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Open Book #2 Das Reboot

DasReboot

Kangaroo leather. Three stripes. All black. For those of us growing up in the 90s Copa Mundials were German football.

The iconic boot is a symbol German football. Copas aren’t flash. They aren’t seductive. But they hug the foot. They endure any pitch. They show up every day and win. It’s the German way.

German steadiness, however reliable, can be, boring. German football didn’t quicken my heart. The Bundesliga didn’t have Thierry Henry, the Nationalmannschaft didn’t wear bright yellow Nike shirts. Unlike the Premier League or La Liga, it would take a giant to open my mind to a football culture I had for so long discarded.

That giant was Raph Honigstein. Raph Honigstein is an expert. An expert on fashion, gastronomy and most important, German football (I can’t confirm his expertise on the first two, but he looks the part).

Often, football tales are stories of underdogs rising from humble beginnings to find glory. Raph however, flips this common trope. Das Reboot is the story of a football dynasty, who after a stroll in the wilderness of mediocrity takes on mankind’s greatest challenge – change.

Below are my favorite bits

Yes, even Germany suffered a talent shortage:

The shortage of skilled personnel wasn’t an entirely new problem, either. As early as 1997, there had been so few decent German strikers in the league that national manager Berti Vogts was forced to lobby the government to naturalise South African-born Sean Dundee of Karlsruher SC, a forward without any German background whatsoever.

No one swoons over pragmatic economics, but it drives youth development. A lack of wealth forced clubs to lean on their academies for talent:

In the German FA’s defense, they soon understood that the whole youth development set-up needed reform and a sizeable cash injection. By 2004, the first fruits of the changes at grass-roots level were becoming visible in the shape of youngsters like Schweinsteiger and Lahm. Bundesliga clubs hit by the 2002 bankruptcy of the Kirch media conglomerate, their broadcast partner, had also tentatively begun to give players from their own academies a chance. They were cheaper.

Jürgen Klinsmann was instrumental in implementing progressive change. Part bulldog, part traveling salesman, he rose above the close minded:

Klinsmann was aware that he was asking a lot of his countrymen. ‘I never took criticism personally. I know how tough it is to change when you feel that you’re doing okay. It was years before I understood the Italian way of thinking, which was completely results-based, for example. They wanted 1-0s, I wanted 4-3s. Then I went to France and England, and it was one culture shock after another for me. German football had it’s problems. But we were somebody. Did we really have to do things differently all of a sudden? The time Jogi, Oliver and me had spend abroad convinced us that the answer was yes. There had to be a new way if we wanted to beat the international competition.’

The Thomas Müller chapter – “The Man of Small Goals” is worth the hardcover price alone. Müller’s charm is in a playing style which makes us dream “That could be me out there

Bastian Schweinsteiger called his team-mate’s technique ‘spectacular’, but he was not being entirely serious. Müller took his penalties in the same scruffy way he wore his playing kit: socks half-rolled down, white muscle shirt limply hanging out from beneath his kit. With his five-euro haircut and legs like beanpoles, the feeling was inescapable. He didn’t really look like a modern footballer at all.

Thomas Müller was a centerback? In his early days, yes:

His inelegant style saw him being played as a central defender at Bayern, but the hunger for goals proved much stronger than the positional discipline needed at the back. ‘He couldn’t help but push forward, so I put him into right midfield,’ recalled Teong-Kim Lim, Bayern’s U13 coach.

Matt Hummels is the modern German player, an Armani model with exemplary dribbling and passing technique. His skill set complemented Löw’s ideals of building from the back. But his penchant for “mistakes” may have kept him out of past German sides.

The Borussia Dortmund center-back perfectly epitomised all the promise and the problems of the Löw generation. His unhurried poise on the ball and finely crafted passes into the opposition half lent him an air of sophistication, even in his generation of academy taught,technically proficient kids. But Hummels also had the unfortunate habit of trying to make everything look extremely effortless all the time, to the point where he sometimes misjudged the seriousness off the situation. ‘Bruder LichtfuB’, brother lightfoot, they used to call players who took things a little too easy in Germany. These types tended not to go very far in a footballing culture that couldn’t abide mistakes.

A group of progressive coaches began to lay the groundwork for a tactical renaissance. Klopp, Tuchel and Rangnick are now global names, but a little known structural engineer pioneered many of the ideas the three would adopt:

Rangnick was appointed coach of VfB Stuttgart amateurs in 1985. That year, he met a trained structural engineer who had taught himself football tactics and become the first coach to introduce ‘Ballorientierte Raumdeckung’, a system that combined zonal marking with aggressive pressing of the ball,

As a manager of sixth division SC Gislingen, a club situated in provincial Baden-Württemberg, Groß had employed this radical new method with great success. A few years later he was appointed to the regional football association’s staff for teaching coaches, a kind of think-tank for managers. Rangnick became a member and his favourite protege. ‘It was a laboratory for ideas and experiments. We would discuss tactics for hours and hours, sometimes throughout the night. I found a thousand reasons why his football wouldn’t work and Groß would reply that one could only control the game with a clear plan of working “against the ball”. He said, “I can understand your worries and fears, because it’s the way you’ve been educated as a player. But you have to overcome them and trust in the system.” After a while, he had convinced me that zonal marking all over the pitch and high pressing was not only possible, but the way forward.’

