How do the great clubs attract big money and big crowds? They play magic football and win matches. How? Their managers are alchemists. They turn 11 into 22.
Seriously, our Scottish managers/coaches need to give us two for one as they do in the great teams. (I include Manchester United in this analysis. One of my teams (with ‘oor’Alex) has fallen harshly from a state of grace to limbo in the EUFA league.) How do we make magic? Let’s look at Barcelona; (winner of El Classico against Real Madrid just last weekend.)
In defence Barca plays ten. The goalkeeper is an extra sweeper then its five and four across the back or sometimes four and five. In attack they play five-up like old time 50s fitba with two in the channels like inside rights and left.
But the real alchemy is in mid-field where seven makes it perfect. This is Barca’s dominant presence from box to box. The ball is held within the matrix of the magic seven until it is released for goal scoring. But it is more than the quality of players ; quantity plus guile win the mid-field. Quantity of ball possession and the number of players involved in midfield play dictate the strategy of the modern game.
This should come as no surprise as Barcelona has a professional (and excellent) basketball team (Barcelona Regal). The whole ball-retention approach comes from the basket ball court. There the guards bring up the ball through incisive passing, holding onto it until the shot-clock indicates time to shoot. But in fitba there is no shot-clock, so the Barca engine- room seven control the ball for a huge percentage of each game they play. Look at the stats. Barca will play with around 600 plus passes per game (their record is around 740) while our old firm combined will hardly make half of that number of passes per game.
10 plus 5 plus 7 even in my Maths is 22. This is why the Barcas of modern football are such great teams. They possess the magic formula.
It is the magnificent seven in the Barca middle that produces the match-winning magic; , Abidal, Alves, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquests, Mascherno or Adriano / Sanchez plus Fabregas with three to guard the door Pique, Puyol and Valdes and up front the master Messi (with 36 goals so far) that makes Barcelona so great.
Until our teams can play the system that turns 11 into 22 then we will continue to decline, losing support, money and reputation.
So how do we create ‘Nue-Camp football’ in Scotland?
The big-three Barcelona advantages are nurture, nature and ownership.
The second most important person in the entire Barca set-up is the youth coach. Plus of course and extraordinary academy system in which individual successful touches per session plus passing accuracies are the two vital criteria for measuring aptitude or talent.
Nature of course helps with Barcelona situated several degrees further south than Scotland as well being sheltered from our seemingly perpetual Atlantic wetness. But Scotland can do something about that by tweaking the playing season dates as seen elsewhere in cold Europe. Playing the beautiful game in Lanarkshire with sunshine on the ball would help.
But patriotic community ownership is also a vital plot-line in the Barca success story. A patriotic social, cultural and indeed political philosophy is imbued through the actual ownership with its huge mass shareholding base. The club has a community ethos and heart-land of popular support that we could/ should be able to generate without sectarian abuse.
But let us not ignore the alchemy. Barcelona appears to have 22 players on the pitch when we see only 11 in our dour often dreich games.
There is of course another magician with links to Barcelona-Picasso. Brought up there his museum- Museu Picasso is the ultimate expression of his strong links with the city and was set up at the artist’s personal wish. He would be proud of his team for the sheer jazz iconic creativity that they create -echoes of his own magic.
Martin Boyce, a laddie fae south-Lanarkshire (the breeding ground for many of our better players) trained in Glasgow and is a winner of the prestigious Turner Art Prize (along with a long thread of Scottish talent). So extraordinary imagination, creative magic or performance industry are not lacking in fitba-Scotland. Our experts in the game may want to have a word with Martin; look at his work and go home and think again.