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It's not that simple

By Dave Wilson :  11/11/2009 :  Comments (43) :
I`ve been fascinated by the debate that's been raging all week on ToffeeWeb. After being on the receiving end of some pretty painful defeats recently, I thought Sunday's victory at the Boleyn would have put Evertonians everywhere in a much happier frame of mind. Not so.

Many posters have complained about the nature of our win, the site has been peppered with words like dour, boring, negative... "A welcome win" somebody said — I think it was Dick Fearon — "but does it satisfy the soul?" he asked.

At West Ham, I'd seen what I believed to be an army of ecstatic Evertonians celebrate long after the whistle, but was it joy I witnessed, or was it just sheer relief?

Davey Moyes, as one of the game's rising stars, he has the total respect of his peers, so why have so many of our own fans never taken to him? Okay, It was obvious from Day One that he would never be the Number One choice of the purists amongst us, but the majority of Evertonians were prepared to overlook his pragmatic approach; they recognised he had other attributes — he was rebuilding our club and the football would follow... but it hasn't.

So, is it Davey Moyes's fault? Is he to blame for us not playing a smooth passing game?

"A professional should be able to do the basics, like control and pass a ball" — How many times have you read that on these pages? "I played at a decent level and it's easy." is another one; "even my kid's team can pass the ball around." To listen to the comments, you would think it's a doddle — anybody could do it.

When I first started watching and playing footy, the emphasis was on enjoyment, you seldom gave a second thought to our opponents, you only ever though about what "we" could do back then. Sure it was competitive; some of the tackles made by people like John Giles, Billy Bremner, Dave Mckay would see them given a custodial sentence today... but they were far from being just hatchet men. The three I mentioned bordered on world class, the tackles were not just a case of stopping their opponents from playing, the opponent had something they wanted — the ball — and when they got it, they would think only attack.

When I look at tapes of the game back then and compare it with the game today, I firmly believe they are two different games.

Can you imagine introducing one of today's top stars to Bally Kendal or Harvey? "Err... guys, this is Mascherano, he`s worth about £20 million, he`s not much cop himself, but he's incredible at stopping people like you playing" Imagine their faces!

How could you possibly have explained to people like Denis Law that, in the future every team, every single team, will consist almost entirely of players that are better at stopping others play than they are at playing themselves.

The EPL isn't the best league in the world, but its the most competitive — not in terms of how many teams can win it, but how every inch of the pitch is contested in every match. Defenders — even renowned internationals — can't/daren`t play, if they try. People like AJ, Dirk Kuyt, Darren Bent or Craig Bellamy are on them, they chase everything down, and if he is not rescued by a midfield player, the defender will then hoof it — every one of them; from Vidic to Carragher; John Terry to Jagielka... none of them dare be caught in possession.

Is it not a little strange that, given the passion for football in this country and the amount of money that's ploughed into the game, England has produced so very few world class footballers? We've had a few decent strikers but how many Messis have we produced? When was the last time you saw an English midfield player like Xavi or Iniesta? Why is that?

Do we place too much emphasis on athleticism? Is a competitive player more useful than a skillful one in the Prem? Why can't sublimely talented players like Decco cut it when so many water carriers can?

Evertonians want/expect sexy football, but is it that easy? With the exception of Arsenal, nobody else in the league can consistently manage it. Every match is 4-5-1 vs 4-5-1; world class managers like "the special one " or big Phil Scolari come here and are lining up that way within weeks. Unfortunately, the top teams can afford the luxury of world class strikers, men who can give them a lead... and yes, once they have that lead, they may open up and play with more of a swagger, but not before.

George Best once said, "It's far easier to stop somebody from playing than it is to play yourself." He couldn't have been more right. The Premier League is testimony to that.

Some Blues actually believe we are the worst team in the Prem to watch, but if they believe that, they can't possibly have watched teams like Hull, Stoke, Villa, Bolton Blackburn...

I believe that, with so many teams conditioning their players to contest every inch of the pitch, the simple game has never been so bloody hard to play!

Reader Comments

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Neil Pearse
1   Posted 12/11/2009 at 07:08:22

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Excellent piece Dave, and unfortunately spot on.

Today we have ’percentages’ football: if you can first stop the other side having any chances (keep shape, don’t lose possession in your own half, never let them settle on the ball, defend from the front, bring all players back for set pieces...), then at certain points in the game (set pieces being extremely important) you will get a chance and can win by the odd goal.

This is the dominant footballing philosophy in the Premier League today. It is reinforced by the financial threat of relegation: you need to stay in the league at all costs. As everyone knows, only Arsenal play consistently to a different philosophy.

