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Is the style of football more important than results?

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Ron Greenwood was the West Ham manager for 13 years, bringing the first two major trophies to Upton. He won the FA Cup 1964 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1965. He also oversaw the development of some of the greatest ever West Ham and England players. The World Cup winning trio of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst all played under Greenwood at West Ham. Greenwood was an influential man, whose style of play is still appreciated as the right way to play football, almost 50 years on. Greenwood changed the way that coaching was approached in this country, making sure that everyone trained with the ball and the drills were based around simple passing and moving, which was unheard of when Greenwood arrived at Upton Park. His belief that football is a simple game has lead to the success of Harry Redknapp as a manager, who mirrors Greenwood’s beliefs about how football should be played and his success is clear to see with the way that the Spurs team is playing under his guidance.

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The reason why I have brought up Ron Greenwood in this question about whether we want substance over style is because of a quote which Greenwood is remembered for. He said “The crowds at West Ham have never been rewarded by results but they keep turning up because of the good football they see. Other clubs will suffer from the old bugbear that results count more than

anything. This has been the ruination of English soccer.” For me, this quote symbolises everything that I love about football. Essentially, football is a show, in which people often pay huge amounts of money to see. In football, often there is a winner and loser. The winner may grab an early goal from a corner, where the ball was scrambled in at the far post and then park the bus to secure victory. It is 3 points and a victory nonetheless, however it feels as if they are doing an injustice to the beautiful game.

In Spain at the very youngest youth levels, the Barcelona teams always lose. They get beaten by the more physical and powerful opposition every time. These youth teams play in the same way as the Barcelona first team with the likes of Lionel Messi and Xavi in. The philosophy remains the same, but the results do not echo the success of the first team. In the Real Madrid youth teams, parents are banned from asking what the score is. Instead, when a child comes home from a game, the parent has to ask ‘How did you play?’ Results are not important. It is the style in which they play which is the key to their future success.

Obviously, the stakes are much higher in the first teams. Players are paid thousands of pounds a week, so there is a level of expectation from the fans. However, when a team like Barcelona or even Swansea lose, the fans are more forgiving, as long as the team stuck to the philosophy that they believe in. The problem that Big Sam has faced at West Ham is that his style of football is designed to win games, not necessarily look pretty, but to win. When the team doesn’t perform and lose, the crowd is straight on the team’s back.

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Unfortunately, I think that there is a belief from the West Ham fans that we do not belong in the Championship. That we are a big fish in a small pond and to be fair our history suggests this. However the quality of football in the lower leagues has increased dramatically over the last few years. The difference between a mid-table Premier League team and a top-half Championship team

is much less than in recent years. You could argue that teams such as Reading, Southampton and

West Ham are better teams than the likes of Wolves, Wigan and QPR. The gulf in class is not so obvious to see. This has meant that though many people expected the Hammers to stroll to success this season, they find themselves in 3rd place, looking perilously at the playoffs.

The last two fixtures for West Ham has summed up their season. A 4-0 win away at Barnsley and a 3-3 draw at home to Birmingham. Against Barnsley, the West Ham team played their best football

all season. They embarrassed a lacklustre Barnsley side, playing attractive possession football and scoring 4 goals in the process. Against Birmingham however, the Hammer’s side went in at half

time 3-1 down, after a very disappointing first half display. The passing was sloppy, there was no creativity and the balls forward to Carlton Cole were often misplaced. In the second half, the heavy raining of long balls from the back line persisted and the Hammers managed to claw back to draw 3-3. Two very different results while playing two very different styles.

A very noticeable difference between Barnsley and Birmingham is that the Blues pressed the West Ham midfield very well. They didn’t allow the likes of Noble, Nolan, O’Neil (and McCartney when he pushed forward) time on the ball and this lead to Birmingham scoring two goals in quick succession at Upton Park to leave the Hammers trailing 2-0, looking as if they were going to slump to another home defeat. The Barnsley team however stood off the West Ham players and allowed them time which turned out to be a costly error.

Kevin Nolan came out this week and said that long ball football is the way back to the Premier League. Nolan based his claim on the revitalised West Ham team in the second half against Birmingham who managed to hurt the Blues by playing a more direct, long ball game. It starts an interesting debate as to whether against certain teams we should play a short passing possession game and against other teams we should play the long ball.

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However if you look at the success that Swansea has had this season, it can inspire many teams to start playing an attractive game. Not only have the Swans been playing terrific football this season, but they have really established themselves in the Premier League, beating some of the best sides in the Premier League and they are breathing down the neck of Liverpool who are in 8 th place. The football that Brendan Rodgers has implemented at the Liberty Stadium has been a joy to watch for fans and neutrals. Even when the Swans lose, they often put on a show for their fans, who feel that the money that they have paid to see their team play has been repaid in the team’s performance. Unfortunately for the Hammers, many fans do not feel the same way.

So would you rather see the team play more attractive football and therefore not have the same initial success as playing the long ball? Or do you think we would be more successful playing possession football? Tweet Me @TollyCoburn

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4 comments
  • mike says:

    I think Swansea need another season in the prem, before you can judge them?

  • Tom says:

    I don’t think any West Ham fan thinks this league is beneath them, however we have shown time and time again this season that when you play football with round pegs in round holes we are sucessful. There is a time to hoof it route 1 like last week but BFS is simply the anit of anything Ron Greenwood was about. Due to financial reasons the board brought him in to do a job because quite simply they can not afford to have the asset they have dragged backwards in this league. With the squad we have we should have secured promotion by now, that said, it isn’t the league we are in that bothers me, it is the football we play, it is what has always made me proud to be a Hammers fan

  • Legends says:

    ..I think i heard in some nameless pub somewhere unimportant (probably in China)…. “the higher the mountain the more windy is the road that leads to the top”.

    Learning to play the “beautiful game” in a beautiful way takes longer and is obviously harder to learn and to master. But look where it has taken Barcelona. To the top! … The long ball game in itself will only take you so far.

    Today we played like lions. It was a pleasure to watch. Mixing styles and winning with style – it was like Jackie Chan in the final scene of the Drunken Master.

  • Corin says:

    Given the right players, I’ve always thought we are more successful playing good football anyway.

    Most of our best wins have come from getting the ball down, passing and movement rather than hoofing the ball upfield……something that Avram Grant teams still did even when it was just a Stanislas or Hines to battle against a centre back twice their height

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