Commentary: What Euro 2016 has revealed about tactics and trends in football

Rising fitness levels may signal death knell of 11-a-side football

What Euro 2016 has revealed about tactics and trends in football

As I watched the Euro 2016 final drifting in a stalemate for most of its two hours, it became even clearer to me that the game faces a fundamental problem: the rise of the footballing athlete means that there is no longer enough space on the pitch.

There are two solutions. The first is to increase the size of the pitch, but the layout of stadiums means that is not practical.

That leaves one option: to reduce matches to 10 versus 10. It's a radical idea, but hear me out.

Nowadays, when one player dribbles past a defender he immediately has one or two opponents breathing down his neck. There is not sufficient time or room for creative play.

Athletes are replacing technicians and a team of runners is not as good to watch as a team with good, skilful players. Football must not forget it is in the entertainment business.

The change has been extraordinary. Teams used to run at full pelt for 60 minutes before fading. Now they can last for 90 minutes. In fact, as Portugal's extra-time win over France showed, they can carry on for 120 minutes.

Athletes are replacing techniciansandateamof runners is not asgood to watch as ateamwith good, skilful players. Football mustnot forget it is in the entertainment business.

On Sunday, Joao Mario, the Portugal midfielder, ran 50 metres at top speed near the end of extra time, then turned round and did the same in the opposite direction.

Portugal started with their most visionary and technical midfielder, Joao Moutinho, on the bench.

Then look at France's midfield.

Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and Moussa Sissoko are fantastic, but are all powerful athletes first and foremost.

Pogba may move for a world-record transfer fee, yet his greatest attribute is his physical condition.

In the past the transfer record was set by players renowned for their skill, such as Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane.

If I had been playing today I would have needed to have been at the absolute peak of my fitness to try to handle the speed of the game.

In years gone by you could lift your head up to make a pass, but now there is no time: players pass while their heads are still down, often doing so blind.

What would Glenn Hoddle have done in the modern game? Everyone would be swarming all over him.

Taking the athletic route is attractive for nations with less talent. It's easier to turn players into physical machines than improve them technically.

That is partly why most of the lesser sides were able to perform so well at Euro 2016.

The underachievers at the tournament were those who did not work hard, such as Belgium, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic's lack of running dragged Sweden down.

Spain's strengths are more technical, so perhaps it is significant that they failed in France.

The same pattern is evident at club level. Leicester City won the Premier League last season with an astonishingly fit and athletic team.

Atletico Madrid have reached two of the past three Champions League finals with a team built on a relatively small budget who never stop running.

In the past, teams could get away with fielding unfit players, but no more.

Physical training improves all the time, so imagine the speed and endurance of players 30 years down the line, and how little space there will be then.

It's time for 11 v 11 to become 10 v 10.

Football needs room to breathe.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2016, with the headline 'Rising fitness levels may signal death knell of 11-a-side football'. Print Edition | Subscribe