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The Adam Doyle column: Barcelona and the demise of the ‘old school’ player

I am not really what you would call a ‘cultured’ footballer. I might joke with the lads that I’ve got a left foot wand and the stylish abilities to rival the great Paolo Maldini (pictured), but deep down I know I am a bit of a throw back.

I fit the mould of a typical English centre half – although I can’t really head a ball (more on that later) – but in the modern game there seems to be less need for players with a specialist skill set. In the age of ultra professionalism players are becoming less unique and the ‘complete’ footballer is becoming the mould from which every player on the pitch is cast, regardless of position.

This trend is most famously portrayed by Barcelona. Messi aside, there doesn’t seem to a great deal between the rest of the squad. For instance, I’m willing to bet Carles Puyol can do a half decent job in the middle of the park or even up front. Now most football fans see this trend as football evolving towards a brighter future, but I take a more pessimistic view of this relentless surge towards football modernity.

Moreover I’m growing increasingly tired of hearing people eulogising about the ethereal skills of Barcelona. Soon enough commentators will run out of superlatives to bestow upon the Catalan team. For me, this time can’t come soon enough.

It’s not that I can’t recognise the skill, creativity and athleticism of teams like Barcelona it’s just that I prefer to see different types of football played. I like a good mismatch of strength versus skill; of speed versus positioning. It creates the classic tale of the underdog; of David and Goliath.

Total Football

We seem to have reached some form of postmodern era where the ‘total football’ played by Barcelona has declared the end of history. The footballing gods have decided that this is the way football will be played for evermore. In this instance the powers that be, namely FIFA and UEFA, have certainly provided the interpretation of the game’s rules to facilitate this.

If you watch any Europa league tie you’ll be witness to a sport vying with Snooker to be the least contact sport around. Not that physicality is the defining characteristic of my favoured version of football; it is merely part of the whole. Variety is the key. For me, Barcelona’s possession-based style of football played by their ‘complete’ footballers isn’t the correct way to play the game; it is but one way to play the game, which is no more or less valid than any other.

Of course at non-league level we are a little behind the times when it comes to the ‘total football’ being practised at the top of the game, and that suits me just fine. Luckily for me and my somewhat traditional footballing outlook the non-league arena caters for all needs. The level of skill and athleticism can indeed be extremely high, but non-league also boasts a healthy contingent of ‘old school’ footballers whose skill set is very much one dimensional.

I used to play with a bloke called Luke Evans who, incidentally, was probably the funniest man ever to stroll around on a football pitch. Aside from his five jokes that he recycled daily, he was a very good centre half. Admittedly his list of footballing deficiencies was rather long: he wasn’t very skilful, he wasn’t very quick, he couldn’t shoot, and his range of passing was limited.

But what he could do was defend. He was great at winning headers and, if needed, he could kick a centre forward higher in the air than a bird can fly. To many people he would be classed as a limited footballer. They may well be right. He certainly couldn’t play in a team like Barcelona but, to me, he was a great non-league defender.

A head on a stick

To return to my heading ability, or lack thereof, anyone that saw me play last Saturday might have worked out that I’m not very good in the air, which is a somewhat strange fate for a 6 foot 2 inch centre half, whereas my current centre half partner is pretty much a head on a stick.

Our contrasting abilities and physical characteristics (he’s unimaginably slow, I’m relatively quick) make for an interesting game when we come up against a strike partnership containing a mixture of speed and aerial ability.

My point is that there should always be room for players who have perfected a particular skill and for teams that don’t adhere to the ‘total football’ trend.

Barcelona may make pretty patterns when they play, but I’d sure like to see them play against Stoke City. I just wish everyone would stop telling me how they play football the right way. You don’t get points for making the most passes or for keeping hold of the ball.

The object of the game is to score more goals than your opponents. How a team accomplishes this is completely up to them.

By Adam Doyle, Woking defender


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