Monday, 25 July 2016

Cruyff, Pep, and Lucho: Pure winger isnt FC Barcelona's winner.

FC Barcelona's next transfer, should it be a forward or a pure winger?

Lucho was very clear when he said that what he is looking for is a goalscorer. From where I stand, I can only agree with him based on last season's experience, and I will get back to that. But first, why am I not a keen to sign a "pure winger", and in fact see it as an absolute waste of money?

What is really a pure winger to start with?

Positional terminology and tactical functionality are two different aspects that usually get us confused. That's why, and before discussing what a pure winger can add, it is important to agree on the common definition of a pure winger, instead of having subjective definition based on what each one like to make out of it (And that's the tactical functionality).

1) Positional terminology

Putting my own understanding to the pure winger term will be seen as a subjective opinion. Not good. So, you know... I googled it! 

Soccer training Guide provided the following description for the pure winger position:

If a Genius description is a better option, here is how they concur:

Complete Soccer guide offer a more detailed definition, and here is another post at BBC that goes in the same line.

You (and I) can agree or disagree on all or some of the above, but that is the most common definition of pure winger. 

As for my own five cents, pure winger is a role started originally in midfield for the player that stretches the opponent team by hugging lines, and perform both an attacking and defence role from there. It worked best, attacking wise, in a flat 4-4-2 formation that fields two strikers to be at the end of the pure wingers crosses. 

That role was moved at some point in the tactical evolution higher in a 4-3-3 formation, yet it was more often than not an upgraded version to either a converted winger (Ronaldinho, Messi, etc...), or a flanked forward (Henry, Villa,...). And that latest evolution shifts the position off from being an actual "pure winger". 

Pure winger qualities:

a) Pace

b) Stamina 

c) Accurate crossing, especially from a sprinting position.

d) Ability to beat opponent on 1v1 while most often hugging the line. Thanks to explosive sudden sprints exposing the space.

2) Tactical functionality

a) When do you believe FC Barcelona may need a pure wing?

The usual narration: Needing a goal against Atletico Madrid, they are parking the bus, what is the best thing to do? Sub in the pure winger you just bought, done.

Well, here is a suggestion: Switch Messi and Neymar flanks and you get the best wingers on both flanks the world can offer you. Done. Except: It doesn't work. As Neymar during Tata time (who shared that strange idea about pure wingers) can tell. If Neymar, one of the best 1V1 technically gifted players doesn't work, not sure what winger will.

Here is the "pure winger" everyone refers to with the argument "Pep uses a pure winger":

Take any of the highlights above and tell me in similar situations a Neymar, Messi, or sometimes even a combination of Iniesta-Alba on the flank won't kill it. 

FC Barcelona never faced a problem against teams providing such space to attack. That is one of the most important factors to be taken in consideration. FC Barcelona's offence (in tough situations) need to create gaps and attack such narrow pockets. 

For a player to operate as a winger for FC Barcelona, exceptional pace and stamina are not as crucial elements as they are in - say- counter attacking teams. At Barcelona, it is more a systematic functionality where you need to operate on the flank to open it if possible (as a team), launch crosses, switch roles and positions and master patient buildup.

Another element is the type of teams we are talking about. The physicality. When you have a Lewandowski in the box and a Muller running into it, that's not the same like having Suarez in the box and Messi running into it.

Beside Messi, you either have to play Iniesta or Rakitic, and either one need to play more conservative than Messi to keep the balance. Such selection will also lock Messi tactically and make it easier to check him physically. 

Another aspect you will lose with such structure is Suarez main virtue in such situation, and that is his movement that causes nightmares to defenders and open spaces. Now, you are locking him dead in the box because he is the only forward you got there.

This is what Pep had to say about Coman role (an awesome break from me) :

So, here we go:

- Coman was, at some point, the only player Pep had at Bayern for 1v1 situations. More against tired legs. Especially with Thiago being injured more often than not. I won't say that this is the case at FC Barcelona.

- As mentioned on twitter yesterday, Pep agrees here, stretching the field and creating width is the fullbacks job. Coman plays more interior than many credit him to.

Note that at FC Barcelona, Pep used Iniesta/Henry as a LW and never mentioned that he need to by a "pure winger". And he could.

So, now that we put that Pep argument to bed, what about Cruyff? There is such a strange belief that Cruyff was obsessed in having pure wingers hugging the lines and running attack. Here are some Cruyff samples for some of Cruyff's most remembered games as a manager:

Cruyff 1989 European Cup Final Barcelona – Sampdoria

Cruyff 1992 European Cup Final Barcelona – Sampdoria
Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid
Barcelona-Milan CL final

As one can see, it's the system that is supposed to create a solution collectively, or collapse completely. Not a specific player doing one specific thing. 

So, taking from Cruyff spirit of the game, isn't this selection more like it? That's if we are entitled to go that path in the first place.

b) Is the winger demand an abstract idea, or an observation based on previous season?

Assuming this right winger idea actually work, how often will it be needed? Judging by last season, rarely the team had a game where the players failed to generate chances. Most of the points wasted were in the games we had tons of chances, but didn't convert.

So, is the countering solution to bring a player who is capable of generating more opportunities (again, assuming that's the case with RW), or a player who can help converting the chances already generated?

And if a striker who can play as a 9 but at the same time can do as a flanked forward will struggle to have playing time, what about the pure right winger?

3) Lets talk Arrigo Sacchi tone:

In modern football, there are too many stuff to do and just 10 outfield players to count on. Its the system dynamics, not the collective outcome of the players that create solutions. Players with more diversity, versatility, and tactical complexity are the keys to solve and unlock all obstacles, over players with specific expertise.

Admittedly, such players are extremely rare and very hard to find. That's why teams breakdown tactical functions and get players capable of doing this piece here, or that piece there in that puzzle. FC Barcelona, for now, are better then that.

Arrigo Sacchi used to talk about the exponential added value of Player A + Player B, and how tactics role is to make the outcome goes beyond the absolute sum of the two players qualities. 

If you can't feed the box from the flank without a pure right wing, then the opponent will push your RW to the side line and as Cruyff put it: The side line is the best defender as it terminates 50% of the options for the player on the ball. But if you do this, this is none defensible:

4) Lets talk systems

Tactical unpredictability is actually the most lethal weapon you can use against opponents. Such unpredictability requires quality (players) and bravery (Manager).

All the arguments so far assume that keeping all of MSN on the field is a must when the team need a goal. Judging by last season, that's not true as there were games where one of the three was obviously out of form and with no chance that this -great- player, in this specific game will deliver anything.

That's where a quality second forward can provide you with an endless queue of possibilities. 

So far, our transfer strategy seems to be executed to perfection. We added the defenders we need, added the midfielder we need (who can also play as a winger btw), and it seems like we are targeting another striker and hopefully we find the right option there for the club to successfully execute plan A across the summer. 

Will all that provide the titles that such effort deserves? That's out of control. The beauty of this game.

You can always check latest rants on @FootballMood

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