Daniel Chapman | Writing etc

Luciano smashed the glass.

It’s been bloody awful playing Barnsley in recent seasons. They’ve always had a poor side, misfit players thrown together for a regular battle against relegation. No team with a cartoon bulldog on its badge should be competing in anything above an under-14s tournament, and Barnsley shouldn’t be surviving in the Championship. And yet there they are, season after season, looking to ‘kick on,’ and, annually, beating Leeds. And beating us hard and true, too. 4-1 last season was the absolute bottom of it all, but the 5-2 at Oakwell in 2010 – the infamous dvd game – is the one that has stuck in my mind. Or, more specifically, the image of their fifth goal, as Hammill ran through from the halfway line, and Richard Naylor made an inexplicable run to the right back position, tracking a Barnsley winger who didn’t exist. That’s the image that has come to mind whenever I’ve thought of Barnsley over the last two seasons: Naylor being pulled like a puppet to the side of the pitch while the Tykes, with the twee-est club nickname in northern England, scored a fifth goal.

And Luciano smashed the glass.

Neil Warnock’s sides over the years have been so grizzly that you wonder if he writes his teamsheets by pressing his face against an old chip wrapper and getting Ronnie Jepson to photocopy the sweatmarks he leaves. That’s the style, sorted, at least – be hard, don’t lose. Some tactical nous does lurk within the WarDome, however. Leeds looked all over the place at the start against Barnsley, with passes going astray, runs going unseen, players tripping over each other and allowing Barnsley to stream forward. Aidy White in particular was a mess, as every position he tried to take up seemed to be filled by a teammate, leading to confusion and mistakes. Twenty minutes in, then, Warnock changed the formation, to three at the back with White and Byram as wingbacks. The author of the slightly tweedy tactics blog Zonal Marking was once asked why he didn’t feature games from The Championship, and he replied that the sheer number of games played in the division stifled tactical innovation, as it became a contest to see who could pick the least knackered eleven. To an extent that’s true – and is perhaps a tactical challenge of its own – but to give the Warnosaurus his due, he has built in a flexibility to his team despite the meagre resources and injury crisis he’s had to deal with. We all knew White could shift from full back to winger, but nobody other than Warnock suspected Peltier could work as a centre-half; with Byram comfortable in midfield or defence, Diouf able to partner Becchio or drift out wide, the Austin-Brown-Tonge midfield a revolving triangle of players sitting in or getting forward, Colin has managed to ensure that if plan A isn’t working some sharp barks (and some pleading with Diouf) are all it takes to put plan B into action.

And Luciano smashed the glass.

Unfortunately plan B often resembles plan A, and I guess plans C, D and E, too. Block the opposition, waste time, and get this over and done with. The responsibility for sparking a win is placed on individuals, rather than on the team – Leeds United might go out intended to win, every team does, but they’re not set up to do it. They’re set up not to lose, and to hope that Diouf is interested in doing something special, Austin or Tonge might have a long range special up their shorts, or Byram might pass under the radar of the opposition. It’s miserable fare a lot of the time. And while running down the clock against Forest or Everton is one thing, gesturing to the ball boys to slow down in the first half against Barnsley is quite another. But then, we are where we are, and I would have been happy for Warnock to stop time if it meant we could finally beat Barnsley.

And Luciano smashed the glass..

Creativity in football is normally used these days in the Barcelona sense. Xavi, Iniesta and Messi are creative – together they invent goalscoring opportunities and, by extension, goal. By that measure, there was zero creativity in Leeds’ win over Barnsley. White, Peltier and Diouf had been making a real meal of things down the right hand side, unable to decide between them who should run, who should pass, who should dribble. It was clear that together they could get round the left back, but they couldn’t get their act together and do it. It took Peltier to make a decision, to forget White and Diouf and to just drive towards the box himself with the ball at his feet; it took a chest high tackle to stop him, leaving Peltier winded on the floor and referee Darren Deadman awarding a penalty for a foul that looked to have taken place outside the box. A goalscoring opportunity given, but if you asked a purist, not created.

And Luciano smashed the glass.

But there is another kind of creativity, where teamwork in the movement of a passage of play is replaced by individual thought in one of football’s few gaps. Creativity is about solving problems, and the simplest problems often require the most creative solutions. For example, you are given the ball, and invited to put it into a net from a distance of twelve yards. There is only one real obstacle – the goalkeeper – but getting over that obstacle requires ingenuity, confidence, knowledge, and skill. It requires creativity. In this instance, it also required Luciano Becchio to bounce the ball off the forehead of Ben Alnwick, who was still moaning about the award of the penalty. Becchio caught the rebound on his own head, bounced it there a couple of times, then caught it and walked away. Creativity. The first solution to the problem of the goalkeeper: display absolute confidence in yourself.

And Luciano placed the ball on the spot. And he picked it up, turned it slightly, and placed it on the spot again. He stood up and took four paces backwards. Then Luciano took the four paces forward and leaned down again, lifted the ball, replaced it, and stayed bent over, his hands barely touching the ball, not moving it, waiting. Creating an atmosphere of expectation. Creating a screen of fogged glass between Ben Alnwick and the future. Luciano took six paces back. And then he smashed the glass.


From The Square Ball magazine 2012/13 issue three.