How Bradford City lost the first game of the Qatar World Cup

Milla!

My worry for the World Cup in Qatar is that should – in 2022 – I carry on my personal tradition of taking the four weeks off work to watch the competition I might end up watching some really poor football matches.

Which is not to say I am not sympathetic to the problems of human rights – I am – or annoyed by the politics of FIFA – they annoy me – but the problems of football have always been weighed against the the enjoyment of football.

FIFA might be considered by many a bunch of crooks but watching Germany rip into Brazil was amazing as was watching Cameroon beat Argentina in 1990.

Cameroon beating Argentina might be the biggest shock result in World Cup history. For Cameroon everything went right and for Argentina – World Champions on the day – very little did.

Upset

All of which echo’s Phil Parkinson’s words after City lost 3-0 to Reading in the FA Cup this week.

In the days after the game Parkinson said “To achieve a cup upset, which ultimately we would have to do again (to beat Reading), you need everything to go in your way. A lot of things went in Reading’s favour, from completely resting their team on the Saturday, having a home fixture, being able to play their strongest side and then getting off to a terrific start.”

Parkinson has balanced his commitment to Bradford City with his love for Reading well this week but – perhaps – this is where the manager is a little selfish. Once the Berkshire press and national had taken the microphone away Parky concluded: “They got lucky, we could not even put up a fight.”

Which was not what the BBC wanted to hear and probably not what the Reading newspapers – who quickly announced that The Royals were in a cup final before adding a “semi” for good measure – were keen on hearing but it seemed to be the most honest assessment of the situation I had read.

Back to the future

The Qatar World Cup will be played in December rather than June or July which will cause all manner of problems for the Premier League but at least will allow football to be played. In December the temperature of Doha drops to twenty-six degrees rather than the upper thirties of June.

The logic is simple. Football cannot be played in in June in Qatar. It is too hot and while some players could have struggled to have a game the chances of good games were probably reduced. Even FIFA – an organisation who seem to have very little interest in actual football compared to organisation of football – could see that it faced a global humiliation of a month of watching teams West Germany/Austria through games.

The prospect of games were teams were concerned with saving energy, or just trying to get through games, because of the heat seems to have loomed large and the tournament was moved.

Even FIFA understand that to host a good football competition you have to give the teams a chance to play good football.

“Come Monday night we turn the telly off”

The Reading vs Bradford City game had been put on Monday night because of various TV deals between the FA and UEFA about showing Champions League matches.

Playing the third long away games in six days Bradford City were shoved onto BBC One for a live no-contest. Four minutes into the game it was obvious that City were not just going to lose that match but that they had been incapable of competing in a game.

The players were not able to play a competitive match.

And this is not to do with a level of fitness – City were not less fit than Reading – it is to do with understanding multi-polar handicaps.

City were not more able to play a third game in six days than England or Scotland would be able to play in the June heat of Qatar unless – of course – England were playing Scotland in which case both teams would be suffering the same handicap.

Reading knew that and that is why the gave their team six days off. To extend the point the game on Monday night was like a World Cup game in Qatar were City playing in June while Reading were in December.

Which is why the overwhelming feeling for me and seemingly for Phil Parkinson too from Monday is not that City got knocked out of the FA Cup – although that happened – but that City never got a chance to try progress. That The FA did what was best for the TV Deals they struck, and best for UEFA and their TV deals, but not what was best for teams wanting to play a good football match or fans wanting to watch a football match.

Which considering the FA’s stance on FIFA moving the World Cup leads one to conclude that the FA are less interested in allowing teams to play football than they should be.

How far with the lesson of Germany reach?

Self flagellation has always been popular in English football and when the national side returned home from a World Cup 4-1.5ing by Germany the press and players had already begun to whip itself in a freeze of internalised loathing showing the defining characteristic of the media approach to the game: That the game is played by England and other sides are the subject of that.

So when England play well – nine out of ten in qualifying – it is because of our abilities and when we lose it is the lack of those which is the problem and credit is never extended to the opposition. Watching Germany ram four past Argentina though could cause cause for a pause. However poor one might feel England were either Argentina (and Australia) were equal to that or – perhaps – there is something worth noticing going on in Joachim Löw’s side.