’Specialists’ are no longer so highly valued because they cannot perform the defensive role that all players need to perform. So Arteta is turned into a tackling midfielder, Kuyt into a combative right sided attacker, and Ferguson even plays Rooney (perhaps the finest natural attacker of our time) on the wing to nullify the threat of an attacking full back.

Footballers are no worse (probably a lot better) at ’pass and move’ than they were 20 years ago. But then they didn’t have everyone including Makelele / Carsley / Fletcher / Mascherano / Neville all over them.

A West Ham friend of mine said to me yesterday (with admiration): "You beat us by playing bad football well". Says a lot.
Shane Corcoran
2   Posted 12/11/2009 at 08:40:27

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Good post, Dave. I think Moyes sees it similarly but the exception to the rule that you pointed out in Arsenal begs the question why can’t/don’t others do it. And let’s remember that Wenger does it without a ball of cash too.
Steve Pugh
3   Posted 12/11/2009 at 08:46:22

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Maybe now is the time to change a few rules within football to encourage more football and less pressing.

Change the offside rule so that you can only be offside in the last quarter of the pitch, thus stopping teams from pushing up and compressing the space.

Get rid of the silly rule that allows defenders to ’sheild the ball’ as it runs out of play. Force them to play the ball.

Two simple changes that would increase the amount of football we get to see.
Damian Kelly
4   Posted 12/11/2009 at 08:55:22

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Great article, Dave, and I couldn't agree more.

Shane, I know Wenger spends less than the other Sky 4 + City/Spurs but he doesn't do it "without a ball of cash". They spent big several years ago to set the foundations and they pay a huge amount of money in wages.

Also a lot of their unknown youngsters are bought for £5-7 mil and then have the luxury of sitting in the reserves/league cup for a few years — they would be straight into the first team for us for that money. Having said that they do play great football!

While I agree that it's not that simple to play good football, there is a huge middle ground between where we are currently and fantasy football. I don't expect us to be like Arsenal but I certainly think we can be a bit nearer to their end of the spectrum...

Phil Paulson
5   Posted 12/11/2009 at 09:59:32

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This is a thoroughly stupid piece of writing.

In football you win a match by scoring more goals than your opponent.

If you want artistic merit, watch synchronised swimming instead.
David Hallwood
6   Posted 12/11/2009 at 10:24:11

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I was in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye earlier this year and there was a collection of Charlie Buchan’s Football Monthly (I think) from the 60s. I opened it up and would you believe the article was about how modern football is ultra defensive and it isn’t a patch on the 1940s and 50s! Oh the good old days, aye. The fact is that there have always been destroyers in football — Norman ’Bite yer lags’ Hunter and Ron ’Chopper’ Harris are some of the names I remember when I was a kid.

4-5-1 has got its faults, but is it any worse than playing with a sweeper that was popular on the continent in the 60s and 70s? I would say that, on balance, football is a good deal more open than when I first started watching football, with endless pass-backs to the goalie.

Ciarán McGlone
7   Posted 12/11/2009 at 10:33:53

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Your opinion seems to wander all over the day your castigating Cahill for not being able to pass...the next day your castigating fans for expecting competent football...


And by the way, Evertonians do not necessary ’want/expect sexy football’...that may be the ultimate aspiration. But at the minute I think you’ll find most would settle for ’competent’ football, from people who are paid fortunes...

Is it possible? Yes, we've seen it against AEK — simple passing, closing down and finding space... It has not been repeated since.

Iain McWilliam
8   Posted 12/11/2009 at 10:40:47

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I think a lot of what you say is true, Dave, but I would still say that our style of football under Moyes is considerably worse than most other teams, to use a Harry Enfield catchphrase.

In the 80s, Sheff Wed got a measure of success with the long-ball game under Howard Wilkinson but it only gets you so far. We still usually tonked them though because we had a manager who moulded a team that could not only play but could also stand up to the physical side of the game.

It's all about getting the right balance of different skills in a team if you ask me. We have too many right backs playing in midfield half the time!
Ciarán McGlone
9   Posted 12/11/2009 at 10:50:08

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Oh and by the way Dave... I certainly don’t think one scrappy victory should be enough for fans to conveniently dismiss the problems that have been occurring on the pitch from the start of the season.

Yes, great to get the points... but to treat that as some kind of panacea would be remiss.
Eugene Ruane
10   Posted 12/11/2009 at 10:09:24

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Good piece Dave and Neil (Pearse) you’ve hit the nail on the head re ’percentage football’

For the majority of teams, that absolutely IS what the ’Premier’ League is about.