How many young coaches annihilated VCRs rewinding Sacchi videos? Groß and Rangnick were one of many:

“Groß and Rangnick began writing coaching manuals and developing their own practice sessions ‘There were no books, no exercises we could call upon,’ Rangnick says, ‘the vocabulary didn’t exist, either.’ They studied videos of Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan that friends were sending over from Italy. It took ages to pause, rewind, fast- forward, rewind the action on Groß ’s clunky recorder. The equipment frequently broke down from over-use.

Sacchi’s double European Cup winners with the Dutch trio of Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit set a new benchmark in terms of collective brilliance. But Sacchi, the former shoe salesman, was also a role model in a more personal sense. Rangnick: ‘He wasn’t a big name, he hadn’t had a glittering career as a player. He also looked like [French comedian] Luis de Funes. It was inconceivable at the time that a German club would have appointed such a man as their senior manager. Sacchi broke the mold.

Paul Breitner’s gall at the 1974 World Cup final is the stereotypical German football mentality.

Breitner suffered an out-of-body experience when he watched the game back on television at home the next day. ‘I was shouting at this guy, saying, “You’re crazy, why are you shooting? What are you doing? You must be mad!”

It’s difficult to imagine how complacent German football had become. Excellence was replaced with mediocrity. Philipp Lahm reveals:

It was worth recalling Lahm’s pretty damning appraisal of life in the national team under Rudi Völler to appreciate the difference. ‘The practice sessions are surprisingly relaxed,’ he wrote in his book. ‘It was like a bunch of friends going away on holiday to play a bit of football. We trained perhaps for an hour a day… We don’t practice anything specific at all, apart from crossing the ball, with someone shooting at goal unmarked. Good fun, but totally random…There were no tactical talks, no video analysis of the opponents, no analysis of our own mistakes.

In contrast to Jogi’s ability to consistently demand a high level from his players. Like a diligent parent, Thomas Hitlsperger explains Löw’s insistence on building from the back:

In pre-season, coaches would bark at you, but, after a while, bad habits would always creep back into the game, and eventually, they just got tired of correcting you and let it go. With Germany, though, the training games would be stopped every time someone played a long ball. Every single time. There were clear instructions to build from the back, through the two centre-backs and midfield, and then to move out as a team. Jogi didn’t stand for it if somebody didn’t follow that plan. That kind of rigour was new to me. I had never experienced it before. Eventually, playing that way becomes second nature to you.

For tactics dorks, new systems and theories of play are like cookies and milk to Santa. But everyone needs their brussel sprouts, or tactically speaking – set pieces. Assistant coach Hansi Flick persuaded Jogi Löw to see the value of rehearsing set pieces:

Flick disagreed with his coaches views. ‘We are not effective enough from “Standards”, that’s our problem,’ he said at Euro 2012. ‘My opinion differs from Jogi’s here. We have to train more, have to become dynamic. But Jogi looks at the big picture, his emphasis is a different one.’ Löw’s low opinion of dead balls – ‘you get the feeling he thinks they smell bad,’ Süddeutsche wrote, was in stark evidence during tournaments, when he used to bet Flick a couple of bottles of water or a dinner, that Germany wouldn’t score a ‘Standard’ goal. It was as if Löw considered these basic goals somewhat beneath him, as primitive tools employed by teams who couldn’t score goals any other way. Like German national teams in the not so distant past, for example.

Hansi Flick’s contribution reminds us it’s not always the headline grabbers who have a lasting impact:

It worked. Müller’s opener against Brazil had taken Germany’s dead-ball goal tally to five at the tournament; six if you included his penalty against Portugal. Four goals from thirty-two corners, one in eight, was a particularly remarkable haul. In elite competitions, the average success ratio tends to hover around the 1:50 mark. Germany had gone from dead-ball dopes to masters, at both ends. A switch from zonal marking in 2010 to a mixture of zonal and man-marking (Mertesacker: ‘The two or three best headers of the ball were marked individually, the rest of the team defended in the zone’) had helped them reach the final without conceding a single goal from ‘Standards’.

Sami K never gets any love. But Khedira’s vigor brought balance to a technical, languid midfield:

The former Stuttgart player brought some vertical, plain old drive to a team who had learned to let the ball do most of the running, but he wasn’t one of these players who strutted all over the pitch to get as many touches as possible. His movement followed fixed, meticulous patterns of ‘active ball-winning’, as Löw called it, an aggressive, high pressing game that he learned under VfB Stuttgart youth coach Thomas Tuchel, a disciple of tactical innovator Ralf Rangnick.

