Modern football is constantly evolving and the finest managers in the game are always competing with one another to create the new tactical innovations which might give them an edge over their rivals. It’s easy to become lost in the lingo that these innovations create though, do you know your gegenpress from your tiki taka? Have you ever mixed up a false nine and a quarterback? Here is our guide to some of footballs new buzzwords.
The false nine is a truly hipster position that has reached the shores of the UK from the continent, where it came to popularity.
Football tactitians will tell you that playing a false nine is the abandonment of the traditional centre-forward, instead choosing to utilise dynamic midfielders who run from deep, dragging defenders out of position and creating gaps for the wingers. Everyone else will tell you that it’s putting your midfielders up front because your strikers couldn’t score in a brothel.
At its best, a false nine is Lionel Messi terrorising defences and creating huge pockets of space that Barcelona’s other world class forwards can exploit. At it’s worst, it’s Wilfried Zaha having to take on six players because the alternative is lumping the ball up to Conor Wickham.
When Jürgen Klopp arrived at Liverpool, he brought more than just trainspotter-chic to the Premier League. The German also introduced a tactic known as gegenpressing.
Whereas once upon a time, after a team lost the ball, everyone would peg it back to their own goal in order to try and defend against the counter attack, gegenpressing is the art of winning the ball back high up the pitch in order to and retain your positional advantage and immediately continue your attack.
The likes of Roberto Firmino and Fabinho possess the class, talent and athleticism to gegenpress effectively, your mate Barry doesn’t. Expect to see him every Sunday morning scything down whoever has dispossessed him before hoofing the ball into touch whilst his victim lies screaming on the floor.
Whilst Klopp’s gegenpress focusses on winning back the ball quickly, the Spanish Tiki Taka revolves around never losing it at all.
The central premise is to fill your team with technically gifted and mobile players who use short, controlled passing to retain possession of the ball and pass their way through defences.
Tiki-Taka was made famous by the great Spain side which won three international tournaments between 2008 and 2012 as well as Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, both of whom had Xavi and Andres Iniesta in the heart of their midfield.
Overall it tends to be a far less exciting spectacle than Jurgen Klopp’s self-proclaimed rock and roll approach to football. Remember the football episode of The Simpsons when the players just aimlesly pass the ball between one another as an increasingly animated commentor shouts “Half-back passes to center, back to wing, back to center”. That’s basically Tiki-Taka.
No, we haven’t got our sports confused. In the mid-2000s a football equivalent of the position made famous in the NFL became a thing.
The quarterback was effectively a deep lying playmaker who could play precision long balls forward to counter attack at speed.
The most famous occupiers of the role were David Beckham and Andrea Pirlo. The cynical among you might be saying “So it was a role given to technical players wearing Alice bands once their legs had gone?”. Yes, yes it was.
The idea of a full-back actually staying back and defending is ancient history now, having gone the same way as the dodo, the dinosaur and, hopefully one day, skinny jeans.
For the modern full-back, the emphasis rests far more on bombing forward as much as humanly possible and putting crosses into the box.
Liverpool are currently the greatest exponents of this system in the Premier League with Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold both as vital to their attack as the defence. Poor old Gary Neville wouldn’t stand a chance these days.
Ball playing goalkeepers
It isn’t just defenders who have undergone an identity shift in recent years, with plenty of top managers now demanding that their goalkeepers also have strong distribution abilities.
The rationale behind this is that the goalkeeper will often be the first point of an attack. If they immediately give the ball away to the opposition, that attack is immediately over (unless, unlike Barry, you can gegenpress). Therefore by utilising goalkeepers with excellent distribution, you will lose the ball less often and find yourself under less pressure.
Man City and Liverpool both recognised this with the purchases of Ederson and Alisson in recent seasons and we’re hoping that a country other than Brazil may also be able to produce one by the year 2030.
For years anguished cries of “Haven’t we got the technology to sort this out?” went out every time a dodgy decision went against a team. As a result VAR (Video Assistant Referee) was formally introduced to the Premier League at the start of this season. Has it proved to be popular? About as much as a fart in an elevator.
The primary complaints against VAR are that it is too slow and that fans are excluded from the decision making process. There have even been accusations that it is ruining the atmosphere in the Premier League stadiums. Yes, apparently it’s not flogging half the tickets to corporates that is killing the atmosphere, it’s VAR. Sigh.