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Mechanics of a Beautiful Game

February 23, 2011

As a Mechanical and Aeronautical engineer with a huge critical attitude, someday I was bound to analyze the Beautiful Game in an Engineering manner i.e. MECHANICS of it. We live in a world of media where the statistics are displayed on our screen every few minutes in a game which a simple naive follower is bound to udnerstand or interpret in relation of the game. As an engineer myself, I have tried hard and really hard to understand the facts and stats but somehow they cannot replace the laws od physics in my small sized brain. Henceforth, I devised these ideas to make my football crazy limbic part of the brain live symbiotically with my neocortex.

One of the first machines we learn in science is LEVERS which have three focal points – Load, Fulcrum and Effort. In Football we have 3 major aspects – Defend, Possession and Attack. In LEVERS, the Fulcrum takes the effort and does work on the load in the result of ease of work. In football, defenders withstand the pressure (effort) of the opposing team, midfielders are creative in holding the game and share the laod of attack with the strikers to score and win a game.Ain’t that a simple correlation.

Similarly, as a good Fulcrum location defines a good machine in terms of efficiency, possession percentage in a game defines the dominance of a particular team. Some teams love possession and baeutify the Beautiful game like Liverpool of the 90’s and 2011. Frist class levers are the most flexible machine as they have fulcrum in the best position i.e. between Load and Effort. Similarly, it is the midfield which is the most critical aspect in a team in order to hold possession and dominate a game as it lies between the defenders and the strikers.

 A good midfield needs players like Meireles and Gerrard with a strong striker who can bear with the attacking load. They can cooperate with the attackers of their team and reduce the load there. Simultaneously, we need a lot of width in the midfield in order to make the movements more flexible and beautiful and versatile. To get these universal aspects functioning in a machine is a desire of every engineer and a football managers dream since the 60’s in the form of UKRAINEAN invention of TOTAL FOOTBALL. However, this requires the need of 2 additional players called the wings to give width.  My beloved Liverpool are suffering in this aspect.

An aspect of LEVERS is their efficiency which is the ratio of load arm to effort arm. This simply means the ratio of distance from the load to fulcrum and the fulcrum to point of application of effort. The smaller the effort arm, the better the machine. This can be best achieved by making a load in the centre of the fulcrum and effort. Can we do this in Football???No, it would mean defenders in the centre of the field playing really close to the strikers or the midfield. It is an ideal situation and called pressing or narrowing the field space for the opposition to play. Few teams have been able to do this as it needs high work rate and an even higher fitness. So we make a simple adaptation in the form of the defensive or holding midfielder – sometimes called the engine room.

In my opinion, it is the most underrated position in the game but the most critical one. He has fewer chances of scoring and even lesser of making those violent tackles which excite the fans and endear the centre backs to the history books and terrorize the opposing forwards of the CBs. A good high working rate DM can hold the play releasing the likes of Gerrard and Meireles to put the effort in the attack simultaneously sharing the defence with the defensive line. In Lucas, we have a great DM who can share the load but cannot release Gerrard or Meireles to the front with a quick pass or an long haul ball. However, he deserves to be in the team when we play a 3 – 5 – 2 as he can release the 2 wing backs (who are also sharing his role) to attack quickly making the effort less on the strikers.

Last but not the least, to carry the effort quickly For this we have the last line called the Defence line where they bear the load of the opponents attack and NOW start the play from the back like the Liverpool of the 80s. It is important for these players to hold the tackle and make  a good pass (short or long) to convert effort quickly into load.Players like Agger are the biggest assets in this region as they love to play with the ball and do not panic and give it away. They should want to have the ball and take it forward themselves so that the midfielders (fulcrum) squeeze closer to the forward line (effort) thus reducing the arm size. As this arm size reduces due to the squeezed length, the efficiency of the team will improve and when a team plays with this approach, we get more attempts on goal and not just more attempts.One gets more attempt when the defenders or the DMs try to launch a ball directly to the strikers increasing the length of the arms and reducing the efficiency. Such a scenario does produce goals once in a blue moon but when the team moves together as a team squeezing (called Pressing in Football) and operating the two arms of the machine accordingly we get a better performance.

Another method of good work rate is called Power i.e. doing things quickly. In football terms – Counter Attack. For such a movement, we need players like Reina and Kelly who can release a ball for a quick pass or can move up the flanks like a cheetah. Hence, Reina is such a valued keeper though he must seriously improve on defending crosses as I have noticed time and again it is the only way teams score against us. Crosses into 6 yeards boxes as Reina does not challenge those.

Under Kenny Dalglish we get to see this movement being applied where the defenders are holding the ball and moving up the field rather than launching it straightforward. I watched Skrtel take the ball up the field  and drive a shot yards over the post but it was heartening to see the options of spaces his movement had created. This is where an erstwhile great Carragher does not fit into King Kennys ideal machine and I would not be surprised if he starts fewer games in the future. However, as a CB he is the best we will have as he does really know how to marshall his resources and organize his troops – the prime quality in a CB or a goalkeeper which makes both REINA and CARRAGHER priceless to our team.

To conclude, next time when you watch a game with an engineer and he is perplexed, explain the game to him in the above manner.


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