"What do you mean you've hurt 'your' knee, it's Liverpool's knee" - Bill Shankly.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tactics: Soviet tactical teamwork

The Soviet tactical revolution has its roots in a 1930s Basque team

The fluid teamwork which came to define football in the USSR owes much to a 1930s touring team and the inspirational Dinamo coach who built on it


Valeriy Lobanovskyi has a tendency to overshadow any discussion of the Soviet style and, given his success, understandably so. He was not, though, its progenitor. He shaped it to his vision and, thanks to his use of cybernetics, took it to new levels, but he was working in a tradition, a stream of thought that swept from Russia to Ukraine and back again to define the Soviet conception of the game.

It may have been the Dutch style to which football in the USSR ended up being most closely related, but the movement towards that philosophy was kick-started by encounters with a Basque select side that toured the USSR in 1937 to raise awareness of their cause during the Spanish Civil War.

A national championship had begun in the USSR in 1936, but football in the region remained fairly backward, tied to the old-fashioned 2-3-5 that was the default when British sailors first introduced the game to St Petersburg at the end of the 19th century. Isolation meant few games against foreign opposition, and little opportunity to recognise the advances that had been made elsewhere.

The Basques, featuring six of the Spain squad from the 1934 World Cup, soon exposed how underdeveloped the Soviet game was. Deploying the W-M formation that had been developed by Herbert Chapman at Arsenal in the late 1920s, they won seven and drew one of their nine games, losing only to Spartak, who were the one side to match them shape-for-shape.

"The performances of Basque Country in the USSR showed that our best teams are far from high quality," a piece in Pravda pointed out. "It is clear that improving the quality of the Soviet teams depends directly on matches against serious opponents. The matches against the Basques have been highly beneficial to our players (long passes, playing on the flanks, heading the ball)."

The lessons were there to be learned, and no one learned them faster than the Dinamo coach, Boris Arkadiev. Born in St Petersburg in 1899, he had moved to Moscow after the revolution, where he taught fencing at the Mikhail Frunze military academy. It was fencing, he later explained, with its emphasis on parry-riposte, that convinced him of the value of counter-attacking.

"After the Basque tour, all the leading Soviet teams started to reorganise in the spirit of the new system," Arkadiev wrote. "Torpedo moved ahead of their opponents in that respect and, having the advantage in tactics, had a great first half of the season in 1938 and by 1939 all of our teams were playing with the new system." Dinamo struggled to adapt, slipping to fifth in 1938, and a lowly ninth the year after.

Others might have gone back to basics, but not Arkadiev. With the mould broken, he experimented further. In February 1940, at a pre-season training camp in the Black Sea resort of Gagry, he took the unprecedented step of spending a two-hour session teaching nothing but tactics. His aim, he said, was a refined variant of the W-M. "With the third-back, lots of our and foreign clubs employed so-called roaming players in attack," Arkadiev explained. "This creative searching didn't go a long way, but it turned out to be a beginning of a radical perestroika in our football tactics.

"To be absolutely honest, some players started to roam for reasons that had nothing to do with tactics. Sometimes it was simply because he had great strength, speed or stamina that drew him out of his territorial area, and once he had left his home, he began to roam around the field. So you had four players [of the five forwards] who would hold an orthodox position and move to and fro in their channels, and then suddenly you would have one player who would start to disrupt their standard movements by running diagonally or left to right. That made it difficult for the defending team to follow him, and the other forwards benefited because they had a free team-mate to whom they could pass."

The season began badly, with draws against Krylya Sovetov Moscow and Traktor Stalingrad and defeat at Dinamo Tbilisi, but Arkadiev didn't waver. The day after the defeat in Tbilisi, he gathered his players together, sat them down and made them write a report on their own performance and that of their team-mates. The air cleared, the players seemed suddenly to grasp Arkadiev's intentions. On June 4, playing a rapid, close-passing style, Dinamo beat Dynamo Kyiv 8-5. They went on to win the return in Ukraine 7-0, and then, in August, they hammered the defending champions Spartak 5-1. Their final seven games of the season brought seven wins, with 26 goals scored and only three conceded, and Dinamo swept to the title.

