Herbert Chapman on Football

The reflections of one of Arsenal’s greatest managers

2011, GCR Books Ltd.

Herbert Chapman had a long-lasting influence on English soccer with his “invention” of the WM system, which was adopted by most English teams and much longer kept than it was good for them. The book reprints a collection of newspaper articles written by Chapman which cover all aspects of soccer, whether it is tactics, how to lead a club, how players should behave or what influence the media and the public have. Although Chapman’s career as a manager took place between the first and second World War many of the views shared, seem to be timeless and if adjusted to the modern leagues would fit into a current newspaper as well. Want to know why the possession play of Barcelona and Spain never came to England? Maybe because it was old news to them:
“How different from the football of my time, when the hallmark of class was the way in which wings worked in close triangular fashion, making headway by means of six-yard passes, and taking a dozen kicks to advance as far as is often covered by two or three today. Those were supposed to be the days of science, and there was, of course, much to admire in the close work.[…] The modern style, if not quite so spectacular, undoubtedly brings quicker results, and I doubt very much whether the public would appreciate a return to the old conditions.”
Chapman’s ideas, whether it is that he gives his player’s the freedom to decide themselves how they spend their free time, or that all player’s have to participate in defense play or that he includes his players in tactical discussions all shows that he was a modern coach, not only at his times but also measuring with today’s standards.

Biography: 0/3
History: 2/3
Background: 2/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 1/3

Next book: Das L steht für Leben (Aug 17th, German)


The Blizzard: Issue Seven

Jonathan Wilson (editor), 2012

This issue of The Blizzard had a lot of interesting topics and interviews to present. The magazine starts with several articles around the start of professional soccer in Colombia which resulted in a pirate league which was not approved by FIFA and the Colombian FA but still was a magnet for the best players on the South American continent and filled the stadiums in the country. After their way back into the arms of FIFA soccer in Colombia quickly declined. That makes me wonder why not more pirate leagues are created throughout the world, especially in countries where the soccer game is not attractive anymore for the fans under FIFA’s stringent reign, like in Africa or Eastern Europe.
The second block of articles is dedicated to soccer in England in the Victorian Age. It describes not only how soccer as a game but also the players received more  and more acceptance and the game started to get portrayed in the newspapers at that time. The topic of the early days of soccer, before the official history started with the first World Cup is always very interesting to me and therefore that will not be the last time you will hear from it.
The interviews in this issue are really good, either because the interviewees are interesting characters or the questions of the journalists created a interesting conversation. Leo Beenhakker, one of the most successful globetrotter coaches can tell stories about his time as coach of Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago and Poland but also about the contrast of working for a clubs in Hungary vs. Real Madrid or Ajax. His answers show that it needs a lot of adaption to adjust to the local habits and culture on one hand but to have some influence at the same time to improve the status quo. I think in many cases the work of these globetrotter coaches is undervalued because usually a championship in their home countries counts more than qualifying for a world cup with a carribean team or installing some longer lasting structures for clubs or the national team in countries like Poland or Hungary.
Roberto Martinez is an interesting character as well, not only because he started to play in England when southern foreigners were still a rarity and he survived the culture shock, adapted and tried later to have some influence on how the game is played with the teams he coached. It is also interesting to hear from a coach that he values stability in the club and creating a legacy more than coaching a top ten team like Liverpool. Now, he changed his opinion one year later, going to Everton, but that might be the more stable and long-term planing club in Liverpool and therefore the right choice for him.
Another interesting character which was interviewed in this issue is Esper Baardsen, a norwegian youth international, who dropped out of professional soccer with 25, still a player for the Norwegian national team at that time. When he did not get a chance to play regularly in a first league team, he decided that a career in finance is more fulfilling for him. Not only is it unusual to a player decides so early to retire, when he still has a chance to earn money and excel, the interview also showed that even today the English soccer teams are no place for people who want to thrive and grow intellectually. His interest in something else than soccer and his will to learn more, in his case about finance and investment, was at least frowned at or in worse case he was bullied for it from other players or coaches. Maybe that is one of the reasons that the Premier League does not excel international. For success on that high level it needs more than good technical skill, it needs some intellectual skill to understand the game, to carry out complex tactical guidelines to succeed and to come up with new solutions when the standard doesn’t work anymore. Tactical excellence is missing now for years in the Premier League and it is not because of the lack of coaches who tried to bring it to the English teams. Maybe that is the reason, that Guardiola decided to go to Bayern München instead of Manchester City or Chelsea, because he found there players willing to learn from him. Quite the opposite happened when André Villas-Boas tried to teach Chelsea and Tottenham some new tactical knowledge and also Brendan Rogers and Louis Van Gaal have a hard time to teach their clubs something different than 4-4-2.
One person who went through all this and always was and still is constantly denounced for it is Arsene Wenger. With the article of Zach Slaton finally somebody appreciates the work of one of the best coaches worldwide, who is constantly underrated. Slaton shows by using similar statistics as in Soccernomics, that Wenger, even today when a Championship is far from happening, does an excellent job and over-delivers year for year based on the players he is allowed to work with. And by the way, this year it looked for some time at the end of the first round like they would drop out of the qualification for the international competitions completely and guess what, now, with eight games to go, they can still qualify for the Champions League once again. Well done, Mr. Wenger.

