A VIEW FROM THE CLIFF . . .
WHEN THE BIG DOG BITES BACK!
As a manager of a non-league football club, this past week I was extremely interested to see how Burton Albion would do in the first-leg of their Carabao League Cup semi-final against the mighty Manchester City. After, all two of the greatest names in football management were coming up against one another for the first time:
Clough v. Guardiola – what a contest it had the potential to be!
Unfortunately, potential does not always equate in reality.
Of course, there is no shame in what befell Burton this past Wednesday. Not by any stretch of the imagination are they the first team to be simply overwhelmed by the class and quality of Manchester City, both in terms of the individuals that they have playing for them, but also in terms of their style of play. Additionally, it is not my intention to in any way besmirch the Clough name or to belittle the achievements of Nigel Clough as a manager.
Instead, the point I am trying to make is that, whilst everyone loves a cup upset (apart, of course, from those that are on the wrong end of them, like Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and, this part third round weekend in this season’s FA Cup, Leicester City!), the reality is that the majority of the time it is the ‘big dog’ that will win through. Nevertheless, as an aside, I cannot let the opportunity pass without mentioning Barnet’s success in the FA Cup as an ‘underdog’ against Swindon Town during my own playing career – what a wonderful day that was after a fantastic team performance!
With that in mind, what is a lower league team meant to do when they come up against an opponent that is clearly more than a few classes above them?
In an ideal world, there is no doubt that most managers would like to stand by their principles and believe in the quality of their tactics and their own ability as a manager.
But is this just a fantasy?
In view of the fact that, as I have said, more often than not it is the higher league team that will come through, is it better to do as most managers do and look to operate on the basis of damage limitation? To keep things tight with a view to profiting from any complacency or errors that might arise or, at the very least, keep any defeat respectable?
For what it is worth, it is my view that it is better to compromise your principles in a game against superior opposition than rely upon the strength of your own tactical nous and your own team’s ability to work together. That should not be taken as a slur by any players who find themselves in a team involved in such a contest but simply just their manager looking to be realistic.
Put simply, the reality is that a significant defeat by a superior team could absolutely demoralise a team of lower league players which could derail an otherwise successful attempt at promotion or sound the death knell for relegation. In my opinion, it is far more beneficial to look to minimise the potentially negative impact of a cup defeat for a lower league side to a superior team in the long run, however much we would all like to go down in history as the latest ‘giant killer’!