The ongoing arms race
This is not another diatribe about El ninos frailties..it is rather an allegory written to highlight a fundamental change in football philosophy that occurred in the style and priorities of Chelsea FC that occurred this summer which I think was ill conceived and which is harming our prospects for this season. I will try to contrast that philosophical change with the dominant philosophy being pursued by many of the other big boys both in the BPL and the rest of Europe and based on this suggest what we must do come January 1 to remain in the conversation as regards competing for the very best trophies club soccer has to offer this season.
Those of you on VC who are old enough will recollect the mood and ambience during the height of the cold war between the US and the defunct USSR as both countries amassed nuclear weapons in a dangerous game of one upmanship..well there is a similar arms race going on in the BPL and among many of the top football clubs in Europe..it is an arms race that involves amassing deadly goal scorers in numbers (you may call them strikers, forwards etc..the point is these players wherever they are deployed on the pitch are known predatory goal scorers). The underlying philosophy that drives this arms race is a simple one.it says; while it is good and important to be competent in all phases of the game, football games are still won and lost based on who can score more goals not who has more possession or plays prettier and thus proponents of this philosophy amass high quality goal scorers in numbers and deploy multiple number of them on the pitch simultaneously in whatever formation they play.
Though they play with fundamentally different formations (Mancity tending to play more through the middle with little wing play and ManU the unrepentant apostles of top notch winger wide player) both City and Manu and their coaches are both believers in this philosophy. This is why both teams boast of at least 4 accomplished goal scorers in their 25 man rosters and still have several out on loan or in their reserves. More revealing though is that as good as the goal scoring threats they have which is apparent in their productivity thus far these guys are not satisfied..not by a long shot..the arms race for strikers is still continuing..City now appear to be in pole position to land in my opinion the current best pure striker in the world in Radamel Falcao. Many would say..this is crazy..they have Arguero, Dzeko, Tevez and Ballotelli..where will they play Falcao? Well herein is the thinking behind proponents of this philosophy..they cannot have too many strikers..it is clear that this year ballotelli is the weak link of city`s strike force and they are hawking him left and right while the memories of his euros performance remains fresh..it appears that Inter and Ac Milan are among interested parties..City don`t need the money..they will probably sell him on the cheap to someone and upgrade (and this is a major upgrade) by getting Falcao and yet save heavily on salary as Falcao is reportedly only asking for a "paupers" 105k/wk compared to the 170-185k/wk Balotelli presently earns..but even if City cannot sell Ballotelli don`t think that will stop them going for falcao..Arguero remember was supposed to be Tevez`s replacement but even when they could not sell tevez it did not stop them getting arguero anyway..remember the mind set of this philosophy..you cannot have enough goalscorers.
Before you think city are the only " lunatics" who believe this just cast an eye at SAF and manu..just this summer the side had at least 4 quality goalscorers in Rooney, Welbeck, chicarito and Berbatov but this did not stop SAF spending what some saw as crazy money to get RVP as ..(that word again) upgrade for Berbatov and needless to say thus far the move has been like a stroke of genius. Now ManU typically do little business in the January window as they typically shrewdly do most of their work during the summer but to show you how heated this arms race is getting in the BPL for once there is a lot of noise that SAF is going full throttle to get yet another striker in the January window ..he continues to pester Borsussia Dortmund for Robert Lewandowski..a player he has been sounding out since summer when he pinched Kagawa from the Dortmund bees. It is also on record that the boys head is already turned..he has refused to enter into talks for a redo of his present contract with Dortmund and has voiced his interest in moving to the BPL. Now some would say..this is crazy,,ManU don`t need this guy..they already have too many strikers!! But remember the mind set of the proponents of this philosophy.."you can never have too many strikers!" besides I suspect SAF is looking at Lewandowski as his back up and insurance to RVP whose age and injury predilection remain significant concerns despite his current blistering form.