There has been a consensus that the Germans – who played a central five in the midfield with an average age of just under 23 years old – have stolen a march on the World because of that youth and freshness and there is much to be said for the way that they have blooded their younger players. 25 year old Schweinsteiger is on his second World Cup. So is Wayne Rooney, scratch that idea then.

Much is also made about the formation which Fabio Capello – and Diego Maradona – employed compared to Löw’s Germans and suddenly the word “fourfourtwo” is becoming something of a negative in the English game. One can almost hear now managers up and down the country being charged with the idea that they – like Capello – lack the imagination to play a more exotic tactic and one can expect three months of randomly thrown together formations up and down football.

Freakish results will mark the start of the season as teams who deploy something more “characterful” than the 442 which has fallen from fashion. As Clough said “There is a lot of rubbish talked about tactics by people who would not know how to win a game of Dominoes.”

Not that this will effect Peter Taylor who has signed the players and settled on a 433 at Valley Parade and City can make hay as League Two players are deployed in fanciful ways to little effect. Finding a way of playing and sticking to it is perhaps the most important thing.

On the fourfourtwo one can say that while it may have faults when playing three games every four years in the World Cup in the cut and thrust of two games a week for nine months the simplicity, adaptability and ease of the approach is the reason for its enduring popularity. Week to week football requires not a surgeon’s tool but a Swiss Army Knife, which is what fourfourtwo is.

The German’s 4231 – originally a formation played in Portugal because of the freedom it gives to the kind of attacking midfielder that that nation excels in producing such as Luis Figo, Joao Pinto and his brother Sergio – is nothing especially new.

The lesson of the Germans is not in tactics but in the deployment of players within those formations. The heart of the German side is Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira who play the deep set midfielder role in a revolutionary manner. Popular conception has it that the two in a 4231 should be holding midfielders and ball winners but Löw’s pairing are more box to box players capable of tackling and getting behind the ball for sure but also able to be used as a spring board for attacking play.

For Schweinsteiger and Khedira there is no need to look for a passer after taking the ball – the pair are equipped to play in the three more forward midfielder – increasing the speed of the counter attack and its accuracy. What they loose in not having a Claude Makelele they gain in rapidity of play creating a nod to total football ideology. As Schweinsteiger plays the ball forward so Mesut Özil or Lukas Podolski or Thomas Müller can drop back and tackle.

This is a stark contrast to the approach that many – myself included – have to for example the English midfield which agonises over the choice between attacking players like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and ball winners like Gareth Barry. The roles are as split as centre forward and full back but not for Löw’s Germans.

There is a plan for sure and positions – this is not total football Dutch style – but the less rigid assignment of player roles gives a fluidity which England, Australia and Argentina have been incapable of living with. The jobs are done in that German engine room but – crucially – the players who do them have the ability and remit to do each other’s tasks.

Even Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano – as fine a pair of specialised players as one could see – looked old fashioned and stolid in comparison and as Schweinsteiger surged to the left touchline and set up a second goal it seemed obviously that if Germany could prevent Messi emulating that then Mascherano simply would not attempt it.

The granularity of positions – especially in the midfield – has become something of a mantra for modern football and one recalls Lee Crooks and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson but struggles to think of them both as “midfielders” rather one as a holder, the other as an attacker. The same could be said about Dean Furman and Nicky Law although perhaps not about Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock.

Indeed whatever lessons are emanating from the German side at the moment Peter Taylor seems to have adopted. His midfield trio next season are Flynn, Bullock and Tommy Doherty and none of them fit easily into the idea of being players only able to – or only ready to – performing a single role.

It remains to be seen what lessons the game as a whole take from World Cup 2010 and if those lessons create a path to success but City seem to be ahead of a curve that is coming and should that bring the same rewards for the Bantams as it has for the previously unfavoured Germans then next season could be a good year indeed.

What type of England team do we want?

One which beats Germany, obviously, but in the last two weeks the England team has been questioned and answered those questions on the field with a good performance that deserved more than the 1-0.

The adjectives directed at England after the win over Slovenia were muted in comparison to those tagged to the team when playing poorly. Most of these can be crossed off against each other with every “Worst. Team. Ever” being the opposite of “World Beaters” and cancelling each other out.

What we are left with though are comments like “overpaid” and “arrogant” of which there is are no counter-balances. After beating Slovenia no one said that the players earned their wages, that they seemed humble, that they were good value for money.

