The debate over the importance of pre-season continues, including a league table from last season for stats fans. Plus travelling to watch your team and Blackpool...
We have some conclusions from Louis van Gaal's perfect start, plus a dismissal of fantasy football, worries about La Liga's greediness and thoughts on Real with Ham-ez...
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Set-Up Is Nothing Without Talent
Can we all just stop with the youth coaching being the answer to winning the World Cup nonsense. I will give you that it is an important aid but that is all it is. Listening to Joachim Loew crying 'Eureka we have the formula it's schools of excellence' really gets on my nerves. The Dutch have had schools of excellence for years before everyone else and have managed to win how many World Cups? For all their schooling too they still have an extremely limited bunch of young players at their disposal right now. The reason for this is that talent often appears in cycles. Why can't people just accept that every now and then a country produces an array of genuinely talented players from the well. Belgium would be a perfect example. What Loew is essentially suggesting is that all the players of Germany's past were all World Cup winners had they just got their youth coaching set up fine tuned. They were all Ozils & Kroos' & Schweinsteigers in disguise. It is nonsense to suggest so.
Germany have benefited from perfect timing more than anything else. They refined their youth coaching set-up at the exact time when a bunch of young players of sublime quality manifested. This wasn't a masterstroke. It was a favourable coincidence. I am not saying that England shouldn't change their coaching set-up, they absolutely should. If anything though just to be prepared for their cycle of great players if it ever manifests and give them the best possible chance of success. Without the players however you are likely to experience the same heartache tournament after tournament.
Talent can be nurtured without doubt but it is also something you are born with - a gift. Without the gift there is nothing there to nurture in the first place.
Crookster (cracking World Cup all the same - congrats Germany)
Innovate, Not Imitate
I wanted to agree with Earlsfieldblue's morning mailbox missive stating it was obvious how Germany rebuilt their footballing fortunes after 2000.
Alas, while I can see how some of the measures he highlights have helped Germany, I really don't think its that simple. If it was really obvious everyone would do it. If it was so obvious that quotas, ownership rules and reduced ticket prices would create World Cup-winning national teams how come Brazil, Italy and Spain have all won World Cups without all of them recently?
Coaching methods and footballing structures are always changing and subject to innovation as countries and clubs look to get a competitive edge. In 1998 we were all told that the Clairefontaine centre in France was the way to go do develop great teams and England began to copy this idea. In subsequent years the virtues of five-a-side football with a heavier ball or the methods of La Masia have been extolled as well as the need for more qualified coaches.
But by the time these new coaching methods have created World Cup/Champions League winning teams (say roughly ten years after they were introduced to youngsters) they are already behind the curve. Oppositions figure out how to deal with different styles, coaching approaches are refined and improved and what was effective one day becomes less effective a few years later.
In my opinion the problem with England is that we always look to imitate what the best team of any given day did to produce their current crop ten years back when that country has already moved on with what they are doing. Instead of looking to impose quotas or particular coaching styles the FA should be thinking about the structures they can put in place to encourage English coaches to innovate for themselves and create new cutting each training methods and approaches before anyone else - rather than just copying them.
I think the biggest thing that the German FA did was the introduction of standardised, high-quality academies at top teams Whether this is the best approach to encourage innovative coaching and tactics I don't know, but that point is that the German FA looked to change the structure of youth development so that coaching would continually improve and innovate over time so that they would stay ahead of the curve. Simply copying the best training and development approach of the day won't get you anywhere because by the time your players graduate the best nations will have already moved on.
Oscar (cracking World Cup but ultimately disappointed that the knock-outs did not live up to the excitement of the group stages) THFC, Geneva
Something in John Nicholson's column from earlier today struck home with me. The English are obsessed with copying someone else's blueprint. Or at least taking bits from everyone else's blueprint. Now, there's nothing wrong with learning from how other people do things, but during my football watching prime I've been subjected to reading how post 1998 we should be copying Clairefontaine. In 2002 we should have all been playing Futsal. In 2010 it was tiki-taka and now we should be copying the Germans. It is notable that we most definitely shouldn't adopt the 2006 Italian method of creating a siege mentality within the squad, followed by winning matches as cynically as possible.