That’s what all those little note-books are for.

(eg: "Neville - 15 crosses, 1 accurate, rest row Z" or "Hibbo - skinned 18 times by one-legged winger" etc)

And why?

As you suggest, fear.

Fear of losing games, jobs and money, or to put it another way, fear of relegation.

In fact, for at least half the division, I believe it’s not about what you can win, but what you might lose.

I’m lucky because at 50, I’ve thankfully never seen an Everton side relegated (almost but....not quite).

However, had we gone down to the old 2nd division in the 60s, 70s or 80s, of course it would have been awful, but I think a LOT easier than going down from the ’Premier’ League to... um... whatever it’s called.

I imagine back then it would have been "Everton need to lick their wounds and roll their socks up. If they do, there’s no reason why they can’t be back in the 1st division next season or the following one".

My guess is after a few games, we (team/supporters) would have got used to things and knuckled down.

These days however, the fear would be incredible and we wouldn’t be helped by headlines such as..


There’d be all that ’parachute-payment’ stuff and our best players would be out of there like a shot.

Moyes has definitely played percentages and so far he (nb: and many others) would say "Yes and as you’ve seen, it works"

This leaves the rest saying "Erm... define ’works’?"

And... we’re off again!
Kevin Tully
11   Posted 12/11/2009 at 11:33:59

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I was amazed to hear that somewhere in the region of 70 % of goals scored this season, were from set pieces. Moyes has always been a percentage manager but we always play a more expansive game once we have 40 points on the board.

Benfica passed the ball in both legs against us, so I am not convinced we are looking for miracles or billionaires, by asking for more fluency in our play.
Phil Bellis
12   Posted 12/11/2009 at 11:35:17

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In disagreeing with poster Dan Brierley recently who thought we had players with skill to match the likes of Bracewell and Ball, it’s gratifying to see it’s not just me. I firmly believe that geniuses like Best, Harvey and Law would adapt and use their extra ability to compete with the present lot.

The point about being easier to stop than create was borne out (I think) in a 5-a-side I played in, on Livingston’s training pitch a few years ago. We went one up and the captain told us to concentrate wholly on defending from that point, just to see if we could stop them from scoring. Eh? we thought... but turned out to be great fun. The longer they went scoreless, the more erratic and desperate they became and the more we defended like our lives depended on it.

After the hour, we were 2 - 0 winners. Wonderful stuff!

Chris Butler
13   Posted 12/11/2009 at 12:55:09

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Well, I think we were very lucky to leave Upton Park with anything as, bar two fantastic finishes and the final whistle, there wasn’t much to be optimistic about.

Fellaini, Rodwell, and Cahill went missing for much of the game. The amount of abuse Distin and Yobo and Baines get is unfair as they are given no support from the other 8 palyers on the team.

I do not believe we will get anywhere near the top 6 this season. I think unless we buy anybody in January we wil stuggle to match the last two seasons' success.

Shane Corcoran
14   Posted 12/11/2009 at 13:27:21

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Damian I would look at players such as Clichy, Toure, Fabregas, Song, Denilson and Diaby and say that they didn’t cost much. Fair enough he’s supplemented this with money on Van Persie, Rosicky, Gallas and Arshavin but we paid similar amounts for Bily, Yakubu and Fellaini so we shouldn’t be that far off the mark.
Ben Jones
15   Posted 12/11/2009 at 13:42:41

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Hmm... I’m not too sure about the article... I do agree with a lot of what you're saying Dave... but I think we can play football, once we have our creative players back.

Obviously the EPL is based more on competitiveness than style of play, but to say a lot of teams cannot pass very well is not true. How about teams like Wigan, they play great football, or even West Brom last season? I think what the issue is to be successful with that kind of football.

Last season, I have seen us play fantastic stuff once Arteta and Pienaar were back. With Bily and Osman as well this season, the passing style is not good.

To suggest no teams cannot play attractive football in the EPL is rubbish. A lot of them can, just obviously not to the standard of teams like Arsenal, Barcelona etc.

Sean McKenna
16   Posted 12/11/2009 at 13:44:20

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What a load of rubbish, Mr Wilson, these players get paid a hell of a lot of money, they train five times aweek, I would like to think they learn things like pass and move in training, Dave? Or do they?

The thing is Davey Moyes buys these workhorse players... players like Manny, Defour, Moutinho etc are all out there but Moyes likes to buy lots of defenders and jacks of all trades instead of the specialists that we’ve been lacking for 7 years!!

