Football, since its inception, has witnessed drastic changes. The primitive football where players had one job of running the length of the field, charging for the ball, was left ages ago. Continuing on Darwin’s Theory, the game changes, if not, then it is decided on the sheet itself. Formations tend to dictate the nature of the game. One wrong formation or tactic can bring you in the crosshairs and the mercy of your opponents. Formations, when implemented with great managerial and tactical awareness, can see small teams defeat the goliaths and heavyweights of football. The best example can be taken from Valencia and Girona. Girona, just by tactical awareness, were able to topple Madrid. Frankly speaking, nobody saw that coming. Not even the Madrid players, or Zidane himself.
History has unveiled some impregnable tactical moves which have scripted memories and brought honours and trophies alike. But then, nothing is perfect. The agony of being the alpha is that someone is around the corner waiting to strike; which can dethrone the best. Be it Helenio Herrera and his team of Inter of 1950s commanding an unprecedented run. Or the legendary Johan Cruyff and his miraculous concept of “Total Football”, the footballing fraternity has seen it all. Even today’s managers like Klopp, Pep, Ancelotti, and Mourinho have tactics which define them. Yes, they have faced criticism, but they are ingenious, and can create a symphony when executing their tactics to perfection.
The new managerial era of Mourinho in England, when he took charge of Chelsea and Manchester United, has seen him bring back success and accolades to both teams alike. However, the satire of English media is that they can escalate the facts, speculation, and criticism to audacious heights.
Mourinho has always been framed for parking the bus against big teams. However, there is more to that than meets the eye. The problem is that the formation and tactics which he implements are on English shores, which tend to fall prey to each and every footballing pundit across England. When laid down statistically and comparing it with the teams he has won trophies with, Mourinho has evolved. His experience from Italy, Spain, and Portugal account for his genius move called “Park the bus.”
“Parking the bus” is referred to the phase when all the players just fall back to defend or when the team is playing for a draw. The term coined by the English media is somewhat naïve and derogatory as this was a tactic which was used before by the Italians as well. This was referred to as “Catenaccio” or “The Chain”.
This was used to define Italian gameplay citing slangs as “those dirty cheating Italians.” The tactical formation meant that a player ahead of the defenders would usually act as “Libero.” He was the player who was responsible for conducting a composed attack from the back, and act as a shield for the defence as well. The “Libero” was a free-roaming player and his position caused huge managerial problems. Helenio Herrera’s formation was inspired by Austria’s national team of the 1930s. Nevertheless, the Libero meant that he was given a huge responsibility.
The position of the “Libero” also opened options for Wing Backs, defensive midfield, and counter-attack football. Some teams would always use this team member for creating lightning pace counter attacks, creating long balls for their teams, or pair them with another “Libero”. The most apt example would be Italy’s squad of 2006. And Mourinho’s Real Madrid where they had lightning counter attacks and scored 121 goals in a season. Manchester United has found its own “Libero” in the form of Matic. Matic plays deep in the midfield and can easily orchestrate a counter attack. So far this season in the Premier League, he has 2094 passes, and has 86% pass completion. He has also performed his defensive duties in the league with 59 successful tackles so far.
The Italian system also produced one of the most prominent “Libero” players in the game with Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo was the most eminent member of the winning squads of AC Milan and Italy and was later the crown jewel of the Juventus squad which gave pastures for Paul Pogba to grow and mature.Michael Carrick was another such gem who was under estimated but became the backbone of the United side between 2006-2013. Carrick was a player who was not only a tactician, but a great passer of the ball as well. He was necessary in unlocking the full potential of Ryan Giggs,Cristiano Ronaldo, and other orchestrated attacks of Ferguson’s Manchester Opera.
The “Park the bus” has also revived some of the most influential positions. The position of “Sweeper” is one which has brought fame and silverware to German sides with Beckenbauer and Matthaus owning the position. Of course, it is not considered a position, but the role of it still prevails throughout the game. Unlike the “Libero”, the job of the “Sweeper” was to prioritize defensive duties. The “Sweeper”, again a term coined by the English media, is somewhat defaming and disdains the position. However, it holds a lot of importance. The “Sweeper” would primarily choke the attacking midfielder of the opponents. It meant that if the ball would not be played to the strikers, there wouldn’t be any goalscoring opportunities.
Sweepers are considered important as they bring the ball forward, or help in controlling the gameplay in their own half of the box. This is something which is rarely seen. When we take a look at Manchester United, we can observe players like Jones and Smalling fit into this role. Jones has revived this role, courtesy of Mourinho. While many considered him to be long gone, he has come back strong.
Now as discussed earlier, the Libero and Sweeper roles are the reason for the creation of new positions. Disputably, they are pretty much the same, but Mourinho has successfully integrated these positions differently, thereby defending his goal. And that has reaped a fortune for the Red Devils. The Wing Back position has garnered a lot of attention thanks to the Catenaccio and Sweeper positions. The Wing Backs (or Full Backs) are to some extent the Jack-of-all-trades. They can pop up in unexpected positions and can create awkward moments for opponents. Over the past, players like Roberto Carlos and Philipp Lahm have made this position their own. Players like Dani Alves and Marcelo still show their credentials and class, just emphasise the fact that the game is incomplete without Fullbacks and Wing Backs.
