Use the ‘big man’ - dont' resort to him
The big man up top doesn’t always mean a one-dimensional game plan
Andy Carroll’s form in his last two appearances seem to have caused some people to come down with something.
These quirky fellows are suggesting that the Liverpool striker is coming into form at the right time and should be picked for England’s Euro 2012 squad. No, really.
The former Newcastle man was impressive when he came on in the FA Cup final and nearly got his side level, as he was in the rout of the same opponents in the following game.
Reactions to this have varied and include a suggestion that a ‘big man’ is something people can’t resist suggesting as useful when it comes to naming an England squad.
The familiar ‘stick him on for the last ten minutes when we’re in trouble’ line is often utilised as a means of justification for this.
While some feel the presence of an attacker with a more considerable frame to be the antithesis to any success and England’s brainless thumpers will automatically resort to bombarding the penalty area with long balls for the big man to knock down.
This is also not entirely correct, though any side desperately searching for a goal in the closing minutes will likely resort to the lofted pass at some point.
Having a tall forward in your side is not always a bad thing and doesn’t necessarily mean the halting of the short passing style that seems to be the only accepted currency in today’s game.
One of the most admired sides in European football, Germany, use a striker with a large physical presence as the spearhead of their attacks in Mario Gomez.
In fact, they have done so for a number of years with players such as Miroslav Klose, Carsten Jancker, Oliver Bierhoff; there have been several of them.
Germany are not the only side to deploy this kind of attacker either; the Czech Republic’s all time top goalscorer is 6’7” Jan Koller, who has a record of 55 goals in 91 games.
Italy have shown a penchant for men of such frame in recent times with the selection of Christian Vieri and Luca Toni in various recent tournaments.
So there is a precedent for larger strikers to be included and be successful, though not all of the names mentioned were unmitigated successes.
Above are some names of players who slotted into sides that favoured a passing approach to the game and managed to resist resorting to aerial tactics.
Possibly the most lauded national team in history, Spain, have grounded their success on the philosophy of Barcelona’s famed tiki-taka, but also regularly use the Athletic Bilbao forward Fernando Llorente in their line-up.
Llorente is a tall, broad man and is exceptional in the air, but Bilbao’s tactics under Marcelo Bielsa have proven him to be a skilful player who has the capacity to be a more rounded striker.
The Basque club have a traditional of being very English in the way they play and taking a more direct approach to a game compared to most of the teams in La Liga, something Bielsa has sought to change since his time there.
Llorente was given the chance to operate in system that did not rely on his ability to win the ball in the air, though it did not discount it.
Emulating the ‘tiki-taka’ way doesn’t mean you disregard the advantage of a player with great strength and height, but there is a difference between utilising as part of a wider plan and resorting to it.
It seems arguments around the big man up top philosophy slip far too quickly in seeing him as a totem-pole target in the opposition area to play off of, and not being part of a broader, more sophisticated game plan.
Using a big striker is fine, as long as he is a good one. This doesn’t mean he wins every header and acts as a belisha beacon when surrounded by technically superior opponents.
Carroll’s energy when he first returned to the Premier League with Newcastle suggested he was more than just a target to be hit, but the loss of confidence and form have made it look as though that initial period was a façade.
If a big man is picked and we automatically consider him to be an aerial solution, then it won’t be long before he becomes as such and a man with a handful of effective performances in a miserable season is unlikely to feel confident doing anything else.
Take a big man to Poland and Ukraine, just make sure has good feet.