Non League and Sunday League Football

Football: A Science or an Art?

By Alex Morrey-Jones

The great Pelé once called football ‘The Beautiful Game’ and although the game has evolved so much since the Brazilian superstar first graced the pitch, his words ring truer than ever. Football is the most watched, most played and most beloved sport in the world. There are many reasons why fans from every corner of the planet universally embrace ‘The Beautiful Game’ and the sheer unpredictability that comes with it, but what makes football stand alone above every other sport in the world? Is it the complexity of the tactical battles and managerial masterclasses, the rigorous training regimes and meticulous preparation for matchday? Or do fans love the pure artistry of watching players showcase their talent and the creative flair that not many other sports allow room for?

One of the greatest ever football managers, Pep Guardiola, revolutionised the game with his style of play, epitomised by his Barcelona sides between 2008 and 2012. Guardiola came through the famous ‘La Masia’ youth system and spent 17 years as a player at Barcelona before going into management with the Catalan Club after retiring. The tactical focus of his teams encourage aggressive pressing and controlling the game through possession. He once said that he “loathed tiki-taka football” and “Barca don’t do tiki-taka”, citing it as pointless possession with no intention to create chances. His style of play was more structured, more thorough, more scientific. During his managerial tenures at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now, Manchester City, Guardiola has seen his demanding and detailed tactical approach brush opponents aside with ease, often embarrassing them with humbling score lines. The hours of complex research and repetitive drills on the training ground are there for all to see, with his teams so well drilled and consistent at both ends of the pitch. Each player knows their role when defending, limiting opponents and denying them possession and chances, to suddenly spring into potent and ruthless attacks sustained by attacking full-backs and advanced wingers to suffocate the defence into submission. The system is so detailed, and every player is so well coached that squad rotation rarely affects performance as any member of the squad can seamlessly slot into the team and conduct their duties. As a manager, Guardiola has collected 34 major honours and trophies, cementing him as one of the all-time greats.

Although Guardiola’s success can be largely credited to his tactics and scientific-like approach, his teams also played some incredibly attractive football. One player in particular produced some of the most magical moments ever seen on a football pitch. Lionel Messi crowned a glittering career with a long-awaited World Cup medal as he led Argentina to Victory over France in arguably the greatest World Cup final ever witnessed. On the pitch, Messi defies science and many fans claim him as the best player of all time. An artist at work, his inventiveness and creativity with the ball make him impossible for defenders to stop. Football games can be won by tactical brilliance and preparation, but sometimes there is no match for individual brilliance. Few sports in the world possess the creative freedom and flair that happens on a football pitch. The showboating, the showmanship is what makes football such a spectacle. Throughout the years, we’ve witnessed some true artists with a ball at their feet, entertainers who get fans off their seats. The likes of Pelé, Best, Maradona, Ronaldinho, Zidane, Messi, Neymar and many more have dazzled fans of all generations and produced unforgettable moments of pure genius.

There is no denying that science is a part of everything in life, especially in organised sport. With elite athletes and huge financial backing, performance is always being pushed to higher limits and optimised with new tactics, equipment, facilities and resources as teams battle to gain the competitive edge on those around them. Football is much more complex and detailed than it used to be, thanks to developments in technology and the constant search for success. However, all the science and preparation can go out the window when you step onto the pitch. 11 vs 11. Who has the talent and the skill to outperform their opponents? A manager like Pep Guardiola treats football like a science, and his tactical obsession is proof that games can be methodically controlled and won, turning his teams into trophy-winning machines. Despite the ever-growing presence of science in football, there is also no debate that the sport is a form of art and requires a certain skillset than only few possess. It’s nearly impossible to declare football as either a science or art, but more a combination of the two. Which side of the argument do you lean towards?

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