Freezing up doesn’t only happen in Sunday league finals. Even the great Germany has been found wanting:

‘I can understand the criticism of the Sweden game – you can’t draw 4-4 when you’re 4-0 up. But we were sensational in the first half. The problem later on wasn’t us playing too pretty or trying to find nice technical solutions in the middle of a storm. The problem was half the team going into hiding when it was 4-1 and then 4-2. Nobody wanted the ball any more. We were hoofing long balls forward, they came straight back. It wasn’t about being too technical. We weren’t technical enough because everyone had started shitting themselves.

And this line, because it’s dope:

But in football, as in life, the most powerful lies are always the ones you tell yourselves.

Centerbacks transforming into goal scoring legends, a Californian taking on the German establishment, a structural engineer dreams up a tactical revolution, Das Reboot has it all.

Grab your copy here.

Bathroom readability: 3

1- ”Be right out”

2- ”Honey are you ok in there?”

3 – ”Umm… I can’t feel my legs.

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Bielsa’s Next Stand

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Marcelo Bielsa is the greatest loser in football history—if one defines winning only by trophy hauls. For a man who has inspired an entire generation of coaches, his 3 Argentinian titles and Olympic gold over a 25 year career make for a short resume. Despite his lonely trophy cabinet, Bielsa is still lauded by his peers and football romantics the globe over.

As both legend and myth, Bielsa has become the Henry Thoreau of football—out in his own tactical wilderness built from his fundamental ideals, refusing to compromise.

His teams, wooed by his philosophy, are a pleasure to behold. In sync, they’re intelligent football machines programmed with a combination of ruthless man-marking and cut-throat attacking patterns. They are easy to admire but taxing on the participants.

His disciples, affectionately named “Bielsaites,” have won more than he ever will. By taking Bielsa’s philosophy of high pressing and vertical attacks and tweaking the code, they edit the syntax with a hint of pragmatism. Pep’s Barcelona and Sampaoli’s Chile are the all conquering versions of tactical formulas Bielsa developed years ago.

However, one quickly learns with Bielsa. He never lets ‘em down gently. At the first sign of treason, he’s bashing skulls with management, walking out, and leaving withered teams in his wake.

It happened at Bilbao, it’s happened again at Marseille.

I’d become desperate for Bielsa to sculpt Marseille into champions. Would this Marseille team be Bielsa’s first European side not to sputter out?

No.

After leading PSG most of the year, the season ended with a wretched 4th place finish. No Champions League. No runners up medal. Nada.

Bielsa’s inevitable resignation left me pondering – What if this was his last stand? What competitions missed out on a bespectacled football-obsessive trawling the sidelines? Which team could use a clear playing identity and knowledge that there’s 36 ways to communicate with a pass?

At first the list sprawled across my kitchen table: a mix between football manager, bucket list, plea for help, and Victorian love letter. In the end I whittled it down to three…three football institutions that could use a sprinkle of Bielsa after he abandons Lille.

The Champions League

World Cup be damned, the Champions League is now football’s most prestigious stage. Top coaches and players thrive in the competition. Crave it. The anthem, the flood lights, the chance to make history: it’s the country club for football’s elite.

A Bielsa team has yet to grace the tournament. And still, somehow this is where Bielsa belongs—amongst the greats.

Admittedly Bielsa’s brand of rapid vertical passing isn’t ideal for the measured approach most sides deploy, but that’s exactly why Bielsa needs to compete here: to challenge the assumed, to agitate the natural order.

Watching a Bielsa team at full gallop on a star-twinkled Tuesday night would be an experience to savor, to replay in your mind’s 8 millimeter reel. And if his team went beyond the group stages, well…

The F.A. Cup

Bielsa needs to win a trophy. Any trophy. Well, not any trophy. The Emirates Cup doesn’t count. Nor does anything that has “ToTo” in it. He needs a domestic cup. And what better cup to win than Britain’s premier knock-out tourney?

The team he leads there is irrelevant, but Leeds United or Nottingham Forest would be fine choices. Two fan bases lusting for past glories, each two legged affair en route to the final would be high-line opera.

The final itself—a celebration of English pomp—would have Bielsa looking like a nerd at lunch, frantically trying to spot a chair where he’d be left alone.

And if they won it? Scenes.

Winning the F.A. cup would challenge Bielsa’s allergic reaction to smiling. Can you imagine Bielsa, hair frazzled, champagne bubbles dripping off his chops, cheerleader-tossed in the air by his adoring players?

Yeah me neither.

The United States Men’s National Team

Too fantastic a notion? The stuff of screenplays? Sure. But when Bruce Arena’s time is up this is the hire you make – got it Sunil? Offers you can’t refuse slammed on the negotiating table.