It’s Moyes's job to get the right balance and too be honest he is further behind than ever. Fans aren't stupid, we all knew we needed a playmaker in the summer... but no chance; we all knew we needed a pacey winger... but no — you get where I’m comming from Dave? Internationals should all be able to play pass and move under pressure, end of!

Chris Lawlor
17   Posted 12/11/2009 at 13:56:59

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A worthwhile article Dave and a sore point for most Evertonians. I often lament our style of play and even the win at the weekend didn't assuage the feeling. On another day, our erratic defending and poor passing would have led to a heavy defeat.

You only have to look at the likes of Wigan to see that a forward-thinking manager can mould an average team into a coherent passing side. They took on Chelsea with no fear and look what happened there.

Passing football is not an impossibility in the league, it's having the self-confidence to play that style and maintain it for 90 mins. Barcelona are the standard bearers for this gameplan and it is obvious to all how effective this is.

I am not for one minute saying we can be compared to the boys from the Camp Nou but if you watch them play, they never panic even when going a goal down. Stick to the passing game and eventually the chances make themselves.

With the likes of Arteta, Pienaar, Bilya, Saha, Baines, Osman (yes) and the Yak we have a team extremely capable of playing the beautiful game and I feel we as Evertonians are not misguided in expecting value and style for our hard-earned.
Martin Mason
18   Posted 12/11/2009 at 13:45:32

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Very good points raised in this post... and yes, there are so many anti-football players in the game now who for me have made the game almost unwatchable. Pass and run football is viirtually impossible as the players have no space to run into or are immediately closed down. A different game really.

Or is it? There are still players like Fabregas who make themselves space and have no fear of running at other teams, which normally produces total panic. He plays for a manager though who encourages good football; watching Everton is like having teeth pulled in comparison with the football that they and Benfica humiliated us with.

Is it not possible that modern chairmen and managers don’t want skill — only staying in the Premier League at any cost — even serving up "fear" football that is unwatchable except to the most dyed-in-the-wool fans.

I’d put the late 50s United team or the late 60s Everton team with suitable modern fitness levels to piss all over current Premier League teams playing the football that they played then.

To say that players like Tommy Smith and Norman Hunter were unskilled destroyers like Mascherano and Makelele is wrong for me. They were very skilful players who tackled hard in a period where they were allowed to and for me an infinitely better period for it.

While there are teams who can win and play good football like Arsenal and Benfica I don’t accept that skilled football is past its sell by date. I believe that what is served up by Everton is negative tripe of the worst possible modern kind and that this negativity is drilled into the players by the coaches. Hopefully with our injured players back our football will improve.

Look at Arsenal’s players too, Fabregas and Van Persie are world class but the rest are really no better than other Premier League teams. They play good football because their manager is radical and positive and this shows in how they play. West Brom didn’t go down because they were a poor side but because they didn’t have the resources to buy top strikers.

Trevor Lynes
19   Posted 12/11/2009 at 14:18:25

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I fully agree with the contributors who say that our football is poor standard. Any professional in football should be able to pass, control and think about his game. We generally hoof the ball clear when under threat and the ball is invariably won back by the opposition and that creates even more pressure.

Soaking up pressure is only good when the team is capable of hitting on the break and punishing sides who have become more open.All the top sides can do this because they having passing ability, control and pace.

All the best EFC sides of the past could do the fundamentals and they were far better to watch... and I do not mean Royle's ’Dogs of War’. Players like Ray Wilson never hoofed the ball unless it was really needed and our half-back line had plenty of the ball because they did not give it away so easily. Young was our ’Tostao’ and Vernon was the ’Rush’ with a bit more venom in his game... Collins passed magnificently while Tommy Ring or Alex Scott beat players with guile or great pace...

Nowadays we make legends out of journeymen players who would never have got in any decent EFC side. We now have players who can't tackle (Fellaini, Cahill and Osman) playing in midfield...Saha is the only player who is relatively fit that can look like genuine class when he is on the ball. Jo is the least talented forward player who ever came out of Brazil and still we persevere with him and make excuses.

We do possess players who give 100 % but they have limited ability and I include Hibbert, Neville and Yobo in this group. I have yet to make my mind up about Bily, Distin and Heitinga...

