Attempting to understand what individual brilliance means

Throughout the season, I came across the same phrase multiple times. The phrase is “individual brilliance”. Knowing that I don’t have enough knowledge about football and mainly my own team, Barcelona, I decided to ask people about the correct definition of individual brilliance in football.

Apparently, individual brilliance is an uncommon case in football in which players use their individual talent to score and create chances. In other words, scoring and creating chances become dependent on the players themselves instead of an amazing invisible hand which controls players like chess pieces called a “system”.

I felt so ignorant so, again, I decided to ask what a system is.

Apparently, a system is a set of rules players follow in order to win a match. It apparently consists of passes in midfield and then a chance creation from one of the midfielders. In a system, no player really portrays his individual talents nor does he win matches for a team using them. In a system, the team “looks like a team” and the pieces don’t act on their own.

I felt so relieved that I could finally grasp the ideas behind “individual brilliance” and a “system”.

Now, let’s move to the Barcelona side of the story.

Apparently, during Pep’s era and the eras before that Barcelona followed one unique system to win matches. This system always proved to be successful. This system never depended on individual brilliance. All the players passed the ball around in entertaining fashion until they reached the opponent’s goalkeeper and whoever touched the ball last claimed the goal just because football rules say so. Most chances were created by the midfield while the forwards simply waited for the ball and had minimum effect on anything but scoring.

An absolute shocker happened in 2014 when the fans learned that Luis Enrique does not work under the same system. On the contrary, his plan was to completely destroy everything related to the system. And consequently, he decided to depend on individual brilliance to win matches while he asked midfielders to just stand there and look pretty.

So, I decided to dig deeper and what I found out was shocking.

What if Guardiola had a system but also depended on individual brilliance?
I’m not crazy. Hear me out here.

What if Lionel Messi involved his individual brilliance under Pep Guardiola to win matches? I know this might sound shocking to many as apparently Messi was just as effective as any other player under Guardiola. Guardiola had a plan and a system.

Messi was lucky to have a coach as great as Guardiola who implemented every single detail of the system properly. Messi was just a player who had some talent to add the final touch to every goal. Messi’s work didn’t really involve any individual brilliance.

Iniesta was just like any other midfielder. He made some good passes. But, again, he succeeded because he was part of a successful system. Actually, the same could be said about Xavi. Again, neither of them involved their individual brilliance in anything.

Wait! For a second there I thought I understood that individual brilliance was only applicable around the attackers’ zone. Does that mean that midfielders and defenders never apply individual brilliance? This is getting more complicated than I thought. But, hold on, I might just reach a point.

Rijkaard’s era is actually a great example as well. During Frank’s time as coach he applied the same system and never ever depended on individual brilliance.

What’s that you say? Ronaldinho?

Ronaldinho was just like any other player under a successful system. He barely ever involved his individual brilliance in anything. I don’t get how you don’t see that. The same applies to Deco, Eto’o and the others too. That Rijkaard team was a result of a pure system just like Pep’s.

Sadly, I never really understood football.

The thing I do know is that individual brilliance is at the heart of this sport. Coaches arrive with a style of play. They give players certain instructions and roles on the field. They do follow a certain system and a style of play. They modify this system hoping to overcome different types of opponents.

Individual brilliance exists among players from the goalkeeper to the last forward on the field. A goalkeeper can be brilliant enough to predict an attacker’s shot, save it, and then start an attack for his own team through a free defender. The defender can brilliantly control the ball he receives and then choose the right teammate to pass to. The midfielder can brilliantly switch play to the other side of the field where that place happens to be empty.
The forward who receives the ball can brilliantly get past two players and score an absolute brilliant goal.

A few minutes later a group of journalists will sit down and start writing the headline: “Club X wins because of individual brilliance”.

And again, I will read that headline and hope that someday I can actually understand football.


  1. Good read Chief… just a sidenote, in reading some of the comments in Kevin’s last post. Can people please remember to respect opinions?
    Calling someone’s post ” insane troll logic” because they pointed something out YOU don’t necessarily disagree with is the very definition of —-.

    If all you’re going to do is try and talk down to people with opinions ( Really Peter? I get you just HAVE to, for some reason, defend the 3 Zubi defender signings, but it is certainly NOT “insane troll logic” for anyone to suggest they aren’t panning out so well atm) then please just say nothing at all.

