A Snub To Our Modern Greats

The only unbeaten team in the 2010 World Cup was not, as you might expect, the eventual winners Spain, who were beaten 1-0 in the group stages, but New Zealand, who drew all three of their group games. Sadly, this achievement was not enough for the All Whites to progress to the knock out stages but it demonstrated to the rest of the word the Kiwi organisational and crucially their ability to defend. These qualities are noted in the Whole of Football plan:

“The point of difference is our superior

team culture and traditional Kiwi

strengths combined with astute tactical

cohesion”

That New Zealand team was captained by Ryan Nelson, who was named in at least one Best XI for the tournament, and their opening goal was scored by a certain Winston Reid. It is hardly surprising, based on how New Zealand have had to defend for their lives against more accomplished teams, that these two players made such an impression in South Africa and it is equally unsurprising that both of these players are defenders.

Before I continue I have to admit that I love defending. I was a defender, my childhood hero was a defender, my favourite Stoke player is a defender and the Boy is a defender. During the Liverpool – Manchester United match, earlier this season, I actually enjoyed how Jose set up his team to thwart the way Klopp’s teams traditionally play and even though I like goals I enjoy seeing the teams I support keep a clean sheet.

Therefore, when looking at the Whole of Football Plan, I found myself a little disconcerted when I came across statements like the following:

“New Zealand Football believes that defending is easier to teach than pro-active, creative attacking and that the two transition moments can be addressed in the same training session, because when one team is in transition to attack, the other team is in transition to defend. It is therefore important to spend more time on the attacking moment without neglecting the other moments of the game.”

When you consider that the Whole of Football plan considers the two transition phases as areas to be trained the above paragraph is saying that attacking should consist of more than fifty percent of your training focus. This focus can already be seen to be taking effect if you watch any one of the junior and youth games on a Saturday, the number of goals which are conceded due to poor defending far outweighs the number of goals which come about due to attacking prowess. You may say that this is down to the good players playing up front but watching the defenders in the Boy’s league it is plain to see that they are all comfortable on the ball when in possession but look like rabbits in a headlight when the opposition starts to attack.

And it is not just the junior game which is suffering, how many times have you seen defenders on television fail to pick up a marker, miss a tackle or header and of course play the suicidal back-pass because they are being harried by an attacker? Nowadays football seems to be all about getting the ball in the back of the net and whilst it is true goals win games it is worthwhile remembering that if you score a goal you can still lose the game but it is impossible to do so if you don’t concede.

The Whole of Football plan’s ultimate goal has to be the improvement of the national team and whilst this focus on the attacking game will help to break down the obdurate defences found in regional competitions when we come up against higher ranked nations we will suffer if we can’t defend. This means in practise that the All Whites World Cup hopes are always going to be high as we qualify from the Oceania group but, unless we have an inspired couple of games, we will fail at the final hurdle time after time.

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