Nowadays there are different playing systems but at the very beginning of football history they didn’t exist and footballers only played to score, without any parameter or strategy. With the evolution of this sport, some people started to think of ways to improve it and make it more tactical.
But what is a playing system in football?
A system of play is the set of tactical instructions given from the coach to his team. It is divided into: attacking system and defensive system.
In the first games, formations were very different from the current ones: for example, in 1872, when England and Scotland played the first international football match, the English line-up was 1-1-8 and the Scottish one was 2-2-6, basically just attacking.
In the ‘80s of the XIX century the ‘Pyramid’ was introduced, with its 2-3-5, by Cambridge football team and it spread all over the world. It was used until the 1940’. In those years there were others playing systems, such as the ‘WM system’ (the letters are the shapes of the positions of the players in this system) with its 3-2-2-3, introduced by Herbert Chapman, Arsenal coach in the 1930s; the ‘WW system’ adopted by the Hungarian coach Marton bukovi and used by his countryman Gustav Sebes in the 1954 FIFA World Cup, when his team won the competition.
From the 1950s have come into being systems of play that are still used today. First of all, the Italian ‘Catenaccio’ or ‘The Chain’, made famous by Nereo Rocco, which gave importance to the defence with a 1-3-3-3 formation.This let the Rocco’s Milan win two UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, two European Cup, three Coppa Italia and two Serie A.
After it,there was The Brazilian game that brought forward the ‘Total Football’ : the South American style (4-2-4) was offensive, tactical and ‘bailado’ with its famous move called the ‘Ginga’ of Pelè. In the 1970, the Ajax coach Rinus Michels introduced the ‘Total Football’, a playing system without regular roles and a certain mobility. The Dutch coach won four Eredivisie titles, an European Cup and three KNVB Cups. This playing system laid the foundation for the game plans of all the biggest European teams. One of these is Guardiola’s Tiki Taka, which has its roots in the Cruyff style and is based on 4-3-3 but it gives its importance to short passages and possession of the ball. This style of game led Barcellona to win 6 trophies (including Champions League and La Liga) and the Spanish international team to win the 2010 World Cup.
Another system of play is the ‘Gegenpressing’ (which means ‘counter pressing’) by Ralf Ragnick, and consists in the uncessant pressing to tire the opponents; its original line-up was 4-2-2-2 but some coaches, such as Jürgen Klopp, uses a 4-3-3 formation. He, using this game plan, won several titles, such as the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund and Champions League and Premier League with Liverpool.
Every football coach develops a strategy that fixes better to the team, sometimes using an old one with potential alterations, sometimes inventing his own game plan, but at the end, is there a universal winning strategy?
All these playing systems could be efficient or not, but probably it is not all about the tactics, maybe we have to consider another crucial element for the success: the mentality.