Manchester United have got some experienced players to fill the Full Back/Wing Back position. The form recaptured by Ashley Young is helping him cement his position and show his worth to the team. The legendary Sir Alex Ferguson would not have expected Ashley Young to be used in such a position. Another player worth watching is Antonio Valencia. The long-serving player for Manchester United has taken over the armband post Rooney’s departure. Valencia, like Ashley Young, was used by Sir Alex Ferguson as attacking wingers on the flanks. But now they are being moulded into responsible Wing Backs.
We can now see that “Park the Bus” is certainly more than meets the eye. It is the defensive structure of the whole team complementing the prospect of counter-attacking football. Apart from this, one needs a commanding midfielder who is capable of distributing the ball to the forward line, and pacey wingers as well. The crux of the fact here is that pace and sudden attacks take the opponents by surprise, and a towering Forward up ahead who is capable of taming the opponents’ defence by his sheer strength and goal-scoring prowess.
Talking about the midfield, Manchester United have probably got the most complete midfielder of his age. Paul Labile Pogba is the beating heart of Manchester United. He can help dominate the position and is successful in creating chances for his forward line. However, if we take a look back at Mourinho’s Madrid, this job was pretty much done by Mesut Ozil. Ozil has a inch perfect vision and is capable of creating moments of magic which is second to none. It is evident as Ozil is responsible for helping the Gunners and Germans score at will.
The class of Ozil is also the reason for his transfer speculation to United, simply because he was the lynchpin for Madrid during the reign of Mourinho. And Mourinho has already worked with him before. He knows that Ozil is a player who won’t fall back. Mourinho would not need Ozil to fall back, for the sheer fact, he knows that the player is responsible for creating chances and feeding the front line. Mourinho has a Libero and Sweeper at work as well. A certain transfer speculation for Toni Kroos is always on the cards. The reason Mourinho would want him at Old Trafford is because he is capable of commanding midfield and can pretty much decide the game on his own credentials.
Last but not the least are the Wingers. The Wingers operating on their flanks can cause devastating results by their ability to crossing, dribbling, taking on opponents, and scoring. Manchester have been able to bring Forward another gem from their ranks. At such tender ages, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard are able to shrug off all the pressure and perform constantly. Both are in hot form and are now the future prospects of England and Manchester United.
This season itself, Rashford has 5 assists and 6 goals to his name in the Premier League. He has also provided key passes on 9 occasions. Another player who has surfaced on top and is shining at the moment is Anthony Martial. Martial was subject to lots of transfer rumours suggesting him to take a turn in his career by joining Inter in exchange for Perisic. He has proved everyone wrong by making a mark on the field.His strength is blistering pace and the ability to dribble past opponents like thin air is helping him gain a name among the United faithful.
If one is to analyse the transfer market speculations, and bids which United has put for players, one can easily see why Jose Mourinho needed these players, and why he is parking the bus. The summer transfer window saw him making a bid for Gareth Bale and Ivan Perisic. Both the players operate on flanks and can take the first team by storm. Gareth Bale, in particular, has already plied his trade on English soil. He knows English teams, tactics, and weather conditions inside-out. And if Bale were to take this escape route, he could easily gain his form and fame because of Mourinho.
It is for this reason that Mourinho wanted Bale to join United. Fortunately, Rashford and Martial have stepped in to help the manager, but Bale would be “welcomed with open arms” if he were to leave the Spanish capital for the industrious Manchester. Perisic, on the other hand, was also wanted by United because he was able to cut through defence and provide assists. Now that Martial is in the groove, one won’t expect a bid for Perisic. Yet, Mourinho would love to bolster his squad and have options. The speculation of Ozil is also justified because Mourinho would want to pair up the German and the Frenchman. The signing of Ozil would also mean that Pogba can unlock his full credentials and capability like he did under Pirlo.
The recent acquisitions by United under the nose of their rivals was something which Mourinho prides himself on. Willian for Chelsea under the noses of Spurs, or Alexis under the noses of City. Mourinho knows how to conduct his business with efficiency. The new no. 7 for United is someone who is known to play in flanks, score goals, and deflate defences. The cherry on the cake for him is that he will be finishing in a Champions League spot, and play in it as well.
Well, whatever the reason, be it money or the tormented relationship with team and managers, Alexis Sanchez has always been part of teams which have gained exceptional success across all competitions. Sanchez was highly successful with Barcelona and his exploits with Chile are there for everyone to see, hence he could have a huge impact on the United squad going forward. The primary reason would have been more than just money. Alexis knows pretty well that he is at a phase where his form is at a prime and would only start declining from here. Therefore, he decided to move somewhere he can gain accolades and silverware alike.
Analysing United from their last match, we saw the two pacey Wingers create chances, and were successful in setting up Lukaku so that he could score. Lingard is continuing to stride as always and was the game winner for United when they played Chelsea.
This stands evidence that Mourinho and his insane tactics are more than just a farce created by English media. It is evident that Mourinho has taken these ideas and gameplay methods from previous places where he has provided his brains and services. The stint at Inter and Madrid has won him much fame and accolades, with a share of criticism as well. The irony of English media is that it can hype up the situation and every aspect of football.
It is responsible for making someone a hero, or villain, because of one season. Alas, had Mourinho been able to procure all his targets in the previous window there would have been different results as well as different headlines floating. The best explanation would be of City’s spending spree analysis, and how it became long forgotten once they got results. What Mourinho needs is time, money, and his transfer targets, to achieve maximum results and calm down the English media and its speculators. The Manchester United board is with him, however, the fans need to understand that their manager is someone with vast experience and his tactics are more than just “Parking the Bus.”
Feature Image via These Football Times
Matic Image via Independent
Valencia Image via Manutd.com