Simon Kuper’s latest article for some site called Mio Stadium is already gathering some momentum in the football media stream. While it purports to reveal the “secrets” of Barcelona’s play, some of this will be familiar to Barca nerds, not least those subscribed to AllasFCB2′s YouTube channel.
Still, it’s worth reading in part because it’s the fruit of Kuper’s on-going conversation with former La Masia coordinator Albert Capellas, a man who worked once with Iniesta and Victor Valdez. And there were some points that I was not aware of, including the almost mindbogglingly simple-yet-effective 3-1 defensive strategy:
4. The “3-1 rule”
If an opposing player gets the ball anywhere near Barcelona’s penalty area, then Barça go Italian. They apply what they call the “3-1 rule”: one of Barcelona’s four defenders will advance to tackle the man with the ball, and the other three defenders will assemble in a ring about two or three metres behind the tackler. That provides a double layer of protection. Guardiola picked this rule up in Italy. It’s such a simple yet effective idea that you wonder why all top teams don’t use it.
Indeed. There are a few lessons here underneath the obvious tactical advice. The first is that any team should be wary of simply hoovering up Pep Guardiola and expecting the Barca manager to work miracles no matter the team, its history, its playing philosophy, or its players. In fact, his relationship with the Catalan club indicates in part the importance of getting the right manager for the right football culture. Barca had long been steeped in Johan Cruyff’s Dutch attacking philosophy; it appears that Guardiola’s innovations have largely been in defense. He was also obviously intimately linked with the club throughout his career.
Second, that Barcelona’s system requires immense technical skill, beyond either the developmental or financial means of many European clubs. Take for example, the “One Second” rule:
Joan Oliver, Barcelona’s previous chief executive, explained the risk of transfers by what he called the “one-second rule”. The success of a move on the pitch is decided in less than a second. If a player needs a few extra fractions of a second to work out where his teammate is going, because he doesn’t know the other guy’s game well, the move will usually break down. A new player can therefore lose you a match in under a second.
This is less a “rule” than an insanely ambitious playing standard. Barcelona set the seeds first and foremost with the establishment of the elite La Masia academy three decades ago. Most teams don’t have the benefit of this system and so therefore will struggle to match that “one-second” standard, no matter how big a player they are in the transfer market. Kuper concludes as much in the article.
Still, there is enough in this approach that smaller, less-financially powerful teams might attempt to instill it at their respective clubs. Brendan Rodgers Swansea is but one example of a club that presses as fiercely as they value possession. You might need a La Masia to own Europe, but the other principles can serve clubs of all stripes and budgets.