Which paints the picture of the England side we have. It is considered arrogant and over paid but as long as it does not under perform then we tend to be happy enough. Outside of World Cup years – and in the cases of clubs like Manchester United inside them too – no one much cares about the England side on a day to say basis. As long it can harbour optimism while the club sides wend their way on then everyone seems content.

Content but not happy. John Terry’s life over the last year has not be plain sailing either in or away from football. His tabloid exposure earlier cast him low and he had the England captaincy taken from him but he won the league and cup double with Chelsea and his rehabilitation was enhanced as he dove headlong for a face-tackle to put England into the second round.

While John Terry was putting his head in the way of the ball Wayne Bridge was at home counting his money. Not hard to see why Terry is coming back to the national heart, if not being held close.

Alas though the nation seems set to keep England away from its heart – the place where Cheryl and not Ashley Cole is, the place where Gary Lineker was and Wayne Rooney might hope to be – and continue with the adjectives.

Arrogant, over-paid, under-performing. The England side hold the same position in our culture that Gladiators held in Ancient Rome. They were cheered and lauded whilst being loathed and looked down upon. We are invited to look at laugh at Mr and Mrs Rooney and the gaucheness of their lifestyle but he is expected to perform for our delight and be a target for our anger.

Perhaps then – as Fabio Capello takes his team to play the Germans and hyperbole awaits regardless of the result – it is worth considering what kind of England team the national heart would want to see.

Firstly there is the count of being arrogant which would be easily solved by the FA adopting a behavioural code which would cover anything considered to be “unbecoming of an England player”. This code would be as changeable as the charge of “bringing the game into disrepute” but in essence a group of men in a room at the FA would pass judgement on the play and lives of the England squad.

So John Terry would be out – conduct unbecoming of an England player – and most probably Rooney would be too as a result of his fiery temper in Manchester United games. Frank Lampard left his wife for a younger woman and would no doubt also be guilty of conduct unbecoming of an England player should there be a sense of moral outrage and perhaps too so would Ashley Cole for his reported womanising.

A moral stand to render the squad of humble – or at least strike of those who are not – and as a result the quality of the side would suffer but the national heart would have a team it could invite round to tea.

Ridding England of the idea that the players are overpaid is tougher but not impossible. If we take the idea that £30,000 is a reasonable wage for a man on the street who is doing well and multiple that figure by four for the lifespan of a footballer then the FA simply make a decision that no player who earns more than £120,000 a year – £2,300 a week – can be picked for the England squad.

Pretty much all of the senior Premiership and the Championship players would be ruled out of representing for the Three Lions and to be honest a few of the clubs at the top of League One would probably pay more than that but probably half the way down the third tier of English football one would find no shortage of people who fancied paying for England – provided they behaved – and would be immune to the idea that they are over-paid.

One could add to that a good few young players from the top two divisions too and one would have an England side which – along with the behaviour rules – would be well behaved and paid what would be considered a fair wage and thus be immune to those criticisms. They would probably also be immune to World Cup qualification too with the majority of sides in Europe taking their players from the leagues we would ignore.

Nevertheless there would be a kind of glory in watching the honourable side battling to finish above Wales or Northern Ireland – who would provide good examples of the quality of squad we would have – and as a bonus the FA could offer centralised contracts which would allow them to loan these players to clubs and take them back for lengthier England meet ups.

The team would be unrecognisable but it would be free from the criticism of being paid too much, being too arrogant or under-performing although that would be largely because it would not be expected to perform nor would it have the capabilities to. Most games would have the feel of the third round of the FA Cup and any point would be hard won. Performances could be good, better than the sum of the parts, but it is highly unlikely the side would even get to a play-off for the World Cup.

Victory is the key – victory in qualifying, in friendlies, in the World Cup – and the accusation of under-performing will continue should these victories not be frequent. The English play Germany on Sunday and punditry has it that after that we will play Argentina and then Brazil which represent the only three teams in the World the English side are allowed to lose to, and only in the case of penalties with the Germans.

Everyone else England must beat or be under-performing so high are expectations although meeting those expectations. The glorious exit or – perhaps – the victory and we answer the question “What type of England team do we want?” saying “This one, for all the faults.”

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