From the Touchline: Sometimes the Manager and Tactics Don’t Matter

From the Touchline

Like many of you, I watched the Champions League final with intense interest to see what promised to be a fascinating tactical battle. Like most of you, I was rather surprised with the ease in which Real Madrid dispatched of a Juventus side that had conceded three goals in their entire Champions League campaign. In the days since I’ve listened to numerous podcasts and read many articles/posts/thought pieces to figure out what went right and what went wrong in the chess game that two managers play. In the end, I’ve come to a conclusion: sometimes the manager and his tactics just don’t matter.

This is not to say that Massimiliano Allegri had his tactics correct in the match. In retrospect, he probably should have started with a back four and held out Barzagli as a tactical substitution. Or Allegri could have gone with the 4-2-3-1 and possibly slowed Real Madrid’s 4-3-3. Maybe he could have substituted this player or that player and had a different starting XI. Over the past four days I’ve heard all of these opinions and more from intelligent, well-paid pundits to explain a 4-1 thrashing no one saw coming.

We live in a curse of our own making. Information about football and the mechanisms behind it are more available than ever before. Every day I read reports on matches from multiple continents and using just my mobile phone can watch highlights, live matches, or replays of any number of leagues and clubs. Games like FIFA and Football Manager have made us savvier on how different tactics work in different match situations allowing us to think more critically of what we watch. Since the sport was invented, we as an audience have been the smartest we’ve ever been in what we are consuming.

Because of this, we are loathed to accept that sometimes none of this knowledge matters and that Occam’s Razor applies. In football, this means that sometimes the better side wins. Set aside all the tactics and view Real Madrid and Juventus on paper. The Spanish side are an incredible specimen. Their best player – who is also maybe the world’s best – is in this phase of his career reinventing his game in many ways where while he is still dominant, it is as more of a 9 than the style he had previous. Up and down their roster Madrid have players whose skills exceed even the better players in similar positions. Combine this with a coach who has experienced their perspective and can translate that into coaching, and an unprecedented history of winning at the highest level, and this Real Madrid side is phenomenal.

Could Allegri have done something different that made a difference? Maybe, but would it have made a big enough difference to deter a driven Madrid side? Probably not. Like scientists who view a sunrise, we so often want to understand the bits and pieces that make what we are looking at so beautiful, so we can talk about it, look smart, and better understand how we can experience this. Every once in a while, though, we should just recognise magnificence when we see it. The only thing that could derail this Real Madrid side in this tournament is themselves, and they were near perfect in this match.