The art of proper football

In the aftermath of the game featuring Liverpool and Atletico Madrid at Anfield which ended in a 2-3 loss for the hosts a number of things were said. The one which stood out is the comment by Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp, “I don’t understand with the quality they have the football they play. They could play proper football but they stand deep and have counterattacks”. This implies that there is a proper way to play football and Atletico Madrid is not doing that. It also shows that there are certain teams with the personnel to play “proper’ football and Atletico is one of them although they choose not to play that way. In Klopp’s statement one will be forced to ask what is the proper way of playing football and what is wrong with taking a counter attacking approach to football?

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, the word proper relates to, “something that is truly what it is said or regarded to be; genuine”. or, “of the required or correct type or form; suitable or appropriate”. The same dictionary defines a counter attack as, “an attack intended to stop or oppose an attack by an enemy or competitor”. Using these definitions this article will make an analysis of the approach used by Atletico to ascertain if the remarks made by Klopp holds water and what lessons can be learnt from the game.

When Klopp commented on the properness of Atletico’s type of football, he was in essence questioning its realness and genuineness. In other words, Klopp is accusing Simeone of playing fake football. On a prolonged night that went to extra time, two brands of football were on the show case. On one end was Klopp’s expansive, pressing, highline and crossing game in a 4-3-3 formation, in contrast Simeone lined a 4-4-2 which played deep and was relying on the pace of Correa and Joao Felix and Costa as the target man. Atletico were playing deep but did not only thump the ball forward but tried to play from the back and a player who epitomized was Thomas Partey who dribbled his way out of danger for most parts of the game. Oblak was the star of the show as he made a lot of saves from threatening Liverpool attacks. Simeone had a plan that the executed to achieve an end and he also adjusted it when he brought Llorente who also made the difference. For Klopp to imply that the brand of football that was on show for 2hrs was fake is not a fair representation of the planning and effort it took for Atletico to get the result.

Klopp’s remarks also question the appropriateness of Simeone’s approach and if it was the correct way to play football. Football is a game that can be viewed from many angles including aesthetics, philosophy and from a legal standing. For some people football should be entertaining and the approach used by Simeone would not be appealing to them and can be branded inappropriate. There are also those who say football is about the result and the end justify the means. Football has rules and regulations and from a legal standing Atletico’s win was in the confines of the football laws and from this viewpoint it was appropriate. The aim of Simeone was to qualify to the next round and he set up his team to defend and capitalize on Liverpool mistakes and Adrian ended up making that mistake, so in a way they were correct as their approach delivered the goods.

Philosophically football is played differently and every team have their own identity, some play an expansive, pressing and passing game, whilst some rely on counter attacks. When two extreme poles of football clash these remarks are expected as each camp feels theirs is the appropriate and correct way of playing football.

Counter attacking football
Counter attacking football is not new and can be traced back to Herbert Chapman in the mid-1920s for Arsenal. In football it entails a fast, direct attack launched immediately upon regaining position. This was evident in the second Llorente goal when Morata ran with the ball creating 2 vs 3 situation in which the 2 overcame the 3 and scored. The third goal it was 2 vs 6 situaton involving Llorente and Morata as well and Morata scored. To execute a counter attack a team need to have player who can make quick decisions and also with good ball control and make accurate passes. Counter attacking football is evident of Newton’s 3rd law of motion which states that, “Action and reaction are equal and opposite”. Klopp mentioned that with the quality that Atletico Madrid have they should not be playing counter attacking football, however, counter attacking football needs quality players that can hold the ball and make accurate passes like what Llorente and Joao Felix did to perfection.

When two opposing brands of ideologies clash there are always claims that one brand is not the real thing. An ancient Egyptian called Thoth had this to say, “Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree”. For example, Heat and Cold, although “opposites,” are really the same thing, the differences consisting merely of degrees of the same thing. The same can be said of possession football and counter attacking football, the are just the same in that they are attacking styles of football that are on different ends of the football continuum.

The game at Anfield between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid was a show piece of the richness of football and the differences in approaches. At one end was an expansive and passing team with a pressing and possession-based game whilst one sat deep waiting for mistakes and exploit them through counter attacks and led to question which one of the two brands of football is the proper one. Properness implies genuineness and appropriateness and this article tried to use different viewpoints of analysis, from an aesthetic, philosophical, legal and tactical standing. It also showed that it also needs quality players to execute counter attacks and that counter attacking style is a vibrant brand of football since the mid-1920s.

BY Noble