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PB goes back to the future

Ah 1980. Those were days. Pink Floyd were putting another brick in the wall. Lipps inc were in Funkytown. Kool and the Gang were celebrating ladies night. English football was at its height (with Aston Villa about to launch their successful campaign to be Champions of England), with the cream of the Football League dominating European competition; Liverpool had won in previous years, a certain team from the West Midlands still had its ‘greatest hour’ ahead of them and Nottingham Forest powered their way to a second successive European Cup triumph.

English football in those days had a very distinctive style that teams from other countries, although technically superior (as the commentators loved to tell us), had great difficulty countering. English teams played, well, as a team. Every single player ran his socks off, fought for every single ball and as the fans amassed onto the terraces screamed “get into ‘em and f*** ‘em up!” flew into every tackle as if their lives depended on it. Foreign teams were frustrated; they had no room to play their expansive passing game, no chance to impose their superior technical skills on the game and in the end just crumbled under the English power play. These ‘English’ teams of course, whilst being mostly made up of ‘local’ talent, almost all included a few non English players. That Nottingham Forest team, a team vastly superior to the sum of its parts but unquestionably the best team in Europe contained, for example, an Irishman in right midfield and a Scot on the left wing. It wasn’t a team about stars, it was a team built around camaraderie, spirit and the iron will of their legendary manager, Brian Clough - the kind of gaffer who would have no truck with wantaway players, agents and directors of football.

That Irishman from the Forest team of 81, a certain Martin O’Neill went into management at the end of his playing career and took with him that Scottish left winger,John Robertson, and after a few attempts at building a facsimile of that Forest team they wound up at Villa Park at the same moment as one Randy Lerner, and thanks to the funding of the American billionaire owner appear now well on their way to creating a modern day copy of that great, all-conquering Forest team.

What O’Neill has done here at Villa is take us back to the future. This Villa team, and the style of football that they play, has much more in common with the great English teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s than it does with the ‘spice boy’ image of the modern day football team. This is a football team built on hard work, energy, on players running their socks off, closing down the spaces, not letting frustrated opponents play the expansive passing games. As Sam Allardyce commented after seeing Villa blitz his Blackburn team last weekend, Villa are even better without the ball than they are with it - very much a characteristic of the ‘traditional’ English team.

Like those great English teams of the past, our opponents,who’s teams are built mostly from continental players, dont know how to combat this. They might be technically superior, they might be the glitterati of the world game, but when faced with a team full of hunger, passion, growing belief and the spirit of “get into ‘em and f*** ‘em up” dont quite know how to respond. And yet this dogged Villa team also has a bite to go with its ferocious bark. As the call up of six of our players to the national team this week shows, this is a Villa team that is also packed with quality especially in the attacking areas, a team that has no difficulty at all racking up goals. Together with the iron will of their legendary manager - the kind of gaffer who has no truck with wantaway players, agents and directors of football - this is a Villa team that is perhaps laying down the template for the way forward for the game in this country. An English team,made up primarily of English players, playing in the English way.

Time will tell whether this team goes on to further emulate that great Nottingham Forest team, but I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t bet against us. And no, I haven’t been drinking.

~PB

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Like those great English teams of the past, our opponents,who’s teams are built mostly from continental players, dont know how to combat this. They might be technically superior, they might be the glitterati of the world game, but when faced with a team full of hunger, passion, growing belief and the spirit of “get into ‘em and f*** ‘em up” dont quite know how to respond.

Hi PB. Congrats on the post and there are some valid points there, but i also think your opinion is very one sided! Rather than give you a history lesson on the many successful league and national teams who were mainly built on flair, with the vast majority of those players comfortable on the ball, i would instead like to refer you to the present England team who are built on the very ideals you champion and played against Spain in midweek! We had six of our players in the squad and some of those played in the game! Correct me if i am wrong here, but didn't the flair of the Spanish give England and indeed our own Villa players, a footballing lesson!

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Good post PB, I agree with all of it and have long held those opinions myself. It's not the first (or the last) time MON has been compared to, or at least been 'accused' of, taking a lot from his legendary manager at Forest.

Sting, international football is totally different. They meet up once every few months and play with players they see mostly on the TV. They don't have anywhere near the time required to develop a playing system like the one they will have at their club. Now you are completely right that Spain gave England a footballing lesson and that flair very much won on the day, but I don't think you can dismiss the merits of substance over style in the club game by using a national team's failings against arguably the best country in world football at present to do it with. Quite apart from the England team being nowhere near full strength, I think in a one off situation like I would call the international game where you are playing with, to use the term loosely, 'strangers', I think technique will win out over effort. Effort requires more structure and orgainsation. Things that need time to create. Things that can happen at a club but not so much for your country unless your country adopts the approach of itself having 11 settled starters. Something people don't like to see (see old boys club of Eriksson). So technique is why the likes of Brazil, Italy, Argentina and now Spain tend to win the major tourmanents and absolute astonishment is shown when dogged determination like Greece does manage to win one.

