Does the end justify the means?
If you achieve your goals and objectives, does it matter how you went about it?
If one side dominates the other, creating, but not taking, their chances playing a stylish brand of attacking football yet losing to a stubborn, resolute defensive display, who should we celebrate?
The pragmatic winners or the idealistic losers? The team that adapts to the situation, deploying itself in the manner most likely to deliver victory even if that requires a highly defensive approach. Or the team that seeks to impose itself and it’s style of play upon all of it’s opponents, remaining true to their principles irrespective of what occurs.
In football, what do we prize above all else?
It must surely be the result. For the result is the only thing that matters.
Or, is there something greater than the result. Something which lasts longer. A legacy as Xavi Hernandez, lynchpin of the Barcelona side and ultimately the idealogue of tiki taka, states so eloquently.
Xavi echoes the musings of a decent footballer who once said “there is no greater prize than being acclaimed for you style”.
Of course. Style. The prize which the gallant loser must cling to.
The dream of a football idealist. An elitist caught in a time warp believing things were always so much better in previous years. Players were so much more innocent and stuck to their beliefs, attempting to play the beautiful game with no thoughts for the repercussions. Their innocence lost and tarnished by the continued rise of a cynicism and win at all costs mentality of the professional game in the modern era.
We can all remember the great winners. The Brazil of 1970, the Ajax team under Rinus Michels, Liverpool in the early 1980′s, Saachi’s Milan who were the last team to successfully defend the European Cup. Barcelona under Guardiola during the past four seasons.
But what about the other great teams? Those teams who came so close to the prize yet fell just short. Are they worthy of our praise?
The Holland team of 1974 and 1978 who failed in two successive World Cup finals. And of course, the greatest team never to win a World Cup. The Brazil team of 1982. The team of Falcao, Junior and the truly great Socrates.
Were these really great teams? If so, why did they not win? Why are we cherishing losers?
They must have delivered something though otherwise why would they still be recalled so fondly after all of these years.
Are the teams mentioned above more worthy than winners such as Steau Bucharest in the 1986 European Cup Final, Greece in the 2004 European Championships or Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League Final?
This must be a nostalgic look back in time, only recalling those teams and games which fit neatly into your own paradigm. A reflection which conveniently overlooks episodes such as the Battle of Santiago in 1962 or the rise of Catenaccio in the late 1960′s.
But is a defensive approach somehow less worthy than an attacking approach?
What qualities do we find attractive? Defensive structure and organisation or attacking creativity and guile? Is a quick one two which beats two of three static defenders a greater piece of skill than a perfectly timed last ditch sliding tackle?
How about a perfectly timed defensive block? Or a pair of central midfielders, naturally attack minded and yet sacrificing themselves for the team and performing considerable defensive duties.
Do we accept such qualities were they are displayed by our own team but question their legitimacy when implemented by opponents to the detriment of our footballing heroes?
In 10 years or 20 years time, who will we remember from this time period? The Inter team of 2010, who adopted a counter attacking philosophy against Barcelona in the Champions League semi final and again against Bayern Munich in the final yet were successful? Or this Chelsea team of 2012 who seemingly defied the odds to overcome a first leg deficit at the hands of Napoli in the quarter finals, were outplayed yet held on for victory against Barcelona in the semi final before triumphing on penalties against Bayern Munich in the final?
Or will we remember the Barcelona team under first Rijkaard and then Guardiola who delivered trophies with a panache and style seldom seen and yet, who twice succumbed to arguably weaker teams in Champions League semi finals?
Both Inter and Chelsea demonstrated tremendous workrate and concentration in the face of seemingly superior opponents. They defended resiliently throughout, working diligently to limit their opponents attacking potential.
Or were they simply two expensively assembled teams who were afraid to face up to quality opponents.
Surely we always want to win and in doing so, exhibit qualities which the opposition lack and which they can only aspire to?
Or is 1-0 carved out by luck, skill and sheer workrate sufficient for us?
Perhaps it will be determined by our outlook. When our team wins 1-0 through a dogged defensive display, we applaud their determination, their commitment, their endeavour. When our team is foiled by a defensive display, we attack the negative approach of the opponent for killing the game using spoiling tactics.
We only seeing footballing history through a revisionist perspective tainted by our own footballing ideology. We celebrate those who fit into our accepted views, offering only grudging praise when a team wins but does not confirm to our values.
We recall the great moments, those that define a particular episode or era and conveniently forget those moments which tarnish or belittle our memories.
Yet we should not see the game in such reductionist terms. Rather than seeing football in a simplistic dichotomy of attacking football versus defensive football, we should instead consider the vast range of subtle tactical and non-tactical nuances which occur during a game.
The small details.
The movement of a defensive midfielder closer to the centre backs to eliminate a pocket of space. The central midfielder pushing further to the right to link with his right winger and overload the opposing full back.
We should embrace the volume of possibilities which football presents us with. Football was, is and will always be a series of proactive and reactive battles. The great tactical innovators like Saachi creating new methods of playing the game which spawns imitators and eventually is overcome.
Football will always move in cycles, formations which were once seen as unbeatable, discarded for years only to later re-emerge, reinvigorated by new ideals and playing methods.
In football, the winner does not automatically take it all. For sometimes, a game of football is not solely played out to determine who wins a trophy but what direction football will take in the coming years.
We are witnessing the present battle of possession based football against a transition based game. The European Championships in 2012 may determine which path we will tread for the next few years.