A perfect match, the current US pool is brimming with fragmented potential: a motley crew of eager midfielders, naive defenders and sitter-missing strikers. They’re a collection of players willing to bust lungs for 90 minutes—the type of dedication Bielsa demands, but, are missing a collective aim.

Jurgen’s promises of a unified American playing identity never surfaced, while crafting a clear team structure is Bielsa’s purview. For all his neuroses, Bielsa took Chile, a team swollen with talent but haunted by ghosts of tournaments past, and drafted up a blueprint that each successor since has continued, improved upon and won trophies with.

U.S. Soccer and the powers that be, make it happen.

Where will Bielsa turn up after Lille? His journey has been as unpredictable as the man himself. He may in fact never coach in the Champions League, win the F.A. Cup or coach the United States Men’s National Team. But wherever he settles, you can be sure—regardless of destination or results—his legend will continue to grow.

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Ligue 1 is Europe’s most exciting competition

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Here’s Our 3 Wishes for 2017

Marseille’s renaissance continues

Bilesa’s return flamed out, but Marseille rebounded with Rudy Garcia. Garcia is no “El Loco” in style or manner, but he’s won Ligue 1 against all odds, with Lille. Garcia took over a side that was 12th in the table. Since then Marseille has lost only two, climbing to 6th. Gomis has ten goals in nine. And Saki, Rolando, Hubocan and Fanni have developed into a formidable back four.

Missing out on John Obi Mikel to China is a blow but, if Frank McCourt ponies up the Euros for a Dimitri Payet return some of the skepticism around his investment in the club may dim.

Could Marseille finish top four? Not this year. But a Europa league place would restore dignity to a wayward season and awaken hope in the Velodrome faithful.

Jean Michael Seri leads Nice to Glory

Dante’s gotten love. Balotelli the headlines. But it’s Seri, the Ivorian Ant-Man who’s Nice’s indispensable player. Leading Ligue 1 in assists the man’s range of passing and mobility are the keys that ignite Nice’s engine. If he stays healthy and Nice win it, he should be Ligue 1’s player of the season-and off to a bigger club. How Nice copes with Seri’s absence during the African Cup of Nations will determine if the Ligue 1 championship finds a home on the French coast.

Monaco stays offensive

Monaco. Home of world class Grand Prix, no income tax and attacking football. Attacking football? Yes. Attacking football. Sure, in the past Leonardo Jardim’s Monaco have been accused of parking buses and inducing yawns. However, this year’s edition has 49 goals scored. Top for all of Europe’s major leagues.

Falcao’s 11 goals have been a welcome resurgence and Guido Carrillo’s 7 has already surpassed his total from the previous season. Jardim’s new tactical approach has ensured Ligue 1 is well within reach. Manchester City await in the round of 16 and a semi-final place in the Coupe de la Ligue keeps the treble in play. Will Jardim alter Monaco’s approach to appease the trophy gods? Or will banging Gs’ remain?

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Atalanta – Serie A’s Lemons to Savor

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Serie A returns this weekend. Be sure to give Atalanta a taste.

When life gives you lemons, stick em’ in your bra.” said an old roommate’s girlfriend when her plans went to shit. My plan that Sunday afternoon was the Derby Della Madonnina. Atalanta v Roma was supposed to be an appetizer. A nibble of fruit and cheese before the main course. I caught one Atlanta counter. And another. 5 minutes became 10. 10 became 30. I was captured. Atalanta was pushing Roma around like your Aunt Milda’s liver onions at Thanksgiving.

I’d heard murmurs from podcasts and tweets that Atalanta were a team on the rise. A young side eager to carry out Gio Gasperini’s 3-4-3 masterplan. Still, I hadn’t seen for myself. After all, it was Atalanta. In my years of following Serie A I’d never watched them play. And today I needed a Roma win. If only to slow the Juventus juggernaut from a fifth consecutive Serie A title.

Atalanta ripped my loyalties apart. My logic cursed Salah’s spurned chances and bemoaned Roma’s lack of possession. My emotions whispered for Atalanta. Her back three. Her old-fashioned touch-line wing play. And her boots-full-of-tricks number 10 – Alejandro “Papu” Gomez, were irresistible.

Gasperini’s 3-4-3, oiled and quick, confounded Spaletti’s defensive shape. Atalanta’s movement and passing stirred up a level of anticipation usually reserved for individual players. The type of anticipation you’d feel when “Brazilian” Ronaldo dribbled full force at defenders. Or when Zidane trapped a pass from the air without spilling his espresso. Each feint a word before the punch line, each touch a silk scarf from a magician’s wrist.

