Entertainment a byproduct of a winning formula

BILLY HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2012

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Gareth Morgan seems a decent bloke and his heart's in the right place.

But he needs to get one thing straight if he's not to be seriously disappointed and then, in a fit of rage, do something we all regret.

The Wellington Phoenix do not, cannot and will never play total football. This needs to made abundantly clear before "Wellington Phoenix" and "total football" are used in the same sentence again by Mr Morgan or anyone else.

Total football was invented by Dutch coach Rinus Michels and used to stunning effect by Ajax in the late 1960s and 1970s, and brought to global audiences by Holland at the 1974 World Cup. These players were the best in the world. The system required the players, other than the goalkeeper, to be able to play effectively in any position on the field. No player was fixed to a particular role, and the system therefore required 10 players of great technical proficiency and tactical understanding.

Ben Sigmund slotting comfortably into left wing? Tyler Boyd filling in at centre back while Andrew Durante stays forward? Perhaps in a computer game.

If the Nix do manage to build a team that can keep possession and play quick, short passes all over the place, they'll have succeeded in doing a pale imitation of Barcelona's tiki-taka football, not the total football of the Dutch.

It's important we understand the difference.

It's the philosophical question that has vexed mankind since he started kicking the bladder of a sabre tooth tiger around for sport. Winning football? Or entertaining football? On the one hand there is the Alan Durban brigade. Durban was Stoke City's manager, and after Stoke won a point with a dull 0-0 draw at Arsenal, he was questioned by reporters about his negative approach. "If it's entertainment you want," Durban snapped, "go and watch clowns". On the other hand is the Sir Matt Busby school of thought, which is that the style of play is as important as the result.

As the Phoenix attempt to follow Morgan's direction to play a more entertaining brand of football, they'll find that winning and attractive football go hand in hand. Teams win when they have better players than their opponents. Passes find their man. Receivers control the ball. Crosses stay on the park. Shots hit the target. When all those things happen more regularly, the spectacle improves. And so does the result.

It's better to win ugly, goes the saying, than to play pretty football and lose. While the latter is achieved by many, it's almost impossible to play ugly and win consistently. All the best teams play the best football. Everyone's favourite example of a successful ugly team is Wimbledon, but despite a one-off FA Cup victory, Wimbledon never finished higher than sixth in the Premier League (or first division). Mostly they battled and scrapped away in midtable before being relegated after just 13 years in the top flight.

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So if the Phoenix ever become a side which wins consistently, it'll be because they're playing better football. And therefore they'll be better to watch.

- Billy Harris is a former All White.

- Sunday Star Times

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