Dennis Stevens
20   Posted 12/11/2009 at 15:13:11

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I think in some ways David Moyes is sometimes seen as a bit of a latter-day Gordon Lee, although that’s probably doing one of them a great dis-service - you decide which one!
Brian Waring
21   Posted 12/11/2009 at 16:14:15

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I don’t expect sexy football Dave, but I do expect a team of professional footballers to be able to pass the ball to each other. Also, we are up there with the Stokes and Blackburns of this world, most of our football during Moyes’s tenure has been excruciating to watch.
Alan Rycroft
22   Posted 12/11/2009 at 17:15:49

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Excellent article thank you,

I really agree that football has become quite boring, not just us but many teams, I couldn’t sit through Chelsea - Man Utd the other day and thought, "How can people pay to watch that!?!"

Yes, Arsenal are the only ones that play... possibly Tottenham at times can be really good. I think we do have flashes but only flashes and are pretty ugly on the whole. A Hammers mate called us a bunch of bruisers... well, he isn't far wrong, I am afraid.

I love to watch Barca, they play as footie should be played, as an art, as a skill, as a devil-may-care enterprise where winning at all costs is the not the end of all. I think again too much mangy money at stake...

Take that guy O’Neill, I keep on thinking he’ll have a heart attack — every Villa chance, he’s jumping up and down like his life depended on it. Maybe he’s just nuts! I said to myself after Benfica rap, I felt really sore but also admire they showed us how to play, really they were brilliant in Lisbon, real artists enjoying themselves.

Oh I can only dream of an Everton team like that.., Arsenal also are foreigners one and all... go figure! I don’t really like football so much anymore. I thought after the FA Cup loss that’s it for me. I follow the blues out of habit and since I was a kiddie, Alan Ball loyalty, but with no great enthusiasm like the old days... or many expectations — how sad!

Tony Williams
23   Posted 12/11/2009 at 17:29:34

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I like the mention of Wigan as passing it lovely and all that, worked great when they were twatted by Man Ure 5-0, Beat by Wolves, Portsmouth (4-0), Blackpool (4-1), Us, Arsenal(4-0), Hull.
Karl Masters
24   Posted 12/11/2009 at 17:33:54

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Dave is basically right.

Football in the UK has EVOLVED into what we have now.

And it’s not just Everton who aren’t playing nice flowing football is it? Chelsea are an obvious example of where money makes no difference. They are results orientated and because of this they win things. Arsenal have not won anything for nearly 5 years.

It is about percentages and I left Upton Park happy because we had won. I would not have been as happy had we left losing 4-3 or even with a 5-5 draw. That’s me (and most others I suspect) and you may feel differently, but sport is all about winners and losers, not taking part — that is just psycho babble to excuse failure. I could accept us not playing particularly skilful football as we were the away team and our most creative players our injured.

Even Mourinho with all the cash he had could not make Chelsea easy on the eye AND win trophies. He opted for the latter, and in the modern game that meant he survived longer than the next 3 people to fill his seat.
Steve Brown
25   Posted 12/11/2009 at 18:33:31

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My view is that teams are being open and going for it this season, hence the large number of unexpected results and upsets. Unfortunately, this has also coincided for us with a period of injuries to key players

Moyes has tried to expand the performance of the team in the last year or so, but his efforts have floundered on the injuries to our few creative players. This has left us relying on midfielders who get on the end of things — Cahill, Fellaini — or those who break things up — Heitinga, Rodwell.

That being said, his tactics are really conservative and I can’t see any justification for lining up at home to the likes of Stoke and Wolves with only one forward.
Andy Crooks
26   Posted 12/11/2009 at 19:02:36

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Everton’s thrashing by Arsenal a few years ago had a fundamental effect on David Moyes. Always a cautious coach, it seems to me that, since that game, his tactics have been keep it tight and sneak a goal. I believe the humiliation by Arsenal on the opening game of the season killed any hope that David Moyes will ever take this club to the top four. Hull need you, David Moyes.
Dave Wilson
27   Posted 12/11/2009 at 19:39:42

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Ciaran, My opinion is the same as it always was, yes I have been critical of Cahill and several other Everton players .

You miss the point. Every team in the EPL is determined to stop the opposition playing.

If Joe Cole, Essien, Maluda, Ballack and Lampard really struggle to constantly play nice football, why on earth do people still insist it's easy? These people are world superstars stars, and if they can't do it... why do so many Evertonians have trouble understanding why Neville, Cahill, Osman, Hibbert, Jo, Yobo, Distin, Gosling can't do it?

You rightly point out we played well against AEK, many other blues will say you need to go all the way back to the Fiorentina game since we last played attractive football.
If you still dont see the point, check the Prem table and see if you can see either of these teams.

