The way we analyse football has changed but are we looking at it from the wrong angle?
POSSESSION STATISTICS. Apparently they are the new way of deciding who is the better team. Not goals scored, no. Possession stats.
Five-hundred square passes has now become more important than 2-3 forward passes that actually leads to a goal-scoring opportunity Sepp Blatter wants to find a new way of deciding drawn matches; well maybe he should consider possession stats? The result would be the same. Spain would still win.
England were considered to be not good enough at the Euros because their possession stats were so poor. Despite this, however, no one managed to beat them. No one. Not even finalists Italy. They may have had only 38% of the ball and had the least shots on target of all the quarter-finalists, yet scored as many as the others. Surely this proves how effective they were with the ball when they had it?
It has been said that 4-4-2 is out-dated and that the 4-3-3 - or 4-5-1 as it is generally played - is the way forward. Really? If you have the right players, 4-4-2 can still be very effective. You may not be in possession of the ball as much - and you will have to work harder - but if you are fit, keep your shape, close down the space and make good use of your set-pieces, you can beat anyone. It worked well enough for England in the opening matches until they appeared to run out of steam later in the tournament.
Personally I would have used Andy Carroll up front with Wayne Rooney, and played two wingers in Stewart Downing and Theo Walcott. The one thing 4-3-3 - or 4-5-1 - lacks is width and that can be so effective, particularly on the counter attack. For all their possession, Spain have only scored 3 more goals than England in the tournament - and 4 of them came against the Irish, the worst side in the competition - despite having, on average, 30% more possession per game.
Okay, so a long ball, or a well worked set-piece may not be as pleasing on the eye but it is ultimately what the game is all about. Scoring goals. Yet the people who rave about Spain for their possession, criticise Arsenal for 'over-playing'. They should shoot more, they say, be more direct. Yet Arsenal usually dominates possession, only to fall to a sucker-punch - more-often-than-not caused by a long ball or a set-piece.
For all their possession in the Euros, Spain have been boring to watch. They have passed and passed but gone nowhere. Playing without a striker has meant they have had no outlet and gone around in circles. Yes, it has got them to the final but is it really the blueprint for good football? Greece were criticised for the way they played in winning the Euros in 2004 but at least they got the ball forward quickly.
I think we need to strike a balance. Yes, you need the ball but you also need to do something with it. An end product. Possession only gets you so far. The good old 'long ball game' has been criticised in many quarters but it was certainly effective. As the great Brain Clough once said 'It only takes a second to score a goal, young man.' He had clearly never seen Spain.
I want to see good, fast attacking play. Direct players who want to make things happen. Several side-ways or backwards passes may be good for the possession stats but they are not good for the paying spectator. So let’s stop pretending possession is King. It isn't. Goals are. And until they change the rules of the game, the team who score the most goals will always win, whether they have 10% of the possession or 75. Playing two good forward passes will always be more effective than 20 square ones and, ultimately, more exciting to watch.
Possession statistics? You know what you can do with them...