In any case, surely there is a more obvious solution. I use the word 'solution' in its broadest sense, because nothing we do can guarantee success, given that a large slice of luck is required to win any tournament. But we can give ourselves a fighting chance. The thing that is lacking above all else in English footballers as far as I'm concerned is intelligence. I'm not talking about more people appearing on Countdown and shoehorning words they don't really understand into co-commentary. I mean game intelligence.
It's not enough to develop technically gifted footballers, or wondrously athletic footballers. These guys, they're good at football, which is great. But they don't understand why they're good at football. England (and I'm generalising) produce over-coached clones with all creative thinking and freedom conditioned out of them in search of the holy grail of the risk-averse football that the Premier League is built around.
It is foolish to ignore the fact that, much like everything else these days, there is a theoretical side to football. The how and why of what happens on the pitch. How to find space, how to manipulate opponents, how to maintain possession, how to dictate the tempo of a match. Game management. These things can't be taught solely on the training pitch. Players need to be sat down, in a classroom and taught how to play football, encouraged to actually think about what they do on the pitch and why they do it. How to fit into different formations. How to chase a game, how to close a game out. Hell, even introduce written exams if it helps!
Some of our players have this ability to read the game. But this is attributed to these players having a 'football brain', this mystical thing that you can only be born with. Wrong. All the best teams have a number of players that have the clichéd 'first yard in the head'. That's not an accident. It's all very well aspiring to produce an English team with eleven wonderfully gifted technical footballers. But they're just a different kind of automaton to what we produce now. Until we start to teach them how to use their gifts the navel-gazing is likely to continue.
Are England Worst Of Worst?
Of course not. They drew with Costa Rica, who drew with Holland, who drew with Argentina, who lost 1-0 in extra-time to Germany. So they're no worse than any of these teams.
And about five goals better than Brazil, on that evidence.
Following this woeful logic to its conclusion, my Scottish mate points out that should Scotland win their opening Euro '16 qualifier away to Germany, they will regain their 1967 'unofficial world champions' title.
Don't Forget The Real Hero
Congrats to Lukas Podolski who follows in the grand tradition of footballers placing themselves front and centre of the celebrations despite contributing very little to the game/tournament in question.
David May and John Terry have found their heir...
That Ozil Witch-Hunt Again...
I didn't think Ozil was magnificent last night, but he did create two golden opportunities for Kroos to score, and Kroos should have done a lot better with them. However I feel, and I know a lot of Arsenal fans feel this, that there is a media witch hunt going on. Exemplified by BBC Sport's comment when rating the players:
'Made numerous tidy contributions without really being able to impose himself and was later substituted.'
That is just shameful journalism, a deliberate attempt to put a negative spin on it by implying he was taken off because of his performance. There was 90 seconds left, they put on a big tall central defender to field the inevitable high balls that were going to be lumped up by the desperate opposition. Seriously, whoever wrote that, hang your head in shame.
The South Americans: Poor
I may be missing something, but was nobody else thoroughly disappointed by Brazil and Argentina all tournament? For countries that strut and preen the world stage as elite nations, they seem unable to muster a competent midfield between them, and have spent the World Vup relying on deep-lying defences, relentless and cynical low-grade fouling, individual virtuoso attackers, and an emotionally charged sense of entitlement.
Even allowing for stylistic differences and South American football's historic preference for specialist defensive midfielders and dedicated attackers, rather than creative midfielders, Brazil and Argentina's reliance on players of the calibre and style of Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho, Fernandinho, Mascherano and Biglia is painful to watch.
Did the referee's decision to not send Mascherano off for his assault on Schweinsteiger in fact work in Germany's favour? We know how those games with a sent off player go, right? The numerically-challenged team doubles up in defence and we suddenly find ourselves on the highway to Shootoutville. I don't think Goetze would have had a sniff at the chance he actually did get. He would have found it much harder to get even that (admittedly small) amount space to punish Argentina. So I guess that Nicola Rizzoli's decision to rein in on the cards should be in fact lauded, as it kept the dynamics and outcome of the game pretty open.