    1. First, hi Chief! Good read as always.

      Second, thanks FCB16 I appreciate it, how I am accused of “insane troll logic” by stating that he bought two players with injury prone histories that are now broken (surprise!) and one isn’t good enough ( Can anyone defend the Douglas signing?)…

      that’s a new low of ” holier than thou” that I had hoped this site had done away with. Zubi is gone,good riddance to that, and no amount of mud slinging in any commenter’s direction ( because as you stated, Zubi needs defending for some reason?) is going to change that.

    2. I am not sure I understand this completely. But in any case if what you’re saying involves me in any way I’ve always respected people’s opinions.

    3. I’m not sure I understand the instant aggression in the comments here. If someone has written an article for us to discuss, politeness suggests we should make some attempt to debate it before moving off topic. Seems a bit harsh on Barca Chief who writes occasionally for us !

      Looking back at the last set of comments I can see how “insane troll logic” comes across as a bit strong. However, maybe these comments would have been better placed in the last article in reply to the comments which appeared there. I’m sure most of us still check the last one just to make sure we haven’t missed anything insightful. 🙂 Also, usually here ( unlike most internet sites,) a simple pointing out of overly strong language will suffice and negate the need for a response in the same vein.

      FWIW, Mathieu made 46 appearances last year. That’s not injury prone in my book. I also think I recall that the latest injury was picked up at training which can happen to anyone.

    4. I mean I can’t think of anything more dismissive than ” insane troll logic” Jim haha.
      Mathieu has battled injury before and the older you are… The more reliant on pace you are.. The harder it is to come back strong.

    5. I went back to read, and re-read the comment in question. When Peter referenced “insane troll logic” he was in no way, shape or form referring to, or attacking anyone personally.

      Rather he was referencing the idea, the notion that a player’s injury can be blamed on a sporting director, and the championing of certain players over others, etc.

      People decided to take it personally, which is where the problems arose, and led to a comments thread getting hijacked. We are not our ideas.

      I have been called names. Directly. My ideas have been attacked. Directly. It’s part of the deal in a space such as this. Further, people who take umbrage with things should remember to practice what they preach. To wit, from above:

      Calling someone’s post ” insane troll logic” because they pointed something out YOU don’t necessarily disagree with is the very definition of —-.

      If all you’re going to do is try and talk down to people with opinions ( Really Peter? I get you just HAVE to, for some reason, defend the 3 Zubi defender signings, but it is certainly NOT “insane troll logic” for anyone to suggest they aren’t panning out so well atm) then please just say nothing at all.

      That is indeed a direct attack on Peter, and NOT his ideas. It also uses a vile, misogynistic word that would make any woman in this space, reconsider her presence here. This is followed up, again in this comments space, with:

      that’s a new low of ” holier than thou” that I had hoped this site had done away with.

      This is again a direct attack, but on the site and the mods who run it as well as the commenters herein. We should be able to discuss and disagree with ideas. That’s the point.

      Neither cited instance is fair OR respectful. I don’t expect anyone to do anything except say “Can’t we speak our minds, etc, etc.”

      But as this comments space continues its descent into a mere message board, remember that WE, the users, are responsible for that tone. Two people took umbrage with a comment that wasn’t directly aimed at them, so much so that they have derailed an excellent post with immediate attacks. And that isn’t fair to Barça Chief, who put a lot of time and effort into his post, because respect isn’t just due commenters, but writers as well.

      If the only thing posts are going to serve as is a new space to continue arguments from a previous thread, why don’t we just post pictures or a headline, and open the comments.

      But if people come here for quality articles and thoughts, from posts to comments underneath those posts, it is imperative that EVERYONE contributes to an atmosphere that builds respect for EVERYONE’S ideas. Everyone’s. As noted above, we are not our ideas.

      So from a mod in this space who no longer comments for the precise reason I am motivated to write this note, I urge everyone to have respect for any and all ideas. Because if we don’t have that, what’s the point? We might as well post articles and not have comments. But comments are a lot of what makes this space interesting. It’s a free exchange of ideas. When that stops is when the real problems start.

      I don’t give a damn what ANYONE thinks. But I care very much about respect.

    6. It is a matter of pride that this blog, which has infinitely less “trolls” and MUCH MORE respect for people’s opinions that esteemed sites such as (which is now a part of the Football Collective project, check it out!!) and, still wants to achieve higher standards of quality.

      Kevin, to be fair to you I think extremely few people really care about the other’s opinion, but yes respect is of the utmost importance and it is painful to see attacks at people directly.

      It really wouldn’t hurt to be a little more polite to others.

    7. I assure you Kevin, any “misogynistic” language (not sure what you are referring to exactly?) was completely unintentional.

