Chievo the muse.
Chievo the muse.
I wish LD played in Liga MX in his pomp, but joining León now is still brilliant.
Ya heard? Ronaldinho Gaúcho hung up his boots. A tribute.
Twitter is the modern day scroll. An endless papyrus roll with an inkwell that never dries.
For football supporters, long-form pieces and goal GIFs from our favorite football writers are only a log-in menu away.
Rogue handles whose independence from major media conglomerates allow them to share some of the best football content online.
Ladies and Gentlemen my top three:
@3four3‘s posts are barbwire sharp. He never wastes any of his 128 characters.
One moment he’ll rage against the festering mediocrity of USSF. The next drop an Elon Musk quote.
He even sites Jiro Dreams of Sushi to impart the value of patience and craft to youth coaches.
@3four3 isn’t for the soft. @3four3 isn’t for the close minded.
@3four3 is for those who believe the US program can reach the global standard – if it’s willing to take action on the hard truths it faces.
@iammoallim is a digital footballer yearbook. A curation of historic football images mixed with concise bursts of copy.
You’ll bear witness to such photographic masterpieces as Andrés Iniesta with hair or Johan Cruyff nursing a steak.
You’ll be hypnotized with GIFs of Zidane controls. And your pub quiz game will stay ripped with thought provoking stats.
But where @iammoallim keeps me procrastinating is with a slew of quotes from managers and players past. Quotes that reveal the origins and training sessions from the most progressive minds in football.
Follow @iammoallim and your mind will morph into a football oracle.
@fantasistaTEN is the twitter temple for football’s hallowed position – the #10.
The feed verges on a Baggio overdose, but that’s understandable. It’s ROBERTO BAGGIO.
Where @fantasistaTEN excels, is in highlighting the obscure number 10. Journeymen creators such as Internacional’s Camilo and Pescara’s Ahmad Benali. Pitch wizards who don’t play for glamour sides, but enchant crowds nonetheless.
Still, former Arsenal assassin Jay-Jay Okocha makes regular appearances. Tampa Bay Mutiny demigod Carlos Valderrama too.
@fantasistaTEN will remind why football is your first love.
How long has it been since you left? Since we split? I still remember you pulling me out of that box. You picked me up at Sports Authority, remember that place? You didn’t point, click or shopping cart me into your life, you went to the store and chose me.
The beginning was all love. You didn’t even try me on. At first sight I was the one. You couldn’t resist my supple kangaroo leather or fold-over tongue. Much game, I had much game then.
I dangled from your fingertips as you strutted up to training. Your teammates noticed you for the first time. “Dang! J copped some Copa’s?!” You still sucked at football, but with me on your feet you were part of the group at last.
From then on we went everywhere together. Pick-up games, backyard duels, Wednesday night 6v6 and tournaments in far away counties. Inseparable.
I thought we’d be a pair forever. I was naïve. The internet intruded. New boots were everywhere – F50s, Predators, Vapors. I went from the choice boot of your hero –
Zidane, to the official boot of u9 referees. Suddenly, I was overweight and busted at the seams.
I began spending more time in your trunk than on the pitch. Twice a week pick-up dropped to once week, to once a month, to nada. I managed the loneliness, but when you cut off my fold-over tongue, I knew I was a goner. You were trying to change me. Sculpt me into a sleeker, younger model. Vintage wasn’t in fashion then. This wasn’t a personal touch; this was an act of betrayal.
We went out one last time. And then it happened. Someone called you out, said I was too old. “J why are you wearing Maradona’s Boots?“ they snickered. When did wearing Maradona’s boots become an insult? But you blushed. You were embarrassed of me. After five years you wore me in and wore me out.
I was a relic. Time had left me behind. Soon your mother got a hold of me. Stashing me away in a cobweb infested corner of the garage. Every now and then she’d ask “Do you still want these?” you’d reply yes, out of guilt. But I knew you didn’t mean it. You never returned.
I hope you’re happy. I hope you’re still scoring goals and hitting no look passes with the outside of whatever boots you’re wearing. I hope now that you have a daughter and it’s her turn to play, you remember me.
Remember I was there for you when you couldn’t do 6 keepie uppies. Remember I was there when you couldn’t strike a long ball. Remember I was there when your first touch was crap.
I’m still bitter and haven’t forgiven you. But whenever you’re ready, I’ll take you back.
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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.