Chris Butler
28   Posted 12/11/2009 at 20:37:31

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As the famous song goes about Yobo never took off at GP to the tune of Shakira. "Wherever, whenever, Joey Yobo plays for Everton, he’ll be there, he’ll be here, he comes from Nigeria." Because it the last few games he's become lazy, maybe just exhausted.
Alan Kirwin
29   Posted 12/11/2009 at 20:22:11

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The answer, surely, is somewhere in the middle, as usual. Dave is right, the EPL is doggish and plenty of teams dog it out with defensive line-ups. But I think we helped set the bar in that regard under Moyes. The bar in question was called Lee Carsley and what a simply magnificent job he did in enabling a team of limited ability to compete above its station.

But then someone came along and decided to play with two holding midfielders, that’s TWO HOLDING MIDFIELDERS. His name was Benitez and, whilst he won (or perhaps stole) a major trophy and often succeeded against the top teams, he won few friends for the way his teams smothered games and relied on the heroics of one or two offensive players (one of them being very offensive).

Then Barcelona come along and demonstrate how to win the big games without your opponent ever touching the ball. Arsenal play a brand of the same. Pass, move, erm, that’s it. Oh yes, it helps if you always try to go forward as teams often don’t expect it. And you can score a ton of goals if you master the art of the counter-attack. Arsenal are geniuses at it. Man Utd have also excelled at it.

It’s not rocket science. It only requires 3 or 4 players to be on constant alert for when the ball is won in your own final third. The only other ingredient is move fast and keep the ball moving quickly and on the floor. Just think for a minute how many goals Everton have scored on the counter-attack since Moyes arrived... Exactly!

Brian Clough, it was said, judged a player on two things: first touch and the first thing he did when he got rid. It led to Forest following the same path of possession-based football. It wears your opponents down, usually. And the funny thing is, I watched the current Forest side get a point at Cardiff recently and guess what? Their football was excellent. Offensive, pass & move, intelligent, no waste... if the pass isn’t on, don’t just hoof or float the fucking thing across like a Sunday league player.

In summary? Dave’s right to a point. The EPL is often frenetic, crowded, difficult and all of that. But how you play is also party a state of mind. How else do you explain the intelligent passand-move football of a team like Nottm Forest under Billy Davies. I didn’t know ANY of their team, I presume they cost sod all. But they played the game in a way that satisfied both the aesthetic and the competitive requirements of this sport.

Fans do love success, probably more than sexy football. But the idea that boring, defensive, tight, unimaginative football is the de facto route to success is a nonsense. This season could well see the very best footballing teams winning all the major honours. Arsenal, West Brom & Leeds are sitting pretty in their leagues. Barcelona remain most fancied to be first team to retain the CL. A Forest team full of unknowns may make the play-offs.

With the exception of a few years in the 80s and a few games under Moyes, Everton have never mastered the art of pass and move, nor the art of the swift incisive counter-attack. Other teams eat, drink & sleep it. When I played football, I never stood still & I got more enjoyment out of playing good football than just grinding out a result. I think payers do too. Arteta admitted as much last season.

Sometimes you can’t help but get sucked into the dross and melee of a game. But I suggest it’s long overdue for Everton to be delivering a brand of football in keeping with the Holy Trinity and with the times. It has happened under Moyes. But it’s almost as though the players themselves deliver it when we’re at full strength. Just makes you wonder what strategy and philosophy underpins all our work at Finch Farm.

Last word. Arsene Wenger changed Arsenal’s footballing philosophy almost overnight. Under George Graham they were grinders of narrow victories and painful to watch. Before he started to change the team, he changed the mentality. As with many things, there is always a better way.
James Boden
30   Posted 12/11/2009 at 21:10:05

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Two things Dave:

1) I for one was relieved rather than joyous. Weeks of waiting for a win was finally over having endured a painful 20-odd minutes to the end of the game; and 2) Are you implying that Denis Law would be incapable of playing in today's football? Law was one of Britain's finest ever footballers that is. I am sick of previous decades consistently being slated. How about today's stars try to play back in those days aye?

Keith Glazzard
31   Posted 12/11/2009 at 22:42:05

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Ciarán seems to be blaming the worker for what he is paid. We all set players wages by paying what we do for football. Apart from so-called investors, of course.

Phil — more effective to defend than attack? Two years ago? Catenaccio they called it in Italy in the 60s — the bolt that shuts the door. Inter won most games 1-0. Won trophies galore. Kept their supporters in many tens of thousands. Attractive? Depends what attracts you.
Dave Wilson
32   Posted 13/11/2009 at 06:01:27

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James, Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. I was not implying Denis Law wouldn’t be able to play today, as you rightly point out, he was a fabulous player... My question is — financial rewards aside — Would he want to?
Ciarán McGlone
33   Posted 13/11/2009 at 08:15:21

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"You miss the point. Every team in the EPL is determined to stop the opposition playing."

