Possession And Style
How England Is Held Back By It
The future of English soccer is dependent on examining the root cause of the phenomena that came from Spain’s attention to possession play from 2006 to 2013 (give or take), and, how the absence of their lead creative players – Iniesta and Xavi – will impact the style and success of their play. This is a great lesson for England to learn from, noting how Spain dominated the possession game for such a long stretch, and why it was such a success, giving them the 2008 European Cup, the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Cup. The English approach to soccer for years has been direct and to possess the ball with purpose on the field, which dismisses possession for possession’s sake and the creative play that can emerge as a result.
The fluidity seen in Germany’s approach to passing – from 2010 to 2016, give or take – can only be explained through their understanding of finding the right moment to make a pass. Mesut Özil is a good example of this; he tended to float around the field as his passing choices seem to float in a rhythmic way as well. Thomas Müller also provided a brilliant understanding of finding the right moment for a certain pass. It’s similar to what Platini had said of passing in the 1980s. As he put it, (paraphrasing) “When you pass to someone you want the pass to continue the move.” Essentially, he was saying there is a right moment to make a pass, according to a rhythm, which, as I see it, can be similar to music. Some songs are bad, some are good. It’s an opinion. No one can be “right” in music. Yet, there is a universal appraisal for certain songs from people like Mozart, The Beatles or The Beach Boys. So why is that? Why is it in the world of music where there’s no right or wrong there seems to be a right and wrong? It is what it is, as they say. But the underlining fact is that when you see something good, or hear something good, you’re caught with a feeling that whatever it is, it’s right. The same can be said for Germany’s approach to passing the ball. This is nothing new.
It could be said that the same German and English teams from 1990 are playing the same German and English teams from 2016; the same fundamentals have dissipated forward in time. In the semi final of the 1990 World Cup the story was the same. Germany was completely dominating England with overwhelming possession-oriented passing, led by Thomas Hessler and Lothar Matthäus. The same passing dominance was occurring in 2016, just with different German players. Sure, we could argue that it’s a slightly different style, yet, at the same time, they were dominating passing, yet again. The same can be said for England. Back in 1990, they had good passing, but met their match against the superior Germans. In today’s game, the English have good passing, and they probably will in the future, but they fall short in the presence of superior passing teams. The Germans continue to strive forward while the English are stuck in a backward cycle. And so it continues.