Some time ago I came across an article about the ways in which defending evolves in football. The author, Christian Spiller, mentions how it functioned many years ago, emphasizing that, as it transforms, defending changes the game itself. In particular, nowadays it is about taking fewer risks and doing fewer hard (sliding) tackles. The bottom line: tackles are sliding into the abyss because no one wants to take a risk. (Part of it is due to the rules, as Slipper points out.) While it was certainly an interesting read, I suddenly realized that I might have a totally different idea of what the standard is.
Being not that knowledgeable about the sport, I started watching football in 2002 and definitely did not pay close attention to what the defenders were doing. I remember Roberto Carlos and my amazement, but that was about it. As it is the case with quite a few of us, a striker was always a much interesting option! (The attractiveness of spotlight.) And then Lahm appeared. It was him who really made me cross to the “dark side” and forget all about the strikers, teaching me to appreciate the defense. For me, what he did back then and has been doing ever since is art. It is the art of defending.
The story of me becoming aware of the defense explains why I think the surgical, Lahm-like, way of defending is the way to go. Spiller states that “Philipp Lahm, for example, dominates the surgically exact tackling as Bobby Moore 42 years ago. With an action like that, he is hardly becoming a legend.” (my translation) I interpret this as the way of saying that what Lahm does is not as uncommon anymore. (I do not agree with that; it is not as easy as it looks.) Moreover, I sense some sort of nostalgia on Spiller’s part for the way the things were a certain number of years ago. I, personally, do not consider it a decline. On the contrary, I believe it requires more talent to not simply knock your opponent over, giving that sliding tackle all the vigor of which you are capable. In my mind, when you do that, it means that you either do not have what it takes or were just late, not being able to get to the opponent in time. I firmly believe that what Lahm does is what others should aspire to. Lahm’s approach makes him a legend in my eyes.
The irony of it all is that in the first match against Arsenal, which happened after the article had been published, Lahm did do that knocking-over kind of tackle. He was outplayed, hence came the reaction. (It was a necessary one, but that is another matter.) It fits with Spiller’s nostalgia but contradicts my understanding of what a good tackle is.
And then there was a tackle in the second match against Arsenal. I called it a “tactical foul” in one of my previous posts, but now I am not sure. Looking at it over and over, I cannot say that Lahm was outplayed. What I see in the picture suggests that he could have reached the ball first and could have done a “hook”. From what I understand, that was his first intention. At the same time, it seems to me that he did not try to grab it. (Perhaps, he realized he did not have the time to do that? I am a bit lost.) Can we conclude it was a good tackle gone wrong? I do not know. But it was certainly not the best.
The following is clear: one gets used to good things very quickly, which is exactly what happened to me, and my idea of a proper tackle differs from that of Spiller. (Besides, I am fine with defenders getting back on their feet as soon as possible, whereas Spiller does not seem to be excited about that.)
I also should mention that this is what I took away from his article. Whether it is its main point, I am not sure, but if you, dear readers, ever feel the need to point out something else, feel free to do so.
The article I am referring to: