The game is growing up

A collective spluttering reverberated around the world at 21:35 Greenwich Mean Time, 28th May. It was the sound of culmination, a tipping point of sorts. But beyond anything else, it was the sound of every footyphile on the planet ejaculating at once. A suave young Spaniard hand-on-hipped and skinny-tied his way to victory over a fire breathing Scot. An enchanting aroma of youth and dedication was wafting through the world of football. We were definitely in what would be referred to in the future as an ‘era’. It was exciting.

Don’t worry, I will not be dissecting the Champions League final, or La Masia or the passes of Xavi. There’s enough of those articles to reach the moon, have a five-a-side and then reach back. What really affected me, and I have just seen the benefits of it recently, is the paradigm shift in the way football as a whole is consumed. It’s getting fresh and there is a pride in embracing new methods, whereas before they were sneered at as fruity contrivances that got in the way of slide tackles and being a man.

How does this newness affect the common fan and amateur player? Well I find it is now easier to locate training methods being used by top teams, we are more educated now than fans twenty years ago or even five years ago. Fitness is no longer a dull mystery. In the past if I had an astro league coming up and wanted to be fit for that type of exertion I would consult a website and see what was best for getting there. I found that methods varied wildly. So much so that I might have found myself on an empty pitch running backwards for four miles developing nothing but the ability to telepathetically avoid corner flags, if I had listened. Which I didn’t. Honest.

With the openess brought about by twitter I can now see what sprint patterns Phil Neville will be doing to get fit after a two week holiday. The fact that I know it was in Bermuda with Wayne Rooney and his new hair for company is just an added bonus. What the public can now do is ‘level jump’, a term usually used in business sectors. They can approach the very top tier of the food chain for coveted information so they don’t have to pay a sports fitness expert for specialist regimes.

When Barcelona won a second european title in three years last May they overcame the last great cynical hurdle. ‘It’s hard to win it once, but to win it again, there’s the challenge’ was the dour, boring line that people would wearily trot out whenever passing and then moving to recieve the ball in a different place was lauded. People who previously resisted were broken down. With the majority of opposition now onside it left the winds of changes free reign to bluster about.

It is now trendy to know your stuff tactically. Since football has been appropriated by the middleclasses, the people who used to like bands because nobody knew them now opt for youth players and obscure managers who nobody knows about. Football is the new snobbery and it has gone a bit indie. One thing is for sure, it is now trendy. A potent mixture of middle class youth and experience has been seeping into the game over the past few years. From Mourinho to Guardiola to Villas-Boas the game is getting younger, more educated and with this comes a sexy vibe.

From the first days of the Premier league, where the modern game was a toddler, through boisterous adolescence where money was thrown around like leaves in Autumn, to now when as a settled nineteen year old it looks to mature and learn in new ways, football has been evolving before our eyes at a rapid pace.

An interesting piece in the Guardian by Stuart James, treated us to a behind the scenes look at Wolves pre season preparations. What I found most interesting were the words of Mick McCarthy. He mused over the training methods that he was subjected to in his playing days. His squad would be sent off on a seven mile run and then question why they got cramp or blisters. Jody Craddock mentioned how he had been through a pre season where his team were handed over to the army for a boot camp.

Things are different now. Why run seven miles without stopping when you can run eight hundred metres three times with short rest intervals? If a centre back sprints a distance on average of only two hundred and fifty metres in a match, why train them to run the distances of an up and down winger? Personalisation and tailoring of training regimes are the order of the day. This in itself is not a drastic change. However the person who is in charge of it is.

As McCarthy says about his sports scientists ‘They know their stuff, they went to university to learn so I let them at it. When a builder comes into your house you don’t tell him how to do the job, you let him get on with it’. This attitude is commendable in a manager that would have come from the previous school of thinking. What is notable is how he openly admits that he does not possess the knowledge and delegates the task to his sport scientists. As important as delegation is in a multi facetted job such as football managing, it may be more beneficial to have a more familiar knowledge of the new technology.

This is where the new managers come in. Many of the recent famous names Moruinho, Benitez, Villas-Boas have third level education in the field of sports science. Mourinho had an extensive education and when he was young, helped his father who was a football manager himself. Benitez was a physical education teacher whose father managed a large hotel in Madrid, curiously this could give an insight into the strict and calculated way he organises his teams. It is nearly the stuff of legend already how young Villas-Boas started learning his trade by giving Bobby Robson match reports when he was barely into his teens. All three men were lucky to come from privileged backgrounds which of course is a massive factor in allowing them to reach their potential. Youth and education are seemingly sweeping the top jobs. The notion that you had to have been an accomplished player to be a manager has already being undermined by the success of Ariggo Sacchi with Milan in the early nineties.

With the proliferation of the new attitude the game is becoming a mesh of education and passion. Not only are managers affected, but fans too. Youth and exuberence are beginning to dominate. Being young and middleclass is sexy. Football is growing up.

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