One of the most recurrent phrases that you will hear in soccer today is that of a managers ‘philosophy of football.’ It appears that nowadays success can only be achieved if you have a ‘philosophy,’ a style of play, which you believe in and which you stand by even when things are not going well. It is possible to ignore the fact that the word clearly has no place in the context of soccer. Even that whenever a manager talks about his philosophy it conjures, not the notion of new intellectual facade to the game, but instead the impression of a pretentious European trying to sound more intelligent than he really is. However, even disregarding these frustrating characteristics of the phrase, it is possible that when a manager professes to have a successful philosophy, it may actually be to the detriment of the team’s success in the long term. There are also a few philosophies that go into sports betting, like for example using a promo code to get a great head start.
The most famous footballing philosophy in the world is that of the impregnable style employed by the soccer team considered the best in the world by many. Barcelona’s combination of supreme technical ability, stylish passing and an indomitable work rate has seen them rise to the top of the UEFA rankings, and in some years made them practically invincible. All this is down to the brilliant and unmovable philosophy of total football that the club employs, regardless of who is in charge. Why then were they made to look so average in the recent 7-0 mauling at the hands of Bayern Munich? This was not the first sign of a less effective Barca who narrowly scraped through the quarter-finals against PSG, and lost in the group stage to Celtic. Certainly this year the once feared team always seemed to be beatable. Could the reason for this be that they are so obsessed with their ‘philosophy’ that it prevents them from adapting with a rapidly developing sport. The problem is that teams have worked out how to beat Barcelona; if they can be contained then they can be beaten. It worked for Chelsea last season, it nearly worked for Milan and PSG, and in the end a Bayern team with great technical ability mixed with an added physicality found it easy. It is clear that Barca need to respond. They have been figured out and now must adapt their style if they are to retain their place at the top of Europe’s soccer elite. But are they capable of such a change? Repeatedly the club has insisted that it will not change its philosophy. Instead of adapting to compete with the physical prowess of sides like Bayern Munich, they will continue to play in the same manner and bring in the same type of player. Of course a team like Barcelona will always be challenging for the top honors, but can they really expect to have the same level of success if they cannot adapt to a changing game.
Another example that appears to epitomize the fact that an obsession with a philosophy of football can be detrimental is the Premier Leagues now longest serving manager, Arsène Wenger. Wenger was an instant hit at Arsenal and was widely praised for his ‘philosophy’ of developing young, technically gifted players, and playing attractive attacking football. Between his appointment in 1996 and 2005 he won three Premier League titles, and four FA Cup’s. However Arsenal is now in the midst of an eight year trophy drought and this has led many to question whether Wenger should still be at the club. In reality his is still there because of what he did at the beginning, because his style was so effective and remains very attractive to watch. But no matter how good your style of football, eventually teams will figure out how to counter it. Unless you are able to adapt that style then the top teams will learn how to beat you. Wenger has absolute belief in his philosophy, but an inability to recognize when that philosophy is no longer effective prevents even the best managers from viewing their weaknesses objectively. It is plainly obvious to anyone with a shred of footballing knowledge that Arsenal’s two main weaknesses are their shockingly poor defense, and lack of experience or leadership on the pitch. Surely then an experienced, solid central defender and a natural leader in midfield could have an instant, positive effect on the Arsenal team. Instead Wenger has continued to stand by his philosophy and refused to change the way things are done. Consequently he must cling to small victories such as narrowly beating Tottenham to the fourth league spot, no mean feat but surely not a cause for great celebration at a club the size of Arsenal.
In contrast to this, the stand out manager of this generation has undoubtedly been Sir Alex Ferguson. He retires this season as the most successful British manager in history, and Premier League Champion for the thirteenth time. In 27 years he has won 13 Premier League titles, FA Cups, 4 League Cups and 2 Champions League Trophies. But the most striking element of this was the sustained success. For 27 years other teams challenged United, from Blackburn and Newcastle, to Liverpool and Arsenal, then Chelsea and now Manchester City. Many succeeded at some point but Sir Alex always kept the reds competitive, and always managed to reclaim the title. He was never afraid to change formations or drop big names. Usually he would never have spent £24 million on an injury prone 29 yr. old, but he knew that Robin Van Persie would be instrumental in regaining the title from City, so he changed his policy and it won him the title. Ferguson’s insatiable ability to adapt and respond to new threats has ensured the kind of continued success for Manchester United that is rarely seen in today’s football. Clearly the important factor for sustained success is adaptability, and commitment to a particular ‘philosophy of football’ prevents a manager from being truly adaptable.