A coach of ours once kept us in the dressing room after a game for what seemed an eternity. He was hammering into us the importance of being able to win 1-0. We had just conceded a late equaliser and drawn the game 1-1. "Teams don't win leagues if they can't win 1-0," he said. "Teams that can't keep clean sheets in tight games don't succeed."
ur aim that season was to get promoted. Unless we learned to cope with the pressure of being only one goal in front in the latter stages of a game, we could forget about getting out of the division. Up until then I didn't think 1-0 wins were different to any other, but he made out as if they were what separated the champions from the rest.
Game management means different things to different people. Generally speaking, it refers to knowing what to do at various stages in a game to ensure the outcome you want. It requires ability, discipline, flexibility and intelligence. At times you defend, at times you attack. Sometimes it's about keeping the ball, other times it's about keeping your shape. Ultimately, though - and this holds for football at every level - it's about outscoring your opponent.
You might think that Chelsea don't have much to celebrate, going by some of the coverage of their recent results, but no Premier League club has won more often than them this season. No team has lost fewer games. Only Manchester City have scored more goals, but nobody has conceded fewer. They haven't lost a Premier League game since New Year's Day, and they'll become champions this afternoon if they beat Crystal Palace. Even if they lose, they will still go on to lift the trophy.
And yet, despite all that, Chelsea are the team having to defend the way they play. Arsenal fans taunted Chelsea last weekend for being boring. A week earlier, they had only 33 per cent possession at home to Manchester United. In both games, Mourinho got the result he was looking for, but the merits of his tactics have been debated a lot since then. Other teams are apparently more attractive to watch. Other fans are getting greater entertainment than those who show up at Stamford Bridge. Why is Jose Mourinho asking his team to play this way when he's got the players and the money to play far better?
The obvious and only answer is, because it works. No team in England has come up with a way of bettering them this season, so the onus is on others to be better. Mourinho has joked about playing without goals and deciding games based on possession statistics, but his best response would be to stay out of the debate altogether. He and his players could wait until they are handed the trophy and let the pictures of the presentation do their talking.
They could leave discussions about how best to play football to the managers and fans of clubs that didn't win the title. Television pundits could explain where Chelsea need to improve as they do their lap of honour. They would look even better the more others lecture them on what they're doing wrong.
I remember watching England make almost the perfect start in their quest to win Euro 2004. They scored first in their opening group game against France and won a penalty in the second half. After the game, coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said the players should be proud of their display. David Beckham said he couldn't have struck his penalty any better. The general response was that England should gain plenty of confidence from how they played. One player was even asked whether the performance proved England were capable of beating anyone on their day. Eriksson said he wouldn't change his tactics in any way if the game had to be replayed, "except that in the last three minutes we would have put the ball in the stand".
Beckham's penalty was saved and England lost. An unnecessary foul by Emile Heskey gifted Zinedine Zidane an injury-time free-kick outside the box from which he scored. A wayward back-pass two minutes later from Steven Gerrard put Thierry Henry one-on-one with David James who then bundled him to the ground. Zidane scored the penalty and France won 2-1. It was a collapse. It was a colossal failure in closing out a game.
The only focus of the post-match analysis should have been England's naivety and unprofessionalism. The game scored high in entertainment, and England fans were surely impressed, but the result really should have been the only thing that they were after in a game like that.
People can decide for themselves which type of football they prefer to watch. There isn't a wrong answer - it's entirely subjective. There isn't a categorically correct way to play football, there are just different ways to win matches. When you're the manager of one of the top four in England, though, the only focus should be winning games and lifting trophies. And when it comes to that, Jose Mourinho is peerless.
Sunday Indo Sport