One thing Pete's article perhaps has not touched on is that while English clubs used to win in Europe with archetypal English grit and determination, recent English success in Europe has had to show more of the European side. European football, as you'd expect, has come on since the late 70's and early 80's. All the English CL clubs quite drastically change their styles of play in Europe and a lot of times even their formations. It's as if there is a style that works in England (and it clearly works for them or they wouldn't BE in the CL in the first place) but there is another style - a style more based on technique and ball retention - that works in Europe. Man Utd are the best exponents of this. And it is this that we are yet to demonstrate the ability to do. We have not yet shown that we can keep the ball from the opposition for any extended period of time. And as we progress in Europe we will either have to learn this craft very quickly or risk coming up short. Ajax was a gentle introduction to this style. Yes we won, but they had 70% of the ball and if they'd had a cutting edge to them then we could very well on another day have ended up on the wrong side if a heavy defeat - and that was our strongest team.

These are all unanswerables at the moment and only the next few months can answer them. It'll sure be fun finding out. But I don't think emulating a facsimile of the Forest or Villa of the 80's will be quite enough to succeed on the European front in this day and age. Though it's a helluva good starting point and it's not a big stretch to make the required modern modifications to make it work for us :thumb:

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, but didn't the flair of the Spanish give England and indeed our own Villa players, a footballing lesson!

You want England to play a 'total commitment' style of game in a friendly? While I'm sure that would go down well with media and the armchair fans, the Premier League managers would likely be pretty upset as their exhausted players returned to duty. Also, this style of play has never translated well to international football - the England national team of 1975-1985, a period when our clubs won everything, was a shambles that couldnt win a raffle [edit - and Brian in his post above gives one very plausible reason as to why]

And this is the period I am referring to. yes, of course there are teams who have won titles over the last 20 years with flair - this is exactly the point I am making - that the style Villa play went out of fashion in the mid 1980s during all the post Hysel soul searching during the years in European exile. Now Villa have, as I said, gone back to the future, taken that model of a traditional English team,and re-invented it for the modern game. It seems to be working pretty well, dont you think? This is, after all, like Nottingham Forest of 1978-80, or Villa of 1980-82, a team that is far, far greater than the sum of its individual parts

personally, I think thats a good thing, it has the 'big 4' running scared, and with very good reason

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One thing Pete's article perhaps has not touched on is that while English clubs used to win in Europe with archetypal English grit and determination, recent English success in Europe has had to show more of the European side. European football, as you'd expect, has come on since the late 70's and early 80's. All the English CL clubs quite drastically change their styles of play in Europe and a lot of times even their formations. It's as if there is a style that works in England (and it clearly works for them or they wouldn't BE in the CL in the first place) but there is another style - a style more based on technique and ball retention - that works in Europe. Man Utd are the best exponents of this. And it is this that we are yet to demonstrate the ability to do. We have not yet shown that we can keep the ball from the opposition for any extended period of time. And as we progress in Europe we will either have to learn this craft very quickly or risk coming up short. Ajax was a gentle introduction to this style. Yes we won, but they had 70% of the ball and if they'd had a cutting edge to them then we could very well on another day have ended up on the wrong side if a heavy defeat - and that was our strongest team.

I'm not sure Bri.personally, I view the Ajax match as the game where, as a team, we 'grew up'. I thought first half,despite being ahead, they were the better team as we had allowed them to play through us too much and like you say, had they a cutting edge then they would have hammered us first half

Second half we changed the way we play to the pattern that is now recognisably 'Villa' - we pressed them much higher up the pitch, didnt give them any room, and in the second half Ajax were basically taken out of the game, dont think they had a chance of note. Now when you watch us play, we very rarely concede a chance, we are very, very good at closing down the space from front to back, forcing teams to play across us instead of through us as Ajax did in that first half.

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Lipps inc were in Funkytown. Kool and the Gang were celebrating ladies night

:lol: Signs of a misspent youth at the disco Pete? I agree with the Forest/Clough link and look forward to the trophies rolling in at B6 as they did at Nottingham back then.

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I hope you're right Pete but I do think that we still need the ability to change our style if and when we need to. Having the ability to force the game isn't a bad thing to have in the locker to call upon even if it's not our normal M.O. Especially considering that teams are already starting to come to VP and park the bus. Then Villa, who expect to be able to counter-attack, have nothing to counter-attack.

I also think that any difficulties we may face in the UEFA Cup due to our style will be multiplied if and when we do reach the promised land of the Champions League. A one trick pony, however good and however well implemented that trick may be, will not survive in the Champions League. That's a harsh comparison to make but you (hopefully) see what I'm getting at.

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Lipps inc were in Funkytown. Kool and the Gang were celebrating ladies night

:lol: Signs of a misspent youth at the disco Pete? I agree with the Forest/Clough link and look forward to the trophies rolling in at B6 as they did at Nottingham back then.

