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Thursday, April 09, 2009

"OBSESSION"...by the English Media

Now you hear some stupid things being said about Liverpool’s devastating loss to Chelski in the first leg of the European Cup quarterfinal, and the stupidest of the stupid seems to be coming from the English media – that's that lunatic fringe that loosely associates itself with journalism.

Nobody else on this planet can match their incredibly acute ability to obsess over the most insignificant of details and I am of the opinion that it costs their national team a sense of balance. Take your pick of psychoses:
  1. The “left midfield" problem
  2. The “Gerrard/Lampard” problem
  3. The “who will partner with Gary Lineker/Alan Shearer/Michael Owen/Wayne Rooney" problem
  4. And the ever-present “England captaincy" problem

Google anything in quotes above and you'll find literally millions of hits, and all of them from the English. These "problems" are, in fact, almost entirely imagined, and so far away from the reality of what has ailed the national team, that you almost suspect foul play. It is as if their intent is to do everything they can to distract themselves from what's actually important. But this ability to obsess also extends to their coverage of club teams.

I give you exhibit A: The Zonal Marking Problem (http://sports.yahoo.com/sow/news?slug=goal_defiant_benitez_defends&prov=goal&type=lgns)

This week, every imbecile and his brother, starting with easily the worlds stupidest commentator, the Master of the Obvious, Tommy Smith of ESPN, will have something to say about the so-called "zonal marking" system in use at Liverpool. Why? Because the English football solution to everything is to bludgeon their way through it; if you want to score a goal, hit it long and knock it down Route 1 style. If you want to defend on a set piece, man-mark every single player on the pitch and tackle him 30 seconds before the ball gets there...even if he's on the other side of the park, or making his way down the tunnel for an early shower.

With the English there’s no subtlety, no finesse, no balance. It’s all or nothing. But look carefully at the way Ana Ivanovic of Chelski scored both goals yesterday and you’ll see that it is precisely man marking that got them into trouble.

On the first goal, note how Xavi Alonso is so obsessed with tracking Ivanovic that he scarcely realizes that he has completely turned his back on the incoming ball and by the time he gets his bearings again, she has already lept into the air and headed it home. In fact, Alonso is so obsessed with man-marking that he doesn't even leave the ground to actually challenge the header.

Now I know every coach you’ve ever had has told you that you have keep your marks on set pieces, and of course there is some truth to this. There is always the second touch; so if every defender challenges for the ball and miss (it happens!) and you leave someone unmarked on the second touch, then you have a problem solved by man marking. Or, if, say, all 5 attackers are on the far post, and you do zonal marking that puts 2 defenders on the far post and the others evenly dispersed throughout the box, you'll likely give up a goal. In that case you'd be wise to man mark in that case and put 5 players on the back post with the attackers.

But let me ask you this: what purpose does that serve if the ball doesn’t go to the back post? If a player nobody's ever heard of suddenly makes a run to the near post, and the ball goes near post, now you’ve gone out of your way to make sure you’re man marking and yet you have no shot at achieving your objective which is to make a clearance!

Marking your attacker is not an end, it’s a means to making a clearance – that’s the objective. If the ball's halfway up the field, they can't score on you, so the objective is not to man-mark until you can smell his breath, the objective is to make a clearance.

The second goal by Ivanovic was different – this time Steven Gerrard was the victim, and he too was obsessed with man marking. The difference was that we now know he was already carrying a groin injury and in no position to make a challenge – that’s a mistake on his part and on the part of Benitez for having him out there. But let me ask you this: what about the other 10 idiots in the box for Liverpool?

Were they just out for a stroll on the grass, or were they also playing? The last time I checked, just because your man doesn’t go up for the ball doesn’t mean you can’t either. Not a single other Liverpudlian within 10 feet (and there were several of them) bothered to challenge for the cross. They were all either man marking or zonal marking or magic marking...who the hell knows, but none of them challenged for the ball. The result: the only one who did, the one who's man he was marking actually went for the header, the one who was half injured, made a really weak challenge while everyone else...just...watched.

I’m not saying the headers weren’t good – they were very good, and Ana should be very proud of herself – but the problem Liverpool had on the night was not the zonal marking system, or the man marking system...it was the "let's all watch a beautifully headed goal while nobody does the most important thing you can do when defending a set piece" system.

WIN THE BALL.

Just because stupid commentators and even stupider reporters make the comment over and over and over again, doesn’t mean they have any idea what they’re talking about.

"I've gotta' say, the man-marking on that set piece was awful."

"You cannot allow a man that much time and space on a set piece."

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...

I've got news for you, you can give a man as much time and space as he wants, even if he's 3 feet in front of your goal as long as you've cleared the ball before it gets to him. And I'll tell you something else - the marking on every set piece in every match that's ever been played in the history of soccer is always been awful. It is physicaly impossible to follow someone around for 30 seconds, find the ball and beat him to it all at the same time. The marking always looks beautiful when you make a clearance. What they really mean by man-marking is man mugging a la John Terry or Marco Materazzi. The next best alternative is to just win the ball.

Your main objective as a defender on any set piece should be to win the ball if it should come within 10 feet of you. If following around some guy on the other team brings you closer to the ball, then by all means follow him around - but chasing shadows can hardly replace the fine art of winning the ball. After all, if your attacker can do it, then why the hell can't you?

It's like those players they always have on the post - the one's who couldn't fit a piece of paper between their feet and the ground on their best vertical leap. We've all seen those goals when some poor fool is holding onto the post for dear life and won't let go, even as the ball slowly rolls 6-inches away from their outstretched foot. If that idiot would forget about "getting on the post" for 3/10ths of a second, let go of the pipe and take one step left or right, he'd have a game saving clearance to his credit, and probably a kiss from the prettiest girl in town waiting for him.

Instead, being a good soldier with no idea how to play the game, he stands on the post and watches as it rolls past his foot.

Why?

Because in that moment he loses the ability to rationalize that it's more important to win the ball than it is to do what I've been told, which is to stand on the post. That's when doing your job morphs into our word of the day: obsession.

Dictionary.com defines it as, “an irrational motive for performing trivial or repetitive actions, even against your will...” That's why Liverpool missed the boat yesterday, and it's the same way these imbeciles in the English media concern themselves with mundane details like the "zonal marking" system, that are so much less important than the main objectives like...oh, I don't know...winning the ball?

"Obsession"...brought to you by the English media.

3 Comments:

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Blogger Nina John said...

Though beauty gives you a weird sense of entitlement, it's rather frightening and threatening to have others ascribe such importance to something you know you're just renting for a while.

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