Messi Does Not Need The World Cup
I keep hearing people say Messi can't be regarded as a true all-time great because he hasn't dominated a World Cup. I disagree. While if he had scored a hat trick last night he would have ended the discussion, as I see it his club exploits have already cemented his place among the all-time greats. He has been the best player in probably the best club side of all time and personally I think he had a pretty decent World Cup, in any case he has one or maybe two World Cups still to play in so it's not time to close the book on it just yet.
Miroslav Klose has been excellent at World Cups, Davor Suker won a golden boot, I'd have wanted neither at United. Özil is a World Cup winner, despite being a passenger the entire tournament. The World Cup is great but it isn't the be all and end all, if anything the standard of football in the latter stages of the Champions League, where Messi has excelled on countless occasions, is higher than in the World Cup. The title of 'greatest player ever' is so subjective it's meaningless anyway but Messi, World Cup or no World Cup, deserves to be mentioned in any pointless discussion of the topic.
Cristiano Ronaldo had a poor World Cup, much poorer than Messi's, but if he keeps scoring a goal/game at a high level for a few more years he'll still be regarded an all-time great as well.
...A big shout out to Will O' Doherty and Toby Sprigings for articulating wonderfully what I, in my frustration, could not do last night. I am totally sick of this ridiculous 'Messi must win the WC to be a true great' na**ative that every commentator seems to wedded to. Why on earth would that be the case? Shearer (who in fairness has really upped his game) went as far as saying that if Messi had converted that chance at the beginning of the 2nd half then we could talk about him in those terms. What garbage. Are we really going to decide the entire legacy of a player based on a single shot that goes six inches wide? What about a single match? Or a single tournament? Is it not fairer to judge a player (ideally after he has retired of course) over a long period of time to decide if there has been sustained excellence?
The other thing here of course is what people expected of him. Personally I think it was a minor miracle he managed to score four goals, get two assists and create more chances than any other player at the tournament given that he was double and at times triple-marked. No other player is subject to this kind of treatment (for obvious reasons) but his reputation and ability apparently means no one takes this into account. No player can do it all on their own. They never have and they never will. Historical revisionism means that some say Maradona did it but this just isn't true. Messi was badly let down by his fellow attackers in Brazil, but I haven't seen many headlines/articles panning Higuain/Aguero/Palacio.
I realise Messi is held to incredible standards but some of the crap I have heard has gone too far. Argentina's tactic was literally give the ball to Messi. No one should be subjected to that kind of pressure. Taking the opposition tactics as well as the performances of his fellow forwards into account, Messi had a brilliant tournament. And he is already a true great (whatever that means). You don't need to turn in a 'major performance' in the WC final to confirm that. If we are going by that logic then Frank Leboeuf is one of the greatest defenders of all time. Messi has nothing to prove.
Don't Count Spain Out
I agree with the overall sentiment of Robert Anderson's entry in the morning mailbox, that Germany look well-placed to begin a cycle of success. Some players are moving towards the winter of their international careers (Klose obviously, but Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Mertesacker are no spring chickens), but if you look at some of the players who are still young or were out injured (Reus, Gundogan, Bender[s]) they will likely continue to have the best squad around.
However, Spain's Brazilian capitulation should not exclude them from the reckoning. The spine of the team needs replacing but it is not as if there aren't players ready to step up. Javi Martinez, Juan Mata, Fabregas, Busquets, Azpilicueta, David de Gea and Jordi Alba will (still) be in their prime in 2016 and 2018 (longer still in De Gea's case), whilst the likes of David Silva, Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Llorente (who Del Bosque was foolish not to bring), Jesus Navas and Sergio Ramos all have at least one more tournament in them as top performers. Then, you have to look at the young guns like Isco, Jese, Carvajal, Thiago Alcantara and Ander Herrera, amongst many others. In terms of raw quality, that's honestly not far off the German situation. A changing of the guard both on and off the pitch is in order, as well as a more flexible gameplan, but it seems foolish to count Spain out.
John Guillem, AFC
Pot Calling The Narrative...
So John Nicholson, who couches about 80% of his articles in reference to his background as a working class northerner or past-it rock god, is annoyed about people creating a narrative for the World Cup.
That kettle looks pretty black from here...
Paraic (I love a good story), Ireland