We should be familiar with the sight of continental opposition giving an English team a lesson in the art of passing a football. After all, we spent a large chunk of June watching this said phenomenon.
As Tuesday evening’s game unravelled the difference in class became increasingly apparent, as Ajax treated a good sized Carrow Road crowd to their 21st century version of total football.
Of course, with this being only City’s fourth pre-season game, compared to their Dutch counterpart’s seventh outing, nothing too significant should be read into either the result or indeed the performance. Equally there’s no denying the quality and ease with which the Eredivisie champions knocked the ball around for large swathes of the game.
Such was the comfort with which they retained possession – even allowing for the relatively modest pre-season tempo – there were most likely occasions when the fourth official must have been tempted to throw on another ball for City to play with.
It is important to note that this is in no way intended as a criticism of Norwich. In addition to the earlier start to their pre-season there are several factors that contributed to Ajax’s disproportionate share of possession, not least the fact that they are a quality side.
A club that considers Champions League football as a staple part of their annual diet and who are the ‘Manchester United’ of Dutch football were always going to provide a stern test.
For City to emerge from it with a 1-1 draw, and no injuries, is without doubt a good result all-round and I feel sure Chris Hughton will have learned more from this particular 90 minutes than the previous three put together.
For the back four and John Ruddy to survive a bit of a run-around with only one goal conceded is also to their credit and bodes well for a season ahead, with a lower digit in the ‘goals against’ column an absolute must.
However there is no denying the fact that we were given a footballing lesson in the same way that Bayern Munich outplayed Chelsea in the Champions League final – prior to losing out on penalties – and England were outplayed by just about everybody in Euro 2012.
On each occasion the good old British virtues of guts and bravery meant that, despite having had a huge chunk of possession, the continental opposition were unable to win – at least not without the aid of a penalty shoot-out.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that City’s Tuesday night friendly had anything like the gravitas of events in Munich or Kiev (a bit ridiculous of me really to even compare them) but hopefully you get my gist.
There’s no escaping – for a reason that still remains unclear to me – that English teams simply struggle to keep the ball, particularly when faced with foreign opposition. Whether it is in the heat of battle in a Champions League final, a Euro 2012 quarter-final or a gentle pre-season workout, the issue remains the same.
Much is written and spoken after the bi-annual failure of the England team, but nothing changes. David Sheepshanks will have us believe that the newly baptised National Football Centre will cure all of these ills, and he fully expects the first generation that graduates from Burton to give the Spanish and co a good run for their money.
I am not convinced… particularly as, in my 40-something years, I can distinctly recall hearing it all before.
But why do things never change?
Some blame the quality of coaching at grass roots level; others blame the high octane tempo of the average Premier League game; and others still blame poor old Charles Hughes (the FA’s director of coaching in the 1980’s who advocated the long ball game).
I’ll never make a bona fide football coach because I have no idea what the answer is – although that didn’t stop the said Mr Hughes – but I do know which style of football I prefer to watch. As much as it pains me to say it, Swansea were a joy to watch last season (as were City most of the time) and Stoke were most definitely not.
The difference between the two styles were chalk and cheese with the latter not even attempting to retain possession, instead relying on thumping and throwing the ball forward at every given opportunity. In a rugby-style if you like.
Football, as we all know, is far from an exact science and for a club like ours to be successful we need to continue to mix a passing style with the option of a more direct one when plan A is failing.
To have no plan B can lead to difficulties over the course of a long Premier League season – as the Welshmen found – but to have a built-in passing philosophy should be the least that supporters can expect.
Luckily for us it appears that Hughton does indeed prefer a passing style – even it was not evident on Tuesday night. Let’s just hope that Ajax’s display serves as a short sharp reminder to the class of 2012 of the quality that’s required.
If Friday night’s fourth official at Stadium MK feels the need to chuck on another ball for the Dons to play with I’ll be a happy man.