Mark Gleeson

Time to play winning soccer

2010-05-03 10:48
Mark Gleeson
By Mark Gleeson

The world has this week has been hailing Jose Mourinho, the so-called prince of ‘anti-football’ whose win at all costs tactics are more often derided than celebrated.

But after beating both Chelsea and Barcelona for a place in the upcoming UEFA Champions League final, the tactical approach of Mourinho is now recognised as genius.

In many previews before last Wednesday’s semi final second leg, the game between defending champions Barcelona and Inter Milan was characterised as an outing between what is good and bad about the game.

Barcelona’s quick passing, free flowing and voluminously attacking style is seen as the epitome of good football; Mourinho’s defensive, win-at-all-costs nature the ugly side of the game. Out came all the purists and the pugilists to take a place on either side of the debate.

South African football is full of all of these purists, insisting we have a brand of football that is all about the beauty of the game.

But to me it is all such trite mumbo-gumbo. There was a reminder of the pointlessness of this approach on Saturday when the young amateurs of Puk Tawana went up against Orlando Pirates in the Nedbank Cup, condemned from the opening whistle to having no chance of winning because of their philosophy toward the game.

The side from North West University are allies to Mamelodi Sundowns and come under the instruction of Ted Dumitru, a passionate proponent of passing, skills and alleged free expression. He writes volumes about it on many forums and has a keen eye for a particular type of player – nippy and tricky.

To his credit, Dumitru was the first to recognise the international potential of Siphiwe Tshabalala and Tsepo Masilela and of course won league success with both Chiefs and Sundowns.

But he blotted his copybook with Bafana Bafana at the 2006 African Nations Cup finals, without doubt the worst side we’ve ever put out, where he sought to use the national team to prove his philosophy and found that the physical and athletic nature of the African game far too strong for his ball-juggling midgets.

He had spoken much over the last 20 days of the potential of the Puk Tawana players but I felt for all their obvious ability, that their careers are really being thrown down the river by the failure to teach them that the game these days is about much more than just dancing around with the ball trying to probe an penetrate.

Mourinho would have been proud of FC Cape Town, who went into their Nedbank Cup tie recognising their inferiority to opponents Kaizer Chiefs, and thus packing the midfield to stifle their more creative opponents. A few break away chances thrown in the mix and, hey presto, FC Cape Town are in the quarter-finals.

To grow and develop future professionals, we have to teach them firstly to win, then worry about how elegantly they pass or how proficiently they pass the ball.

As much as players should be encouraged to become comfortable with the ball at their feet, they have to learn to revolve the ball with pace.  

That in effect is one touch football.

As much as players should be encouraged to push forward onto attack, a team needs shape and tactical discipline or it will be punished.

As much as individual talent should not be stifled, it is a team game.

South Africa must start to accept that the concept of buzzing around, showing off skills and hoping some how it will lead to goals is immature, outdated and, in effect, lazy football.

This game is about winning and the modern champion is quick, athletic, physically strong, intelligent and well trained. Everyone in South Africa is talking development these days, but are the coaches producing a next generation with all of the above ingredients. On Saturday’s evidence, we are still hanging onto a losing philosophy.

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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