Featured: Does How You Win Matter?

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“Chelsea were shite, they came for 0-0”.
“It doesn’t matter. We won”.
“I wouldn’t want to win like that”.
“The final score is all that matters”.
“I’d be embarrassed if my team ‘played’ like that”.
“I don’t care, we won”.
“You put every man behind the ball and waited for a mistake”.
“And the mistake happened for the first goal when Steven Gerrard slipped…”
“But if it wasn’t for the mistake you never would have scored…”
“2-0, that’s all that counts”.
“With the money you’ve spent you should be able to play some great football”.
“I don’t care about that once we win…”

And on and on and on it went via social media. The views of the two managers involved were also directly opposed. “They parked two buses rather than one”, Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers argued. Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho countered by saying it was “a beautiful, magnificent victory”.

Leaving all allegiances aside – if that’s possible in football, you can see where both teams were coming from. The argument of the one-time colleagues is part of a long running one; does it matter how you win?

“Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy.”

– Socrates

As kids we all played football for that simple joy, the joy of scoring goals. During those formative years, none of us tried to adopt ‘a five at the back, keep it tight’ style. Instead we all wanted to score goals, lots and lots of goals.

That’s what gave us excitement and made us cherish the sport; games on summer evenings that lasted until it was pitch black outside and nobody was quite sure if the scoreline was something like 24-23 or 24-24.

Or kick-abouts that concluded in ‘next goal wins’ because the owner of the football had to go in soon and was too tight to leave the ball behind. Purists such as Rodgers want their teams to produce something similar; great passing football while outscoring the opposition, a formula that worked very well for him in 2014.

In recent years Barcelona have been the pinnacle of that ideal. Pep Guardiola’s formidable unit claimed 14 trophies and did so with a possession-based game that Alex Ferguson once described as a passing carousel. At times it was stunning to watch, as opponents simply couldn’t get the ball.

And when Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and David Villa had ownership of it for so long, they inevitably put it in the net. Football costs so much now that whenever we go to a game there should be plenty of that type of entertainment on display.

It shouldn’t be a case of just winning; it should be a case of winning with style and panache. There should be goals, skills, tricks and excitement. Surely that’s the least
us fans are entitled to?

“You can play ten at the back or you can play ten at the front. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the result.”

– Diego Simeone

If you have Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Villa or that type of multi-talented quartet in your team it’s obviously easier to produce playground style, all out attacking football. The reality is most managers don’t have such individuals at their disposal.

And with relegation, promotion, titles, cups or qualification for major tournaments at stake, not too many of them are going to send out their team to attempt to entertain only to take a hammering. If they did they’d soon be out of a job. So instead they develop ways of gaining the best results to keep them in employment Sometimes that involves constructing a unit that is able to overpower or outfight opponents.

Sometimes it’s downright ugly football, where the only short pass on display is the kick-off.

A prime example of this is probably the Ireland team under Jack Charlton during the late 80s and early 90s. In reaching three tournaments in half a dozen years they didn’t exactly dazzle us with their style of play. They battled and fought and frustrated the opposition and occasionally produced a moment of genuine quality to earn a win

One Night In Turin, the documentary on Italia ’90, referred to the team’s style as “prehistoric”. As a kid watching that tournament I didn’t care. I don’t remember too many people, apart from pundit Eamon Dunphy perhaps, complaining either. Ireland were in a World Cup. Ireland reached the last eight. That was all that mattered.

Greece at Euro 2004 were the same. Do any of their fans worry about how they surprised even themselves to become champions of Europe? Of course not. That summer is something Greek fans will remember forever. In years to come, grandkids will hear about the victories in Portugal and feel proud. They won’t be embarrassed by the manner of the triumph.

While great performances live in the memory for a while, there is no asterisk beside a trophy on an honours list to say Barca produced incredible football or Greece bored us all senseless. All it says is the competition, year and team. And surely that’s all that matters?

Johnny Hynes writes for LFC Magazine and is the author of two books The Irish Kop and Alright Aldo – Sound as a Pound.

This article appears in Póg Mo Goal magazine, the new Irish publication focused on considered design and great writing from around the world. Issue 2 is available to order here

The main image is created especially for Póg Mo Goal Issue 2 by Ruben Gerard, Paris-based illustrator whose clients include Nike, GQ, Puma and L’Equipe Mag www.ruben-gerard.com

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