No, I realise that’s ONE of the points you made... and I agree with it. However, it’s rather a simple analysis (somewhat ironically given the title of the article)... to suggest that this means players cannot play football at a competent standard.

I know you’ve set the bar somewhat higher (whether deliberately or not) with the term ’sexy football’... but I’m not so sure that’s the immediate concern for Evertonians. Competent football should surely be the building block for anything beyond that — and at the minute we are failing to achieve this basic standard.

Now, I know the same accusation can be levelled at me — that my analysis may be an oversimplification. But I think as a base minimum we should be able to expect players — who are clearly deemed competent footballers by the virtue of their place in a Premier League team — to pass, find space and close down. (On this last one, they are failing to apply the very concept — ’stopping a team play’ — which you suggest is prevalent and the reason for the lack of good football... which seems to be rather contradictory to me.)

To suggest that the defensive mechanics of the modern game have changed so radically that it is impossible to play competent football is rather misplaced notion in my opinion... and so is the idea that the game has evolved or developed into a more defensive game — especially when we consider that the English league has more foreign imports than ever — whose style of play could certainly never be described as singularly defensive.

However, there is the added complication of what coaching is applied... or, as suggested above, the fear of losing... but I don’t think those factors can be reasonably used to excuse the lack of coherency we’ve seen recently; making that link would suggest Moyes is happy with our current play. I honestly don’t see a happy man...

It’s certainly a defensive league, but more defensive than before? ... and to the extent that competent football is stifled?

I don’t think so...

Interesting debate though!

Keith, Footballers wages are hardly a suitable target for the application of egalitarianism... The point I was making is that they are paid huge wages on the expectation that they can do simple things like pass. Nothing more.
Tony Williams
34   Posted 13/11/2009 at 09:18:21

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Ciaran is absolutely right in that we should expect our players to be able to do the basic stuff; however, it is easy saying that but when a bruiser from Bolton is bearing down to rattle your shins, it is not that simple... but a professional footballer should be able to take that in his stride.

The more interesting point raised here is the mention of lower league clubs playing football and their pass and move ability. It’s all good and dandy... until you get into the Premier League and all the midfielders and defenders close you down so much quicker than their counterparts in the lower leagues and that lovely flowing play is stemmed and you inevitable end up getting relegated the next season. West Brom played nice football but look where they are; Wigan are at times playing nice football but look at all the tonkings they have had so far this season.

It may work in the lower leagues but, when you get with the "big boys", it isn’t the same game anymore.
Mike Gwyer
35   Posted 13/11/2009 at 10:23:19

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Really, guys, the bottom line is money…

Moyes has his yearly chat with the EFC Board concerning targets for this season. Top target is Premier League safety, nothing else probably got a look in. Billy wants a buyer and he has demanded that EFC, with the possibility of a new stadium, remain in the EPL.

Moyes is your man when it comes to delivering EPL safety. Fuck the Europa League, the yearly cup games and pretty footy... his end-of-year target is EPL safety. The bonus is waiting and Moyes will deliver, that is a cert. Billy will get his buyer, EFC in the EPL and probably a new stadium.

Moyes, pretty footy, new stadium and a potential new buyer just don’t mix.
Alasdair Mackay
36   Posted 13/11/2009 at 10:49:47

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I really enjoyed that article, nice one Dave.

I agree with the sentiment as well, but would suggest that it is not that footballers can’t play, more that the are under pressure not to.

I’ve heard loads of Everton players talk about Joey Yobo in training and how he is constantly trying Cruyff turns and going on runs with the ball. When Beckham scored from the half-way line I remember everyone saying that they all try that in training.

The difference is that on match day, with the media pressure, the fans’ demand for three points, not to mention the responsibility they have to their team-mates, manager and chairman, they refuse to take such risks.

The money in the game has taken some of the joy out of match days for the top professionals.

Just a thought.
Dave Wilson
37   Posted 13/11/2009 at 11:01:28

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No I’m not suggesting stifling tactics are making it impossible for players to play decent football, we can all pack up and go home if that day ever dawns.

What I am saying is it makes it much more difficult. The desire to create has to be greater than the determination to destroy, how on earth can anybody think it's simple?

The point of the article was to try to establish if people believed Moyes was solely responsible for the way we play. IMO, Davey boy isn't only taking the safest, easiest option — he’s also taking the most logical one.

