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Key to Great Players is moving forward!

Moving Forward

There are bad, average, good and great players and if anyone had forgotten that Lionel Messi was firmly within the brickwork of footballing greatness then his 5 goals against Bayer Leverkusen must have come as a stark reminder.

Without doubt Messi is one of the, if not the, best players of all time and is rightly ranked amongst Diego Maradona, Pele and Zinedine Zidane.

His ability is obvious and it would be difficult to pick a weakness in his game, however what sets him apart from the rest?

More significantly, what makes a player great?

Well, having the ability to produce significant moments which have an effect on the outcome of a match is a key trait to great players.

They must also possess more strengths than weaknesses and to be considered a real great player they have to show their class on a consistent basis.

There is however, a basic aspect of their play which is often overlooked.

Many believe that a combination of all the traditional physical and technical attributes are essential in a top player but what helps them become fundamentally great is their natural instinct to play forward at all times.

Players may run or pass into trouble and eventually lose the ball, but one who is able to consistently advance up the park will more often than not have a greater effect on a match than a player who plays side to side or backwards.

The legendary Zinedine Zidane highlighted Messi’s insistence to look forward at every opportunity as a key part of what makes him so good.

Whether Messi takes the ball from deep or is running on to a through ball his first touch always goes forward and that allows him to accelerate, dip and weave his way past defenders with much more ease.

Momentum has much to do with the Argentine’s play and the pace in which he is able to terrorise defences make him such a huge threat.

Zidane, Maradona, Cruyff and now Xavi all demonstrate the ability to play forward, immediately pressurising opposition defences.

It is understandable that players like Xavi Alonso, Sergio Busquets and Andrea Pirlo are needed to link defence to attack so understandably, much of their passing is done from side to side or backwards.

Their approach has a different purpose and they are immense in their own way but a sign of the true great players is their positive attacking attitude.

If you look at every single goal Messi scored against Leverkusen, he moves forward with his first touch and continues forward before reaching the goal.

This is what makes him and so many other players great.

An individual can be blessed with fierce shooting, pacey dribbling and assured passing but if they don’t demonstrate a hunger and drive to attack the goal, these attributes become redundant.

Patience is a key part of football but there is no substitute for heading straight to goal.

Messi has shown that to be great you have to move forward. Only then can a player show the true extent of his greatness.

Give me a follow on twitter to get involved in some more football chat – @beanroll. Thanks for reading!

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El-No Classico

All too familiar sight

A fixture which name translates as ‘The Classic’, yet now sadly lacks so much of the class it is renowned for.

It is possibly – if not already – the most anticipated match in the footballing calendar with the underlying tension, hatred and jealousy felt between both sides unlike any other.

Add to that the marvellous individual and team talent on show and Spain boasts one of the greatest rivalries on the planet. A spectacle to rival the Superbowl, the World Cup Final, Champions League final and any other ‘big’ game worth mentioning.

The one thing which has struck me most through these two rounds of ‘El Classico’ is the disgusting behaviour of both sides.

It has been petty, nasty, bordering on childlike and has more than taken away from the mesmerising – sometimes fantastical – football which has been played.

Spectators regardless of preference, sat back anticipating some of the finest football the world is ever likely to see. After all, with Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi, Iniesta and Ozil all involved, a salivating pallet is unavoidable.

However, despite moments of individual brilliance – Messi’s solo run and assist for Pedro’s goal plus Alves fine strike – the ugly side of the derby reared its head too many times, not just in the 2nd leg – where the match finished 2-2 – but in the 1st as well.

Barcelona and Real Madrid have always had an intensely contested rivalry between one another.

There have been times when the football has dominated – like Ronaldinho’s famous performance at the Bernabeu in 2005 when his efforts received a standing ovation from the home fans.

In other cases, the rivalry has turned disgusting – the infamous moment when a pigs head was thrown at Madrid’s Luis Figo when he returned to the Camp Nou immediately springs to mind.

Now, it has come full circle.

Combine the emergence of arguably the best football team ever in Guardiola’s Barcelona side, with the appointment of the notoriously controversial Jose Mourinho as Real boss and we were always going to see fireworks.

Barcelona have dominated domestically and on the European stage for the past 6 years winning the Champions League 3 times.

Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi have cemented themselves as the most lethal triumvirate in world football, with the latter possibly the greatest player to have played the game.

Real on the other hand have won a mere 2 trophies in the past 6 years, and in comparison to their great rivals, have struggled to create a brand of football anywhere near the level of Barcelona.

Due to this, Jose Mourinho was hired last summer and in his maiden season he closed the gap, winning a Copa Del Rey title at the hands of Barca but still being pipped to the La Liga and Champions League crowns.

Mourinho is without doubt a world class coach and man manager who was brought in to lead Real Madrid’s grand plans to return to the top of Spanish and European football.

He has success wherever he has gone, unfortunately though that has not quite extended to Real Madrid as of yet.

Finishing second in the League, as well as being knocked out of the Champions League by Barca, Madrid’s rivals have been a source of frustration for Mourinho.

The ridiculous antics shown by Madrid’s players were not unlike the Portuguese managers previous teams, but it is the intent on stifling Barca which is the biggest frustration.

After all they have some of the most lethal attacking weapons in world football: Ronaldo, Ozil, Higuain, Kaka and Alonso can all provide goals and assists with their fast paced, thrusting counter attacks which are put to such great effect out with the El Classico.

Madrid though, are not alone in their trivial displays!

Barcelona may not over exert any physical presence they have, but the way in which they maliciously badger the referee to produce cards for fouls is saddening to watch.

