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Why the 'Long Ball' system is actually no rhyme or reason in modern football

The orthodox long ball theory is obsolete in the modern day game

xabi alonso
Xabi Alonso is one of the finest long passers

The Footballing theory is getting modernized every moment. New managers, new ideas, new tactics and philosophy are being observed every now and then. Even some old fashioned ideas are flourishing to make the game more innovative and unpredictable.

Recently, the famous Cruyff penalty performed by Barcelona’s Messi and Suarez is a glittering example of the reinvention of old good things. But not all old things are good. While some old ideas are reconstructed properly for a betterment of performance, there are some that hardly make any sense in the modern day.

One of such old-fashioned ideas in football is the philosophy of “Long Balls”. Though there are many modern teams that heavily rely on this philosophy, yet by overall standards, this has been piss-poor. The general consensus is that hoofing the ball forward is a terrible thing and quite often insulting for the football fans.

Recent EPL stats shows that teams with higher amount of long passes are in the lower half of the league table, Sunderland and West Bromwich are good examples. The stigmatization of long ball is so strong that not only it’s blamed for club’s failure but also for the inability to produce technically brilliant footballers.

Charles Reep’s Dark Age tactics of “Long Ball Theory” is still costing England for their international failures, the same being with Scotland. 

Direct, Purposeless and Unintelligent

In footballing terms, the infamous “Long ball” theory is actually meant for the inferior or lower division teams where the source for technically gifted footballers is limited. Jonathan Wilson’s criticism openly showed how the “three-pass move” was heavily flawed. In the 90’s, English football under the managerial mind of Charles Hughes implemented this idea.

Technically, the long ball theory is a short cut to goal, synonymous to short cut to success (Although there’s no short cut to success). 

The philosophy of “Long ball” theory is directness. Mostly, this philosophy fits with a team consisting more of physically dominating player rather than skill and vision oriented. The center backs are mostly instructed to fly the ball high up the pitch in the direction of the wingers or strikers, which football fanatics often mention as ‘diagonal passes’.

The central midfielders who are subjected to attacking playmaking and defensive blocking duties in the modern game are used in an uncanny role in the old school theory. They are directed to shoot, with some long lobs over the opposition defender’s head to the address of the strikers.

The forwards are naturally motionless and are intended to wait for the long balls in the box. The wingers have a clear-cut objective, receive the ball anyhow, and put the cross in the box, doesn’t matter whether any striker is present there or not.

The concept of stretching the opposition or receiving the pass out wide or behind the full backs is absent. The central mids are genuinely perplexed by the idea of the diagonal pass. The game looks more like a ping pong match as the center defenders continually and purposelessly launch the ball from end to end giving it an impression of a grenade and each defensive third as if a trench.

In short, “Long Ball” theory resembles the shortest way to reach opposition box and the most improbable way to score a goal.

paul scholes
Paul Scholes was a master of lofted balls

Football fans are looking for a proper coordinated, possession and skill-based game

Modern generation football talents have realized a simple fact. To play for the big clubs it’s very much necessary to be technically pitch perfect. Managers like Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola, Arsene Wenger, Jurden Klopp are continuously taking the game to new levels with their out of the box mindset.

Clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and FC Bayern are looking for young prodigies with brilliant technicality, vision, skill set while the physicality parameter is often neglected or considered as secondary.

Football fans are looking for a proper coordinated, possession and skill based game, same what the modern managers demand. Who could forget the revolutionizing mastermind ‘Tiki Taka’ tactic of Pep Guardiola which tormented Jose Mourinho’s direct play, handing a 5-0 humiliation. The youth system of many big clubs is solely concentrating on bringing the skill and vision based players in the spotlight.

While in a different context, the “Long ball” theory may really be helpful to teams which ‘park the bus’ or in a bad weather condition, where playing the ball on the ground won’t find a solution. Often derided as boring and primitive, the “Long ball” theory can sometimes catch the defenders off guard or provide a goal against the run of play.

The Beautiful game demands itself to be played in the most beautiful way, keeping aside the obnoxious way. It’s for the art, the skill, the intelligence and for the vision that the game is recognized, admired and followed all over the globe. Talent should be judged on the technical basis and not on physicality.

It’s high time that the world realizes how the game should be played, partially abandoning the classical theory.

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