Total chaos is a better description for Norwich City's labours
PUBLISHED: 21:53 25 April 2017 | UPDATED: 21:56 25 April 2017
Johan Cruyff, the father of total football, would have turned 70 on Tuesday.
A milestone to celebrate his vast influence on the game was instead a sad reminder of his passing too young from cancer.
Among the many tributes from the great and the good last year was this, from Gary Lineker, “Football has lost a man who did more to make the beautiful game beautiful than anyone else in history.”
It was not simply the trophies. The three consecutive European Cups at Ajax in the early 1970s or the three Ballon d’Ors. Nine Dutch league titles and one La Liga crown at Barcelona. It was the style and panache he led his club and country in an era that revolutionised the beautiful game.
The Holland side of Cruyff and Johan Neeskens and Johnny Rep that reached the 1974 World Cup final and again four years later - albeit minus Cruyff’s direct influence in Argentina - was the masters of total football.
Later, Cruyff’s philosophical leap forward was evident in his coaching career at Barcelona and revived by one of his former pupils, Josep Guardiola.
Put simply, total football was and is the tactical theory any outfield player can take over the role of any other player in the side. When one player vacates his current position on the field, a team mate replaces him, to retain the overall shape and organisational structure. In essence, it hinges on the ability to sense danger and adapt quickly.
World Cup success may have eluded that great Dutch team, but Cruyff’s vintage was total football at its purest, matched perhaps only by Guardiola’s modern-day Barcelona when Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta were at the peak of their collective powers.
But the principles and the fundamentals of Cruyff’s legacy should endure. Which is a long-winded and admittedly convoluted descent into nostalgia to arrive back at this current Norwich City vintage. Less total football, more total carnage too often in the Championship this season.
Go back again, if you can stomach it, and look at the worst moments over the campaign and there is a common theme - visible more often away from Carrow Road - where the team’s shape has become frayed, fractured and disjointed. Where the organisation is lacking and adaptability is non-existent.
It is far too easy to single out individuals for blame after calamitous errors. Culpability is proven in most cases but why have Norwich’s centre backs been routinely exposed? Why have City’s midfield been routinely over-run at places like Barnsley or Brighton or Sheffield Wednesday? Why have full-backs been routinely overloaded in wide areas, such as Huddersfield’s visit to Carrow Road before Christmas?
Never was a more telling graphic produced to underline the muddle that has stunted any prospect of a concerted promotion push than the one Skysports unveiled, as part of the build up to Friday’s 2-0 Championship win over newly-promoted Brighton.
With an understated title of ‘positives and negatives’ it ranked City’s productivity across a variety of attacking and defensive metrics.
Second best in the division for goals scored, market leader in terms of shooting accuracy and the deluge of home goals or league goals in the first half of games. But those of a nervous disposition should look away now. By way of contrast, the worst in the Championship at conceding headed goals. Second worst in away goals conceded and league goals conceded in the second half of games. Third worst in the damning category of total goals conceded. A brutal, stark dissection of Norwich’s vast inconsistency.
The ‘we score one more goal than you’ mindset that appeared to encapsulate Alex Neil’s approach was an exciting, alluring, intoxicating outlook wholly unsuited for this Norwich collective in the Championship slog.
City mastered the attacking dimension while seemingly disregarding the need to be just as cohesive and just as willing to focus on what they did without the ball, as much as with it.
Stuart Webber once again this week has driven home the need for an identity and a culture to take root. Total football may be a stretch but totally prepared football for the challenges home and away should be within the sporting director’s remit at Carrow Road.