Biography: 1/3
History: 3/3
Background: 2/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3

The Blizzard: Issue Two

Jonathan Wilson (editor), 2011

The second issue of The Blizzard starts with an article about the French national team of 1998 and it roots in the youth academy of Clairefontaine. The story told, could be the story of all successful national teams in the 21st century. The french team was formed after the youth system installed in France in the 70s finally was successful. The dominant Spanish national team of 2010/2012 had its source in the excellent youth development of La Masia, the academy of Barcelona. Finally the world cup winning squad of Germany in 2014 had its roots in the transformed youth program of the German Soccer Federation after the devastating EM2000 performance.
The french success waned pretty quickly and the reason for it, as it is described in the article, was the mercenary mentality and the bad characters the kids developed being pampered and raised far away from home. Interestingly, the players of Barcelona, coming from all over the world, usually develop a strong connection to the club and the more decentralized system in Germany might not lead to the same problems as in France. Therefore it will be interesting to see whether these nations can sustain the success or if they will decline, too, when the golden generation is gone.
Connected with the long-term success of teams is also the article about Arsene Wenger, which asks the question if it is for the better when coaches have free reign and can fully work along their philosophy. For Arsenal, it seems, the best time was at the beginning of Wegner’s reign. He brought a new idea, how to play but had to compromise depending on the players available and the limited money for new hires. The longer he stayed, the more ideal his team was set up and the less successful it became. Can that also be observed in other teams with long-term coaches? One could argue that Barcelona had the same fate (and Guardiola just left early enough) but I would say they also suffered from the lack of attention to detail in the post-Guardiola time. It is said that Ferguson just left Manchester United to avoid seeing his system fail completely.  A positive difference might be Klopp in Dortmund. He started with very vertical play and extremely fast counter-attacks, then had to change to more possession and short pass play with a technically strong triangle in the middle and now moves to system, where the actual playmakers come from the sideline inside. However, also his changes are triggered by the loss of players, the club cannot prevent so far. Who knows if he would be that creative with Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. But usually the star coaches are known for a certain type of game and one wonders if Mourinho, Ancelotti or van Gaal are able at all to develop teams for a period of 10 to 20 years or if they are successful, because they bring some fresh breeze into a club and therefore getting the best out of the players, they find there. But when the new style gets old they move on.
Another interesting topic of the second issue is Italian soccer. The world cup 1990 is reviewed from the view of a 16 year old Italian fan, but also some soccer history is described with an homage to the most famous Italian journalist Gianni Brera, who, so it is told, was the godfather of the defense first approach in Italy, because in his articles he ridiculed every coach trying to play attractive and pushed the ideal of the perfect game, which meant for him, avoiding any mistake, so that no goal could be scored.
The review of the Copa America is a great read, too. There is also a report about the rise like a phoenix of Borussia Dortmund in this issue, but it is not really focused. The development of team, the fights for survival in the background or the feelings of the fans, a focus on one of the three topics with some more depth would have been better, I think. A very detailed analysis of the rise of Dortmund focusing on the financial aspects and from a tactical point of view, can be found at spielverlagerung.de (all in German).

Biography: 1/3
History: 3/3
Background: 3/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 1/3

Must read for: No One >> Fans of soccer tactics >> Soccer fans >> All readers