Tuesday, August 09, 2011 by Paul Grech
He might not appreciate it much as he starts looking for a new job but Sergio Batista's dismal failure as Argentina coach at the Copa America delivered a very important message.
In the run up to the competition, Batista had expressed his intention to impose Barcelona's tactical approach on his side. And it seemed an understandable enough decision. Although, in Lionel Messi, Argentina have Barcelona's star player the forward has never managed to replicate his club form for his country.
The reason for that, Batista must have reasoned, was the way the team played and the best way to solve it was by getting that team to adopt the 4-3-3 system that Barcelona have used with so much success.
Batista might have argued that he wasn't expecting his central midfielders to perfectly mimic Xavi and Andres Iniesta but the way that Ever Banega and Esteban Cambiasso moved on the pitch hinted otherwise. Yet, although both are excellent players, they failed to shape the game in the same manner as the Barca duo.
And therein lies the lesson. Xavi and Iniesta have been playing in the same system, making the same sort of passes and looking for the same space to move into since they were eleven. They've got a level of expertise that you can't simply transplant into a team, regardless of how good the players are.
There is another lesson to be had here, one of a more philosophical nature. A club playing culture has to take that specific circumstances. An English team can play in the same manner as a Spanish team for the simple reason that the weather is so different. For the Spanish it makes sense to adopt a system where the ball does most of the running but for an English team, where the weather is much colder, running around is actually a way for players to warm up.
This is something that Pep Segura immediately understood when he was given the job of setting a strategic direction at Liverpool's academy. His long history at Barcelona meant that he had a natural inclination for their 4-3-3 system. Yet he realised that this would be hard to implement in England where the general style of play was much more physical than in Spain.
So instead he - along with the others at the academy - decided upon a 4-2-3-1 system that is a hybrid of Barcelona's but which also takes into consideration England's traditional favouring of the 4-4-2 and also the greater dynamism of English players.
In doing so he had confirmed what former Liverpool assistant manager Pako Ayesteran had said on Revista de La Liga earlier this year. “Every success story leaves clues behind, but as well as identifying them, you also have to be able to adapt them to your own philosophy and culture. So right now, English football needs to be faithful to its own culture, whilst being recognising htat there are different ways of playing football.”
“The great thing about La Masia - the concept that I’d like to try and bring to Liverpool - is this. Barcelona’s La Masia represents the club’s policy," Segura said on the same show. For him "it’s a symbol of the club’s philosophy. When your policies keep changing when one day you say black, the next day white, then there will always be a problem in trying to establish a clearly defined concept of player development.”
That faith in one central ideology of how to play the game is at the heart of Barcelona's success. It has taken years for that faith to prove to be worthwhile at Barcelona and, for all the upturn the immediate results, it will take a similar amount of time for it to be fully functional at Liverpool