"Our players worked to move from a schematic W-M, to breathe the Russian soul into the English invention," Arkadiev said. "We confused the opposition, leaving them without weaponry with our sudden movements. Our left-winger, Sergei Ilyin, scored most of his goals from the centre-forward position, our right-winger, Mikhail Semichastny, from inside-left and our centre-forward, Sergei Soloviov, from the flanks."

Movement and the interchange of positions became key. War caused the abandonment of football for four years, and by the time the league began again, Arkadiev had moved to CDKA, where he instituted the same principles that continued to underpin Dinamo's method. Between them, the two sides won the first seven post-war Soviet titles, and as his 1946 book, Tactics of Football, became acknowledged as a bible for coaches across eastern Europe, the Arkadiev style became the Soviet style.

Most significantly, its effectiveness was recognised abroad as Dinamo charmed British fans and experts on their 1945 tour. They played, Geoffrey Simpson wrote in the Daily Mail, "a brand of football which, in class, style and effectiveness is way ahead of our own. As for its entertainment value - well, some of those who have been cheering their heads off at our league matches must wonder what they are shouting about". Nine years after being taught a lesson by the Basques, Soviet football was handing out lessons of its own.


Jonathan Wilson is the author of Inverting The Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics, which is shortlisted for this year's William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts

Labels

188Bet (2) Alberto Aquilani (1) Andre Villas Boas (2) Andy Carroll (1) Aragones (1) Babel (1) Barcelona (1) Barnes (1) blogs (1) Brad Jones (1) Brendan Rodgers (2) Capello (2) Casillas (2) Cristiano Ronaldo (1) Dalglish (5) Dalla Valle (1) Daniel Agger (1) Del Bosque (2) Diego Maradona (2) Eto'o (1) Euro08 (1) Everton (1) Evra (1) Fergie (2) Fernando Torres (5) Fitness (1) Football tactics (46) Freak Goals (1) funny (2) Gaffs (1) Gary Lineker (1) Gerrard (4) Guardiola (3) Harry Redknapp (1) Herrera (1) Highlights (1) Hillsborough (2) Hodgson (3) Howard Webb (1) Jan Molby (2) Javier Mascherano (2) Joe Cole (1) John Aldridge (2) John Barnes (1) Jonjo Shelvey (1) Jordan Henderson (2) Jose Segura (1) Juan Mata (1) Just for a Laugh (1) Kenny Dalglish (7) Kolo Toure (1) Kuyt (3) LeBron James (1) Level 3 (2) Lionel Messi (3) Liverpool FC (1) Lucas (4) Lucas Leiva (2) Luis Enrique (1) Luis Suarez (9) Mancini (1) Martin Skrtel (2) Maxi Rodriguez (1) micha (1) Michael Owen (1) Michels (1) Mourinho (3) Owen (1) Pablo Aimar (1) Patrice Evra (1) Pennant (1) Pepe Reina (1) Philippe Coutinho (2) Pre-season (1) Rafa (46) Ralf Rangnick (1) Ramos (1) Reina (2) Rodolfo Borrell (1) Roy Hodgson (14) rumours (1) Sacchi (2) Sebastian Coates (1) Shankly (1) Skills Challenge (3) Squad size (1) Squad worth (1) Steven Gerrard (2) Stewart Downing (2) Tevez (1) Thierry Henry (1) Thommo (1) Tomkins (12) Torres (3) Transfers (4) TV Competitions (3) UK Academy system (1) Xabi Alonso (2) youngsters (4) Youtube Scout (7) Zonal Marking (2)

Quote of the moment

Defying belief however, is a market Benitez has cornered quite well. The moment you think Benitez is clueless, he defies it by pulling off a result of majesty, like the one achieved in Madrid. The moment he is hailed a genius, he masterminds toothless surrender to a team going nowhere. In the ongoing Anfield power struggle, just when he was cornered by the firing squad, the Spaniard's demise at Liverpool looking practically assured with the ominous suspension of betting by the bookmakers, he squeezes out through a narrow trapdoor and eliminates Rick Parry. Rafa Benitez is Keyzer Soze.
- Just Football blog: The Curious Beast that is Football 28 Feb 2009