By Nurudeen Obalola:
You would be right to expect a glut of goals when elite-level strikers like Chelsea’s Diego Costa, Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Co are involved.
But there were only six goals in the four UEFA Champions League round of 16 games played on Tuesday and Wednesday when all these great forwards were in action.
Indeed, only Ronaldo scored among them. That the goals did not flow was not down to the strikers misfiring, it was mostly down to tactics.
Chelsea would not take too many risks against a loaded PSG forwardline; Shakhtar Donetsk were happy to keep Bayern at bay and Schalke were more intent on avoiding another heavy loss to Real.
So, it was all about the results in midweek, not about the performances.
You could accuse Jose Mourinho of reining in his attacking players and being defensive, but he would tell you he got the result he wanted. Chelsea lost 3-1 in Paris last season and needed a late goal in London to win the tie on the away goals rule. Now they don’t even need to score in the return leg to qualify.
Roberto Di Matteo’s cautious tactics are not endearing him to some Schalke fans, but he is getting results. And, unlike last season, the team did not concede six at home to Real.
Obviously most players, coaches, club owners and fans would rather see their teams win, but how important is the performance?
We all love free-flowing attacking football that keeps us on the edge of our seats. After all, that is why football is the beautiful game. That is why we love the game.
But is it possible to keep winning while also entertaining? If so, why don’t teams, especially the rich ones who can afford the best players, not do it all the time?
It’s not like it is impossible to entertain and win at the same time. Result and a great performance are not mutually exclusive, are they?
Liverpool in the 1980s, Manchester United between 1993 and 2003 or so, Arsenal between 1998 and 2004, and that uber-stylish Barcelona side of 2008 to 2011 were all great entertainers. And great winners too.
These sides went all out in practically every match, looked to outscore the opposition rather than try to contain them. And they won way more times than they lost.
So, there is reward in taking risks and playing to your attacking strengths.
Even with these teams, results were more important. But performances mattered a great deal.
These days, performances seem to matter little.
These days, performances seem to matter little.
Teams, even the so-called big ones with attacking players on big wages, are more concerned about nullifying the opposition, not taking advantage of their own huge resources.
It is more like if we don’t concede, we’re not going to lose.
Chelsea are comfortably on top in the Premier League table and have a wonderful array of attacking talent led by Eden Hazard, Oscar and Costa. But Mourinho sets them up not to lose the big away games at the other top teams. They have drawn at Manchester City, United and got a smash-and-grab win at Liverpool.
Manchester United are third and have one of the most expensive and talented squads in world football with the likes of Angel Di Maria, Wayne Rooney and Radamel Falcao. But Louis van Gaal has turned them into a safety-first team that plays a 3-5-2 formation away to Burnley and Sunderland to ‘protect the defence.’
Van Gaal prefers sterile possession and sideways passing to direct, risky, swashbuckling football that United fans got used to during most of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign. But the no-risk strategy has taken him to third place, even if it’s denying the fans the excitement they want.
Arsenal, who used to always go for it regardless of the team they were up against, have learnt to ‘park the bus’ against a certain kind of opposition. It hasn’t always worked, but then it is results that matter. The strategy at least got three points at Manchester City, although it backfired at Tottenham Hotspur.
While the old-school supporters may moan, it is all about the results to the new generation of football fans, especially for banter purposes. You’re not going to have bragging rights if your team had 20 shots on target but still contrived to lose 1-0 to a defensive team who had just that one shot.
You only banter with results, not performances. “But we had more possession, more shots on target and we played you guys off the park.” “But you still lost, didn’t you? How many points for your shots and possession hahaha?” No, you’re not going to win that argument if your team lost.
It is the results that show up in the record books and it could be argued that whoever wins a competition deserves it, regardless of the method employed.
UEFA Champions League records show Chelsea as 2012 winners, the pragmatic Di Matteo as the winning coach. It doesn’t say in the records that they were ultra-defensive in the semi-finals and final.
Barcelona won the Champions League a year earlier playing otherworldly football under Pep Guardiola, the game in its purest, most artistic, most beautiful form. But the Catalans did not get two trophies for the extra pleasure they gave lovers of the game.
They got one, the same one as resolute, defensive Chelsea. Different adjectives to describe the teams, same trophy.
So, no extra points for aesthetics. But what would you rather have? Your team to win ugly or lose pretty?
If your objective is to get from Okota to Lagos Island, it doesn’t matter if you arrive on a rickety, 49-sitting, 99-standing LAGBUS or in an airconditioned Lagos Metro taxi. The important thing is that you get there.
Although the taxi is much more appealing.
IDEYE BACK FROM THE BRINK
Three weeks ago, it appeared as if Brown Ideate was a goner. He was written off; his stay in England was over.
West Brom’s record signing was supposedly on his way to Qatar after being labelled a flop for scoring just one goal in six months. The Premier League club seemed to be cutting their losses.
But, like the Super Eagles team at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Ideye has fought back.
That team, incidentally with Ideye a key member, was also written off after struggling in their first two matches. But wins against Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire turned it around for Stephen Keshi’s side and they went on to win the trophy.
Ideye will not lead West Brom to the league title, but the Nigerian is well on his way to personal redemption. And his goals might well keep them safe in mid-table.
Four goals in the three matches since that near departure seem to have restored the forward’s confidence. And the perceived sense of injustice at being almost forced out of the Hawthorns must have lit the fire in him and restored his scoring instincts.
Hopefully, the hot streak continues and Ideye gives the Super Eagles an option in attack.
MOAN OF THE WEEK
The incident involving Chelsea fans in Paris before the Champions League match with PSG just shows that there are still racist elements in the game despite great efforts to get rid of them.
A video clip reveals a bunch of white Chelsea fans preventing a black Frenchman from boarding a train in Paris while they (the white guys) are singing a song praising themselves for being racists.
Sadly, every European club seems to have these sort of idiots as fans, although usually in the minority.
It is easy to call on the clubs to deal with these racist fans, but the clubs can do only so much. If you kick these vile creatures out of the stadiums, would you also stop them from the streets, train and bus stations, airports, restaurants etc?
How about those of them who hide their identity and spew hate on social media?
The great irony is that these morons do not mind when a black man scores for their team. They don’t mind him helping their team win; they just can’t stand his like eating with them, sharing a bus or train or living among them.
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