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Guest Post by Carlin
There are few subjects that are able to polarise a population of supporters like that of the style of football associated with a given manager. We’ll use the term associated with because there isn’t, as far as I know, a compendium of football managers which objectively details something as transitory and subjective as footballing style; a yellow pages that owners, chairmen and CEOs alike can consult to ensure that their next choice is likely to, at the very least, placate the majority of their fan base.
Polarisation of opinion is perhaps a reflection of the state of wider society. Whilst it may have always been there, I have only recently become aware of the sense of feeling about a given subject at what seems a greater scale than ever before. Everybody has an opinion (typically multiple), and most seem convinced that their opinion is 100% factual. There seems to no longer be room for a range of perspectives, every opinion is binary and fixed; you either agree and are therefore ’correct’, or you don’t, in which case – following the course of logic – you are ’wrong’. Unless humanity in general is becoming more narcissistic, then maybe this perception could, in part, be related to how we express ourselves through modern day communications. There is a hint of irony in modern communication methods, having grown more varied and real-time, driving the population to communicate to a greater degree via the written word.
In communications we’ve come full circle. Before telephones people would write. As telephone infrastructure evolved beyond voice we moved back towards writing, mainly, I think, because the earlier mechanisms were predominantly limited to one-to-one, whereas writing today is very much a one-to-many medium. The challenge with communicating is ensuring that you convey what you wish to, without inadvertently conveying something you don’t. With the written word this takes practise and time – more so than other forms of communication where the synchronicity of exchange means clarifications are far more straightforward.
To start to grasp the challenge with written communication we can consider (and likely misuse) the often misunderstood work of Professor Albert Mehrabian who described verbal communications as 7 percent about the content and 93 percent non-verbal content. Although the study concerned verbal communications, it does give a sense of how much information can be conveyed outwith the actual content. If we write how we speak then how do we start to make up for the missing 93 percent of information? Incidentally, the 93 percent wasn’t all body language as is sometimes thought, 38 percent was through tone of voice. An example I’ve shared previously brings this question to life. If I was to write ’I didn’t take your money’ then most readers would draw a single conclusion from that. However, were I to verbalise that statement I could convey five different meanings:
- ‘ I didn’t take your money’ – Your money has been taken but not by me
- ‘I didn’t take your money’ – I’m denying having taken your money
- ‘I didn’t take your money’ – I’ve got your money but maybe I was given it
- ‘I didn’t take your money’ – I have taken money, but it wasn’t yours
- ‘I didn’t take your money ‘ – I took your soul, not your money.
The reader has no idea which of these meanings was intended, and without more context it is left to the reader’s imagination to settle on an interpretation and respond accordingly. It is therefore incumbent upon the writer to ensure that sufficient context is provided, which may go some way towards explaining why we are this far into an article on a football blog with such a radical digression from the initial subject matter.
So, managers dividing opinion through the footballing styles they are associated with. This is something I wanted to explore following one of Nigel’s recent articles, Entertainment Versus Result. As Nigel said in the article, when he described the game as dull he wasn’t expressing an opinion about the manager, but inevitably some of the commentary following the article couldn’t help but deliberate over David Moyes and his style of football. I offered a comment late into the article which tried to explore the subject in a more serious sense than you might have come to expect, but further debate was short lived owing to a new article appearing.
I have a growing sense that David Moyes (the person) isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, and I want to park those issues for the moment. Some of the support base also give the impression that they think Moyes’ footballing style is closer to that of Sam Allardyce than it is to, for example, that of Pep Guardiola. Over recent performances, it’s the differentiation between styles associated with Moyes and Allardyce that I’ve given particular thought to. Admittedly, I haven’t been excited by some of the recent performances, but that said I’m also not feeling the same level of antipathy that I did with some displays when Sam Allardyce was at the helm. Again, I’m not wishing to explore the personalities in this, so ear cupping isn’t a consideration.
So why is it? Why, even with the recent prolonged period without a shot on target, do I not feel the sterility so often felt during performances under Sam? Am I a football hypocrite? Maybe. Did my perception of personalities distort my perception of on-field performances? Possibly, but I believe that to not be the case. Have the anti-football establishment won me over? Definitely not. What’s possibly the case is that there seems to be a greater degree of pragmatism offered by the current leadership. One where we try to maximise the effects of our strengths, adapting to make best use of what is available to us, notwithstanding the current constraints. What do I mean by this? Let’s take the typical modus operandi when Sam was in charge.
Putting aside the short 4-6-0 period which certainly surprised our friends in white – thanks for the memories, Rav – we frequently set up not to concede, and winning felt almost like an accident. One of the main frustrations during that period was watching the team drop deeper and deeper when leading a game, even withdrawing any offensive players in order to try to shore up the defence. Often I would look at the team playing out the final 30 minutes of a game and ask where another goal would come from should we need one. The in-game approach often seemed to be pragmatic only in the sense that if we were to concede we would still take a point. Of course that point would disappear should we concede further, and go on to lose; “My team will never throw away a two-goal lead” said Sam; did anyone ever stop to ask why he chose to base that guarantee on two, rather than one?
A common matchday thread comment during the Allardyce years asked ‘What is plan B’. Whilst I’ve read that more recently too, our current plan A isn’t always the same and sets out to at least try to achieve more than just a point. Take the Everton game as a case in point. The side were set up there in a clear 4-1-4-1, having started at least two other formations so far this season. The shape was held well enough to easily determine the formation, and the players were very disciplined through the first 60 minutes. Whilst it wasn’t entertaining in the end-to-end sense, it remained an interesting encounter. My comment on Nigel’s article mentioned that I started to think about the game almost like a game of chess. How had Moyes set the team up in order to stifle a very good Everton side that a few months previous had thumped us 4-1? What’s more, with (relative) pace on the bench, there was a sense of anticipation as to what may lay ahead. It looked as though the idea was to bring on fresh legs and pace later in the game to try to take advantage of weary opposition legs and the resulting greater availability of space. It was a game plan, one that played to our strengths, one that we hadn’t seen previously. It paid off. Checkmate. We won 1-0, it could have been two.
We could have started out with our best eleven, as we could in every game, and we would have faded as the game wore on. We maybe wouldn’t have found that edge later in the game and likely would have been holding on to whatever we’d got by that point. Instead, we set out to match them knowing we had something different to come later in the game should we need it. Rather than setting out with the hope of nicking a goal and hanging on, we set out in such a way to give ourselves a better opportunity to take the points in the final third of the game. That is the key difference in my mind between the Allardyce years and now, and how I rationalise the different outlook I currently have when watching our games.
And so we come back to communication. Following the game I saw it described in a number of different ways:
- The game was dull
- I wasn’t entertained
- I enjoyed the game
- It was a very good performance
- Great result
- Interesting first 60 minutes
To say that all of these are expressions from an individual’s perspective is to state the obvious. However, none of these comments are mutually exclusive. The terms can all co-exist without any of those expressing them being categorised as right or wrong. Football is not, in itself, a science, as such there is room for opinion, and the opinions of others present an opportunity to evolve our own views. Currently you might like to call him Dinosaur Dave, but the next time someone offers a contrasting opinion why not seek to explore their perceptions ahead of expressing your own? You might start to see the world in a slightly different light….