Does a “right way” of playing football exist?

One of the most interesting aspects of the modern day game is how different managers implement different tactics and styles of play. These variations of football is what makes the game enjoyable, exciting and unpredictable. If everyone played the Barcelona way, the universally agreed “right way” of playing the game it would not even be worth watching.


To make things completely understood, personally speaking the modern day Barcelona team of the last few years are the greatest team my generation has ever had the privilege of admiring. Watching Barcelona is a unique experience, a collection of a great set of players that adhere to a philosophy that has been stamped on the club seemingly since the beginning of time. Their achievements and their masterful appreciation of tactics have set the benchmark not only in Spain, not only in Europe, but on the footballing planet as a whole.


This does not mean in any way that the Barcelona style of play should be the only style of play and should never be called the “right way” of playing the game. This belief and understanding is harming the tactical evolution of a sport that has developed from often having eight or nine strikers in a team since its creation in England to often having only a single striker. This was also seen as the “right way” of playing the sport and was implemented across the board. There was no room for individual thought. Football may be a simple game, but it’s simplicity was stripped bear to the bone.


Fans and managers should embrace the philosophies of teams such as Stoke City, who relied on their power, their height advantage and defensive capabilities after their promotion to the Premier League. Lovers of the sport should begin to love the Italian style of play, demonstrated by the counter attacking football that teared Chelsea apart during Napoli’s first leg win over Chelsea in last season’s champions league quarter finals.


Culture can play a much understated role in deciding the method of a team’s playing style. The beautiful passing style of Barcelona has been seen as a statement of their uniqueness, their Catalan identity and a tool to fight the suppression faced by Madrid. Therefore, while there may not be such a thing as a right way to play the game, the short passing and high pressing style of Barcelona is the right way for Barcelona to play.


The samba beats of sunny Brazil often dictate the tempo and style of play of Brazilian players and teams and the phrase “they’re playing like Brazil” wasn’t created for no reason. Implementing this into a defensive cultured Serie A team will prove impossible and, ultimately, pointless. Vice-versa implementing a defensive minded system into a Brazilian side, who have been brought up on a healthy diet of attacking football and a belief that outscoring the opposition is enough, will prove to be equally as pointless.


This is very much a “static” thought process. These teams and nations have one style of play and rarely venture beyond this belief. However football becomes even more interesting when teams implement a flexible set of tactics. Jose Mourinho is widely regarded as a defensive minded coach which is a ludicrous claim. This was placed on Mourinho mainly because of his stint as manager of Chelsea and later Inter Milan. Mourinho was simply implementing a set of tactics most suited to his team. It just so happened that creating a solid defensive team played to the strengths of these teams to win silverware, which is ultimately the aim of every professional member of the football community. The fan only now has to watch Real Madrid in action to appreciate Mourinho’s flexible approach to tactics, as fluid attacking plays remain the staple diet of the Madrid faithful. Why? Because this tactic is embedded into the heart and culture of Madrid and therefore allowed Mourinho to ditch his defensive tactics in order to play to the strength of his team.


So next time a pundit or a mate down the pub utters those misguided words to demonstrate their knowledge of the game you can now revel in the fact that by doing so you know they are showcasing their tactical naivety and lack of understanding of how the game functions. For the fans this is an honest mistake. For those pundits and experts paid to educate and offer insight into the game of football it is a shame of the highest order.


Tomos Llewellyn