The last couple of seasons have seen many teams adopting a 4-3-3 formation. Apparently they are copying Barcelona. Or are they? Some would say they are actually copying the great Brazilian side of the 1960s. The fact is, we have seen all kinds of formations used by many successful sides in the past. 3-5-2, 5-3-2, 4-2-4, 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1, 4-5-1 and 4-2-3-1 have all been tried before. We’ve even had a Christmas tree formation comprising of 4-3-2-1.
This not-so-modern trend of teams playing 4-3-3 has led to lots of sides fielding similar players up front, often featuring wingers who look to cut inside rather than out and out strikers. Whether this is a good thing or not is questionable, as is the desire of many teams to adopt the same style of play.
In the high jump event at the 1968 Summer Olympics, Dick Fosbury brought the Fosbury Flop to the world’s attention, winning the gold medal in the process. Prior to that there were two common methods of clearing the bar: the scissors jump, where the athlete threw first one leg and then the other over the bar before landing on his feet, as used by 1920 gold-medallist Richmond Landon, and its variant, the western roll, which saw the athlete fling himself over the bar face down, as demonstrated by 1964 winner Valeriy Brumel. Both were considered effective at the time, although both have now been consigned to history.
When Prince Naseem Hamed started his career as a professional boxer he was considered a phenomenon for switching stance during rounds. However, many people credited Muhammad Ali with being the first person to introduce the switching of stance in between bouts. Before he excited the sporting world with his antics, only left-handed boxers tended to use the southpaw stance. Yet even before Ali there was Bruce Lee. Not a boxer but an expert in mixed martial arts. Although he was a right-hander, he was also a southpaw. His belief was that the strong side should be in front as a street fighter, because in a “real” fight there is no jumping about, and the fight will be over in seconds.
If football managers want to change how their teams play, shouldn’t they change because their new style is more effective rather than to mimic others? What works for Barcelona, only works so well because they have Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa and co. Likewise the Brazilian sides of the 1960s were so successful and exciting to watch because of the talent of players such as Pele, Jairzinho and Garrincha. Current sides may play the same style as these great teams but they won’t play it to as high a standard because their players simply aren’t as good. Arsenal have proved this for the last seven years and counting. They’re brilliant to watch but they don’t win trophies. Rather than changing their style and playing it to a lower standard, clubs should focus on getting the best players to fit in with their style and they’ll have much more chance of achieving success.
Change begins with an idea. Or as Gandhi said, “Disagreement is often a sign of progress.”