Ranieri, Moyes and the War on Tactics
Culture is a wonderful phenomenon. Traditions and way of life differ across the globe from something as simple as the time to eat your daily meals, to greeting others and in to the realms beyond that. Football is often reflective of the cultures in which it lives, we often see culture i.e. people with socioeconomic issues using football as somewhat of a soundboard for opinions. But more importantly, cultural ideologies can be played out on the pitch in the form of tactics.
Gary Neville and David Moyes left the shores of the UK to embark on a journey to the Primera Liga, to sail the ships of Valencia and Real Sociedad. For well over two decades there has been a burning desire to match the title winning exploits of Athletic Club’s English manager Fred Pentland, Barcelona’s Terry Venables and Real Madrid’s John Toschack. But where Pentland, Venables and Toschack have succeeded neither Neville or Moyes have come close to emulating their predecessors. San Sebastian is well known for it’s art, fashion and stunningly sunny beaches, but Moyes failed to adapt to his surroundings during his short stint in Spain. Neville has endured a tough start to life in Valencia – only winning one league game and suffering humiliating defeats against Barcelona (0-7) and Getafe.
Neville was incredibly highly rated in the English game, especially as assistant coach to Roy Hodgson and a Sky Sports pundit. Moyes also had a glittering career with Everton, but his copybook was somewhat blotted by his terrible spell in Manchester and Spain. With their failing in Spain it is clear that something is missing from the managerial portfolio. After his departure from Sociedad, Moyes was lambasted by the squad for his lack of knowledge, his tactics too top line and one dimensional. “He wanted 600 passes, but didn’t know how to get there”. Neville on the other hand seems to rely too much on direct football, moving away from the tiki take style that proved to be so successful under his predecessor Nuno.
Spain is traditionally a country that craves detail, especially in the footballing world. Managers that succeed in Spain have an agenda – Guardiola, Mourinho, Simeone – all have a footballing ideology that is built on foundations from the goalkeeper right up to the striker. La Liga is a highly tactical league, where managers see fixtures and life-size games of chess – which goes someway to explaining why the same managers frequently pop up at different clubs. But also goes some way to explaining why Moyes and Neville are failing in Spain. Their tactics are too simple – the Spanish game craves intricacy.
One man whose success is down to simplicity is Claudio Ranieri, his Leicester side currently sit top of the Premier League having lost three games all season. What is the key to his success? Keeping it simple. In a recent interview with Corriere dello Sport Ranieri explained that he had came to Leicester with a tactical plan in mind, but understood that the English game craved simplicity. He furthered this point by explaining that some British players in the squad couldn’t understand the complexities of the game. It looks like Ranieri has struck gold with his simple 4-4-2, where in the past a certain D. Moyes also profited from using a simple tactical system. The correlation? Both squads are made up of largely British and Irish players. The wider conversation should also encapsulate the failure of British teams in the Champions League, where our teams have struggled over the past 5-7 years to progress beyond the quarter finals our cousins from the continent have dominated proceedings.
British culture is one that relies heavily on information that is quick, easy and bite sized – one that is dominated by 140 character nuggets of information on Twitter, 6 second videos on Vine or short form posts on Facebook. This is where British footballers have started to switch off from the game, becoming reluctant to immerse themselves in the complexity of system as the Spanish or Italians do. This goes someway to explaining the difficulties faced by Louis Van Gaal at Manchester United. It certainly seems as though British football is moving away from the intricacies of the game at a rapid rate, and despite the huge amount of money invested ultimately success comes on the pitch in the form of tactics and not price tags as Ranieri’s team demonstrates.