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With all the styles you win, with all the players you don’t. And all styles are valid within the regulations. Without cheating, a coach can line up eleven defenders around his goal if it seems appropriate to get a result. He must be respected. From there to boast of that tactic is another song. It comes to the story of the clash between Manchester City and Atlético de Madrid, finally won by the English team by 1-0. As we all know, Pep Guardiola’s City dominates and attacks the ninety minutes looking for victory in this way, trying to achieve the goal with as many goals as possible. We all also know about Atlético’s ultra-defensive scheme, with which they have achieved great results. But let’s see… let’s break it down.
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Tuesday’s game was the duel of two completely opposite ways of watching football. For decades there was talk of lyricists (the guardiolistas or menottistas) versus flintstones (cholistas or bilardistas). They were also identified -erroneously- as cold breasts to the former and brave to the latter. Anyone who has ever worn shorts in their life knows that the bravest part of this game is taking the ball and driving it forward.face the adversary to overcome him. And the most difficult thing is to create play, break the rival defensive barrier. In turn, the basic thing is to get back, resist, throw the ball anywhere. It is also the antithesis of courage. When a team knows less than its opponent or is greatly outmatched by it, it hides in its area or close to it. However, if the endurance achieves the tie, or sometimes the victory through a lucky counterattack, the theory of courage and intelligence is raised.
When it comes to a small club, with a poor checkbook and a modest squad, they tend to be indulgent and say, “well, it’s the weapons they have, you have to excuse him.” On the other hand, in the case of Atlético de Madrid there is no possible defense. It is one of the clubs with the highest investment in players. Only for João Félix he paid 127 million euros. The total value of his payroll is 660.5 million euros. The humility argument doesn’t fit. It is a hypermillionaire club. It has elements of equal or better quality than City. He plays ratty, greedy football because his coach prefers it, not because of his financial situation. And because the fans excuse him for his forms while he brought them back to the fore after dark decades, in which he even dropped in category (year 2000). It is not daring to attack with five troops, it is daring to ask them to sign João Félix for 127 million and then put him to defend with the platoon. How do you look the leader you asked João Félix in the face…?
We have celebrated the triumphs of Atlético de Simeone because it is a historical institution, which one day entered a very dark tunnel of decadence and became a loser. And Cholo exhumed him from beyond the grave, returned him to the titles, to the European spotlight and, above all, recovered the joy for his people, who are, surely, the most charming fans in Spain for their supporters and joy. But we do not adhere to his football, It is not easy to understand how someone neutral can invest two hours of his life to watch an ordinary Atleti match in the league. In the Champions League it is different, the illustrious rivals give meaning to the match.
Against City, Simeone had an extreme approach to hold the zero in his goal: two lines of five defenders (5-5-0), all very close in the vicinity of his 18 yards. And he didn’t make it. There was a possession of the ball from 70% to 30 in favor of the English cast, the colchonero did not finish off the goal and had no corners or free throws in favor. It was like putting a key, putting three padlocks, locks, alarms, dogs, barbed wire and being robbed anyway. Many times this approach gave him magnificent profits, this time he left empty-handed. Not even in Italy did he like it. Arrigo Sacchi was caustic: “They have a catenaccio from the 60s, an old idea: what football is this? It doesn’t give you joy even when you win. You win without deserving it, only with cunning. I don’t like it and it surprises me that the Spaniards, people accustomed to the beauty of football, accept it. Simeone has important moral values, he is a leader, he should do more, believe in himself more”.
Faced with such a degree of opposition, the locals played with the greatness that is a trademark of Guardiola’s teams: having the ball, playing from one side to the other, waiting for the hole to get into and attacking without pause, against whoever they were. And he was fortunate to be able to win it, by the minimum, but at least he left the opponent’s pettiness without reward. However, there is no point in whining. The “everyone got behind” is no more excuse for years in football. If the rival waits with the eleven, you have to try to break the fence. As long as it is legal, any tactic is permissible. You may not like it, but you have to accept it. Everyone chooses the strategy that best suits them. But from the point of view of the show it is indefensible. And for the fan, seeing his team go out to play with that attitude, defending with ten and giving up any chance of victory, is indigestible.
In England, the most vertical football that exists, where the fans celebrate that their team goes to the front even if they lose, they accused Atleti of foul play. It is not. Playing dirty is hitting, playing for time, being a handyman, looking for a fight with your opponent. And Atleti did not. He simply put up an exaggerated defense. Even for those evils there is a tool: the regulation. Nevertheless, none of the 17 rules prohibit defending yourself.
What there is is, as Ángel Cappa says, “a degeneration of taste”. When Estudiantes de Zubeldía appeared in 1967, which in addition to having excellent players defended, hit, delayed the game and exhibited all imaginable tricks, public opinion condemned it. Today he would be idolized. Millions of young people, encouraged by a certain tactical and scientific journalism, love that stingy, small and speculative football. Who, in addition, they define as a warrior, a fighter, they identify him with the word eggs, when everything is the other way around, putting ten to defend is just the opposite, avoiding combat, feeling inferior.
It is assumed that obtaining a draw or a victory by placing two lines of five to defend “is an intelligent approach”. And even if he loses, he’s still smart for his raisers. And the one who seeks to win by attacking and giving a show is a fool who knows nothing, who does not train, who makes barbecues. For hundreds of millions “Guardiola did not win anything” (of course he is the most successful and revolutionary coach). What pleases is that elemental and prehistoric football of digging in behind. The lack of audacity and ingenuity is valued by giving it the inverse qualifiers: bravery and cunning. Being a speculator is synonymous with a winner. It’s all turned upside down.
Defending alone is just one phase of the game. And it goes against the spirit with which this sport was inventedwhich is to go in search of the objective: the goal, the victory. The rest is valid and respectable as long as it is clean, but it is still a minor, fearful, rudimentary and anachronistic expression.