However, this interruption of plans went beyond formations and players. It came to life from the stands. The Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia, built in 1928, remains a noir shrine to Italian football of yesteryear. Smoke from the flares of the Curva Nord 1907 brought the nostalgia of Serie A’ early 90s pomp. And the supporters were KISS concert rowdy.

Late on Papu added to the ruckus, bamboozling Pardes to draw the penalty. Franck Kessié converted as Spaletti’s strategy fell to the cutting room floor. The final whistle kicked Atalanta closer to a European adventure while Roma wedged deeper beneath The Old Lady’s heel. This wasn’t the Sunday I’d planned. This wasn’t the Sunday Roma planned. But when life gives you lemons, you stick em’ in your bra.

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Ligue 1 Quickie: PSG vs Nice

ligue1quickiePSG always makes the headlines, we’ll focus on Nice instead. Three observations:

First half efficiency.

Nice didn’t have much possession in the first half, but when they did, they played it forward with purpose. Two chances. Two goals. Wylan Cyprien’s inside of the foot free kick curler was sublime. And Clea’s team leading 10th goal of the season, splitting Brazilian bookends Silvia and Marquinhos sent Nice’s travelling support bonkers. The lead didn’t last, but two goals at the Parc des Princes could cement Nice’s belief that Ligue 1 is theirs.

A Goalkeeping Folktale.

I love short goalkeepers. They’re creatures of folklore who defy modern norms. Yoan Cardinale is Ligue 1’s short shot stopper supreme. His slick hair and modest height resembles an office intern or the produce lead at your local grocer, not Nice’s number 1 netminder. Yoan’s bobble on Kurzawa’s cross may have cost Nice three points, but his earlier double save on Kurzawa and Cavani may have preserved one. Cardinale isn’t the keeper to lead Nice to the title, but it’s hard to root against him.

Balotelli’s Cameo.

Favre brought Balotelli on in minute 75 searching for a late winner. Football’s main maverick has matured both on and off the pitch under Favre scoring goals and not playing game boy on the bench. But the performance was classic Balotelli. 20 minutes played, a few world class touches, a shot from 35 yards out and a yellow card.

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Open Book #1 Pep Confidential: The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola’s First Season at Bayern Munich

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When Pep Confidential first appeared on my radar via Amazon’s suggestion algorithm self published e-book based on an amateur’s observations of the Bayern Munich youtube channel came to mind. However, the title proved irresistible and Henry Winter’s referral further guided my mouse to the add to cart button.

The author, Martí Perarnau, was a mystery. He wasn’t orbiting my Raph Honigstein, Sid Lowe football author’s universe. But I quickly wiped the crusties of humble pie from the corners of my smile when I discovered not only is Martí a top journalist who made his way into Pep’s inner circle, but also a former Olympian.

Pep’s appetite for learning from other disciplines saw him open to Martí, giving him unfettered access, but with one stipulation:

‘You can write about everything you see and be as critical as you like in the book but during the season please don’t talk to the outside world about what you witness inside.’

Below are a few of my favorite bits:

The tactical revelation of Pep’s first year was shifting Philipp Lahm, football’s finest left back into center midfield. But to my surprise Pep wasn’t the first coach to play Philipp in the center of the park. His coach-turned-agent Roman Grill played him there in his youth team days:

Roman Grill played for Bayern II as a pivote and coached at youth level. ‘Obviously I have the advantage of having coached Philipp when he was a kid. I used him in the midfield then. His strongest qualities are his football intelligence and his ability to read a game tactically. That’s why he should be in the center. Philipp contributes a lot to the defensive organization but also to the fluidity of the game. As a fullback he had this ability to spot a team-mate and make exactly the right pass which, in turn, helped the whole group. And in the midfield he has even more opportunity to use that skill. ‘

Pep spoke of the world’s outstanding left back as if he’d been an organizing midfielder for years. One could switch out the name Lahm with Busquets and the adjectives would still ring true:

‘Do you see Lahm’s potential? Have you seen how well he anticipates the next pass? Have you seen how he turns and protects the ball? He can play on the wing or in the middle of the field.’ It is clear that he has just made one of the season’s biggest discoveries.

Despite the abundance of world-class players at Bayern, role players such as Rafiniah were vital:

One of the technical team comments: ‘Rafinha is just about the most important member of the team right now. If he got injured we’d have to really conjure up a solution.’

That’s how it is. Rafinha allows Lahm to play as organising midfielder, something which has been vital to the teams performance.

The detailed explanation of tactics makes Pep Confidential a page turner:

Playing out with three men from the back is very useful because it conditions the response of your rival. Even if they press you, it’ll be with the center-forward and second striker, obliging them to move into a 4-4-2 shape and you can therefore over-run them by achieving superiority.

The tactical evolution which I’d envisaged at that time with consisted of using the left-back to step forward and play as a second pivote. We already knew that the full-backs could move up as high as the pivote while he was bringing the ball out from the back, but without overlapping him until he’d already played the ball forward. The idea was to then leave the left-back paired with the pivote so that, if necessary, we could defend with a double pivote system in midfield – even though the team didn’t line up that way.

