Incidents and Accidents – By Dominic Kearney
When did people start saying “system?” What was wrong with “line-up” or “formation?”
I suppose system is good because it sounds modern, technological, scientific.
Formation is gone, daddio. It makes you think of a flock of geese, or a squadron of Spitfires, or ballroom dancing.
System is cool. System kids you into thinking people know what they’re doing, that they’re in control.
They’re aren’t, of course, or not all the time, anyway. Football’s just like life. We can make lists and put things in the diary and have everything planned and ordered, then the giant spanner of fate is chucked into the works and chaos reigns.
“What do you fear most?” is a question supposedly put to Harold MacMillan, to which he reportedly replied, “Events, dear boy, events.” The Uruguay manager will know exactly what he meant, although he’d probably have said chico, and whatever the Spanish is for events.
You can have everything in place, you can drill your defence, you can instruct your wide-men to track back, and then it all goes to pot because Gerrard misses a header, or Suarez bites a defender, or Barry slips over and rolls into Lukaku.
You can’t legislate for everything, although commentators and pundits reckon you should.
You’ll often hear a defender criticised for being out of position, when really he simply wasn’t where the ball went. It’s not as if players always know where the ball is going when they kick it. If they did, you wouldn’t see the ball ballooned into the crowd in a one-on-one, or sliced for a throw-in, or given to someone wearing a completely different colour shirt.
You see plenty of good moves and examples of great technique leading to goals, but there are more instances when they don’t. Most goals, and therefore most results, are the consequence of luck or poor concentration or human error, capitalised upon by chance or speed of thought.
Chaos is king, and someone is sharp enough to take advantage of the confusion, just like in life. It’s only afterwards that a pattern is imposed on the action.
This World Cup is taking place in a shadow, of course. Tiki-taka is dead. Tiki-taka – or, as I like to call it, passing to someone in the same colour shirt as you – was invented in Barcelona in 2002.
Before then, players simply ran into each other and now and then collided with the football which occasionally bounced flukily into the net.
This will, naturally, come as news to countless teams – the double-winning Spurs team, Ajax and Holland of the 70s, Revie’s Leeds, Catterick’s Everton, Real Madrid in the 50s and 60s, Liverpool under Paisley and Shankly, Brazil in 1970 and 1982, Clough’s Forest and so on.
However, you will find that these teams didn’t actually exist. Or, maybe, that no-one thought to name their style of play after an otter. Or, that they all played at a time when football was given just about the attention it deserved.
Tiki-taka isn’t dead. Tiki-taka was never born. It just happened, and it just so happened because Xavi and Iniesta and Messi and a few others found themselves playing in the same team at the same time.
If it’s on the way out, it’s because Xavi and Iniesta and Alonso are no longer fully fit and in their 20s. And also because Spain arrogantly and freakishly tried to take the whole business to its mad conclusion. Scoring a goal meant surrendering possession. Reductio ad absurdum.
They forgot that a bit of chaos is necessary.
And a bit of chaos is fun. That’s why I disagree with all those pontificating pundits who complain that this World Cup has been so good and now Suarez has spoiled it.
He hasn’t! He’s added to it, with his skill and lunacy and mad instinct for chaos.
Football is simple and stupid and barmy and brilliant. There is no system.