The Lead

It’s the worst insult in modern football. Not “cheat,” not “diver,” and not any of the kind of words sung cheerily from the away ends in English football every weekend. No, this one cuts to the core like no other:

I follow the Premier League every weekend,” said [Barcelona's Cesc] Fabregas. “They have changed radically.

“What happened with Villas-Boas was they played more from the back, trying to keep possession and take the initiative in the game. But they’ve gone back to the type of Chelsea that was more successful a few years ago – playing on the counter, trying to hit the targetman, long balls, sitting back and using that No 9 as a reference point.

Yes, the dreaded “long ball,” a system of football codified by the retired RAF wing-commander Charles Reep in the 1950s and employed to varying degrees of success, perhaps most notably in Graham Taylor’s 1980s Watford. Reep used bizarro-world analytics to deduce that the vast majority of goals in football came from errors and therefore the key to winning was to punt the ball up to a strong centre-forward as quickly as possible tp catch defenders out of position.

Culturally, the term is synonymous with the (once fairly accurate) continental stereotype of English tactical unsophistication. It’s the fish-and-chips to the Spanish tiki-taka‘s tapas. And it’s a dig at the inability of the Chelsea squad to adapt to Andre Villas-Boas’ attempt to instill a more “vertical” passing game.

It’s also not exactly fair, or indeed accurate. If Chelsea—who are often content to sit back and even concede possession in order to break—play the “long ball,” then Fabregas is merely using the term to denote any team that doesn’t play press-and-possess. But Cesc knows what he’s doing; if tonight does not goes as planned for the Catalans, he can merely use the same Mourinho-era “parking the bus” epithets and ensure Barca remain moral victors, to the death. And, as I wrote yesterday, we already have our annoying subtext to this afternoon’s proceedings…


Match preview of Whitecaps v Sporting Kansas City. And Massey deconstructs the Kansas City Sportings like only Massey can.

A look ahead at Montreal Impact’s tie against DC United.

The North of 49 podcast speaks with Adrian Cann of Toronto FC “fame.”

Various Toronto FC players make the case the sky isn’t falling after all.

Frings is back!


Reading earns promotion to the Premier League, and Southampton is sure to follow. Sad face West Ham.

Joe Cole happy to take a pay cut and enjoy his time at Lille.

Joleon Lescott takes on the Manchester City critics.

Fabrice Muamba has a long road ahead of him yet, despite his hospital discharge.

David Beckham makes the first cut for Team GBzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

RvP caught in a Barcelona hotel. SPECULATION.


Arjen Robben says Juventus have a “bright future.” SPECULATION.

Ibrahimovic only has the Scudetto on his mind.

Marek Hamsik denies rumours he might be leaving Napoli.


Del Bosque reaches a deal with Spain.

Fabio Coentrao takes the blame for Real Madrid’s 2-1 loss to Bayern.

Sid Lowe writes up enterprising Barca winger Cuenca.

Bits and bobs

Jonawils analyzes how Bayern Munich did the business against Jose Mourinho’s RM.

Ed Maylon on the uncertain future of Colombian star Teo Gutierrez.

Brazil prospect Leandro Damiao plans his summer move.

Chuckles on the death of Ceefax.

Controversial ref Ovrebo admits his errors screwed Chelsea in 2009.

Comments (10)

  1. At least RVP had an Arsenal jacket on?

    I remember having something similar to Ceefax in Portugal, and it was my only way of keeping up with North American sports at the time. Never thought a thing about it after the internet became so prominent and whatnot. Still, good memories.

  2. Eh, I read the report on the whole press conference by Sid Lowe ( and there was no taunting or anything of the sort. He was extremely respectful of Chelsea and the dangers they posed having been on the receiving end of many a defeat as an Arsenal player.

    The likes of Soccernet choose to use “long balls” as a derogatory comment so they can drum up controversy and get more hits.

    Hardly some devious Catalan ploy.

    • I did not say those things which you said that I said about the taunting…

      And you really don’t think this was a sly dig at Chelsea’s lack of tactical ambition?

      • The taunting thing was the headline used by Soccernet.

        I don’t see how anything he says (in either the Lowe piece below or the soccernet one) can be construed as a dig of any sort.

        “”With [André] Villas Boas they tried to have the ball a lot more, they tried to not play so many balls long and to not seek out the second ball quite so much. Now they have returned that Chelsea that made them great and led them to win the Premier League and reach Champions League semi-finals and finals. Drogba brings the ball down well, he is very quick, he is strong. They are a very dangerous team for us. They are like motorbikes now when they break forward.

        I follow the Premier League every weekend and I have seen a lot of Chelsea this year. They have changed radically. They are playing incredibly well, I think this is their best moment of the season. With Villas-Boas they tried to be different but they are now the same Chelsea as I knew when they left.”

        He makes some fairly obvious, if broad, tactical observations about Chelsea. He’s can’t exactly go to a long detailed analysis of Chelsea’s tactical outlook in a press conference.

        He’s not claiming one style of football is better or morally superior. That’s just how some people are choosing to interpret his statements perhaps because of their own perceptions on how Barcelona view English football or because it makes for a more controversial (& lucrative) narrative.

        • Which would all be well and good if it were an accurate tactical assessment, which it isn’t. That’s the point here. Chelsea don’t play the “long ball” at all, and Cesc is smart enough to know what he’s doing.

  3. Teo Guttierez is COLOMBIAN, not Argentinean.

    Even though he’s trouble…. Toronto FC should Seriously inquire… Colombians have been able to transition quite well to MLS… Probably will cost a lot, but worth the shot of at least inquiring.

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