I was struck by Sid Lowe’s article in The Guardian this morning. In it, he does a great job breaking down the role Victor Valdes played in Saturday’s el Clasico. For those of you who didn’t watch (shame on you), Victor had a brain cramp of absolutely epic proportions when he misplayed a pass out of the back straight at Angel di Maria. A deflected pass and a blocked shot later and you have Karim Benzema planting the ball in the back of the net. Twenty-three seconds into the match and FC Barcelona were trailing a hungry, powerful, league-leading Real Madrid team in Madrid.
In Lowe’s article, he points out (as have many others – I just think he does it particularly well) that Valdes stayed true to the preferred Barcelona style by continuing to play short passes out of the back. Ball control and possession are key to the side’s style, and it starts with Valdes, who personifies the “sweeper-keeper” position. Lowe draws a contrast with the standard English style, which often relies upon the keeper to hoof the ball upfield after a back pass. He also points out how Carles Puyol played the role of team captain perfectly, by calming the team down and assuring them that there was no reason to panic and abandon their preferred style. For Lowe, all of this amounted to ‘bravery’, and I agree with him. The brave keeper or defender is often identified as being reckless and willing to sacrifice physically for the good of the team. However, in this case, the bravery was also mental – if you are so confident in the guns you brought to the duel, you had better stick by them. The brave player knows that abandoning all you have worked so hard for at the first moment of adversity is tantamount to cowardice.
Sid also discusses various aspects of Barcelona’s play – their passing, movement off the ball, and the frustration it induces in opponents. All of that is important, and FCB’s players also realize that small errors, insufficiencies, and mental lapses can make that approach crumble. As brave players, they know that after such lapses, they can only recover their chosen style by sticking with that style…playing the wrong way is a loss, regardless of what the scoreboard says at the end of 90′.