‘TheHardTackle Whiteboard’ is a semi-regular column which anatomises the tactical development/non-development in the game. So if chalkboard, formations, FM series and Herbert Chapman arouse you, then you are looking at the right page. Today we focus on four names, and a period where the seeds of the modern game was sown.

From being a chaotic display of brutishness to being the most loved sports in the world – football has come a long way since its inception. The game has had numerous massively influencing figures who have left their mark on the sports – but there are four names in particular who have monolithic contribution towards the evolution of the game to its modern form. 

The statistics from the last night’s Champions League fixture between Celtic and Barcelona are astounding. Barcelona had 89% of the possession in the match. They had 25 shots on goal (8 on target) compared to Celtic’s five shots (three on target). Yet after the final whistle, Celtic Park celebrated one of the most famous victories in the club’s illustrious history.

Barcelona fans and a large section of neutral fans labeled Celtic’s tactics as ‘anti-football’; a similar reaction to what Chelsea received last season after their Champions League victory. But in truth, it is naïve to label any particular tactic as diabolic. There is nothing like an ‘anti’ or ‘pro-football’ tactic; there are only reactive and proactive tactics, and Celtic were reactive to Barcelona’s proactive football.

Neil Lennon had to be a lunatic to try and defeat Barcelona at their own game. In the end, the unlikely victory over Barcelona has handed Celtic a great chance to qualify to the knock-out rounds, and if they manage to do so, Neil Lennon’s tactics will be vindicated.

But obsession with ‘style’ of football is something we have acquired from our ancestors. Football has always fought a never ending war between pragmatism and romanticism. In the early nineteenth century the first question that the game faced, during its inception, was ‘Why to play football?’. But as the game slowly evolved from being an anarchic and chaotic mob game (which was initially outlawed) to a mean to morally edify general public (for Christian missionaries and public school), the question changed to ‘How to play football?’. And this is where the legendary (and mostly forgotten) Jimmy Hogan’s name comes into picture.

Jimmy Hogan – The man who envisioned modern football

“We played football as Jimmy Hogan taught us. When our football history is told, his name should be written in gold letters.” – Gustav Sebes said this after Hungary’s famous victory over England in 1953.

It is difficult to pen down Jimmy Hogan’s career and contribution in a single article. He could very well be considered the father of modern football. Rinus Michels is often credited as the man who invented ‘total football’. But it is only partially true. ‘Total football’ was the brain child of Jimmy Hogan, while Rinus Michels perfected it.

Jimmy Hogan was a man born ahead of his time. He started his footballing career at Rochdale Town before moving onto Burnley in 1903. But Hogan despised the prevalent English school of footballing thoughts back in those days. He had a clear vision about how football should be played. Hogan believed in team work more than individuality. He believed in technique rather than brute force. He believed in passing the ball in a constructive way (preferably on the ground), rather than wild punts down the ground. Moreover, he believed in intricate movements and exchanges between the players rather than chaotic form of the game that English adopted back then. As Jonathan Wilson wrote in his book Inverting The Pyramid

“The greatest teacher of Scottish game, though, was an Englishman of Irish decent: Jimmy Hogan”

Hogan, though, was more than just a visionary. He was perhaps the first real coach of football. During those days, training was scowled upon. Sprinting was the only form of training professional footballers  did before a match. But Hogan found these quite unprofessional. In fact he trained himself separately as a footballer. In England the term ‘coaching’ had very different meaning back then.

But Hogan soon found his way out of England and Europe welcomed him and his ideas with open arms. He got his first coaching job in Netherlands and the Dutch were eager to learn (unlike England). Hogan would go on to revolutionize football in middle Europe. He left his mark in Austria, Netherlands, Germany, Hungary and Switzerland. In fact it was Hogan’s ideology which was passed over to Brazil via Hungary (Discussed in part two).

Ironically, Hogan’s countrymen didn’t recognize his worth until 1953. In one of the most historical matches, Hungary defeated England 6-3 in Wembley. It knocked England off their false sense of superiority. It was the first time they realized how much other European nations have progressed in the game. That great Hungarian team displayed a brand of football that was completely alien to the English people. Gustav Sebes, the Hungarian coach, later credited Jimmy Hogan for the football they played. But surprisingly, Hogan was labeled as a traitor in England after this.

Even 38 years after his death, Hogan is yet to receive the recognition that he deserves. In fact he still receives more respect in Austria, Hungary and Netherlands than he does in his own country.

Marton Bukovi – first step towards the 4-2-4

During the 1920s and 1930s, the 2-3-5 formation was gradually replaced by Herbert Chapman’s WM formation. But the rigidity of this formation didn’t support the footballing thoughts most of the European nations were warming-up to. Hogan’s teaching of intricate movement required a much more fluid formation.

Marton Bukovi, the coach of MTK Hungaria, took the first step to move away from the WM formation. Bukovi was worried about the role of a centre forward in the team. The WM formation required a typical English No.9. But a big and strong centre forward was a hindrance to the passing game the Hungarians wanted to implement. So he devised a formation which did away with the role of center forward in the team.

Bukovi changed the WM formation to a MM formation. The Inside forwards were pushed up-field and along with the wingers they almost formed a front four. The Centre forward on the other had dropped deeper and this is how the role of the central attacking midfielder came into existence. The deep centre forward caused a lot of trouble for the opposing defense as the defenders didn’t knew whether to follow him deep into the midfield or leave him unmarked.

The Change from WM formation to MM formation.

The MM formation was the base on which the 4-2-4 formation was later developed by Gustav Sebes. We shall continue to look into the tactical changes that the game went through under Gustav Sebes  and Bela Guttmann in the 2nd part of this series.