Despite being viewed as an idealist with a penchant for center midfielders Pep possesses a pragmatic edge:

‘Who are our unstoppable guys? The wide guys – Ribery and Robben. We have to use that weapon. We have to be superior down the middle of midfield, but open up the width with diagonal passes. That means we have to push the whole team up field in order to release Robben and Ribery, because they can’t be dropping deep to start the play.’ He will explain this over and over again.

Long ball is bad. Long ball is bad. Ok, but has anyone ever explained why? Pep does:

‘They lob the ball over the top of Thiago or Kroos and, if we aren’t in position, we’re lost. That’s why we can’t launch the ball and look to go up and support it, because that will leave Thiago and Kroos running up and down the pitch the whole time. We need to go step by step, all of us in unison. Lose the ball and – pam! – we win it back quickly because our positional play has us all tightly linked.’

Part of assembling the tactical framework includes improving a player’s individual technique:

Fitness coach Lorenzo Buenaventura explains:

‘There are aspects of your game you can improve at any age and one of them is basic technique. Paco Seirul.lo and I have talked about this a lot. When players come to Barça for the first time, they often struggle to adapt to that way of working. I remember David Villa’s early training sessions. He’s a quick, high-octane kind of guy, who already knew eight or nine player from the Spain team, yet he still battled to understand the dynamics of that particular group.’

“Pep deals with new concepts by introducing them from the warm-up, the simplest passing exercises onwards. Today he’ll share a few details and then give some more tomorrow. The day after that he’ll talk about how to choose what angle the body is at to receive a pass, then, next time, how to take the ball on the move, followed by how to practice passing off your weaker foot. Little by little the players start to understand and assimilate and very soon it’s coming easily and they’re putting it all together at speed.”

It’s easy to believe that the now famous rondos are a fun warm up game of monkey in the middle, but with Pep everything has a purpose:

After that they do the rondos, an absolute imperative for Guardiola. There won’t be a single session this year when they miss them out. ‘Once the warm-up is finished the rondos are next. Apart from once per week – either the day before a game or the morning training session before the game – when we are a bit less demanding. The rondos normally put emphasis on one aspect or another: one day on who should play in the middle of the circle, then on how to win the ball back, another on how to support the man with the ball, or on how to find the third-man movement.

Pep’s kids:

There’s no homesickness at all. Pep’s kids are the most important factor for him. He’s obsessed with the importance of them studying abroad and learning lots of languages. He always insists that the best thing he can do for them is give them a good education and lots of language learning.

Maria and Marius are his teachers. Pep always tells them every detail of his matches and his kids love it. They are both fanatically interested in tactics and, what’s more, never hold back if they think he is wrong.

Yes. Pep Guardiola has weaknesses:

Guardiola’s Achilles’ Heel is his anxiety. He carries with him a deep fear of coming under attack, which was probably born during his playing career. He was physically fragile and lacked athleticism – rather on the puny side. Working alone to cover an enormous section of the pitch, he was an easy and exposed target for the opposition. If they tackled Pep and succeeded in neutralising him, the whole structure of Barça’s game would collapse. He carried this fear throughout his whole playing career, but was also smart enough to develop the ideal antidote. Pep found that he could cope with his fear by playing with a touch of audacity.

A quote from Diego Simeone because well, it’s Diego Simeone:

Buenaventura, too, believes that passion is fundamental to victory in football. ‘If you talk to Diego Simeone he’ll tell you something which pretty much stands out: “I’m the footballer who got the most out of the least resources. You know why? Because I have passion! How the hell was I going to get 100 games for Argentina? As a player I was a bit of a lump, but everything I achieved was down to my passion.”

Get down from that tree son, I see you up there! In Germany you can put the binoculars away. Scouting, in particular, sharing match videos between clubs is commonplace:

It is absolutely vital to record matches in situ in panoramic format so that the action can be studied from a tactical point of view. ‘In Germany, scouting is considered a part of the job and not some form of espionage. The clubs themselves even pass footage to each other. It’s normal practice here,’ Planchart explains.

Champions League regrets against Real Madrid:

Pep had been more than clear. ‘We dominate the play when all the good players are together in the middle. And if I end up losing it won’t matter. I’ll go home happy to have done it my way.’ And yet, on this, the most important day of the season so far, he has betrayed his own belief system. He has failed to play the football he believes in and has not even attempted to build the kind of game he considers vital to attack and win. It’s true that he was perhaps missing the men best qualified to deliver his style of high risk football, a game that must be executed with the utmost precision. Even so, it is evident that Pep’s own decision was the catalyst for this catastrophe. Today, Pep betrayed his own principles.

