Tactics v Strategy

“Regard your soldiers as you children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own sons, and they will stand by you even unto death”.

Post 4

28th April

Speaking of Sir Alex Ferguson (as I was at the end of my last post), it’s generally accepted that his greatest strength as a manager wasn’t as a tactician. That’s not to say he was tactically naïve, it’s just he did other things so much better. United stuck with a fluid 4-4-2 for most of his career. He didn’t constantly innovate new formations, or change numerous games using tactical genius. Opponents knew what United were going to do. It was just fiendishly difficult to stop them.

Fergie focused on strategy, not tactics. Many managers focus game-by-game partly because they have to. They don’t even know if they’ll be in the job next week. They have to juggle limited resources and try and come up with short term tactical solutions. When something comes off it’s a masterstroke. When it doesn’t, they’re inept.

Sliding doors; we’ll never know if Poch playing Son at left back cost us the Cup semi-final or not, simply because we can never replay it with Davies or Trippier at LB. It may well be that we’d have lost anyway. Or if we really could play it with Son again, we’d win it this time. Tactics affect battles. You win some, you lose some. But strategy is what wins wars.

Sun-Tzu (google him), the Chinese General and military strategist who wrote what I quoted at the start of this post, knew that one of the keys to victory in War was having soldiers who’d follow you to the end.

When we remember Sir Alex Ferguson, it’s his ability to manage, develop and inspire individuals that separates him from all the other managers. He built Manchester United into more than a team. His United became an ‘ethos’. Constantly reinvented as a group of names on a team sheet, but never losing a culture; resolute, passionate, attacking, never-say-die.

As Fergie admits in his autobiography;

“The foundation of my longevity lies with Bobby Charlton and Martin Edwards. Their biggest gift to me was the time to build a football club, rather than a football team.”

Sir Alex Ferguson, My Autobiography, 2013

As a result, I find it hard to remember who played for United when, out of say Schmeichel, Howard, Van der Sar, Ferdinand, Bruce, Vidic, Stam, Ince, Robson, Keane, Cantona, Berbatov, Van Nistelrooy, Kanchelskis. Ronaldo, Beckham. Who came after who? Which ones played in which Champions League Final?

All these players, and many more, morphed simply into ‘United’. So Fergie could plan a long term strategy, less concerned with intra-game tactics. Every other club’s fan base is obsessed with their ‘best team’. But Fergie had 4 strikers and he used Cole, Yorke, Solsksjaer and Sheringham according to each game’s requirements. He didn’t have a best team. His prime concern was how to triumph over the entire season. Who to rest when, who to pick for certain games, how to motivate an individual, and when to ‘get out the hairdryer’. How to rebuild, evolve and reinvent a squad each summer. Who to sell? Who to buy, regardless of cost?

Why is all this relevant to a Spurs blog?

Because Pochettino is the Ferguson of his generation.

As I’ll explain in my next post.

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