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Sports Features Wed, 19 Oct 2011

What Makes a Great Team?

At the beginning of last Premiership season, sports writers, football analyst and fans seem to agree that the Manchester United team was the worst ever assembled by Fergusson. There was no Roy Keane style of leadership neither was there the precociousness of Mark Hughes, Teddy sheringham, Andy Cole, Ruud, Dwight Yorke nor the midfield awareness of Paul Scholes. Yes the team had Rooney, Berbatov and later Chicarito but in all it was not as splendid a team as even the 2007 squad. Yet Manchester United won the league, got to the Semi-Final of the FA cup and the Champions league, where at a point they were tied at 1-1 with the best team who had the best players in the world, Barcelona I mean.

You contrast this with a team like Real Madrid who had players who rank among the best in the world and all they could achieve was to win the Copa del rey and get to the semi-final of the champions league. What made the difference between Manchester United and Real Madrid? Was it that Fergusson was able to put a system in place that made use of the “average” players he had or Mourinho’s system of play could not bring out the best of Kaka, Di Maria, Lassana Diara, Mesut Ozil, Khedira, and Cristiano Ronaldo?

In the year 2010 Inter Milan under Mourinho won every cup there was to win ,the champions league, Serie A and coppa Italia., after his departure at the end of the season, Raphael Benitez would be appointed as coach, though no notable player was transferred out of the inter Milan team, Inter performed woefully till the sacking of Benitez. Was it the new coaches’ system that was woeful or the players who looked and played at world class standard the season before suddenly lost their rhythm? Did Mourinho have a better system that was able to utilize the talents of those Inter Milan players? If yes, and all it took was his SYSTEM, why couldn’t he replicate that in Spain?

Four years ago during the “proper” galacticos era, Fabio Cappello was sacked as coach of Real Madrid, though he won the league , he was sacked for getting kicked out of the Champions league in the first round and loosing out on the copa del rey. He had the best players in the world at that time, no doubt! Yet he struggled all through and won the league on the last day. Why couldn’t the players just win the league, champions’ league and Copa del rey for Real Madrid-that is if winning trophies is all about PLAYERS- or the defensive system of play put in place by Capello was not good enough?

France came into the 2002 world cup as the defending champions as well as the holders of the European cup. They had the three best strikers in the world. David Trezeguet was the goal king in Italy, Thierry Henry was the goal king in England and Djibril Cisse was the Goal king in the French Ligue 1, yet in all the three games played, France could not score a single goal and was kicked out after the first round. Was Roger Lemerre too shallow minded to make use of all the plethora of talent he had, did his system fail him?

The last of my examples has to do with the greatest Chemistry equation that Henri Louis Le Châtelier himself would struggle to solve. The question of how to tackle the problem called LIONEL MESSI? $%&*£^%$£………. Yeah that’s the sound of Barca fans hurling insults at me for having the impudence of bringing the word PROBLEM close to the name MESSI. For the past 6 years this guy has managed to entertain us year after year and we thank him for that, yet this same Messi has struggled to make a major impact with the Argentine national tam. The very recent one being the just ended Coppa America. He has played under four different coaches from Pekerman through Basile, Maradona, Sergio Batista and currently Alejandro Sabella, yet the impact has not been what was expected. Is it that the system of play in Barcelona better suits him better than the system used by the Argentine National coaches?

My good friend Kojo Adae-Mensah is of the view that it is a combination of all the factors. Players, the system a coach employs the club owners, management, the back room staff etc.

The making of a great team therefore requires a manager that has the players dying for, a great captain or at least a leader in the team who will ensure that there is always togetherness and is able to keep the team spirit intact even in times of disagreements, which is inevitable.

However all great teams have one player who will always make a difference. Pele or Tostao in Brazil, Marradonna in Argentina and even more in Napoli. Oppong Weah in Milan, Zidane in France and Real Madrid, Giggs in Manchester United, Barnes, Rush, Dalglish in Liverpool.

Gerrard is also a typical example of the 2005 Liverpool squad, as the team itself was not great and had bad owners and a bad manager but had a great player.

Sometimes you get a great team also through the system the coach plays and that is the Italy team that had Dino Zoff at the helm. They went out to play a system that ensured they did not concede goals but was boring and not pleasing to the eye. They however managed to get to the final of Euro 2000 where they lost to France.

At Chelsea, Mourhino shows what a manager can do, not with the system of play but what he does in the back room where he gets into your private life and makes you play for him. He then compliments it with the back room staff, a notable example was the support he was getting from Steve Clark.

Sir Cecil Jones Atuquayfio did that brilliantly, with the great Accra hearts of oak squad of 2000

Back home, the black stars of '92 had greatness in their belly but the flip side was that in Abedi, they had a not too good a leader who lost them out on greatness, whereas the 2009 under 20 world cup winning team had in them an okay coach but a set of fantastic players with a good leader in Dede Ayew.

The great Mario Zagalo of Brazil who played alongside the great Pele and coached same to victory in the historic 1970 World Cup, succinctly summed up the topic under discussion “No matter the scientific injection into soccer; tactics, systems, physical conditioning etc., skill (individual) is of prime importance in team’s overall delivery”. The emphasis on skill for that matter talent cannot be over-emphasized here. Take away the skill of Xavi and Iniesta, and Lionel Messi struggles to find his rhythm in any system or tactics. Messi’s failure at the World Cup was attributed partly to Maradona’s inefficient system. Here, Zagallo’s (skill) perspective seems to have been undermined by Marradona’s (inefficient) system in that Maradona had all the players (with great individual skill) he needed at the 2010 world cup yet could not come up with a system to make use of them.

I cannot rule out the effect of system adoption and adaptation crucially to winning a game. The likes of Mourinho, Arriigo Sacchi, and Otto Rehagel. have proven that skill or talent is sometimes not enough as evidenced by the first Porto team (not the 04 champions’ league winning squad) under Mourinho and Greece 04 under Rehagel.

Brazil’s dominance of the beautiful game since time immemorial and the fact that their coaches have done very little with their tactics/systems outside Brazil, leaves much to be desired. The nation Brazil has participated in all the World Cups since 1930, winning 5 times and appearing in finals of finals 7 times, more than any nation. Carlos Alberto Parreira and Felipe Scolari both World Cup winners with Brazil failed outside their jurisdiction. Carlos Alberto Parreira failing with both Saudi Arabia and South Africa in succession while Portugal could not make any meaningful impact with the ‘Big Phil’.

In this case are Brazilian coaches only good at coaching Brazilian teams and if we are to stretch the arguments further, can it be said that Brazil performs well at international tournaments because they simply have great individual talents and not necessarily due to the efficient system put in place by their Coaches.

There however have been times where great individual talents have been displayed by Brazil yet they won nothing, case in point the Brazil team at the 82 world cup in Spain and the 2006 world cup in Germany.

What therefore makes a great team? Individual players or the system a coach employs?

The arguments could go on and on with very divergent but excellent views as to what actually makes a great team, for every GREECE 04 example that will be given to support TACTICS/SYSTEM over individual skill per se, BRAZIL 94 or ORANJE 88 or even the more recent SPAIN 10 team could be given in support of individual SKILL over TACTICS.

I believe in the very ideal system the best team is one where the best SYSTEM meets the best set of players, like Barcelona, what do you believe?

Alfred Quaynor

koryor@hotmail.com

0244708653

The writer is a staff of Barclays Bank Ghana Ltd and an avid lover of football

Source: Quaynor, Alfred