And

‘I spend the whole season refusing to use a 4-2-4. The whole season. And I decide to do it tonight, the most important night of the year. A complete fuck-up’

We’ll close on a complete fuck-up.

Pep Confidential is not a typical footballer biography, but rather a journey of the tactical reinvention of one of the most dominate Bayern sides ever. A tale of relentless self-improvement by one of the great coaches of our times. And that in itself makes it a worthy read.

Pick up Pep Confidential here and also pre-order Martí’s follow up book – Pep Guardiola The Evolution.

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Brazil vs. Uruguay: A Snapshot

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Brazil sparkled early but faded to a draw against a resolute Uruguay led by the return of one Mr. Luis Suárez.

For a country in turmoil the atmosphere at the Pernambuco stadium was rocking. Dunga rolled out his 4-2-3-1 to Tabárez’s 4-4-2 and it was clear the early strategy was to release Willian on the right as often as possible.

It paid immediate returns when in the first minute Willian feinted towards the byline then cut back to his left, shredding Coates and whipping in a sweet ball for Douglas Costa to toe snap home.

When Brazil weren’t building attacks through Alves and Filipe Luís, Nike poster-boy Neymar, stylish even in uniform, with socks pulled past his knees, continually found opportunities to turn and swish past Uruguay’s center midfield pairing of Vecino and Arévalo.

The home crowd spurred on Brazil’s destroyer tandem of Fernandinho and Luiz Gustavo. Their ankle snapping presence unsettled Vencino and Arévalo who struggled to play into Cavani or find Suárez in the channels.

Brazil’s second goal included a touch of good fortune when a loose ball fell to Neymar’s feet. He took a few touches before playing a swift diagonal ball to his right for Renato. Pereira went to ground cutting out the pass initially before it bobbled onto Renato’s path, who dummied Muslera out of his gloves before roofing it home with his right.

Brazil were back!

Music blared, badges were kissed and cameramen focused on attractive women in the crowd.

Uruguay refused to buckle and responded through Arévalo picking out an overlapping Pereira wide left. Pereira dribbled past Willian with a calm nutmeg and curled in a cross for Sánchez who laid off a clever header back to a steaming Cavani to volley home.

Neymar and Willian each traded sombreros to keep the home support believing that yes, they were Brazil and despite conceding a softie would go on to win.

Suárez begged to differ, attempting an insane volley from distance. Though it soared harmlessly into the crowd, his ambitious attempt did stand to foreshadow his growing influence.

Brazil, like her fans, were lethargic at the start of the second half. Suárez continued to harass and agitate Brazil’s back four, jawing at Felipe Luís and pressing David Luiz at every opportunity.

Suárez was everywhere and it wasn’t a surprise when at last his runs in behind Brazil’s defense were rewarded. Carlos Sánchez’s pass took out three Brazilian players hitting Suárez in stride, allowing him to strike first time across Alisson’s weak fingertips into the bottom right corner.

The king had returned.

The only kink in his crown was when played into an one v. one with Allison he shot into the keepers foot. Allison totally redeemed himself as Suárez palmed his temples in disappointment, knowing he should’ve won it.

Credit must go to Óscar Tabárez for making the needed halftime adjustments. Neymar’s second half was snuffed out. Uruguay refused to allow him to pick up the ball and turn and dribble into dangerous areas around the penalty box.

No one in the sky blue shirts were exempt from these duties. Even Edinson Cavani acted as an auxiliary center midfielder when Brazil were in possession, shutting any possible trap doors of space Neymar might look to exploit.

Neymar adapted by dropping into midfield and distributing. Sure he can pick a pass, but Xavi he is not, and taking up deeper positions facing a Uruguayan wall of ten rendered him useless.

Dunga countered by bringing in Coutinho and dropping Augusto alongside Gustavo. It worked moderately well as Brazil became more fluid in their build-ups from midfield. Coutinho acted as an extra lock picker in the final third taking some of the attacking burden off of Neymar.

Coutinho did draw a solid save from Muslera but couldn’t conjure up any of his Liverpool magic to win the match.

This Uruguay team, while not the most technically accomplished, are built on a foundation of tactical cohesion and a pair of world class strikers who believe in the team ethos.

And though this is not one of the great Brazil teams, letting a two goal lead slip at home in a crucial World Cup qualifier can not be swept aside. If results like this continue their never ending presence at the World Cup may end.

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Football Pods – The Sumptuous Six

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The modern radio show reigns supreme. Give these six dandies a listen.

Men in Blazers – If Walt Whitman, Lena Dunham and Richard Pryor had two football obsessed lovechilds this would be their podcast. Vulnerable and insightful, U.K. expats Mike Davies and Rog Bennett bring an American perspective on the EPL and a British outlook on MLS, complete with a pair of irresistible accents. Their analysis reveal poetic truths while reminding us why we love football to begin with. And when you hear the pffffsssttt of Guinness cans you know you’re about to enter a football pleasure dome that will massage your eardrums.

