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Possession Mythology and False Analysis

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This may seem obvious, but there's more than one way to win a soccer game. There are so many strategies (call these game wide) or tactics (specific plays or limited circumstances) that can help a team win. Talent isn't this perfectly understood thing (OK, Messi). But in any specific game there are ways to win.

They won't always be pretty. These techniques are sometimes stunning. They are 30+ pass sequences that result in a goal (click Goals, click Ochoa's goal). They are a long ball and a finish, like maybe a Keller pass to an assist by a dynamic forward.

One thing that should be clear at this point - there are many paths to victory. Bruce Arena has built a team around counters and dynamic set-plays. Dominic Kinnear's Dynamo are a long ball or dead ball. Peter Vermes uses high pressure to generate turnovers. Jason Kreis uses the diamond and possession. Hans Backe gets the ball to Henry and watches.

These tactics aren't limited to American soccer. There are teams in Europe that use different techniques and still win. Barcelona's death by 1000 passes is a style. Chelsea used an ability to bunker and counter and won the Champions League. Stoke is dead ball, boring and pretty good considering their level of talent. Jose Morinho custom designs his tactics to his personnel and wins games.

That's it. Wins games. There is no singular tactic, nor strategy. There is the system that works for the players on the roster and what the coach wants them to do. If you're analyzing a game, it isn't about who is playing "pretty," it is about who is implementing their strategy more effectively.

The system is the system that the team is trying to use. Even then sometimes it changes mid-game. But if you are breaking down a performance don't go in with your conceptions of "proper soccer." Instead go in with an understanding of the coach and what he/she are doing. That's what matters.

These styles give us the magic of Messi, Ronaldo, the other Ronaldo, Pirlo, Drogba, Pele, Rooney, Zidane, Henry, Maradona, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Platini, Best, etc. Some styles help those players, others are designed around them. Still others have failed to reach greatness with those men.

If you take Real Madrid and blast them for not playing a possession style it is a failure of the analyst, not the Madrid. If you dissect Arsenal for not playing a bunker and counter, you failed, not Wenger.

Strategy and tactics are fungible - in chess, in war, in soccer, in football, in hockey, in, in, in. At the higher levels the point is no longer to educate or train, it is to win. Victory is what matters. Anything else is a bonus.