Monday, December 11, 2023

The General had Johan Cruyff

The General invented total football. An evolution of the tactical revolution of the Hungarian coach Gusztav Sebes who had marveled with the Hungarian national team in the 1950s. The nicknamed Clockwork Orange that astonished the world of football in the 1970s led by Johan Cruyff had a genius on the bench called Rinus Michels. On his first day as Barcelona coach he addressed his players announcing that they would work as hard as marble.

That phrase meant that while all over the world he was nicknamed the General, in Spain he was known as Mister Mármol. His system was easy to explain, very advanced pressing, playing with wingers, all the players attacking and defending at the same time, constantly exchanging their positions. Concepts that were based on two inalienable principles: Physical preparation and the collective above everything else.

If we apply these maxims to basketball, it reminds me a lot of this Unicaja that we have enjoyed for just over a season, but with a big difference. Michels had a great group of players like Neeskens, Rep, Ressenbrink, Krol, Van Hannegen, Jensen, the Van Der Kerkhoff brothers or the goalkeeper who played with the number 8 on his back, Jongbloed, but above all he had Johan Cruyff, without discussion one of the 10 best players in the history of football.

Ibon Navarro has created his Unicaja with that philosophy, but without that great star that the General did have. He misses that mega star who wins many games at the end of the season in the final moments, but he gains unpredictability in the face of the rival, it is not the same, but it is what we have. A green formula that faces the challenge of attacking Chus Mateo’s unbeaten Real Madrid this weekend.

The players are very important in the systems, but we must never forget the importance of the bench, in victories and defeats, because as Rinus Michels himself said: «It is an art in itself to compose a starting team, finding the balance between the creative players and those with destructive power, and between defense, construction and attack, without ever forgetting the quality of the rival and the specific pressures of each match.

This dissertation on a soccer starting 11 is applicable to the formation of a basketball 12 squad. I would add one more thing, without a clear goal, there is no path to take.

The physical improvement of the team, the adaptation to the new roles within the team with the departure of Darío and the arrival of Taylor, and above all the recovery of the centers, more specifically David Kravish has returned to this team the face of the past season with an advantage. Preparation has started later and the season will not be as long as last, and we will surely see a team, if the injuries allow it, much more competitive starting in February or March.

The versatility of Malaga, which makes it easy to guess the number of the Christmas fat man who will be the best green player in each game, faces a very solid team that is coming from a very tough double confrontation in the Euroleague against Valencia and Monaco, but with a great job of group cohesion and a rotation of 17 players where, as Mario Hezonja said a few days ago: “It is difficult to play a few minutes because we all think we deserve more, but the team needs it.”

A great basketball game between two great teams that will become a great victory for one and a loss without consequences for the other. That’s what you have to go to these games with your homework done. Luck.


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