If I could borrow some of your words, failure to "pass" and to "find space" won't necessarily cost a team its Premier League status. Failure to "close down" most definitely will.

Ciarán McGlone
38   Posted 13/11/2009 at 12:56:40

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Arsenal don’t seem to have a overarching philosophy of closing down as priority — but I can’t remember the last time they were in danger of relegation. However, I think your last post is closer to the middle ground reality...

One of my major annoyances this season has been our lack of closing down. It’s ironic that you suggest our football could be being stiffled by a tactic that we ourselves are failing to employ. However, I think there’s more to it than that...

For instance, an opposing player can only put in a tackle if they can get near the ball... effective passing and moving seeks to negate this.

I think there’s a serious need to look at the basics. Whether that’s a coaching problem, a player problem, or simply players not understanding each other on the field, is certainly a matter of debate.

But I think it’s one without a definitive answer.
Dave Wilson
39   Posted 13/11/2009 at 13:12:28

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Don't be blinded by Arsenal's ability to work the ball, take a closer look, they close down as well as any team in the country.

Our greatest strength over the past few years has been our ability to stifle other teams; our failure to do it this season is the very reason we have suffered such comprehensive beatings.

Moyes however has the formula and we will recover... I expect the edge of your seat will still look relatively unused at the end of the season though.
Martin Mason
40   Posted 13/11/2009 at 18:52:14

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I believe that Premier League football, 3 sides apart, is awful. Not only because of negative sides (like Everton) but because, like all other top Euro leagues, it is a piss poor product outside of the top 2-3 teams.

They cream the money and players and everybody else scraps just to stay in. It is absolute rubbish compared to the old leagues. Yes we have potential Euro cup winners but never again will we see a side like Leeds win the title with a British manager and a squad with many British players.

I believe that British players are also low quality because football isn’t important now to much of UK youth and those that graduate have the skills we want to see coached out of them and high value placed on low skill spoilers who can keep them in the Premier League. Sides who rely on British players, like Everton, will suffer disproportionally as British talent declines.

The concept that modern footballers and especially Everton players can’t play basic decent football because they play against fit players who close them down quickly is a grave acceptance of mediocrity and the ultimate falsehood. Does anybody believe that players in the 1960s or even the late 80s when we had a great side weren’t closed down to the limit of their fitness? I wouldn’t like to have been "closed down" by Norman Hunter.

No, I believe that the shite that is served up to us week after week is simply a reflection of the rubbish that is playing below the top sides. The concept that United and Chelsea serve up similar rubbish is also wrong; for sure, they can be frustrated by carthorses but they do play very good, patient, modern football and they generally win as a result of this. Look how losing Ronaldo (the best player in British football for decades) has hit United. Not losing a donkey like Ferdinand but a sublime, creative footballer like Ronaldo who no donkey could suppress.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Everton winning or staying in the Premier League isn’t what it’s all about. The present side (injuries accepted) are nothing short of a disgrace and us playing negative, fear ridden 4-5-1 at home to relegation candidates is not good enough.

Us deliriously celebrating lucky wins against West Ham and Pompey is a shame on us. That isn’t what the beautiful game is about and sometimes we forget that in our desire for results only, regardless of how they are achieved.

Rooney was a breath of fresh air for British football and where will his like come from again? Rodwell has the potential to be as significant but also the potential to be ruined by irrational expectation and being overused before he is ready for it. Rooney was a fully fledged International at 17. He defined what Everton have descended to by being offloaded as soon as he met the economic requirements.

Stephen Kenny
41   Posted 14/11/2009 at 11:18:39

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Dave, the reason so many cloggers are plying their trade in the EPL is because the top sides now hoover up young talented players and stick them in the reserves.

This means that there is less quality distributed between clubs and also that a particular player’s development is ruined by playing low quality, nothing games. The fact that Man Utd’s 3rd choice keeper is an England squad regular proves this.

West Brom proved that average players can and will play good offensive football if they are coached and encouraged to do so. And before anyone says look at what happened to them, it was solely down to them not having a player to take all the chances they created and a weak defensive side to their game.
Tim Lloyd
42   Posted 14/11/2009 at 18:27:47

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All lovely stuff but throughout this season, basically we have been without our skilled and experienced players. Please remember we barely played the defensive back line of last year, we have lost Lescott and Jags.

Pienaar has missed 2 or 3 games and when he was playing it was clearly without being 100% fit.

Arteta, a lynchpin in my opinion, has missed the entire season and now we are without Bily. What in heaven's name do you expect?
Iain Love
43   Posted 18/11/2009 at 20:43:53

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I blame Wimbledon.

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