While trying to unwind, and let my mind turn to mush in the few weeks off between games and training that I have over the Christmas period, I was mindlessly scrolling social media, not a care in the world, and I came across this video on Instagram. It caused me to tweet; "This kind of thing is too complicated and rarely works in real competition. Please stop teaching it."
Social media is full of clips like these, and you may think it does no harm. It's just honest people trying to help others, and bring a little joy into this dark world of ours. I'm not so sure. Maybe I'm a Debbie Downer or a Killjoy. But the content we consume shapes our perception with the world around us. As someone who has recently taken on a lot of responsibility within the futsal world, I spend a significant amount of time having to convince people of their ill-conceived misconceptions about the game. "It's all just tricks and flicks, innit? Not like real football."
I'll never get tired of sharing this goal. I may not have achieved in life, but I have coached a team that scored a goal as good as this in the most important game of our season.
I'm showing you this because it's not all flicks and tricks. And neither is football. So what irked me about the aforementioned Instagram video? I'll explain, by sharing my private tweets:
"This kind of thing is too complicated and rarely works in real competition. Please stop teaching it."
"There's a reason why you don't see it happening in the Premier League, La Liga, and World Cup, despite them being world class players. Those defenders would be too wise to it. They don't dive in, aren't fooled by the extra movements, and take on better stances to react to the play."
"The best dribblers use the smallest number of actions possible. Quite often they're not even manipulating the ball to beat the opponent. They're adjusting their body shape, changing their stride, over exaggerating some movements, changing speed, changing direction."
"The whole point is to disguise and deceive. Hide your true intentions from the defender. Make them think you're doing one thing, but you're actually doing another. You're essentially telling a lie. The best lies are the most simple."
"I mean sure, you can impress some twelve year olds on Instagram though, which seems to be how our entire modern capitalist society has been shaped. But it won't actually win you games."
"All those players you watch on TV every week can do this move with their eyes closed. Despite being world class players, they never do it in games, because it just wouldn't work against real defenders who are also of that level."
"So much of the football content on social media is based on embarrassing your opponent. Put the ball in the net. Win the game. Make your opponent lose. That's more embarrassing than any skill you can make them fall for."
They say that a lie is half way around the world by the time the truth has finished tying its laces. Much like many content that fills the internet, it's false. How many takes did it take to get it right? The defender was a stooge. And we know it wouldn't work in a real game. But it looks cool, and for social media, that's all that's important. I get that it's a thirty second video posted on an app that only has sixty second content, and it's just a guy breaking down the components of a complex move. But it's precisely because it looks cool, because it looks easy, and that it is presented without context, that it warps the mind of impressionable young viewers.
There is some excellent football content out there that is PhD level when it comes to being interesting, insightful, and ground breaking. It garners a few interactions on Twitter, and little else. Yet transfer rumours and WAG gossip often go viral. This is the world we live in now. More people watch Love Island than they do David Attenborough documentaries. It's very, very sad. As coaches, we can only really mind our very small corners of the universe. We need to do our part to educate players and help them develop useful tools to play the game.
To finish, let's have a look at Messi's assist against Croatia the other week. Truly phenomenal.
What are his motivations here? It's not to embarrass his opponent. Messi wants to retain possession, advance the play, and put the ball in the net. Embarrassing his opponent was a by-product of his excellent play, not the reason for it. Croatia lost 3-0 and were sent home. That's embarrassing.
What did Messi do? He changed direction, changed speed, shielded the ball, and kept putting his head up to scan and look for options. There was actually nothing complex or flash about what he did. It's incredibly basic. And now he's a World Cup winner, in addition to leagues, Champions Leagues, and a Copa America. Suppose his skills don't need to be flash because the trophies do all the flashing for him.
But, fundamentals are boring and don't get likes on Instagram. Might win you a World Cup though.