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Frank Grimes

Good Football Vs Winning Football

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A couple of years ago, Sportscene put a show on with all manner of pundits, experts and coaches in a studio where they discussed the future of Scottish Football. Not so much the leagues or TV money etc but more so the way we actually play the game. One of the main points that came across from a few people was simply that the Scottish approach to the game was far more focussed on winning the game than it was playing good football. I remember Steven Thompson (St Mirren, not MMJ) and others saying that growing up, tactics, ball control and passing were low priority: winning at all costs was the main thing. 

The advantages of the play-to-win approach is obvious. The point of the game is to win - nothing more needs to be said on that. For many fans, this would be the end of the conversation. In fact, for many fans, they would question why such a debate would even exist. The point of the show, however, was the highlight that, as a result of the win-at-all-costs mentality in that exists in Scotland - from the SPL to Sunday boys leagues - the national game has suffered dramatically. I can't remember when Scotland last produced a European Class player. We have many grafters and the occasional nippy winger but in reality, we're miles behind many nations who have far fewer resources. Belgium and Holland produce quality players on tap. Even nations like Croatia seem to know how to play a brand football that is ahead of Scotland. I'd also argue that England suffers from the same problem. They produce players like in the mould of Gerrard, Milner etc who are good players but on the international level fall short. England actually are the most-underachieving nation in world football. The style of play is light years behind the likes of Spain and Germany. This was highlighted when Pep Guardiola spoke about Jack Wilshere. Wilshere is a class player and the closest England has to a player who can play the Barcelona style. Guardiola said, however, that Wilshere would go virtually unnoticed in Spain because there are so many players who are like him and are better than him.

I think that there are signs that in Scottish Football, there are moves to address this problem and change the culture of how we play the game. Guys like Iain Cathro is evidence of this (though sadly he works in England) and I also think Strachan is doing a decent job with the national team. The problem with going about this change, as is the case of changing any culture, is that it takes time for people to get on board with it as they are so used to the old approach.

Where I'm going with this is in regard to where we are as a team just now. Since the start of the season, Hartley has tried to put in a new style of football that is heavily based around ball retention. What we've seen in the opening 6 games so far has been different than what we've been used to in recent times at Dens. He's signed players who he thinks can adapt to this short passing game. I honestly think this is the reason why he got rid of Martin Boyle - who at his best was a game changer but quite often was more of a headless chicken. Instead he's gone for the Nick Ross-type.

The results of this approach so far has been a bit of a mixed bag. The positives were the Killie game and the first halves against Hearts, United and Saints (I admittedly wasn't at all of these games but I think most folk would agree on this). I'd go as far to say that the first half against Hearts was the best 45 I've seen from us in over a decade. The negatives are most clearly seen in the fact that that phenomenal Hearts performance ultimately ended in defeat. We also scraped a draw with United, which, though fantastic at the time, seemed in the cold light of day like we only just avoided a near disastrous result.

Which brings us to Tuesday evening. We started terribly and deservedly went behind. After that we tried to get back into the game against a team who earned the right to park the bus. I don't think any top flight side would be so negative against us (not a criticism against Dunfermline - they did what any League 1 side would do). Our attempts to get back into the game consisted obviously of the new brand of football. As this was against a very defensive side, things were very laboured. Some fans have slated the first half performance but if Hartley was to persist in what he's trying to instil in the players, it couldn't be any other way. The fans were getting obviously impatient as we're used to a more direct approach. Part of me sympathised with the fans but I also thought we needed to be patient and recognize what Hartley was trying to do.

The question becomes - when is it right for Hartley to ditch the passing game and go direct? When does he surrender his commitment to good football to adopt the win-at-all-costs approach?  So far, he's waited till the last 10 mins of games before implementing the closest thing that we can call Plan B (putting McPake upfront). Some would say he needs another plan B (which he does) and needs to ditch the passing sooner. He would probably reply that if the passing game is going to work long term, it needs to be persisted with.

So this is basically where I think we are and I'd say that this is probably the source of a bit of the disagreement on here of late. We're very early on in a new type of football and there have obviously been some challenges in knowing when to change things when they aren't working. Also, it is a results business and what many people are interested in is whether or not we've scored more than the opposition. If we have they cheer, if we haven't they boo - it's that simple. Obviously we all want to see a winning team but I'd make the point that Hartley can't afford to think as simply as that. He has to think long term and he wants to produce as good a Dundee team as he can in his time. There will be hiccups along the way and I'd agree with most that he got Tuesday wrong and it was an appalling result. But I can also see what he's trying to do and think we should get behind him (not uncritically) as he seeks to move us forward.

Thoughts?

(Fair play to anyone who read all of that)

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Can you just go over that once more but in a little more detail.😀😀😀😀

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Everyone has different opinions on this one.

