At first I assumed this article about England’s chances in the World Cup was going to be the regular apply statistical analysis to sport story. (Not that that isn’t a good story, it’s still amazing that so much money is spent without anyone paying attention to the numbers.) While it does hit on that, it also gets into the effect of Europe’s geography on team styles, which I found incredibly interesting.
From 1970 to 2000, a few continental European countries – Italy, Germany, France and Holland – worked out the best collective style of football. Each of these countries has its own preferences, but all share certain elements: fast, physical, collectivist, one-touch football. Their advantage was sitting in the most interconnected region in history. Football thinkers such as Arsene Wenger and Arrigo Sacchi could travel across porous borders, gathering and spreading knowledge.
From 1970 to 2000, the national teams of these countries piled up trophies. In the same period, the countries on Europe’s margins – the Brits, Iberians, former Soviet republics and Balkans – won none. They were isolated, excluded from the best knowledge networks and, therefore, stuck with their dysfunctional indigenous football styles. The Brits played kick-and-rush. The Greeks dribbled too much. However, from about 2000, the marginal countries came in from the cold. They became more integrated with core Europe, through travel, trade and football’s growing Champions League. Many countries – such as England and Greece – hired continental European football managers. Quickly, they absorbed continental know-how. Of all the formerly marginal countries, none did better out of this trend than Spain.