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Route one football, hoofing it, kick and rush. There are many names for the particularly English style of football, created in part by Wing Commander Charles Reep’s observations of the game in the 1950’s. None of them are very flattering. Teams that employ the tactic are often derided by opposition support, managers who employ the tactic are sometimes derided by their own supporters.

Beautiful though. That’s what it doesn’t get called. If there was a spectrum which had toetalvoetball and tiki-taka at one end, with it’s Rinus Michaels, Cruyff, Guardiola and Messi – then at the other end would be the long ball game of Kinnear, Beck and Allardyce, John Fashanu, Dion Dublin and Kevin Davies alongside them. It’s the ugly, brutal and bludgeoning side of the game.

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Except that it can be beautiful. Hoddle against Clough’s Forest. John Barnes reminding us how good he really was. Even Robin Van Persie loves a long ball. Jamie Vardy too.

Long ball can work. In fact, long ball does work. That’s why it’s stuck around as a tactic for over half a century now. Norway beat Brazil playing it, for Christ’s sake. It’s a style that jars with many, supposedly more ‘cultured’ tacticians. Stoke v Arsenal, Bolton v Arsenal – ok, most teams against Arsenal. Usually with Big Sam in there somewhere.

Watching the All Whites play New Caledonia last night was a bit like watching a clash of styles, Pulis v Guardiola, Allardyce v Wenger, The Culture Club vs The Crazy Gang. One team was attempting to pass and move, keep it on the deck, play the wings and work into a shooting position. One wasn’t. New Caledonia looked like Brazil, New Zealand looked like Norway. Except not as good as Norway.

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That sort of explains the result. But, unlike Egil Olsen’s drilled, dedicated and disciplined side, the All Whites were disjointed, disorganised and disappointing. They looked like a team playing a tactic that none of them were comfortable with, which is a little bit scary for an international side.

If it’s treated as a tactic of last resort, long ball usually looks awful, usually because the team resorting to it isn’t set up to use the space, make the runs or even place the passes with the necessary accuracy. Playing the long game requires as much practice as playing the short game.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a striker with the power and presence of Rory Fallon or Chris Wood up front – if the players behind them can’t deliver the ball, then the result will be a mess of misplaced balls, flick ons and knockdowns for nobody and continuous loss of possession. In terms of statistics, it’ll look something like this.

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I have little doubt that New Zealand possess the players who could play a possession based, on the deck style of football. If not tiki-taka then at least some flowing passing stuff. I also believe they could play a combative, direct passing game utilising the strengths of their strikers.

But they can only play one of those styles at a time. Yesterday they played the worst features of both, but won thanks to a blunt New Caledonian attack and a goalkeeper who was possibly seeking YouTube fame. At some point the All Whites will face an opponent who won’t gift them the game. We can only hope by then the manager knows the best players for the tactics he is implementing, and the players know how to play that way.

Categories: All Whites

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John Palethorpe

John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.

2 replies

  1. Spot on. We will probably make it through to Asia and then get stuffed with the kind of footy displayed last night. Not sure what the coach has achieved in his time – if it was Ricky Herbett the Main stream media would be hounding him on that performance

  2. Route 1 is definitely a valid tactic and when well executed, it not only produces results but can also make for exciting football. My concern though is if we don’t believe we can out pass opposition in the OFC, will we ever have the confidence (and skill) to do it?
    Have we built a team designed with the OFC as its end goal? It simply doesn’t appear that we are building to something better, where we are credible on a world stage. OK we have players away, but that is life for us.
    We will never break into the top 50 nations, but I want to hope and shout for more than just a lucky win against Island nations.

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