The great attractive football myth

I used to spend a lot of time in Italy. And given that I'm a football obsessive, I watched a lot of Serie A while I was out there. Christ, it's dull. And I mean, really dull. Really, really dull.

There's no questioning the technical ability of the players in the Italian top flight. You rarely see mis-hit passes or poor ball control. And what's remarkable is that Italian defenders tend to have the same technical mastery as Italian forwards. I guess that, in itself, is pretty special.

But matches out there are more like games of chess. Slow, cagey, tactical. Sure - they are infused with incredible skill and technique - but they are, I have to say, boring. I've almost lost count of the number of 0-0's and 1-0's I've seen over the years in Milan and Rome.

Of course, Italian players have always been held up as examples. Many rightly so - Paulo Maldini would certainly play at left back in my all-time greatest X1. Anyway, let's get to the point.

Horses for courses


You know, I can deal with Alessandro Nesta and Paulo Maldini exchanging passes on the edge of their own penalty area. These are/were world class footballers playing in a rock-solid formation with superb midfielders in front of them who knew how to take the ball from defence into midfield - and keep it. It was rarely exciting, but it worked.

On the other hand, when I see Richard Dunne and James Collins playing the ball across our back four, I don't feel warmed by the resulting passing statistics. What I feel is hard to describe: but it is a combination of horror, fear, outrage and that gut-wrenching sense of impending doom. The knowledge that it's all going to end in tears. Probably mine and yours.

Gerry Houllier trumpets his belief in "attractive football", and he's clearly got all the lads looking to pass the ball square instead of going forward. That doesn't suit our players. And I think there's a pretty strong argument to say that it doesn't suit the Premier League either.

On what do I base that?

Well, look at the two most successful sides in the Premier League since it started.

Manchester United base their whole game on movement. Movement of players, and fast movement of the ball. They tend not to construct goals with 20+ passes - they tend to hit you with pace and they live the coaches' dream of "making the ball do the work". At their best, they're devastating - and they're at their most devastating when a move consists of 4 passes, not 40.

Chelsea, on the other hand, use muscle to add to their swag bag of world class talent. They have pace and width to match the best of them, but their spine is big, rugged and aggressive. Just look at it: Cech, Terry, Essien/Mikel, Drogba - it bristles with muscle and menace.

And yet we want to take the Premier League on with an ill-thought-out diversion into continental style football. Our first team regulars haven't been playing it. Our Academy graduates haven't been playing it. But now, on the whim of some ageing Frenchman with an axe to grind, we all have to fall in line on the basis that it's "attractive football". It isn't. It's fucking dire.

There's nothing attractive at all about giving the ball away in your own half. And there's nothing clever or noble about then saying: "we were trying to play attractive football". Gezza doesn't understand that he can't ask Richard Dunne to be Alessandro Nesta. He can't ask James Collins to be Paulo Maldini. It's crass, it's doomed to failure and it will seriously undermine the confidence of our youngsters in the more senior players behind them.

I think it's almost a hanging offence.

Attack and entertainment

Like many of you, I knew we had lost the game at Anfield early on. My kids went to bed early because they couldn't be bothered to watch the rest. They knew nothing was coming. We all knew nothing was coming. And they weren't being entertained by Villa - they were being bored and embarrassed by Villa.

Making lots of passes isn't entertaining and it isn't attractive. Scoring goals is immensely entertaining and immensely exciting.

Now the bit that will raise some unrest amongst the ranks.

I have, still, some serious issues with Martin O'Neill's management of our team. Decent players were bought and left to rot in the reserves on high salaries. Equally decent players were played out-of-position far too often when there were obvious alternatives to all of us.

But the football wasn't dull. It was exciting because we moved the ball quickly, and we attacked with pace and with width. Every side we played against - including the Big Four - feared us for our ability to attack full backs and turn defence into attack fast. It was real Premier League football: it was successful, it won points, it won friends, and it got us to Wembley and into Europe.

That's attractive. Making twenty passes in your own half before giving the ball away isn't.

Sort it, or go

I asked a number of questions of Gerard Houllier in my post yesterday. It's my view that he should have had the answers to those questions weeks ago.

Look - we aren't embarking on an Arsene Wenger-style evolution here. Houllier is too old, and doesn't have the two decades to invest that Wenger has had.

That's why his decisions are catastrophic and why he is more than likely to plunge Villa into dire relegation trouble very, very soon.

I will back Gerard Houllier until the end of February - once we have had a chance to see the results of his manoeuvres in the January market. But I see it black.

I see it black, I'm afraid.