Football In Europe – Newest to the bunch. Like a high speed rail, Rob Daly and Chris Parrott will take you on a tight, humor packed tour through Europe’s top leagues. Along the way you may find yourself sharing a cabin car and sipping tea with top football minds Dermot Corrigan and Andy Brassell.

Hand of Pod – Brilliant name. Brilliant show. Hosted each week by the peerless Sam Kelly, Hand of Pod feels like you’re hanging out in Buenos Aires under a dim kitchen light talking football with your friends – if your friends were Argentine football experts. Hand of Pod is a reminder there’s wonderful chaotic football bleeding and breathing outside of Europe.

The Football Ramble – The Sunday League team of football pods. The fabulous 4 of Jim, Pete, Luke, and Marcus, turn the redundant football podcast format into a weekly variety show featuring strange travels to hair islands, provocative questions and highlights of the week. And if M. Speller is feeling spicy you’ll journey north to the Scottish Premiership for some darts and dallies of his beloved Hearts.

The Game – Cerebral.Dignified.Revealing. Gab Marcotti and friends bring both the human and tactical elements of the English Premier League to light. Also, it’s the only pod that includes a qualified referee, a handsome renaissance man and two previous top flight players. Friendly tension drives the show with each guest bringing conviction and thought to the forum. Plus they have the best super sub in all of football podcasts – Max Rushden.

The Spanish Football Podcast – Come for the weekly La Liga analysis and stay for the shit jokes. Sid get-Lowe baby and Big Phil Kitromilides bring you all the La Liga happenings, without things completely turning into a Real Madrid or Barcelona podcast. Take them on a date, and if you enjoy their company buy them a coffee here.

Football Weekly – Podcast godfather (no he really is. Pick up his book Podcast Master) Producer Ben spinning on the ones’ and twos’ provides top production value for each week’s lineup of world eleven football writers. Legends like Horncastle, A.C. Jimbo and Glendenning grace the mike, waxing you with football knowledge and making even the worst Mondays bearable.

There’s plenty of footie pods to devour each week. More than you likely have time for. But whether you’re walking the dogs or groping a metal tube pole on the way home from work any of these six podcasts will make life a joy, for 45 minutes or so.

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Record Players, Polaroids, and the #9

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Like vintage technologies of yesterday the old-fashioned #9 is back.

Wasn’t long ago the only place you’d find a record player was at a yard sale or thrift store. CDs, and for an even younger generation Ipods left the vinyl scratching table weight irrelevant.

Polaroids the same. The original Instagram, albeit with a 2 minute lull, was the awe of the image capturing world, with visionaries like Andy Warhol lending it artistic credibility.

Who could’ve predicted it’s final demise would come from a seemingly completely different technology – the phone?

Football can be seen through the same lens. Spanish success at club and international levels rewrote the tactical legislation and possession became law.

Coaches across the globe scrambled to copy their law books. Lumping it forward to the big man had become sinful.

Still, the #9 could be found. Not in the green pastures of the starting 11 but rather swinging their legs on the end of benches and scattered about in transfer market bargain bins, often listed under a new name – Plan B.

But the past year has seen a revival of this proud footballing tradition. This back-to-goal forcefield, this net bursting specialist.

The target man of 2015 can play a delicious reverse pass, chip it over a highline, and even defend corners.

But that’s not we’ve missed. We want the Harry Kane hat tricks, the Lewandowski scissor kick purple patches , the O.Giroud flick ons.

We want the penalty box porn star, scoring at will.

Vinyl, polaroids and the big man up front are enjoying a renaissance. But will it continue?

P.S. Big shout out to the retiring Abby Wambach. While the #9 is returning, this legendary #9 is walking away. All the best Abby.

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FC Dallas – Underappreciated Contenders

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Oscar Pareja’s troupe of footballing artisans win with panache, but still aren’t headliners in north Dallas.

It was a night most Texans dream of. Cool, with a breeze from the east. Pleasant even.

Vancouver was in town with FC Dallas looking to clinch first in the west, with a shot at the Supporters Shield.

Yes. The team with the lowest budget, without a DP to its name, could lock up the west and hoist the regular season championship belt.

These are two of the league’s class teams, and it showed. The football was a joy throughout. A fine mix of quick combinations, accurate diagonal balls and slippery #10s (though the Whitecaps version wears #29).

The product? Exquisite. The support? Dismal.

Why wasn’t a butt in every seat? Where were the tifos? Where was the celebration of an excellent football club wrapping up a triumphant season?

It wasn’t there in Toyota Park.

Leaving the stadium I couldn’t help but think this wonderful blend of South American and local talent was underappreciated, taken for granted.

Just another one of the many entertainment and dining options in the metroplex.

It’s a shame, because FC Dallas should be more that.