Regardless of whether the fouls deserve punishment or not, they make the referee’s job harder in an already demanding situation.

A prime example of this was a tackle on Lionel Messi from Lassana Diarra late in the first half. After the referee rightly blowing for a foul, the Barca players swiftly proceeded to surround the referee waving imaginary cards, gesturing for a yellow card which would send Diarra off.

It is understandable that players should claim for fouls when they are deserved, but deliberately pressurising the referee in to altering his instant reaction to a foul is not needed.

This incident sparked a quasi-riot involving nearly all the players – a ridiculous outcome to an honest tackle which Diarra, more significantly, did not deny was a foul.

Sergio Ramos displayed a similar gesture when kicking the ball of Messi a yard away from where he was taking a free kick so both sides are just as culpable for the bad behaviour.

This all follows on from the malicious stamp Pepe had on Messi last week, which resulted in the centre back publicly apologising for something which could have easily been avoided in the first place.

What strikes most about the El Classico fixture now though, is that Barcelona and Real Madrid have an intense hatred which is worsening by the game.

Barcelona are quite rightly emerging victorious with their unstoppable play, leading to terrible frustration for Mourinho and his team.

Madrid’s direct ploy to get in the face of Barcelona is wrong, and for most fans and pundits there is a craving for Mourinho to simply attack in the El Classico. As mentioned, they are the side most suitably equipped to play Barcelona at their own game, and win.

The match is now becoming renowned for the scandal rather than the spectacular spectacle it should be.

Number 10.

Messi: Greatest Number 10 ever!

In football, 10 in squad number terms, is the number given to the player who embodies creativity, flamboyance, imagination and inspiration through their play.

 
The number has become synonymous with the position between midfield and attack, whether it be as a forward dropping deep, or a midfielder pushing on.
The number has been worn by great players in the past such as Diego Maradona, Pele, Zico, Michel Platini and Roberto Baggio as well as current greats such as Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, Mesut Ozil, Wesley Sneijder, Clarence Seedorf and Francesco Totti.
All these players would be considered to be responsible for a large percentage of their team’s attacking play, providing the creative spark and imagination in the final third to unlock difficult defences. Their game is concentrated on dictating the play, as well as providing killer passes and smooth inter play around the opposition penalty box and goal. Primarily they are there to either score goals, or assist goals and players such as Maradona, Pele and Platini provided outstanding examples to current players such as Messi, Rooney and Sneijder who also play in the ‘Number 10’ position.
I believe that in order to create a great team, you first must employ a formation which accommodates a ‘number 10’ but also have a great player who plays in this position.
The ‘number 10’ is traditionally a player with very little defensive responsibility, conserving his fitness in order to make short sharp bursts of play when on the ball maximising his potential to cause damage when near the goal. This therefore, means that teams can sometimes play with what seems like a man down and sides who are playing on the counter attack or just to defend against constant attacking, can do without a ‘number 10’.
Formation is key for a ‘number 10’ so a system like 4-3-3, 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 could be seen as the best to use when employing this creative player with the role of contributing to the majority of the teams attacking play.
Also the style of the teams play must be one which focuses on playing fast, attacking football with the ball remaining on the ground when in possession. Barcelona at the moment, are the prime example of a football team who play with a high tempo with slick and precise passing as well as quick movement, and through Lionel Messi they have a great player in the ‘number 10’ position who acts as the focal point of their attack.
Once the formation and style of play is correct, the team must have a player able to play in this position and have the required attributes to do it to a high standard.
As mentioned, Lionel Messi is a prime example in a magnificent team who play with a ‘number 10’ and equally as important is Wayne Rooney who contributes a great number of goals as well as assists in his Manchester United side.
Wesley Sneijder, who plays for Inter Milan, is the best example of a midfielder who operates between midfield and attack, a space often referred to as ‘in the hole’, his precise passing and ability to shoot with accuracy from outside of the box is a cornerstone of his play and contributes to his and Inter Milan’s success especially under Jose Mounrinho’s tenure as Inter manager.
It is evident that the ‘number 10’ still exists in the modern era, making a return from a sabbatical after the introduction of more defensive formations and the use of counter attacking at the top level in world football.
However, has it been lost in the high tempo, fast paced, sometimes kick and rush style used in the UK and specifically Scotland and can it be attributed to our decline in standard both domestically, continentally and internationally for our sides?

 
With Celtic and Rangers, both teams do not have a designated ‘number 10’ who operates ‘in the hole’ with Anthony Stokes an out and out striker, and John Fleck a midfielder who as of yet, doesn’t have the required level of ability to be the focal point of the Rangers team. For Scotland, our formation is a 4-3-3 which gives the side the chance to play a ‘number 10’ but our style of play is very much based on counter attacking and only the introduction of Barry Bannan could be seen as a positive step towards designating a ‘number 10’.
England, have definitely felt the effect of playing without a ‘number 10’ despite having Wayne Rooney in their squad. Capello has used Rooney as more of an out and out striker due to the absence of a goal scoring striker for the national side. However, with the emergence of Andy Carroll and Darren Bent, as well as Capello’s introduction of a 4-3-3 formation, England could yet find themselves with a player worthy of wearing the ‘number 10’ and taking the teams play to a level on a par with Germany(Ozil), Spain(Xavi or Iniesta) and Holland(Sneijder).

Therefore, the UK game must adapt to introduce more creative players capable of playing this role, as only Wayne Rooney represents the embodiment of this position and number that goes with it.
It cannot be doubted however, that the ‘number 10’ is embedded in our footballing history, due to the success and level of performance achieved by those who have worn it.
Long live the number 10, long live football!