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.