Sunday, July 22, 2007

Technically and Tactically: A Tale Of Two Nations

Watching Australia bow out of the Asian Cup against Japan, and Argentina win it’s 6th Under 20 World Cup, some interesting questions are raised about both country’s approaches to player development.

If you follow football in Australia you know that the topic of youth development has become one of the ugliest and probably most divisive issues in Australia’s recent football history. As fellow blogger, Mikey Salter describes it, our very own “culture war”, complete with racial stereotypes, slander and self preservation has muddied this topic for a few years now. So it is important to approach any discussion on the subject with sensitivity and honesty.

It would be easy to point to the unprecedented success that Argentina has had at under 20 level as endorsement for a more technical approach to youth development. Dig a little deeper however and it can be easily argued that none of this success, save for the 1979 under 20 triumph, has translated to tournament trophies at full senior level. Argentine’s Javier Saviola, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero have been the recipients of three, of the last four Golden Boot awards at the Under 20’s and it is here some conclusions can be drawn.

Neither of the three players mentioned are very big. All three rely on solid technique and quick feet to compete. In fact Argentina’s line-ups at the 2006 World Cup and 2007 Copa America could hardly be described as tall, aggressive or workman-like. Both tournaments saw them rated as the most attractive team in the competition and both tournaments saw them go out against Germany and the newly solidified and increasingly athletic Brasil respectively. It’s fair to say, that for all of Argentina’s aesthetic and technical ability, its lack of physical presence gets found out at senior level.

On the other hand, I watched with dismay as Australia crashed out of the Asian Cup against Japan on Saturday night. Much will be made of a generally poor tournament, a not so dubious red card for Vince Grella and two of Australia’s so called “super-stars” taking abysmal penalty kicks, but in the end, Australia drew once, and lost twice to teams that were probably more technical astute on an individual level. Whilst all three teams suffered from a size disadvantage, and in some cases looked far more fragile physically they managed to get a result against the tournament favourites.

In stifling heat and humidity Australia’s inability to slow down the pace of the game, a technically difficult thing to do, ultimately resulted in the Socceroos downfall. For all our power and size, we proved that we will not always be able to dominate our opponents physically in Asia.

From personal experience I believe it is true that a well coached, imaginative and technically proficient team junior team will be able to dominate games against physically stronger, bigger and even quicker opposition. But as the examples of both Argentina and Australia show, neither approach is the definitive answer to our junior development questions. Whilst the accusations of a “British Mafia” dominating the youth system and teaching an outmoded kick and rush game is completely exaggerated, we see precious few examples of junior coaches teaching a balanced game that values both competitive, aggressive play and creativity, technique and style. If the dogmatic and often reactionary mentality of polar and warring philosophies continues at youth level, even while the international examples clearly point to the need for a balanced approach, we can expect a few more disappointments at international level.

If you have your own views on this topic or any others in this blog, feel free to comment!


hiraldo said...

I think the problem for Oz when in possession, even in the last two improved games, was three things:

- Our central midfield was offering next to nothing. Culina was ineffective, Grella did improve defensively against Japan but his distribution still wasn't anything notable, and Bresciano was well below his peak even when in his more natural central position.

- The wing-backs weren't providing quite enough width. Emerton's strengths going forward lie in his overlapping and off-the-ball movement. And as the only out-and-out wide player on the right, the lack of movement from our two big, ageing strikers and support (in wide areas and distribution) from our out-of-sorts central midfield gave Emmo (and Carney) little help. To be fair, Emmo did get past his man a couple of times instead and Carney must be pretty unfamiliar with the role.

- The strikers. Aloisi isn't what he was, maybe not just because of age but also god-knows-what's happened at Alaves this season. Before, Aloisi and Dukes were a good partnership (when given the chance), but now it just looked tired and one-dimensional. We really could've done with some variation, pace and movement up front, say Dukes partnered by somebody like Archie.

I look forward to a 3-5-2 with an attack containing both strength/aerial ability and movement/pace, Emerton and Chipperfield/a more experienced Carney/Heffernan going up and down the wings and a central midfield containing an in-form Grella (or one of the promising young DMs coming through), Cahill and for creativity, Carle or an in-form Bresciano.

As for Argentina, I think they can be strong enough "physically" with a target man in Crespo or Higuain, Mascherano providing the steel in midfield, a pacy "enganche" in Messi and who knows, maybe the return of somebody like Walter Samuel (an in-form one...I'm looking long-term) to beef up the defence, as well as a tougher (not to mention better) LB than Heinze. Maybe it's just me but for all the depression of continually losing to Brazil and the Germany 2006 exit, I can see a future for this type of team. It just needs a little more balance.

hiraldo said...

Oh and another thing: Vickery's suggested (both prior to the Copa America final and afterwards) that one problem with this Argentina team of the last month was that everyone wanted the ball to feet; that there wasn't quite enough rapid off-the-ball movement, variation and dynamism going forward. The only possible exception against Brazil was probably Messi, who did actually look to have the better of the opposition, although even he too was taken out of the game somewhat when Brazil realised they could afford to double and triple mark him, wide or centrally, with little other attacking presence to take care of.

I guess one way to improve this is for Maxi Rodriguez to get back to form after his injury and to get him back into the Argie midfield. His movement and versatility in attack was exceptional in Germany.

Shane Castro said...

Thanks for your comments Hiraldo.

Agree entirely re: the front line. Whilst Argentina are mourning the loss of a real, strong target man,I rthink Australia will need to start looking at a more mobile front line. Aloisi and Viduka are on the verge of retirement and thankfully, we have plenty of promise up front our Olyroos if not much in finished product yet.

It will be interesting to see what kind of front pairing post Viduka we can produce with Burns, Djite, Williams etc coming through.

CatchMeUp said...

The one thing the Japanese put us to shame for was their speed of movement and change of direction with the ball at feet.

Our defence looks incredibly cumbersome against those attackers.

If we can work on producing those sorts of players over the long term and combine in with our existing qualities - we're pretty much there.

Keep up the good work and all that Shane.