      I see you placing more of the blame on me and the other commentator for deciding to take umbrage with Peter’s comments, rather than Peter himself ( I personally don’t care how long or often he posts, there’s no reason to be snide towards people) . Not sure why… And YES I am attacking what many here have stated before, that some posters relish the opportunity to talk down to be outright dismissive of others.

      I’ve seen it complained about many times before, which is why I made my comment

    8. Apparently I shouldn’t have waited until today to post, but here it goes:

      @agar2515 and BA.

      “Insane troll logic” is an actual trope, it wasn’t meant as an insult. I don’t find your view that Zubi was a bad transfer manager insulting; what I find insulting is that you resort to “Look, three guys injured at the same time! Who’s the genius that signed them?” to make your point.

      Vermaelen is recovering. Was signed injured, but with definite possibilities to return to full fitness with conservative physiotherapy. It didn’t work, but even the surgeon that operated him later stated that what Barcelona had done had been the right thing. And don’t pull the crap with his constant injuries at Arsenal. Everybody is injured at Arsenal, except for Alexis Sanchez, who doesn’t take a day off just so that he can keep himself in optimal shape. If you look at his appearances, it seems Vermaelen was always rushed before healing completely, due to the injury list accumulated. We’ll see how good he is once he recovers. If he recovers, of course.

      We also haven’t seen enough of Douglas to form an opinion. The fact that he used to be preferred to Montoya says a lot (about both of them). But you can be absolutely sure, this player was never for this season.

      As a closing to this biased rant, if you’re going to be objective and want your opinions to be respected, then you have to be objective.
      I have seen many culers throw abuse at Zubizarreta for signing Douglas, Mathieu and Vermaelen, but on the other hand,
      Far too few have made anything more than a passing remark about Zubi whenever Hallilovic does some of his thing, whenever Denis Suarez drops a perfect assist for a team mate, or when Ter-Stegen wows the public into silence with yet another of his displays of Adriano-like ambidexterity, vision, passing or coolness. From most reactions, except for at BFB, you’d think Ter-Stegen and Bravo were signed by the individual brilliance of the elves.

      The coin has two sides. It always does.

    9. FCB16, there isn’t any blame, rather the observation that a shoe fits on both feet. Your observation about tone and seeming condescension is accurate. Aggression, sarcasm or condescension tends to raise hackles and obscure the point of a message. And what could be a discussion becomes a defense against seeming aggression.

      It’s why I stress that we are not our ideas, and respect. If respect is present, sarcasm and condescension aren’t. It’s the continued challenge of discussion something that arouses passion in supporters.

  2. Great article Chief. I think the last sentence is particularly what’s so enthralling about football. We will never understand a world where stats can mean so much and so little. i.e. the season Messi scored 91 but missed a crucial penalty vs Chelsea. Brilliance or lack thereof can be defined in just an inch and that is just crazy to me.

  3. LOL… Great article.

    Hope this doesn’t sound “bad”… but I am assuming by your writing content that you are mature in age?
    Takes me back to a time when sarcasm and irony and stuff weren’t a crime and people weren’t so touchy.

    A lot of truth here… sometimes people make it hard to have a great debate because they lack perspective but Sport has always depended on individual brilliance…. we train to be able to have the skills to be brilliant… the best players make the most money (or should….LOL)

  4. So glad Deulofeu is not in our team this year. What a crap player with no sign of improvement from all of the things that got him shipped off in the first place. He reminds me of a player in a sunday league team that doesn’t pass the ball when his teammates are in far better positions, holding the ball too long, and trying to do everything himself. All that talent…what a waste.

  5. btw great article. in my opinion people will always try to discredit this team. first it was, messi is only good because he has xavi and iniesta assisting him. then it was of course barca wins every game, they have messi. im just going to enjoy watching this amazing group of players do magic week in week out. trophies will only be a plus.

  6. Thanks a lot Chief for the read.

    On individual brilliance i would say our team has always been made up of individual brilliance at least in the past decade or so, first it was Ronnie and his brilliance which brought the happiness, joy and silverware for us. then when he started to get disinterested and lost that brilliance barca had to go with 2 years of no silverware to boot of.

