A fan-written piece by Archie Brand:
I recently watched a documentary on the life of the great George Best.
During an interview he stated that when he was with Manchester United there were no such things as tactics. “We just went out and played”.
We tend to forget that tactics are a fairly modern concept. It’s not that long ago that teams just went out and did exactly what Best said. They just played.
You had your skillful teams who could pass it around a bit, and your less capable ones who found solace in their ability to get results by basically kicking the opposition.
There was the odd team that would just boot the ball upfield and run after it, but they were mostly managed by Sam Allardyce, and they rarely achieved very much at all, other than relegation.
When Rafa Benitez was brought to Toon 2 years ago I have to admit to not being particularly impressed with him. Yes he’d won stuff but he struck me as the kind of manager who walked into successful clubs who already had great players, and, well, just let them get on with it. Chelsea, Liverpool and Real Madrid were hardly struggling when he arrived. A bit of an Avram Grant.
You’ve heard the comments. “My granny could have won the league with that team!”
Personally I’d have preferred Moyes. There was a guy who created consistency out of nothing at Everton.
A guy who could not only survive on the most meagre of budgets, but could still be competitive.I was convinced that he was the way forward for us.
Right. Now we’ve established that I know nowt about football managers, let’s get back to Rafa.
What Rafa has achieved since the turn of the year has been nothing short of miraculous. I’d have to concede at this point, that when it comes to being a tactician if he’s not the best, then he has to be a pretty close second.
I get to see all the games and will admit that I’m never quite sure what the “tactic-de-jour” may be, and we’re not usually pretty to watch, but we’re getting results and that’s what counts. Yes, when the ball is lobbed onto our penalty spot I’m still cowering behind the couch, bricking it like a 5 year old watching Doctor Who, but I’m a lot more confident that we can defend a 3 goal lead with 5 minutes to go, than I used to be.
If, like me, you doubted Rafa’s ability as a master tactician, just take a look at our results over the 2nd half of the season.
It’s not that we’ve managed to get points. It’s the teams that we got those points against.
Huddersfield, Brighton, Burnley, Bournemouth, Man U and Leicester all stuck it to us early doors, but in the return leg we took points from all of them.
Somebody, somewhere at SJP is learning, and I don’t think it’s Ashley.
When he arrived, much was said about Rafa’s preference for rotating the players. If the same team was put out twice we were checking to make sure it wasn’t a replay of last week’s match.
Horses for courses was the justification from Rafa. If we’re playing against someone like Crouch it wouldn’t make sense to have Yedlin mark him, and conversely you wouldn’t want to be putting a home grown donkey up against one of Man City’s whippets.
But other teams don’t feel the need to chop and change, you may well counter. Yes, but we forget that we’re at a bit of a disadvantage.
Other teams have better players. While they can do “and”, we’re stuck with “or”.
I lost you? Well try sticking the “and” or the “or” into the middle of the following.
He can read the game – is quick on his feet.
He can run like the wind – can get a cross in.
He can get into a good position – can find the back of the net.
He can win the ball – can do something with it.
We have very few that fit into the “and” categories and way too many “Ors”.
Oddly, even taking into consideration the fact that we currently sit in nose-bleed territory in the top half of the table, there are still fans who moan on about Rafa’s selections. We should play 2 up front, why’s Mitro out on loan, and my favourite, “we don’t need another keeper?”
Oh, that last one was me.
The truth of the matter is that Rafa sees the squad every day in training, and is in the best possible position to evaluate our players’ form and fitness, and following his comments in support of Perez, we can be sure that he’s looking for more than just goals and assists. He also knows what we’re going to be up against at the weekend and no doubt has his dossier prepared on their strengths and weaknesses, as well as ours.
Football’s come on a bit since Best’s day.
So at what point will the fans just kick back and leave Rafa to do his job?
Probably never, because that’s what us fans do. Paying our gate money entitles us to gripe about everything from team selection and sponsors, through to zero hours contracts and Charnley’s hairstyle. Nothings ever going to change that.
We would all like to see a return to excitement of the Entertainers era but at the moment it’s about survival – more the era of the Accountants.
Ashley gambled that paying Rafa 4 million a year rather than buying 50 million quid’s worth of players would keep us in the Prem and provide him with a much higher return on his stake. 4 million to Rafa with 4 million combined wages to the new loanees and a return of 100 million plus in TV money for next season. That’s about 1100% return per annum on his investment.
This year it appears he got away with it, but it’s more of a reflection on the uncanny abilities of his manager than Ashley’s skills as a gambler.
Or is it?