Culture. DNA. Style. Philosophy. These are just different words that tells about the structure of a football team or club.
If the club is a building, then those words explain what the building looks like. Different clubs have their style of play on the pitch and the culture off it. But, the question is, “what’s the philosophy behind a club’s style of play? What is the culture influencing the club on and off the football field?
We’ve asked this questions severally. Sometimes we get the answers, other times, we don’t. For the sake of this article, I’ll try to define it.
The culture or philosophy of a club is the general idea that serves as the foundation for building the club’s activities. To use the analogy of a house again, while the club is the skyscraper, the philosophy is the blueprint used in building it. It serves as a metric to evaluate operating decisions and results.
In a football club, a philosophy influences the style of play on the pitch, the signings pursued and the type of coaches employed at clubs with sporting directors and chairmen’s. It encompasses the general plan for the club’s present and future ambitions.
Take Manchester City for example, their coach Pep Guardiola has a style of play which is easily identifiable when you see his team play. There’s a culture around the team both in their tactical preferences as well as the kind of signings brought in to the club. Everyone has to contribute to the same thing – the synergy of all parts to make the visualised whole work – the culture. Having been an integral part of the FC Barcelona famed La Masia football revolution, it’s easy to understand Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City culture.
It affects how they see themselves going forward, their expectations and the metrics that show how well they reach those expectations or if they don’t.
In the case of Liverpool FC, their style has been consistent since the appointment of Jurgen Klopp as manager. The club has a fixed identity which may evolve later on that was introduced by the manager with the backing of his employers as well. Their style of play while different from Manchester City, is unique to them and the profile of the players show just that. Their style of play on the pitch is complemented by the right signings that fit into the system, creating a more widespread quality fill ups for all available positions.
What these two clubs have in common is a clear style which guides how they operate. They may not attack the same way but they follow the same basic idea. Set a good and stable foundation and then build on it. With respect to the owners of the clubs, they back the manager even when things aren’t going smoothly as well as provide the players fit for the system instead of a scattergun approach. It’s long-term thinking.
This brings us to the opposite, a noncoherent style or the lack of one.
Clubs without a basic philosophy laid down as foundation to be built on are like leaves in the wind. They blow wherever it takes them to without a clear destination in mind. They huff and puff but without a general and clear foundation, they have no way of measuring progress which is a vital tool since long term success is gradual and doesn’t always come all at once.
Without a proper metric to measure growth, when these teams hit the rocks there’s no way to measure how far they’ve come and how to get out of the rut they’re in. There’s no way they can make a plan while discounting what led to that position that they’re in. You can’t put a helipad on a hut.
What do they do? They scramble at the first sign of trouble, sacking the coach and bringing in a new one who has an entirely different tactical style. They also sometimes forget that the sacked coach doesn’t put his own signed players in his briefcase when he leaves.
What we see afterwards is a team with disjointed philosophies personified in a coach who may prefer longball tactics while the players are predisposed to keeping possession with short passing.
Who Should Adapt? The Coach or the Players?
If there is a system that decides the type of players,coaches recruited as well as the overall style on the pitch, then this wouldn’t be an issue.
When this system isn’t in place this is what happens:
• A new coach comes in, sees the present players don’t fit his style so keeps the adaptable ones, try to sell the rest while pursuing his own targets that fits into his own tactics.
• He may get his targets while clearing “deadwood’s” and incorporates the new recruits into the team which still doesn’t have an overall strategy they rely on.
• He achieves success on the pitch which with all due respect isn’t secure since the strategy for achieving it isn’t built on the club but on the manager who papers the cracks with the aid of a few star players. If he does leave at the end of a successful period, he takes the blueprint with him for it was always built in him not the club. The club usually suffers for this. Manchester United is an example.
• He gets into a bad run of form which culminates in him getting sacked and the board appointing a new manager who promises to improve the club fortunes with the aid of his own style of play. Mind you, the players signed by the sacked manager do not leave with him which brings us back full circle. Chelsea is a good example of this.
=> Repeat steps 1-3 or 4.
You can’t substitute a good foundation, a clearly defined philosophy and a detailed plan to achieve. A plan that defines growth metrics clearly as well as influences the recruitment process cannot be praised enough.
Dynasties come and go but a dynasty has to be built from the ground for it to reach it’s peak. The foundation on which it’s built on lies in the culture and philosophical ideologies of the team. At the end, they do add up.