Champions League vs. The World Cup: Attacking Football or Negativity? You Decide
The king is dead, long live the king.
The World Cup may be long gone, but this season's UEFA Champions League has kicked off in spectacular fashion with some of the most exciting football seen in decades. You could tell straight from the start that almost every team has learned a valuable lesson from this years World Cup; negativity will only get you so far.
After the shameful performance of the Dutch in the final against Spain and the negative tactics employed by teams throughout the tournament, it is fair to say that South Africa 2010 was easily the worst World Cup since the debacle that was Italia '90.
Such was the pessimistic tone of the competition, FIFA, under the guidance of Sepp Blatter have been looking at ways to make the tournament better. Technology is back on the cards, as is the Golden Goal, as is banning draws.
It is quite clear that FIFA and Blatter have huge problems with the lack of adventure in the competition especially the first round of games in the group stages.
This particular World Cup's first round of matches produced the fewest shots, the fewest goals, the fewest amount of free-kicks on target, and the smallest amount of entertainment in the great competitions 80-year history.
There are always mitigating factors—heat, humidity, altitude, etc.—but one would be remiss not to mention the marketing disaster that was the Jabulani football. A spherical shaped object that looked like a ball and, according to the boffin who created it, even acted like a ball; but only when his robot kicked it.
The fact that the ball was almost uncontrollable meant that it aided the defensive tactical decisions taken by many managers and was a major contributing factor in how the games were played out.
So just two months on and it would appear that lessons have been learned.
The negativity of the World Cup has been cast aside, and for that we have much to thank Spain for.
When analysing the recent World Cup and how it has played, it can be construed that it was well and truly been abandoned by footballing teams with real ambition, and all we have to do is compare it with this weeks Champions League matches to see how.
Although the Champions League has a home and away type structure and has six games in its group stage it is similar in construction the World Cup.
Eight groups of four, with each team having to play other to progress. Granted the margins of error are perhaps greater in the Champions League due to more matches, but there is also great pressure to get off to a good start.
This week, we were treated to a number of highly entertaining matches. The mind almost boggled at some of the football on show.
Instead of teams going out not to lose their first game we saw teams going out to win their first game, this huge shift in tactical ambition by many of the games great managers comes hot on the heels of UEFA summoning many of the regions elite coaches to a think in where many of the topics plaguing the game were discussed, including the growing negative use of the 4-2-3-1 formation, and whether tactics used in South Africa would overspill into European football.
In the first instance, it would seem that attacking and ambitious football has won through.
During the first round of games in the World Cup group stages in South Africa, only 25 goals were scored across 16 matches.
Compare this to the Champions League this week, where an astonishing 44 goals were scored across 16 games.
Overall, there were 145 goals scored in the entire World Cup of 64 matches, an average of 2.26 goals per game. The Champions League average sits at 2.75 goals per game at the moment, only half a goal per game in the difference. But in terms of entertainment, enjoyment, and sheer enterprise, the club competition outstrips its senior counterpart in every way.
The overriding factor of the European club competition when compared to the international competition is undoubtedly ambition over fear.
In the Champions League it would appear that teams are not happy at 1-0 and want to create a lead that is unassailable. Whereas in the World Cup it would appear that once teams are 1-0 up they resort to defensive tactics where the aim is to hold onto the lead without having the ambition to increase it.
It is this backwards outlook that is turning fans away from the game, and the best FIFA seem to be able to come up with is to simply ban draws and force every match into penalties after 90 minutes.
All you have to do to see that the game is phenomenal the way it is, is to look at the way the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona played this week.
Having seen the current La Liga champions take Panathinikos apart 5-1 at the Camp Nou in a performance that simply left me stunned, I was amazed to see Arsenal produce a performance the following night that was equally as spectacular if not better in almost every area.
The way these two teams moved on and off the ball was pure poetry in motion. Fluid, beautiful, mesmeric, and deadly in its simplicity. At times Braga and Panathinkikos must have wondered if they were even playing the same sport as their two esteemed rivals.
Arguably, the two players that dominated the opening round of this years club competition were Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi, neither of which put in half a similar type performance during the World Cup.
It must be noted that Arsenal's and Barcelona's attacking in mid-week owes a lot to their opponents tactics.
One must hold out a cap in respect to both Braga and Panathinikos. They could have easily gone into the respective Lions Dens and defended to the hilt. Instead they both went out to attack, which is another contradiction to international tactics where the outsider often goes out to stifle the bigger teams, and tries to nick the game.
Elsewhere, the competition served up even more entertainment as Spurs and Werder Bremen played out a highly entertaining 2-2 draw while Inter Milan and FC Twente also served up a 2-2 draw, giving Group A of the Champions League as many 2-2 draws as the entire World Cup group stage.
Frightening as it seems, Chelsea and Valencia were equally as brilliant as the home country counterparts while other sides like Real Madrid, AC Milan, and Bayern Munich all clocked up impressive 2-0 wins.
All in all, the Champions League was incredibly entertaining in almost every match, the exception being the bore 0-0 draw between Manchester United and Rangers at Old Trafford. But even that game couldn't be compared to an average World Cup draw as the Red Devils were simply inept and put in one of their worst ever home performances while Rangers seemed incapable of breaking them down.
Of course, the club game and the international game are very different animals. The pressure that international footballers are under is incredible as their entire countries hopes and fears rest on their, often slender, shoulders. In effect making one international game worth about 10 club games in terms of pressure and importance.
The closest thing the club game has in terms of spectacle and pressure to the international game is the Champions League. Players have to hit the ground running and ambitious football is awarded with progress to the next stage and with it the finances and endorsements that come with it.
UEFA have realised that the Champions League is now recognised as the elite club tournament in the World, it is catching up fast with the World Cup in terms of importance, and has pushed and promoted the competition across the globe to such an extent that UEFA is now defined by the tournament.
If FIFA do not get up off their respective backsides and find a way to promote attacking football, just like UEFA have done so with the Champions League, then it won't be long before the international game is dead and buried.
As I said before, negativity can only bring you so far.
FIFA know it, UEFA know it, the fans know it, and the stats show it.
The race is on to become the most important competition in football.