By the way, before you think that this arms race for strikers is just a BPL affair cast an eye to the other major leagues and what the major players there did over the summer; Bayern Munich added Mario Manduzic and Claudio Pizarro to their strike force, Dortmund added Marco Reus (and got back Goetz from injury), Inter added Cassano and Palacios, Juve could only afford to add Pogba and Bendtner though they really wanted RVP, PSG added Lavezzi and Ibrahimovic etc etc etc. The point is all these teams realize one thing; using language that people familiar with the history of the Wild West in the States will understand these teams all realize; 'You don`t turn up for a gun fight at the OK Corrall armed with pocket knives whether or not you have the silky skills of a trained Ninja'..do that and your chances of surviving are slim to none.
The other major philosophy essentially tries to follow the Barca policy of seeking to get a set up based on possession..the principle being if you have the players who can do the pretty passing and hold the ball eventually they will find a way to score and win games. It is from here that the concept of false 9 and other such esoteric formations were birthed. People who adopt this approach however often fail to remember that Barca though they have this approach have some of the deadliest finishers on their books already in Pedro, David Villa and the incomparable Leo Messi. Furthermore the technical skill of the Barca boys in playing the possession based game is so much better than anyone else that this philosophy is to them the basis of both their attack and defense..if you don`t have their technical ability at holding the ball to follow their approach carte blanche is both foolish and fraught with danger. This summer we changed philosophies radically moving from the pragmatic direct approach that was result oriented and in which we had 3-4 proven goal scorers on our team rooster including one unique big game goal scorer by the name Didier Droga and instead decided we wanted to be more pleasing on the eye and more creative in midfield..retain possession more..this philosophy says the goals will come based on the approach..we don`t need big name goal scorers so it was felt we had the luxury to loan out Lukaku and that we would be fine with just Sturridge and Torres. We spent huge amounts getting top quality midfield talent, let go of Drogba, Kalou and Anelka and did not get even one half decent striker added to our collective.I think finally most of us have now come to the realization that a few like me warned about in the summer..that we would get found out and that we would not be able to hang with the big boys who are stockpiling top quality strikers like they are in short supply ( and they are not as common or easy to get as some people think).
You will notice that the current BPL leaders ManU have already lost 2 games…we have only lost 1 and City have not lost any yet who is ahead..you guessed it ..the team that can score when it is needed and so win matches even if they are won playing ugly. Neither ManU nor city are anywhere close to their peaks..they are all defensively shaky, neither have smooth mid fields right now and both have question marks in their goal keeping this year and yet they at the top of the BPL..the secret is what both their managers realized and which our decision makers have not..in the final analysis winning games ..even if they are won ugly is what sets the champions apart from the others and to do that you need variable, multiple and excellent goal scoring options up front..you need both numbers and quality at that position first and foremost. While we pat ourselves on the back about drawing with QPR, Swansea and Liverpool who are bottom tier and mid table teams we all know that neither of the Manchester teams will fail to beat these teams home and away..they may lose the odd match here or there but they will win most and this is what sets them above the rest..they win those games because of the firepower they have up front and this had better be on our mind come the January window.
If we continue to play miser as far as getting quality and appropriate numbers in the goal scoring dept and continue hedging our bets that our midfielders and Center backs will bail out our essentially non-existent strike force I fear our narrative for the rest of the season will be not competing for the BPL title but fighting to retain a top 4 position because remember we have not yet met a host of stubborn mid table and over achieving sides like Everton, Fulham, West Brom , West ham etc who all know now from watching the predictable fashion we play that the key to negating us is to simply pack the midfield , sit back and hit us on the counter since we have next to no width and lack any significant bite or threat in the final third. This same problem is already rearing its ugly head in our Champions league campaign where we have been very shaky and still seat very precariously as regards even escaping the group not to mention emerging as group leader.
To paraphrase the earlier statement regarding gun fights, right now we are in a battle for the BPL title (and in the Champions league) where Bazookas are standard fare and we have joined this conflict armed with a pair of box cutters..as Nick Fury of Shield said so eloquently in the Avengers movie " We are totally and hopelessly outgunned out there" (by the Manchester cartel teams and the other big boys in Europe). If we don`t get some top quality reinforcements upfront by any means necessary come January we might as well just revise our goals and priorities right away both in the BPL and champions league.