The rise of defense as a winning strategy
In times of recession and economic hardship, the natural tendency of companies is to look to retain customers as much as possible. This can bleed into other functions, such as when competing, let’s be defensive. Although business is not soccer (i.e. infinite game vs finite game), there’s some thought provoking analysis we can draw, by seeing what the FIFA World Cup in Qatar is showing about the importance of defense.
I grew up watching and playing football (a.k.a soccer, in the US). Love the sport in every aspect: the basic yet beautiful simple rules, the traction it has amassed globally, and the lessons of teamwork and character that it builds in us who play it. One of my favorite aspects, of course, is watching how winning strategies have evolved through the years, and the importance of certain roles in the team.
Defense as a strategy
The Financial Times published an interesting piece on the stats and data from the FIFA Qatar World Cup 2022.
More running, fewer shots and greater goalkeeper involvement.
It looks into FIFA’s published stats for the World Cup. Some stats include age of player, distance run, ball touches etc. The one that caught my attention the most, was the corroboration to my hypothesis that Defense is the new King.
The rise of the goal keeper figure
Today, while most young kids idolize super start strikers with acrobatic beautiful plays and goals (yes, the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi), undoubtedly the most difficult role in the team is that of the Goal Keeper. Think about it.
- Their position has evolved the most of any other role. Teams now play from the back to maintain ball possession. Goal keepers are considered an 11th player on the field, not just the specialized role that stays to guard the flag.
- They are the ones that train the most. They have specialized Goal Keeping training for improving their reflexes, blocking technique, and even how to land properly without getting hurt. But they also participate in team training as another regular player with long runs, ball drills, and lots and lots of footwork.
- They have a thankless job. Their performance is based on minimizing their mistakes, not on their positive contribution in the form of scoring goals, for example. People remember more and pay attention to one small mistake that cost the team a goal; few remember the number of good saves and blocked shots on goal.
As the FT piece points out….
The average number of passes made by each keeper per match has increased only slightly to 28 from 26.5 in 2018
Here’s a chart on how much GK’s raise their hand to receive a pass (known as a “reset” by some), and their actual reception. That is more touches, than other players in, perhaps a striking position.
Historically, teams that adopt a predominantly defensive strategy, have been frowned upon. Jose Mourinho, the famous and polarizing Portuguese coach was known for “Parking the bus” as a method to win game. Well, today, as we can see from the under dogs, lower ranked teams results, and amount of 0:0 ties, that a good defensive approach, pays dividends.