large parts of the game without, unlike Barcelona, always looking for the killer pass.

    As for comparisons with Barca, any side with Messi in will automatically change your attacking approach so that will certainly account for differences in the way they go forward. They are also playing far better opposition than Barcelona do in La Liga so they will never be able to cut through them with such ease.

    Ultimately, I guess that they, like almost every other team in this year's World Cup, have been overly cautious. Pressure and expectation has probably forced them to play safe and responsible football rather than care-free flowing football. Let's just hope for an entertaining final on Sunday!


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