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In Defence Of Boring Football

For long periods of last weekend's much-hyped clash between the Victory and Sydney, the Big Blue threatened to become the Big Yawn. Graham Arnold's side had come to Etihad Stadium with a point to prove, or rather, to leave with a point.

In tactics which were much-derided during the week, Sydney FC simply compressed space in midfield, sat back behind the ball and made sure the Victory couldn't play their brand of football.

The old-school called it a tactical battle, while the neutral called it a dull, stifling contest with barely a shot struck in anger. Victory eventually found a goal (from an own goal, mind you), and thus Sydney's tactics were derided.

However, would the situation be any different if the Sky Blues had taken a point or even managed a sneaky 1-0?

It has been clear on a few occasions this season that Sydney are well and truly prepared to win ugly, and despite last week's loss the Sky Blues find themselves entrenched inside the top six.

They're not setting the world on fire, but do they really need to be? Does every side need to play with a lassaiz-faire, come-what-may attitude to the sport, or is there room for a side which plays as much without the ball as it does with?

The commentary surrounding the match at the full-time whistle was that Sydney wasn't exactly doing a great deal to help the 'brand' of the A-League.

In a day and age where sport is as much about providing an entertaining media product advertisers can hang their hats on, the debate around Sydney FC's brand of 'enterprising' football exposes the seeming conflict between developing the game and the need to promote it.

Sydney is a notoriously fickle sporting market, where the punters will turn up or not based on a whim. Sydney-siders generally appreciate a good, glitzy product and deride a dour, turgid one. They'll also vote with their feet if a side isn't providing the entertainment they need to justify a costly night out with the family.

However, they also appreciate a winning brand -- as the city's embrace of the Sydney Swans during the Paul Roos era demonstrates. The Swans were the ugly ducklings of the AFL, but by God did they get results.

The question is whether Graham Arnold and Sydney FC will be able to balance the need for results with the need to get the punters excited about their side. With the Wanderers playing an exciting style across town and, subsequently, sitting top of the pile, the need to be able to cut through to the neutral is very prescient, to say the least.

Sydney is the largest and most important market for advertisers, too, so there's no doubt the FFA will want to see both sides packing the punters in each week. There is, however, one thing which has been overlooked in the debate over Sydney's dour playing style: sometimes you need to be dour.

There's much been said and written about the Olyroos' exit from the Olympic qualifying tournament this month, and how it was the second tournament in a row where the juniors had failed to fire. Much of the focus has been on the inability of the side to put the ball in the back of the net, to be sure, but there's been an equal focus on the much-derided National Curriculum.

This is a document which is essentially a blueprint on how Australian representative sides should aspire to play, and sets out a series of coaching goals in order to achieve that.

Derided as being 'Dutch' (even though it's a mish-mash of different styles), critics of the curriculum have slammed the document for essentially teaching side to play one way and one way only.

So what happens when the Socceroos of the future are up against a vastly superior side? Do they try to play their same proactive way and end up leaving themselves exposed?

In recent years we've seen the Socceroos having to play on the back foot against sides such as Japan, who have better technical ability and are able to keep the ball for large amounts of time.

Against Spain at the World Cup, even though it was a dead-rubber, the Socceroos looked out of their element trying to defend against the pass-masters.

So would giving players the tools to be able to sit in behind, compress space and frustrate other sides be beneficial?

If sides from the grassroots up are being taught to only play in a proactive, possession-based style, does it leave room for anything else? Does it leave room to be able to adapt to a style which may work from time to time?

Sometimes the best offence is a good defence, but in the rush to market football as an exciting brand and develop the next generation as technically gifted and proactive players we risk forgetting that.

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