I was reading the Betway Blog on what they call the lost art of defending and it got me thinking about how much football has changed over the years.
Before, as former Arsenal left-back Nigel Winterburn says, defenders used to have to, well… defend. They would put their bodies in the way, and had to be great defensively, to get into a top team. Now? It appears it is more about defenders being able to get the ball forward, and start the moves leading to attacking.
And a very simple explanation for this? The massive difference in pitches – and balls to be fair, the old leather casers seemed to weigh a tonne when I was a kid, the modern balls are light as a feather in comparison.
Pitches used to be a mix of sods of turf, mud, blood, sweat and tears. Modern pitches though, with their fancy draining systems and under pitch heating, are a mix of grass and plastic weaves. As the new season kicks off, you can check out the latest odds at Betway whilst considering the change in playing styles. If you look now, keepers often give the ball to a defender to play from the back, you wouldn’t have seen that in the 1970’s. Then again, if you see games from the 70’s and 80’s, the tackles perfectly allowable then, would be seen as assault in the modern game!
One article on these hybrid pitches talk about fibres being sewn in to bind the roots. Apparently just 3% plastic is needed to make all the difference…
Three per cent artificial fibres might not seem much, but Blackwell says these fibres make all the difference. “With a 100 per cent natural pitch, you’ll see changes due to weather,” he explains. “Some pitches will change quite considerably throughout the year. Hybrid pitches maintain consistency and stability.”
So whereas before a defender would get the ball and hoof it up to the midfield or beyond, they now need the technical ability to pass the ball from the back.
Former Manchester United and England central defender, who used to form a brick wall in defence with Steve Bruce, explains he always felt comfortable in possession but the pitches hampered playing it from the back.
“A lot of the issues were to do with the pitches. If you look at the pitches I played on in the early part of my career, they looked like rugby pitches. Nowadays they’re like bowling greens and you can take more risks if you trust the pitch.”
Not everyone is a fan of the modern pitch though, some claim the harder pitches lead to more injuries.
In an article on E&T Mike Davison, managing director of Isokinetic Medical Group (quoted as being part of the FIFA Medical Centres of Excellence Network) says that with harder pitches “….players can reach peak velocities quicker and they don’t get dead legs like they used to on the old soggy pitches. The pitches deliver back more reactive energy to the players, but players will feel the shock going through their bodies, in their joints, bones and tendons.”
High profile managers Harry Redknapp and Roy Hodgson, along with French legend Thierry Henry, have all been critics of the harder pitches. The same article says softer weaves are currently being developed.
Or maybe the modern player just isn’t as tough as the old guard? I think I’d rather see the game played on the modern pitch than the old mud-baths, but then again, at times it could be entertaining as the players went flying, mud and all, whilst kicking the ball.
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