October 5, 2011
Last Thursday saw a gallant effort from Shamrock Rovers as they lost 3-1 against Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League group stages. Stephen Rice in particular, stood out for Shamrock Rovers and it was quite fitting that it was he who gave Rovers an early lead in the second half – yet it had been as early as the half hour mark that I had decided to base this article around the utility of his performance.
Positioned behind Ronan Finn and Stephen O’Donnell, the presence of Rice in the holding midfield role allowed Shamrock Rovers to stifle much of the threat offered by their opponents. Indeed, the first half of this game was able to portray many of the advantages of playing a variant of the 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation as opposed to 4-4-2. Tom Carroll and Jake Livermore may well have been able overcome Finn and O’Donnell in a 2 v 2, but the added presence of Rice made this task much more difficult. Jermain Defoe’s involvement in some of Spurs’ approach play led to a number of chances, but by and large Tottenham were out-numbered, and Michael O’Neill appeared to be in charge of the tactical game-of-wits at the midway point.
Conor McCormack accompanied Rice in a more deep lying role in the second half, replacing O’Donnell – yet the game was not to be won or lost in the central midfield position. Rather, the game turned on the efficiency of Andros Townsend, whose two assists allowed the Londoners to spare their blushes.
With particular emphasis on his first half display, the role adopted by Rice was akin to what many within footballing circles now describe as “the quarterback role”. Derived from American Football, the role of a “quarterback” in relation to football is largely to find himself in pockets of space in deep lying areas. When in possession of the ball, the world is his proverbial oyster as ahead of him his team mates should be providing options. The role requires patience, composure, an innate ability to pass the ball and the vision to provide the occasional killer pass. It also requires stamina in order to provide options for team mates. For the most part however, when the quarterback himself is in possession, he should let the ball do the work – to use an old footballing cliché.
It would be folly to suggest that Rice dictated the play against Tottenham, or that he carried out the quarterback role in textbook fashion. His display rather, was one of pragmatism and footballing intelligence. He always made himself available and kept the ball moving quickly. He was never caught in possession and regularly passed the ball into areas where it would be difficult for Tottenham to retrieve possession. On occasion, he did opt for the more ambitious pass, and at times, pulled this off impressively.
As equally significant, when Rovers were without the ball Rice proved to be the key man in thwarting Tottenham attacks. It was not just Finn and O’Donnell who benefitted from his assistance, but his energy allowed him to provide assistance to Paterson and Sullivan in the full-back position as well as Sives and Murray in central defence. In essence, his presence was that of a trouble-shooting sweeper and as a result he was key to ensuring that the contest was a hard-fought one.
In small-sided games and indeed in 11-a-side football, growing up – everyone wanted to be the striker, score the goals and take the glory. However, as you get older and learn that there is a lot more to the game of football, there is an undeniable attractiveness in playing the holding role. In looking at my 10-year-old self I see a number of similarities: I still want to be involved, to make the difference in a game – yet I have now realised that the difference is not necessarily made by the striker who can often be a bystander in a game when compared with the holding midfielder, whose responsibilities are endless.This entry was posted in League of Ireland, Performance Analysis. Bookmark the permalink. ← 2011 All-Ireland All-Star Awards Social Media and Sport Kick Off →