Mines is, winning is always the priority and good football is a bonus.

Both together is when life is good and all is well.

Winning ugly is a chore to watch but still all good as winning creates good feeling and confidence.

Playing good football but not winning is frustrating and not a good feeling.

In an ideal world, playing good football should equate to winning football but it doesn't.

There are teams that are results machines and grind out results when they've been outplayed and haven't played well.

There are teams who dominate games but struggle to turn the dominance in to results or more precisely, wins.

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I like to see Dundee play good football in the league. Dropping points is not a big problem as long as we're not in relegation trouble.

In knockout games I couldn't care less about how we play. It's just about getting into the draw for the next round.

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Winning ugly- no issue with that

However this is often confused with winning lucky which is completely unsustainable.

I'm not meaning to come across as uber moans here (too late I know) but do we really play that good stuff anyway? Brilliant v Killie and good first half v Hearts however since the turn of the year the majority of games have been pretty brutal stuff to watch.

I would personally rather watch long ball to a big man knocking it down to a pacey strike partner than death by 1000 cuts passing as nuseum stuff.

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British football fans have become used to fast end to end football with wing play and directness over the years. That definitely seems to be a bygone era now as more and more teams are adopting the more measured patient build up, wait for an opening approach.

I like to see a mix of the two.

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There's passing waiting for an opening, and then there's passing aimlessly with no purpose around 3 CHs and your most creative player far too deep to have any influence. There's a big difference.

At some point the ball has to go into the net.

Percentage football has been around longer the short passing game for a reason. It's a difficult way to play and only a handful of teams manage it successfully on a regular basis.

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Depends what is meant by playing good football. Meaningless passes in your own half going nowhere fast is more a training exercise than good competitive football that might actually hurt teams

Most teams are wise enough to let you do what you want to an extent when your 50-60 yards from their goal

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Shades of the *are we too nice* thread.

We're not a 'physical' team and we get bullied off the ball with no protection from referees.

The fact remains that we seem to be lacking when it comes to the basics:

We defend too deep.

We track back too far and allow opponents to run into our final third unchallenged.

We're too slow getting into the opposition's half (let alone the final third).

We're lousy at corners (taking and defending).

We're lousy at throw-ins (too slow, no movement).

and, as has been unfortunately well demonstrated this season, we cannot score when presented with even a half-chance

But... we're playing some wonderful football on occassion.

<sigh>  Wha' would be a Dundee fan, eh?   'mon Us!!!  :)

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An interesting post, following on from the 36-hour post-EEP "dabesque meltdown" :)

The analysis of the English/Scottish game, compared to similar-sized continental leagues, is a fair one & sometimes it's suggested that we both have an insular "island mentality". Hardly any players (at all levels) from England/Scotland have successfully made the transition into "continental" leagues, and I suspect the clubs in those leagues haven't really given too much consideration to our home-grown players. Even some big players who did move returned very quickly. And yet, there is plenty of movement of players between those "continental" countries. Why the difference? 

One factor has always been the unwillingness of Brits to learn their hosts language & get involved with the local culture....those who did seem to have settled well & stayed a few years, eg Keegan, MacInally, Lineker, Lambert.

The other factor has apparently been an inability/resistance to adapting how they play.

Yet we expect people from any country to arrive here, adapt both playing style, lifestyle, and language.....though in many cases English is already their 2nd language. Some don't, and go home or to another of those "continental" countries, but I suspect that a table of foreign players in each European country's top 2 leagues would make it clear where the "unable/unwilling to adapt" problems lie.

So, as the original post suggests, is adaptability being coached out of our kids all the way through their youth?.....not just in sport, but in life skills?

In DFC's specific case, I think Frank is correct in his interpretation of what PH is trying to do at Dens.....to mould a squad into what he sees as a "club culture" of playing in a particular style that's better than the competition, with the concept of getting to a position where he has a 2nd set of players mirroring that style, and with the Development/youth teams doing the same. When this works, it's great to watch & generally successful, but in order for it to work, it needs a few years of development & continuity.....and patience. 

A "Plan B", eg using a target striker & midfield/touchline runners, requires at least one "target man" who can play as a penalty box target or with his back to goal outside the box to lay a ball off to runners, and we currently don't have one. McPake isn't an ideal alternative, despite his early years as a striker. I'd guess PHs aim is to get his team playing so well with Plan A that there's no need for B. Having that type of striker on the bench, for days when Plan A fails, would be useful, but where will PH find one?.....does he want one?

