There is one debate in football that will never, ever, end: who’s better, Ronaldo or Mes- only kidding, that particular debate is so overplayed.
The real debate that happens year on year amongst us real fans is about philosophy, style of play and results. What’s more important? Style of play or getting those three points? Many will say it’s ALL about the trio of points, but there are those who watch football for a different reason.
To them, football is entertainment. They want to be entertained, therefore, the style of play is essential to them. Does that make them any less of a fan, than someone who is desperate for the victory points? Not in my book.
The Premier League and the EFL is awash with plenty of different footballing styles. The current top two of the Premier League, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, have very different methods of getting those three points. If you filter down through the leagues then you’ll find an abundance of managers that have made their name from playing ‘effective’ but ‘unattractive’ football – your Tony Pulis types.
Let’s discuss style of play versus results.
Philosophy at Old Trafford
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United are one team that are creating this exact debate within their fanbase.
A lot of United fans want OGS to leave due to a lack of ‘results’. Whether thats wins, points, and/or trophies, you can’t deny Man United haven’t been successful under the Norwegian gaffer.
However, (so far) the United board have made it clear what they see as more important – their philosophy.
They hired Solskjaer due to his previous connection at the club, and his understanding of how the Old Trafford club works. His bringing through and attempted development of youth players has been a major reason behind him lasting as long as he has. The Manchester United philosophy revolves around bringing youth players through and them being successful.
He’s, sort of, doing the first; but it’ll be interesting to see if the success ever comes. If it doesn’t, the United hierarchy will have to realise that it’s got to be all about the results.
Jose Mourinho vs Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp
Firstly, we all are fully aware that Pep’s passing ‘tiki-taka’ and Jurgen’s ‘gegenpress’ have massive differences. The German’s full-hearted, blood and thunder approach relies on well-timed and intense pressing from the forward line, mixed with a direct passing game, that ultimately leaves opposition players sat in a whirlwind of chaos for 90 minutes. It is perfectly orchestrated chaos, though, from Liverpool’s stance.
In contrast, Pep’s ‘tiki-taka’ relies on patience, vision and precise passing to carve open opposition defences. Possession and patience are king.
These two styles of football get results. Both managers are two of the most decorated in the game’s history. It’s also incredibly entertaining when done successfully.
Jose Mourinho, on the other hand, divides opinion. If you were to select one word to describes his style then ‘pragmatism’ would be the one.
He does whatever it takes to get a ‘result’ – whether thats all three points, or just the one.
At Spurs this season so far, he’s employed a similar attacking style to that of Klopp and Liverpool. Fast, free-flowing football that relies on a striker (Harry Kane) to be able to be the cement that moulds attacks. Son Heung Min and Kane have taken each other’s career to another level this season, but Jose’s understanding and flexibility has been influential in their progression.
It is that flexibility that makes him so successful too. He’s pragmatic; he doesn’t get stuck on one style of play. Despite the excellent attacking performances we have seen from Spurs this year, we have also seen the ‘typical Jose’ ones.
In their recent matches against Chelsea and Arsenal, Spurs have picked up four points – a fairly positive return. A 0-0 draw versus Chelsea, despite having only one shot on target and 39% possession. Then, a 2-0 win in the North London Derby – despite only having five shots and 30% possession. Jose’s parking the bus. And it works.
Whilst Pep and Klopp are arguably focused on an entertaining brand of football, Jose cares more about the results, hence why he employs his ‘negative’ football when he feels he needs to.
Can you afford to have a sexy ‘philosophy’?
Everyone wants to see their team play beautiful attacking, creative football. But it doesn’t always bring results, and sometimes points are literally THE most important thing.
There are a few managers, you know the sort, that jump from club to club, saving them from relegation – your Sam Allardyces, your Pulis’.
They usually play unattractive, long ball football that relies on physicality, height, set-pieces and a strong, functional, defence.
It’s not necessarily pretty, but it works more often than not. However, these kinds of managers are usually seen as a temporary solution to imminent danger (relegation). When the most vital thing is getting the results, bring these guys in. But if you’re planning and building for the future then they’re very unlikely to be in the manager’s seat.
Take Stoke City for example. Tony Pulis achieved great things by taking them up to the Premier League and keeping them there. But when his functional football got too grating, the club and fans wanted a change of style. They wanted creative, attacking football. They brought in Mark Hughes, who was a slightly more progressive manager. In flooded the diminutive, creative, attacking players. After three great seasons, it all fell apart and they were relegated with barely a whimper.
At Stoke, they decided that a better style of play was more important than getting those results with whatever style Pulis would bore them with. It worked out in the short term, but long term, it was a disaster.
Style of Play vs Results in League One
I was recently talking to a handful of Northampton Town fans. I’m a Crewe Alexandra fan; I’m someone who has been treated to a gorgeous passing, attacking style of play (over the past two years in particular) and a promotion off the back of it. Northampton were promoted with us last season. We finished 2nd on PPG, they finished 7th, but won the Playoffs to achieve League One status for this season. Their manager is someone who massively divides opinion in League One and Two though.
Keith Curle is of a similar mould to those previously mentioned managers – Allardyce and Pulis.
He likes to play with a ‘big man’ up-top and fire balls onto his head. He likes to score goal after goal from set-pieces. Curle prefers results over a fancy style of play. And it works fairly well.
Curle’s side got promoted and have started okay this season in League One, but there isn’t full support from the stands.
They, of course, back their manager and players. But many would argue that his ‘anti-football’ is boring to watch. So it sparks the debate, are you THAT happy with the relative success, if the method of victory is dull and unattractive? Or would you prefer the Crewe Alex philosophy of trying to play quick, attacking football, but it not always working, meaning results can be patchy?
Each side of the argument have their own tag line.
Football at it’s purest is all about entertainment. People want to be entertained!
On the other hand, football is a business nowadays. It’s a ‘results based business’. The point is to be successful and win trophies.
It’s an endless debate and we all fall down on one side of the fence. I favour the nicer football over the results. If Crewe play great attacking football and narrowly miss out on the three points, then I’m not too mad. If they win by playing nasty, scrappy football every week then I wouldn’t be too entertained.
What side of the debate do you fall? Are you focused on the results only, and don’t care how they’re achieved? Or do you want to see your side play nicer football, but not always get those wins? Let’s discuss in the comments below!