Ugly football or negative football is often derided as being bad for the game, however I believe that ugly, hard working, strong tackling are qualities not only invaluable for a team to succeed but also good for the game as a whole and contrary to popular belief good and exciting to watch.
Brad Gilbert the former tennis player and coach to players such as Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray was famed for his unbreakable will and ability to “win ugly”.
There are several Premier League teams that are noted for their ability to win ugly, the likes of Stoke, Blackburn and Bolton who have all succeeded in their modest ambitions of remaining in the league year after year after year, Manchester United and Chelsea also have that ability and are the only recent teams to win the Premier League, their old adversaries Arsenal slower to cotton on.
Brad Gilbert also author of the book “Winning Ugly” appears to make a very important point that winning ugly is just as important as winning with style and grace, after all you don’t get any bonus points for how good the victory looks. As Jon Stead put it after Bristol City’s loss this weekend:
“Pretty football is all very well, but yields precious little reward if it is not backed up by a solid work ethic and iron discipline.”
A lot was made of Holland’s hard hitting World Cup campaign marshaled by Manchester City’s Nigel de Jong and Bayern Munich’s Mark Van Bommel but as Arjen Robben said before the final he was more than happy to have the workman like tag attached to the team and insisted all he cared about was the result. The former Chelsea man said:
“I would much prefer to win a very ugly game than lose a beautiful one.”
While the team had its critics from its homeland after their narrow defeat in the final, few would have complained if the ugly approached had yielded one more good result like Stead was taking about.
Frequently you hear football fans claim that they’d rather their team tried to play nice football and lose rather than play negatively and grind out a result. But as Patrick L. Cohn suggests in his article “Winning Ugly: Use Whatever Works to Win” that is surely an irrational state of mind.
“Some athletes get stuck on making their performance look pretty or perfect and this can actually hurt your chances of winning. Some of my golf students, for example, are happier shooting 72 while hitting the ball well instead of shooting 70 and scraping the ball around, but scoring well.”
There surely can’t be many Arsenal fans that wouldn’t like their team to take winning ugly a few times a season away from home when needs must if in the end it reaps a greater good. Indeed many commentators on the sport believe that winning ugly is very important and the reasons Chelsea and Manchester United have indeed succeeded, where others have failed.
However the same compliment is rarely shared for teams such as Stoke and Blackburn who base their game on grinding out results and maximizing their potential to win by playing the odds and getting the ball into the box as frequently as possible, rather phrases with negative connotations are attached to these teams, who may in fact just be making the most out of the game and indeed winning ugly,that is not to say it is not interesting to watch.
Blackburn and Stoke are two of the teams that have perfected the art of winning ugly, playing the odds and getting the results. Indeed at one point during last season it was reported that 42% of all Premier League goals had originated from dead ball scenarios and indeed in the past five seasons the percentage of goals scored from the dead ball has never been less than 30%, so why not utilize the advantage that a set play can bring you.
Blackburn never say no and in turn 59% of their goals scored in 2009-10 came from set pieces, the highest ratio in the division. That doesn’t look set to change this season and although Mark Schawer was definitely fouled during Blackburn’s goal in their one all draw with Fulham this weekend, the Australian goalkeeper and Arsenal target hardly covered himself in glory though by coming and failing to connect with several of Blackburn’s lumps into the box that looked more like scenes out of a WWII film, it is exciting and fascinating to watch such a test of character and clearly it brings it results.
The same applies with Rory Delap’s long throws at Stoke, indeed Ricardo Fuller came fractions away from converting one of these throws for what would have been the winning goal in this Saturday’s early kick off against West Ham. One of the main complaints I hear about this “unattractive” football by fellow football fans is that it’s not enjoyable to watch. However I don’t believe that to be the case.
Are there any Stoke fans who disapprove of Delap’s throw and the goals they create? Or Blackburn fans who don’t enjoy it when Robinson’s long balls end up in the back of the net? Or Bolton fans when Kevin Davis scores or assists with his head?
Not only do I believe that fans enjoy watching this, I believe that ugly football is good for the game, and creates a platform where these teams can give the top teams a decent run of their money. Blackburn where undefeated at home last season by Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United and picked up three points against Arsenal, all of these games where tense edge of your seat affairs, every tackle cheers as if it were a goal.
You only had to watch Chelsea Blackpool this weekend to realize that ugly football makes the game better. Chelsea were so comfortably in front at half time, we may well have all gone home after the 4th goal. Despite Holloway telling his team was much improved due to their attacking style in the second half they were much better, the truth is they weren’t, Chelsea had eased down to second gear and missed more chances than they will the rest of the season.
A team who would have been prepared to knuckle down, work harder in defense and played the odds would have created a much more interesting spectacle.
Ugly football certainly has its place in the league and without doubt creates some great results for its exponents and that’s exactly why it’s worth its weight in gold, it gives fans something to cheer about, it makes the league more interesting, and at the end of the day that’s all we want.
As Robben put it:
“We have heard enough of talk about how our football is very nice. But it gets you nowhere. We want to achieve something.”