For years fans have debated what’s more important, playing with style or winning football matches. It would appear to be fairly straightforward considering results are the be-all and end-all for most clubs. That’s how success is judged and aside from David Beckham’s modelling awards there are no prizes just for looking good.
Still, the attention on beautiful football has become more prevalent since Barcelona started showing the world how it should be done. With that in mind, is it necessary for teams to forsake victory in favour of a more aesthetically pleasing style of play?
Arsenal are considered to be one of the Premier League’s major culprits when it comes to prioritising style over results and many feel they’ve stubbornly stuck to their guns when persisting with their passing game. In fairness their motivation is to win football matches but the problem is they often fail to implement a plan B when plan A isn’t working. While Barcelona’s example is an excellent one to follow, the only reason they’re so widely commended is because they’re winning with style, not simply playing with it. The Spaniards have perfected plan A so effectively that they don’t need a plan B and the Gunners shouldn’t be chastised just because they’ve failed to replicate the same success.
Whether or not you appreciate the sentiment offered by Arsenal, it’s difficult to justify a trophyless era, even if their intentions are admirable. Chelsea recently proved it’s not necessary in order to win tournaments and their backs to the wall victories against Barcelona and Bayern Munich illustrated how committing to a game plan is more important than wowing spectators. Chelsea’s performances weren’t easy on the eyes but their opponent’s attractive methods were rendered null and void. There was also a certain battling underdog spirit which endeared the Blues to the world. Fans appreciate more than just impressive possession football for they also value a heroic stand in the face of adversity. It goes to show that teams can go down in history for more than just playing the game the right way.
The truth is it’s easy to champion any style that ultimately earns a team victory. That’s why results are considered to be so vital but Swansea City have still been praised for the way they’ve embarked on the Premier League despite not winning anything. It seems hypocritical that a mid table team can be so roundly applauded for committing to a style while a title challenging side like Arsenal are accused of failing to adapt their game. Perhaps circumstances permit such a strange double standard because the Swans are punching above their weight while the Gunners struggle to reach their previous heights but the line between results and style is becoming increasingly blurred.
Arsene Wenger must sneak an envious glance at both his Welsh and Catalonian counterparts given the praise they receive for sticking with possession football. It’s something the Gunners have been insisting on for years and yet they get criticised for not having a variety of attacking outlets while Barcelona and Swansea are adored for their perseverance. It’s a balancing act that managers get paid a lot of money to work out but if Chelsea can win ugly and Swansea can lose beautifully then why is there so much focus on how a team plays and not how it performs?
However stylish a team tries to be, it’s winning football matches that will ultimately decide whether they’re remembered. Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League heroics would’ve been dismissed had they lost in Munich but instead their gutsy approach is widely appreciated. It’s something England fans have been echoing ahead of Euro 2012 after Roy Hodgson’s side failed to set to the world alight in his first two friendly matches. Supporters understand that Hodgson’s patched up team will not be as fluidly attractive as Spain but they’re happy to suffer through six consecutive 1-0 snooze fests if it means England end up lifting the trophy.
Whatever the result, fans will always praise a winning style be it total football or steadfast defensive willpower. Some will appreciate the losing style as well but while that may have a patronisingly upbeat sentiment attached to it, losing the right way is still losing. Every fan loves a victory and winning with style is all the sweeter but teams choose an aesthetically pleasing set of tactics in order to win football matches not to entertain the masses.
In a perfect world teams would do both but in reality it’s the results that people crave not performances. After all not everyone can have their cake and eat it too.
Do you think teams should prioritise performance over results? Are you happy to play ugly if it means winning football matches?
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