‘Arsenal lack steel in the middle of the park.’
‘The Premier League is the greatest league in the world.’
‘Peter Crouch has a great touch for such a big man.’
Whilst lamenting the failure of the media to afford his Chelsea side much-deserved praise, Florent Malouda inadvertently stumbled upon another. Despite a tally of 29 goals for and none against during the course of the Blues last six Premier League games, the Frenchman feels his side are still not considered to be the league’s entertainers.
“It is difficult to know why people still seem to think Arsenal and United play the best football,” said Malouda.
“Even when we finished on top of Arsenal, people said they played better than us. If you want to win the league, you have to be efficient, but when you look at how many goals we are scoring, you surely have to recognise there is real quality about us.
“The manager has worked at making sure we control games and you are seeing an evolution in our play. We are keeping more clean sheets but also scoring a lot more goals.”
Although Malouda’s sentiments may fail to garner much sympathy outside of Stamford Bridge, his words do poignantly allude to the persistent media veneration of Arsenal’s style and principles – even the most casual observer of English football would describe Arsenal’s style of play as the most aesthetically-pleasing. Why is this the case?
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side of 2010 are almost universally synonymous with short, quick, measured, ‘passing’ football, and are considered to the foremost proponents of this approach within English football. Across the continent, the overwhelming success of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side and the Spanish national team has helped to exacerbate the veneration of ‘passing’ football. Admirers and fans alike have eulogised such methods by stating that the aforementioned sides play football ‘the way it is supposed to be played’ and that they play ‘proper football’. Why is this style of football considered to be more valid than other methods? Surely all approaches to playing football are as valid as each other?
What’s even more baffling is the way in which managers who insist on sticking to their free-flowing ‘ideals’ and ‘principles’ to the detriment of their side’s fortunes are often subject to a diminished sense of responsibility and criticism. Take for example Tony Mowbray during West Bromwich Albion’s ill-fated Premier League season of 2008/09. Lingering in the drop-zone for most of the season, Mowbray refused to compromise his side’s tactics and style for the sake of Premier League survival. Speaking after a 2-0 defeat against Everton in February 2009, Mowbray stated, “There is naivety in our defending, but I enjoyed watching my team play.”
Similar ‘ills’ appear to be plaguing Wigan Athletic at the moment. After conceding ten goals without reply in their first two Premier League games of the season, the DW Stadium side already appear to be in deep trouble. Former Latics midfielder Michael Brown has suggested that Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, another proponent of ‘stylish’ football, will “not change his style of football.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but surely winning is of greater importance for those working within the game than entertainment? Were Mowbray and Martinez enlisted to entertain themselves and ultimately lose, or to improve their club’s fortunes at the highest level? Unfortunately for both Mowbray and Martinez, it appears as though the two aims in question are mutually exclusive.
This article is not a criticism of the way that sides such as Arsenal, Barcelona and Spain play – far from in fact. But Malouda and Mowbray’s comments seem to hint at the fact that a certain style of football is almost more valid than all other forms, and this cannot be the case. Measuring the entertainment value of a tangible item (in this case, style of football) is undoubtedly a subjective matter, so who has the authority to state that Sam Allardyce’s tactics are less legitimate (and by deduction, less entertaining) than those of Arsene Wenger?
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