I'd rather we were comparing the current crop to Saunders' 81 Villa rather than Clough's 81 Forest though.

Just a personal C&B bias.

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I said it on the day MO'N signed and I said it before we embarked on the recent away run that this side actually reminds me so much of the way the 81 and 82 side played and was successful it is scary. Right down to the under rated and under valued efforts of our right winger.

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Lipps inc were in Funkytown. Kool and the Gang were celebrating ladies night

:lol: Signs of a misspent youth at the disco Pete? I agree with the Forest/Clough link and look forward to the trophies rolling in at B6 as they did at Nottingham back then.

I'd rather we were comparing the current crop to Saunders' 81 Villa rather than Clough's 81 Forest though.

Just a personal C&B bias.

Yeah, the Forest thing just tied in with the obvious ONeill/Robbo/Clough link, makes for easy writing :D

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I also think that any difficulties we may face in the UEFA Cup due to our style will be multiplied if and when we do reach the promised land of the Champions League. A one trick pony, however good and however well implemented that trick may be, will not survive in the Champions League. That's a harsh comparison to make but you (hopefully) see what I'm getting at.

You may be right

I think we would certainly need to add some quality in the summer were we to qualify

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Sting, international football is totally different. They meet up once every few months and play with players they see mostly on the TV. They don't have anywhere near the time required to develop a playing system like the one they will have at their club. .... Quite apart from the England team being nowhere near full strength, I think in a one off situation like I would call the international game where you are playing with, to use the term loosely, 'strangers', I think technique will win out over effort. Effort requires more structure and orgainsation. Things that need time to create.

This is actually a really strong point, the more I think about it the more sense it makes to me. it explains so many little quirks. it explains why ONeill keeps the same side as often as he can- it is imperative that these players have a really close working relationship, player A has to know exactly where Player B will go, who he will cover, who he will pass to. This is why MON would rather move a player positionally than bring in a new face. It explains why if you suddenly change half a dozen players (Hamburg etc) it all goes to pot even though the players themselves are good enough, and yet you can put pretty much any one of those players into the team, as long as he is the right 'type' and prepared to work his socks off and follow the template then he'll slide in there like there was no difference (see Knight replacing Laursen eg)

And it explains, as I alluded to earlier, why the national team in the period when English clubs ruled the world, sucked

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Thanks Pete. And it also explains why technique wins in a one-off because a technical player's natural ability to improvise on the spot is inherent with his technique in the absence of a finely-tuned system and thus it can get you out of more scrapes than not. But you see where I was going with it anyway :thumb:

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Thanks Pete. And it also explains why technique wins in a one-off because a technical player's natural ability to improvise on the spot is inherent with his technique in the absence of a finely-tuned system and thus it can get you out of more scrapes than not. But you see where I was going with it anyway :thumb:

I wonder if the two are mutually exclusive?

Can you play in that high tempo "English" way with technically gifted players? or do the players lose 'freedom of expression' that they would need? Is the 'Villa way' a straightjacket?

I guess what I'm saying is 'is it worth us buying, for example,someone like Messi' - would he be any better in our system than Milner?

(not really expecting an answer, just thinking out loud) :D

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I'd say you could be right to a degree. I do think there's room for one or two genuinely technical players in our system though. I'd say Ash could live comfortably in a technically accomplished side and Barry is comfort personified on the ball. But yeah the full-on balls-out approach doesn't lend itself too often to a considered approach or a deft touch. Though if the player is good enough and fast enough they'd be able to alternate between the 2 systems and that, as we are both suggesting, is the kind of thing we may have to do if we are to truly succeed in Europe this time around. So, not quite mutually exclusive but there's probably only a small bit of common ground between them.

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Just to add. The Man Utd players have shown the ability to switch from one system to the other. So as I said above, if you're good enough and you have the right traits then you're half way there.

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Nice article Pete.

I think it was Mr O'Neill or Mr Ferguson that compared us recently to the first of Sir Alex's successful United sides. They too were built on traditional English values but not short of quality, they were also tactically similar to our side, with flying wingers Kancheskis and Giggs the equivalent of our own Milner and Young, a dogged central midfield and a big striker (Mark Hughes for them, Heskey or Carew for us) holding the ball up.

It was only once they'd started to achieve their success that they started to add those players that could play in other, fancier ways, Cantona being the flag bearer.

I can see a great deal of similarity in the methods of the two managers in building their sides (although I think if anything we're moving at a faster rate.) and I see no reason why the Ferguson route isn't one our development could take.

I'm unfortunately too young to remember the Forest side of the time you're speaking about, but it seems that the game never really changes as much as we think. If it was right for Clough, and it was right for Ferguson, I see nothing that doesn't make it right for O'Neill, and no reason why it shouldn't work as we progress in our European adventures.

We're explosive, as O'Neill stated in the paper the other day, and I don't think continental teams are set up for the problems we cause them. I think the shock of the new might yet prove too much for a few UEFA teams this term.

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