IT’S been a long time since I put the needle to the broken record, but with a half hour to kill and a momentous, context-obliterating week behind us (at least according to some), it’s maybe time to dust off a golden oldie and return to what, for me, is the only theme worth returning to.
Think long term, stick to your guns, don’t let hysteria or fashion distract you from the long term goal. I don’t give a good god damn what’s happened elsewhere. Heads down, thumbs up.
Bayern in Munchen are the new thing. Barca, they were the old thing. Bayern, they signed a load of totemic amazonian workaholic culture vultures and redefined what football is in one fell swoop, didn’t they? And all that with a manager who’s on his way out, Pep Guardiola on his way in (he saw all this coming somehow, the big genius), the football world trembling at their feet, with Dortmund joining them in calling a new tune. All of a sudden. Bayern got great. They decided. We’re going to be great. We’re going to be big and strong and play football this way. And you lot, you’ll copy us, and we’ll go and conquer Europe.
Liverpool, they’re backing the wrong horse all of a sudden. The Barca model? It’s been found out. It’s little kids in a game full of full grown men. It’s tippy tappy in a game full of direct aggression. Segura and Borrell? Get in… who are the Bayern guys? And Dortmund’s? Paul Lambert – he was at Dortmund. Get him in.
And our striker – he’s going to leave! It’s inevitable! And he’s the only reason that this ‘new Liverpool’ hasn’t got us relegated this year, isn’t he?
I’ve a half hour, as I say, so I won’t spend too long on why I think all that’s nonsense, but here are a few reasons.
Bayern only got this good because they had to get this good. Dortmund are the main reason they had to get this good. Bayern got to the final last year. But in their own eyes, they still weren’t quite good enough. They had to dominate. And they couldn’t dominate Dortmund then. Not yet. Dortmund (not to mention the other domestic competitors) got into a long-term groove a decade ago that’s seen them grow and grow and build and build to a stage where, facing Real Madrid at home in a European semi, they were capable of obliterating them. The bar was high and getting progressively higher. Bayern had to get as good as they are to get back to where they were used to being. And they did it. And quickly.
That’s the habit we lost along the way.
Real Madrid, in turn, were the same as Bayern, only it wasn’t as easy. They struggled a long time, but they had to get better than maybe they’d ever been just to put Barca back in their box for a while. Barca, who got into a long-term groove several decades ago that saw them grow and grow and build and build to a stage where [insert pantheon defining litany of unprecedented success, which of course, thanks to Wednesday, is now abruptly over].
Real won the league breaking records for points gained and goals scored. But the season after they’re back in Barca’s wake. Real had to be that good and stay that good, just to compete, but they’re struggling. They’re holding on to the habit we lost along the way, teeth gritted, the tsunami of commercial income washing over them year on year, tempting them into quick fixes they’d be wiser to subjugate in favour of long-term grooves.
Dortmund, Barca, we talk of models, but it’s as much about timelines as it is footballing styles. Barca’s outmoded style? Slot in two, maybe three players and they could feasibly emulate Bayern’s style without breaking stride. Experience, physicality and tactical nous, a tweak in shape, and things are instantly different. Get the front three to graft harder, hungrier, and things are instantly different. It wasn’t so long ago they boasted Toure in their ranks. A fit Puyol. Physical presence, experience and nous. People use terms like ‘found out’, but the fact is the core of their approach is sound, and has them winning their league at a cantera and in another European Cup semi final.
Dortmund, meanwhile, are in Bayern’s shadow this season, so it’s easy to forget it’s their long-term perspective and joined up thinking that’s seen them arrive at this point. Who knows? Maybe another two big money departures will set them back a year or two? Chances are they’ll reinvest, but whether they’ll go for instant gratification is another matter. They’re inclined to think long term. The core of their approach is sound, and they know it. They understand it.
So we can prattle on and panic, but the fact is we ought to be hoping we think the same way. The calm, boring, steady way. That we stick to our guns and get into a long term groove that sees us grow and grow and build and build to a stage where… well, we can dream again.
Liverpool’s manager talks from time to time about Barca’s mode of play, or the club’s desire to emulate Dortmund’s long-term approach. Committees, sports psychiatrists, all that jazz. Technicians, multifunctional players, ‘attacking football with tactical discipline’, okay. They’re just words. Whoever was at the helm, and whoever ends up at the helm in the near future, they’ll say much the same things.
You might not like it, but you better get into the groove.