Well, the World Cup is over.
The players have returned to their clubs. The national managers are going back into hibernation, or down to the job centre. And Dion Dublin will have to go back to “Homes Under The Hammer “.
Of course, for Wrexham things don’t change. We’ve been carrying on all through the tournament, weather permitting.
This is the point where we consider what lessons can be learned from the World Cup, and there certainly are things we ought to remember from Qatar, even if it’s to try to treat our fellow human beings rather more humanely.
We’ve also learned that Messi is definitely the Goat, while Elliot Lee remains the Goat-in-Waiting. However, a radical shift in the game means that, frankly, the biggest tournament on earth is no longer where we can learn new tactical ideas.
Even the likes of little old National League sides like Wrexham have been applying the most interesting strategies we saw in Qatar long before the competition kicked off.
It’s fascinating to see how quickly ideas now drip down to the lower levels from the top of football. It used to be that the World Cup was completely alien to what we’d watch Wrexham play on a Saturday. However, a couple of factors mean that the things you see on the world stage are easily transferred to lower levels.
Firstly, the standard of coaching has clearly improved across the board. Players are technically better now, and there is no question that the insistence on coaching badges in the professional game is a major contributory factor. We are now seeing a generation of technically proficient footballers come through who, almost entirely, have been through the academy systems. Even if they haven’t, the chances are they will have had prolonged contact with high-quality coaches.
These players are able to assimilate ideas more easily, and show more flexibility, because they have been coached to do so, and have developed a wider range of technical skills.
The easy availability of football from around the world is another factor. Scouting services can be subscribed to, which will allow a manager to watch any match, from anywhere.
Furthermore, social media and streaming means that most games and players can be watched in real detail by all of us. As a consequence of this, concepts which are tried out at the top level can be understood and replicated by managers at lower echelons of the game.
Take, for instance, the excitement when Sheffield United deployed overlapping centre backs to gain promotion to the Premier League. It was seen as a novel tactical innovation, the likes of which would probably take years to filter down to likes of us in the past. That’s no longer the case though: we were using exactly that system at the start of last season!
It was interesting to see the idea of Rest Defence being given a wider audience during the World Cup. The concept of a rigid defensive shape, maintained when you have the ball to make sure you’re not open to a counter-attack, is now starting to gain more prominence as fans catch up with the idea.
Yet we’ve already been applying the idea, indeed it might be argued that the turning point in our season came when we introduced a more conservative approach by selecting Jordan Tunnicliffe at the back and asking him to be less progressive than Max Cleworth.
Cleworth did nothing wrong, but exploiting Tunnicliffe’s rugged solidity rather than Cleworth’s ability to step up during our attacks has introduced increased defensive cover when we don’t have the ball, and the results are obvious. Tunnicliffe has yet to be on the losing side for Wrexham, having started every game since his debut. Thos games have yielded 11 wins and 3 away draws, with just 8 goals conceded and 7 clean sheets.
While the idea of rewarding Qatar with the World Cup without demanding human rights reform was abhorrent, I still enjoyed watching the best players on earth perform in mid-season while they’re still fresh. However, I don’t feel I learned all that much. Watching Wrexham is as good an introduction to modern tactical concepts as you need these days.