Culture in football is something that’s always changing. As new people enter the game, new ideas are brought with them. It’s an ever-changing organism, something that you need to keep up with, or you will be left miles behind, with football looking at you disappear in the rear view.
In terms of English Football, there was a massive change in the 90s. Try and cast your mind back if you can. Saturday night watching Des Lynam presenting Match of the Day. The football was mostly scrappy, pitches were in poor condition, and challenges were flying in. A few clubs had their own identities. It was ‘Boring Arsenal’, ‘Dirty Leeds’, ‘Newcastle’s Entertainers’ and Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side just won everything.
However, something hit our screens that would change fans perception on how football could be played. When Channel 4 started airing Football Italia on a Sunday, it opened our eyes to a new form of football. Yes, we had seen teams come up against English sides in European competition, seen the national side come up against sides with different class. But these were just snap shots. With Football Italia we got an in-depth look in a different football culture.
When I asked people on twitter to give their views as to why it appealed so much, the main answer was Gazza moving to Serie A. But it wasn’t just the loveable Geordie that kept people tuning in. It was the Italian culture, it was the kits, it was seeing team’s week in week out play a brand of football we hadn’t seen in the early stages of the Premier league. It was new, it was engrossing, it was just better.
Yes, in the English game we had players that could occasionally get you off your feet, but the Italian League had teams full of them. It was just the class of players; it was how they played the game. It wasn’t the one-dimensional approach of the English game, it was measured, thought through, tactics and formations that were as alien to us, as they may have been to most the managers in the early stages of the Premier League. Fans saw something new, and they wanted more.
English clubs would have to change their approach. So, players were starting to be brought in from foreign teams on a larger scale than seen before. The quality of the football would improve, players like Gianfranco Zola, Faustino Asprilla, who we had seen tearing defences apart for Parma on our screens could now be witnessed in real life. But with a new breed of player, new managers would need to be brought in with a continental feel, or at least new ideas on how to set up the team.
Arsenal were first. When they brought in Arsene Wenger, he changed the philosophy at the club, brought in players who completely changed how they played. Teams would now have to adapt to how Arsenal played. Sir Alex Ferguson could be seen as the best example of how to adjust to this new ‘culture’ of English football. While the man remained, he changed his coaching staff to adjust with the ever-changing world of football. He would move from Brian Kidd, Steve McClaren, Carlos Quiroz to Rene Meulensteen. Sir Alex showed that he was content with just sticking to type and would move with the times.
Even when Sir Bobby Robson came home to Newcastle, he brought a wealth of experience, and tactical nous he had built up over the years managing in Holland, Portugal and Spain. There were stories that in training, Sir Bobby would get the team to work on throw-ins, a tactical approach we hadn’t yet seen at Newcastle. This is no dig at Keegan, but it was a far move from his entertainers, when we would go and watch them train, it was just watching a high-quality kick about. Ideas in Football were changing, and some managers were changing with them.
The need for change has never been needed more than in the current form of the Premier league. As more foreign managers are dominating the game, those British managers need to acclimatise to this new approach in football.
A new breed of manager are coming through. All of which have either worked with these trend setters or played under them. Yet there are still managers in the league that look out of place in 2020, yet would look at home in the 1990’s.
The term ‘Football Dinosaur’ has crept into the language and culture of modern English Football. Unluckily for Newcastle fans, we are the owners of one of these dinosaurs. Steve Bruce seems to have an approach to football that just isn’t suited to the modern game. Where other managers are playing chess, Bruce is playing snap.
The modern player needs more than an arm around the shoulders, they need to know exactly how to approach a game. Yes, there have been some decent results so far this season (West Ham, Burnley and Everton) it has come with a fair amount of luck. The team most recently were out thought and outplayed by Hassenhutl’s Southampton’s side. If things are looking tough, he reverts to something that could work in the mid-90’s….bring on the big man and pump it forward.
But it is becoming predictable, the teams we play against are prepared for it. You just have to watch the Amazon specials with Man City and Spurs to see how much work is put into game preparation. Sides are changed to suit the opponent. Bruce will stick to the same 11 in the hopes the game turns out the same as the week before.
Now I understand that some players appreciate the man-manager style that Bruce brings. But like so many before him, he needs to change and adapt to the ever-changing football landscape. If he is not able to change from type, he needs to bring coaches in around him that can help the team change and adapt. He should learn from a manger that helped him fill his trophy cabinet in Sir Alex.
The culture in football is different to when Bruce started managing, never mind when he was playing. However, he just doesn’t seem to be able to change with the times. While he remains firmly rooted in his old-school style, it will only hurt the team, the club and the fans. We are becoming easy to play against, becoming predictable, and no matter how much we are told Bruce is doing a good job, the evidence is not there.
On paper the start has been ok, but football isn’t played on paper. Unless Steve Bruce can evolve with football, it may be time for the ‘Football Dinosaur’ to become extinct.