EPL Fans Should Get Used to Fearful Tactical Negativity

illya mclellan@illya mclellan @illbehaviorNZSenior Analyst IJanuary 5, 2011

Tactical negativity is a facet of the modern game.
Tactical negativity is a facet of the modern game.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It is odd to go a week without some gripe from a football fan about how certain teams in the EPL engage in negative tactics. I can't stand the way they play and hope they are relegated, is the hue and cry, typically from fans of bigger more well furnished sides. 

We all know the teams that are spoken of, they need not be named at this moment.

The team that typically engages in negative tactics can not actually be singled out however, as all teams engage them at certain times. Richer club sides especially, when they find themselves in certain predicaments during challenging seasons or cup runs, are known to engage in the seemingly necessary evil that is a tactically negative setup. 

The ones most often pointed to are the sides who have a manageable budget for survival if the right combination of players can be found for the season. These sides are more likely to have to play the type of football that causes such wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst purists everywhere. The managers saddled with such sides are often forced to set the team up for survival rather than goal scoring exploits. 

It is often seen, however, that certain lesser funded teams throw caution to the wind and attack with swashbuckling recklessness that often gains them the admiration of fans everywhere.

This is seen in the EPL presently at the former club of English legend Sir Stanley Matthews, Blackpool.You would think the man dubbed the "Wizard of Dribble" would approve of Ian Holloway and his side's efforts.

They did, however, lose today, to one of the very sides that is often criticized for negativity in Birmingham City, who went out and attacked in a positive fashion and though they squandered a host of opportunities along the way, they finally won in the last minutes. 

Here is the perfect example of a team that gets labelled as negative, when playing against the better-funded sides, "having a go" as the saying goes, against a side that are either equal to or below them in terms of budgetary capabilities and personnel.

Blackpool have enjoyed a charmed run in the league, shocking several sides and being terribly unlucky against Manchester City as well, who funnily enough could probably buy the town of Blackpool and use it as a training facility, when they were denied by terrible officiating that meant instead of gaining three much needed points, they lost three.

Coincidentally there would have been huge bets riding on City winning, a subject on which if the mind wanders, could lead to all sorts of strange possibilities being conjured up.

As it stands though, tactically the two teams at the top play a fairly negative and unattractive style at times, though one of them is typically though of as a rangy attacking side despite the defensive fare they occasionally serve up. This team, of course, being Manchester United, who have been grinding out results this season in the manner of an overwrought miller grinding out the last of his bread during a famine.

Interspersed have been moments of magic that keep the dream of total football alive, as is often the case with every team in the league. There would be a fan of any of the clubs in the top tier willing to share an amazing memory of brilliance by someone from their club's history if you were willing to listen.

Sometimes these moments can be in horribly dour cup finals or league encounters where the stakes are in the realms of the ridiculous. Or sometimes you get the disgustingly depraved scenes that were witnessed at several World Cups in the '90s of World Cup finals played between two teams so terrified of losing that they decide not to play at all.

This is actually now seen often in the premier league as well, particularly by sides up against more financially well endowed opponents, but disturbingly often you get scenes like the one where Chelsea entertained Arsenal at Stamford Bridge and defended their way to a two-nil victory.

For after all, wouldn't you expect a team boasting some of the best attackers in the world, attacking? Instead Arsenal tried to attack and were soaked up and hit with counter punches that sent the Gunners away feeling strangely bereft of that winning feeling.  

It has been called anti-football by some and is often times easily explained and equally as often despised. The reality is that it is with us for the moment and will probably be with us for a good period of time yet. 

Teams lining up playing 8-1-1 and the like, balls being blasted from goal line to goal line by goalkeepers desperate to keep the ball as far away as possible. Managers selecting entire teams of defensively built players, whose attempts at finesse resemble elephants dancing in the tulips. Teams sent out with the sole intention of not conceding at all costs.

There is, of course, always a silver lining. That moment of class that is like a lightning bolt on a clear day, snaking into the earth before you, like some finger of god.

A defensively deranged performance by two teams intent on never keeping the ball in their vicinity for longer than three seconds, is suddenly graced with one of those strangely exhilarating moments that makes you forget for a little while the unanswered questions of the eternal universe.

A magic moment when time seems to stand still. Which immediately erases the torture of the spectacle being gainfully endured for some, while making it 50 times worse for others.

The possibility of the magic is always with us though, and is a fundamental of the game, the reason many carry on hoping that something wonderful will happen, while they sit through match upon match of horrendously contrived stalemates.

It would appear at this juncture that such things are to be expected in the future of football, one just has to hold onto hope really, hope that the universal secrets will be discovered and we can leave our obsession with people playing a game behind and embrace the real reasons why humans exist.

Either that, or that the club's new signing scores a screamer in the 90th minute on debut for a one-nil win and it remains etched on some person's consciousness for the rest of their days.      


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