Continuity is another aspect not usually associated with the English/Scottish game. We often hear managers talk about "a project", but in reality few are ever given the time to take such a project through to fruition, due to impatience in the boardroom, or stands. Do our owners have the character to support Hartley for 5 seasons (ie, their 5-year plan?) in order to do this, without necessarily having tangible "deliverables" (ie silverware)? Do we? I would hope that consistent 6th-4th places would initially be seen as evidence that this was working, with 3rd place the pinnacle of possibility if the OF are assumed to be once again unmovable in a couple of years time. 

Examples of successful Scottish managerial long-term "projects", without large-scale financing include:

Dundee in the 1944 to 1965 improving phases, under George Anderson (10 yrs), Willie Thornton (6 yrs), then Bob Shankly (6 yrs).

Dundee Utd in the 1980's under Jim MacLean

Aberdeen in the 1980's under Fergie (following Billy McNeil)

Celtic under Jock Stein in the late 1960's & early 70's

More recently, I witnessed a similar long-term project in the years I lived in Norway, with Rosenborg under Nils Arne Eggen. His unique football philosophy developed a team that had lost 9-1 to Hibs in 1977 (in one of only 2 UEFA appearances) into a club that won the league in 1992 with an almost all-local side, playing some fantastic attacking possession football, then kept it 13 years in a row, and reached the CL group stages 7 times. During those 13 years they also rebuilt a stadium with one stand & two grassy slopes into a 4-stand 21,000 stadium, which is often full, or close to it, in a city similar to Dundee's size. 

You could describe what Arsene Wenger has done with Arsenal as similar to Eggen, but on a grand, high-finance level, even including the stadium rebuild. From his arrival in London as Arsene Who?, he rebuilt a club style, where the reserves/youth sides play exactly the same as the first team, allowing players to move up comfortably as they already know the first team style. He's had some dominant seasons, and some less so....but the money used to rebuild various ManU, ManC, Chelsea, Liverpool sides has often allowed fast-track rebuilds to work....for a while.

Money is not going to be an option for Dundee, so I think it's going to have to be the "project" route. 

It'll be interesting to see if Hartley is allowed enough time to complete his project.....but if he can keep Dundee mid-table or better for 5 years, why wouldn't he be? Clearly a cup would help....even just getting to a final or two. However, with only 3 league cups in 105 years, we perhaps shouldn't let ourselves become over-optimistic? ;)  

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Not adding anything, just to say - this is a BRILLIANT topic.... and some excellent entries in it!

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Excellent post there WoodStein!!

I genuinely believe that the constant chopping and changing of managers/players and even those at boardroom level has hindered our club no end over the last 20-30 years. This short term-ism has been endemic between supporters hollering from the stands to sack the manager after a couple of bad results and boards being spineless enough to give into them. This constant turnover of managers means that players very rarely stay longer than a couple of seasons and we can't often keep ahold of the better recruitments due to various reasons that I'm sure we're all aware of.

I agree that Hartley has made some errors in his time as manager, some larger than others, but the fear of the sack for any mistake is not a good way to maintain staff morale if nothing else!

Ultimately, failure to see past the end of next week has nearly killed our club twice before and before as a support and a club as a whole can learn to be a little more patient, our club will never be successful.

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Re the question of whether or not "Plan B" should be a version of "the long ball game", using a target striker....and presumably accurate long passes (eg, from Harkins), with a couple of runners playing off the striker: 

This philosophy is credited to an English football analyst, Charles Reep.

This is a wee extract from the Wikipedia article on him:

"In the 1950s, Reep shared his analyses in the News Chronicle.[4] He concluded that most goals were scored from fewer than three passes: therefore he proposed it was important to get the ball forward as soon as possible.[5] The quicker the ball was played to goal with the least number of passes the more goals would be scored. His theory became known as the long ball."

It's important to appreciate that his "long ball game" did not involve humping the ball aimlessly up the park, it required a long, accurately flighted driven pass to a target player, who could lay it off accurately to a running player....ie, a bit like a long pass to Gillie, laid off to Penman.

One of the best-known followers of Reep's philosophy was Egil Olsen, who applied it to the Norwegian national team from 1990 to 1998, and took them to the '94 & '98 world cup finals, where they progressed further than we've ever done. He also took them to 2nd place in the FIFA rankings. A classic case of how to "punch above your weight". However, outside of Norway, he was usually criticised for his style....though much of this was due to England's serious embarrassment that Norway knocked them out of the 1994 WC qualifying group :lol2: ...Norway topped the group from Netherlands, with England 3rd, and scored more goals than both of them. Norwegians loved him for this, and I have to say it was a remarkable decade to be a football fan in Norway, even as a foreigner. 

.....but do those of us who grew up with the likes of Gordon Smith, Gillie, Andy Penman, Charlie Cooke, John Duncan, Jocky Scott, Gordon Wallace and many more want our team to play the long ball game, or the passing game?

A passing game, with the long ball as the "side dish" would do for me, if we could find that elusive target player  :)

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