Pro/rel enables competing ‘schools of thoughts’

This is a great podcast discussion between Gary Kleiban and Kephern Fuller during the 2022 World Cup, but covering a lot of ground about soccer in the U.S. and around the world.

Really good points at 47 minutes in about competing schools of thought. We don’t have that in soccer in the U.S.

We don’t have a way for competing ideas to be tested and trialed against each other. This goes for players, positions, tactics and coaches.

We tend to have one school of thought about these things all the way up the chain.

One example they mention that our school of thought considers a good midfielder to be what they call “a destroyer,” which is a very athletic player who can run all day, win 50/50s and tackle the ball off opposing players.

We tend to favor those, at all levels, over midfielders they call “creators.” Creators have a better touch on the ball, are creative in creating scoring chances. Creators are more like point guards in basketball. They also do things that aren’t that obvious to the casual observer that tilts the advantage in their team’s favor.

I’ve witnessed the affection of the destroyers at all levels, too. A destroyer winning tackles gets “ohs and ahs”, while a creator pressuring the play toward a 1v1 mismatch in favor of our team doesn’t get noticed.

A destroyer getting beat on a tackle when he’s the last man and then making a recovery run and committing a ‘professional’ foul is a ‘smart play.’ Never mind, he made a bad percentage calculation in going in for the tackle in that situation in the first place.

On the other hand, a creator that consistently makes pinpoint passes resulting good scoring chances are written off, if even noticed. I can see it on the faces of the casual observer and coaches alike, “lucky pass” or “anyone can pass the ball.” I wondered how many ‘lucky passes’ it takes to get someone to consider that maybe there’s more to it. Turns out, folks, including coaches, can stay stuck in their biases even with large amounts of counter evidence. And, when that player happens to make one mistake (as all players will do), that is used to write off all the good they have done.

Fuller had something similar on the previous podcast he made with Gary. He said that it’s not that he thinks he has all the answers. He would not have picked Erling Haaland, for example, when he was younger because he doesn’t fit the prototypical model of what he thought of as a striker.

But, that’s why it’s good to allow for competing schools of thought, because someone else can disagree with Fuller and give Haaland a shot and prove to everyone that maybe they ought to reconsider what they think of as a striker.

But, folks like Haaland or even Messi may have had a tough time getting attention in the U.S. because they do not fit our predominant and largely uncontested school of thought.

I know that’s hard for folks to understand. In their simple world, the ‘cream rises to the top.’ They don’t understand how deeply biases can run to keep that from happening.

I heard fairly recently the school of thought that wrote Haaland off as just a “tap in specialist.” The first question I posed when I heard this was, well where are the other tap in specialists that score so much? They should be a dime a dozen if tapping it in is all it takes.

And, I’ll personally put that one to bed. I attended Haaland’s first game with Man City, in the exhibition match in Green Bay. I sat behind the goal where Man City was warming up. I love being close to those world class players because I get a really good sense of the quality of their touch. I remember thinking how good of touch De Bruyne, Grelish and Foden had in the warmups and then Haaland touched the ball and I could see he was a notch better and was shocked that you could be even better than the best.

So, how does pro/rel enable competing school of thoughts? By putting more of those schools of thought to the test on the field, rather than where they take place now, in the politics of soccer.

Thanks for reading.

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