    In come pep, he changed few bits here and there and built his team around his midfield (More space available to those at that point, they were in their peak age). From individual brilliance of Xavi to control each match, Iniesta’s individual brilliance of making those crazy n mazy runs at the defence destabalising and Messi’s individual brilliance to finish it off after all that. The rest of the team was their to support those. Team mates moving around all the time so that Xavi could pick them up with those chameleon eyes, the narration can go one for each of those players. Now that was pep’s system, with few players ageing and constant wear out of few parts of the system, it started to slow down a bit and fewer space available for them to operate on, as teams continued to park buses against barca. now with no matter how brilliant the midfield was if there is not enough space available for the forwards to move and for the midfield to pick them it became more and more difficult for barca to beat the buses. and so many times were saved by messi’s individual brilliance.

    The next manager’s (Tito and Tata) all tried to be different, tried different approaches but still were not able to make much difference since there wasn’t much individual brilliance apart for messi’s to take advantage of.

    Now in come enrique, he has at his disposal 3 of the most brilliant forwards(requested saurez himself), who can dazzle and break any team with their brilliance. so he builds his system around those players, and let them do their magic and rest of the team to support them so that when they fail others are their to clear the danger. isnt this a system?

    or the way of playing can be defined as system only if played in one way? and cannot be called if played in other way.

    Sorry for the lengthy post,but just had to put few of my thoughts.

    1. Agreed with what you said.

      I guess the question remains – did Luis Enrique make a NEW system or change an existing one?
      Did Guardiola make a new system or change an existing one?

      To understand this, it needs to be clear that systems depend on the players.
      A post by esteemed tactician Michael Cox (link below) explains that “Rather than trying to work their way up the pitch methodically through passing alone, Barca were happy to knock longer balls into the forwards, particularly Messi and Neymar on the flanks. When they received the ball, they repeatedly beat opponents with a burst of pace and a trick, surging forward quickly…”
      “Even Daniel Alves, Barca’s right-back, was notable for his dribbling quality against Atletico. Under Guardiola he always made unseen, late runs to the far post in behind the opposition defence. Now, he is bringing the ball forward himself, showing another side to his game.
      This is all essentially a consequence of Barca’s determination to get the ball forward quicker this season, and to attack down the flanks rather than depending upon overloading the centre. However, it shows Luis Enrique has changed the nature of Barcelona’s play, and crucially, suggests he is playing to the strengths of his main men.”

      This is why Pedro fails in the present system.

      “Neymar, after a decent opening to his Barcelona career, is also shining in a more direct system. Compared to the wide forwards during Guardiola’s reign – David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez – Neymar receives the ball to feet more. Pedro’s typical run is off-the-ball, in behind the defence, which generally works excellently, but still depends upon a good pass from a central player. Neymar gets past his opponent solo.”

      In midfield, instead of playing a destroyer-(passer)-creator model of Guardiola, Luis Enrique seems to have created a destroyer-(box-to-box)-deep creator model, which lets players dribble.

      Advantages of the “new” system:
      Parking the bus is ineffective, as Barcelona now runs into the defence.
      Fouling outside the box is ineffective, due to the renewed threat at set-pieces.
      Players can take more risks as the defense is solid.
      Dynamism of the team means that grinding out a result is possible.

      None. Seriously. This group of players is finally showing why they are some of the best in the world, and renewed confidence at set pieces at both ends make us the team to beat this season.
      You may disagree, but that’s just me being objective. Sure, we will win some and lose some, the team may not play well in some games, but it is hard to be pessimistic with this group of players.

      Link to the article:

  7. Thanks for the article Chief.
    On the other side, individual brilliance is what makes a SYSTEM to function at its best.
    Forget about the Chelsea of 2012, the Inter Milan of 2010 (I have to mention this as it hurts me that they knock us out despite we are not second to them). I think most of Leo Messi’s goal is from his own brilliance which were perfected by the SYSTEM or the SYSTEM perfected by INDIVIDUAL BRILLIANCE either way is true IMO.

  8. Individual brilliance is uniquely important in Football, as the ball is round and any one cannot use hands. The difference in force applied on the ball with different areas of the foot is so little, making the ball do different movements. If you think in this terms, football is the most incredible game there is(as no hands are used). This is also why anyone who have played football in some levels adores those world class players who have absolute mastery in ball control. (even Gari Linekar, a world class player of his times, seems like a hard core fan of Messi)
    There can be many systems in football, but often some kind of individual brilliance is required to bail a team out, as they are facing a team who are also made up of professionals, assuming(in fact no need to assume this) all the professionals have a minimum standard of brilliance about them, in addition to the three basics – talent, stamina and tactical awareness.

    In the Elche match, for Neymars first goal, when Messi receives the ball, there are two lanes of four, as usual, in front of him and there isnt any sign of danger at all. But then from stand still a really fast dribble and a perfectly weighted pass, an open chance is carved out of nothing. That is individual brilliance, for me, which has bailed out the system.

