Monday, 12 November 2012

How deep is your love (of tactics)?

Do you know your regista from your trequartista? Could you tell the difference between an enganche and a ponta da lanca without whipping out a phrasebook?  Not so long ago the only positions on the football pitch you needed to worry about were defence, midfield and attack, but now there seem to be as many varieties of midfielder as there are overpriced, milky coffee drinks at your local Starbucks.

"A tall, skinny, wet volante, please"

This new vocabulary is used pretty extensively by those who analyse tactics on a regular basis, such as Jonathan Wilson or Zonal Marking.  Detailed analysis is made easier by the availability of chalkboards and, more recently, Manchester City's Analytics data.  It's important at this point, I think, to distinguish between tactical analysis and statistical analysis (which I've written about previously).  However, with these statistical resources the tools are there for anyone to delve as deep into a side's tactical system as they dare, and there are many interesting tactical analysis blogs out there if you know where to look.

But what is the appetite for in-depth analysis?  Match Of The Day pulls in around 3 million viewers each week, but the 'analysis' performed by Shearer, Hansen and their colleagues is barely worthy of the name.  Granted there isn't a huge amount of time between the final whistle and transmission in which they can be insightful, but their approach hardly extends beyond describing exactly what the viewer can see with their own eyes.  If the most-watched weekly football show in the country doesn't think its viewers want detailed tactical analysis, is this not telling?

In the stands, discussion is rarely about the strengths and weaknesses of playing a deep-lying playmaker against a team with inverted wingers.  On a football forum I visit I have seen football analysts described as “over-analysing try hard football hipster twat bell ends”, “autistic smug pricks”, and “some nerdy obsessive losers getting hard about the tactics in obscure matches”.  Playing Sunday League each week, tactical instructions seldom go beyond “get stuck in” or “let's up it another 10%”.  When Owen Coyle was asked about a Zonal Marking analysis of his Bolton side that suggested they did not play as 'attractive' a style of football as pundits were claiming, he countered that “facts and stats will tell you anything you want but nothing can beat the naked eye in football”.

That quote again - "nothing can beat the naked eye in football"

So do the majority of football fans actually want in-depth tactical analysis in the mainstream?  Or should it remain more on the sidelines as an alternative for those who want a little more than the 'say what you see' approach that many pundits take?  Is there a middle ground, where the current pundits just need to put a little more effort and thought into their analysis, a little like Gary Neville has done?  Or even scope for a new weekly show that looks at one or two interesting tactical battles that happened during the week?  That's a lot of questions for one paragraph and it's starting to make my head hurt, but with football clubs placing ever more importance on reaching out to and engaging with their fans, perhaps this is an area where the media can follow suit.


  1. Most of the tactical expertise is not in the mainstream media, its not in MOTD. Its rather with bloggers, regular forum visiters etc. Its these people that are the real tactical experts.
    It may sound a bit cocky, but bloggers are significantly better, in tactical analysis, than the MOTD pundits. You wouldn't get a tactical analysis on SkySports, BBC, DailyMail etc, but you would on various blogs.
    However, as you say MOTD happens right after the final whistle and most couldn't put across a good tactical view. But there are shows, for example for the Asian sector on ESPN, this show called "Verdict" with former players such as Steve McMahon, Paul Parker, current Blackburn DoF Shebby Singh etc who manage do put across a very good tactical analysis show. Well not Shebby, but the others.

  2. Great article mate! I think the focus on tactics differs from cultures, in Italy (yes I know I go on about them all the time) the media cover the tactical side of matches much frequently and more in depth than in England.

    I feel like the younger generation of football fans take a bigger interest in the tactical aspect than the older as well, not sure what this is down to however. Maybe due to the tactical analysis that we get now, but we didn't a few generations back? My interest started with Football Manager just a few years ago and now I've got a blog, and also do opposition scouting for a semi-professional team, so that could even be a factor haha!

    I agree with Sami, even if it does sound cocky, most blogs give a much better analysis of things than any television analysis, despite how much more popular the latter are, even straight after the game everyone who owns a blog on football tactics will be able to talk much more sense than Redknapp and Co.

    I don't see what the hate is about football analysts are either, some just say that you might as well just enjoy the game instead of analysing it, but I quite enjoy doing the latter (hence the blog) and anyway, statistics and general analysation are very useful, even if the former doesn't show exactly what happened like you said. Which forum did you see the hateful comments by the way pal?

    Again good article pal, will be sure to share this amongst my own followers!