    1. @photobirajesh . Thumbs up. In football only one player can have the at a time. the difference between what player A and player B does with the ball is called individual brilliance

  9. Great piece Chief. We’ve read many times that LE is failing this year and that we are pretty much exclusively depending on individual brilliance to win games…we are winning despite LE’s failings. I came to same conclusion: some people are just smarter about football than I. 🙂

  10. Official site reporting that our beloved team will tour in the US and Mexico this summer. Dates and locations TBA.

  11. If our next president is Laporta we will not make summer tours in the future.We will not have a sponsor in our shirts again.I am sure that all the bad things that rosell did belong to the past.Be sure people.:-P

  12. 4 months ban for ronaldo is the only fair punishement.Anything less it will be a crime against justice in the game.

  13. Each time a player dribbles, Makes a well placed through ball, A well placed cross, A well placed shot, Even a well placed pass, Is by definition, An Individual brilliance, Which i personally like to define as:
    “A well executed action or task done in a accordance to the player’s, Own individual attributes, Abilities and skills”

    Individual brilliance doesn’t stop when the ball move away, Why some advanced midfield receive the ball more frequently in dangerous positions than a different AMFs playing in his own team!, Why certain DMFs intercept balls more frequently than others, The Same can be applied to the defenders and GKs.

    The frequency and the quality of an Individual brilliance, Is what sets apart a player playing in the 4th division in a far way league from the one playing in the 1st division of one of the best leagues globally, It’s the term most easily defined, And to draw examples off, And as you said barca chief, It’s at the heart of this sport.

    Collective play is harder to define and to draw borders around, But in my opinion it involves organizing and collaborating the different functions and jobs of the separate individual qualities on the pitch, To maximize their efficiency as a unit.
    An improved collective play can actually enhance the individual brilliance of the players, Specially it’s frequency, For example in attack, A better communication and position between the players can increase the amount of through balls, Or in the case of defending, Increase the amount of interceptions.

    I always heard nonsense like, “We won because of pure individual brilliance!!, Blah blah blah”, Because an attacker of ours had to dribble someone, Or the GK had to make actual saves, But if we asked those people, To give a clear criteria of what makes the win a collective effort, They’ll be staring at the ceiling.

  14. It won’t be justice if Ronaldo gets a lesser ban than he should, players ought to be protected and being the best player in the world doesn’t mean you will assault a Cordoba player and walk away free. Suarez was banned for four months and was excluded from the ballon d’or shortlist just for biting (attempting to bite?) an opponent, why should kicking and punching another player be a lesser offence cos its committed by the best player in the world?

  15. Tata2 i agree in every word u said and i believe our board must do everything for the same ban that luis suarez had.Ronaldo did in one game much worst actions and i am sure if luis was in his place madrid would do everything to not play football again.Luis was the best player last season and he lost the golden ball for his mistake.We want justice.

  16. Speaking to the media this week, Neymar said, “Am I giving advice to
    Suarez? He’s older and more
    experienced than I am. It is Suarez
    who should give advice to me.”

    Once again Neymar shows maturity, & wisdom way ahead of his time. This dude has his head firmly screwed on. Never a dull remark. Alvez is a similar smart Alec. With Messi as Neymar’s role model, its a brilliant mixture. Ronaldinho was Messi’s hero, & passed the baton to him – how uncanny is the Messi – Neymar friendship.
    History really does repeat itself…

  17. So No Tiago, Godin & Koke tomorrow.
    Still, R Garcia, Gabi, Juanfran, Mandzukic etc are kickers.

  18. so the shirt sponsorship is, according to Bartomeu, under review when it is set to renew in 2016. he claims that “Four years ago we signed for economic reasons”, which completely misses the point I and many other cules were making then: that principles matter because you can’t just pick them up and put them down when it’s convenient, or when it’s financially expedient.

    maybe this self-inflicted debacle of getting into bed with a corrupt, abusive authoritarian government effectively running an organized system of slave labor will serve as a lesson to the money men in the administration exactly WHY many of us wanted to keep the front of the shirt clean to begin with. but probably not.

  19. Injustice! Injustice!! No! its not because he’s an EE player, its a shame on Spanish football. The annoying thing is the so called referee’s match report. So, if I bite someone in a league game but the referee doesn’t see it or chooses not to report it in his match report, am free to walk away a free man right? despite all the benefits of replay the LFP officials have in this modern era I can’t believe they are using such a method. And please don’t tell me none of the officials didnt see it

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