Six-Step Guide to Sounding Like A World Cup Tactics Genius

By Mike Cardillo

How many times has this situation happened to you over the last two or three years? You head down to the break room at the office to warm up a Cup of Noodles and a couple co-workers are engaged in a thrilling, “Less Filling/Tastes Great” argument about whether Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout should be the AL MVP.

Trying to fit in, you meekly interject with Cabrera’s sterling RBI totals and Triple Crown status. Summarily your co-workers start laughing at your quaint attempt to add to the conversation and summarily pour expired, half-eaten Yoplait all over your head.

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ taking place over the next month, you don’t want to be that guy covered in yogurt, despite the probiotic benefits, do you? So with that in mind here are six handy ways to wow everyone in your office, the guy sitting next to you in an empty mid-day bar, your significant other, your mailman or anyone else caught up with soccer fever with just how much you know about the Xs and Os of beautiful game.

No. 1:  Cite passing statistics early and often.

“Player X completed 45 of 49 attempted passes in the first half.” You’ll see this sort of figured cited a lot by journalists during the tournament. What does it mean? What is the context? Who cares! Join the party and use it too via a manual re-tweet. Remember it’s a stat and as such doesn’t need context! As we know the only acceptable sports arguments in 2014 are data-based. Pretending the human element exists or might factor into professional sports played by flesh-and-blood beings is so 2011 and worthy of digital tar-and-feathering.

No 2:  Possession, possession, possession.

Possession is another lovely soccer stat: how much Team A has the ball compared to Team B. If you’ve ever played the FIFA series of video games you’re fully aware of it. How it applies to anything other than a number and relates to the scoreboard is anyone’s guess. You’d think controlling the ball more than the opponent would be revealing, if not for that pesky little nugget called the counter-attack.

Much like passing figures, it’s a stat, so we talk about it and use it to draw sweeping conclusions.

No. 3: Go out of your way to defend “zonal marking” on corner kicks and other set pieces.

Ex-player pundits in the English (or American) media bemoan “zonal marking” — a form of marking where players defend zones rather than an assigned opponent — about the same way as they do herpes. According to these types, zonal marking has never worked once in the history of soccer dating back to the 1860s. Every goal allowed from a set piece is a result of the tactic, rather than the skill of the kick taker and finisher. Conversely, on Twitter and more-progressive soccer forums, zonal marking’s success rate on set pieces is 100.0 percent flawless.

As we know Twitter and the like are never wrong. Be on the cool side of the argument.

No. 4: When in doubt, prove your argument with a heat map or passing chart.

Does a globe of green/yellow/red or a bunch of lines contained inside a rectangle look like some type of abstract art that would stir a deep emotional reaction from someone like Tom Haverford? Nope, it’s the most telling form of soccer analysis. Get with the damn times, man.

Retweet figures like this early and often. You’ll thank me later.

No. 5: Tout the skill and technical abilities of players who don’t play in major European leagues.

Americans nowadays have access to just about every major soccer league around the globe on cable or satellite. There are a few exceptions. If you want to sound like you’re in the know, the last thing you want to do is hype of a player who plays in the English Premier League. As we know, “tactics” in the EPL are akin to 11 players running around — aka The Redknapp.

If you want to look smart and informed you’re much better off touting someone like Croatia’s deep-lying defensive midfielder Ognjen Vukojević, who plays at Dynamo Kiev, than you are blabbering about his much more famous countryman Luka Modric of Real Madrid and formerly Tottenham.

No. 6: Use the term “Classic No. X” a lot to describe players.

Michael Bradley makes a incisive pass during World Cup play? Call him a “Classic No. 6” despite the fact he wears the No. 4. A player on the right side does something good? That’s “Classic No. 7” play in action. A tried-and-true striker like Edin Dzeko scores a goal? It’s proof a “Classic No. 9” player can exist in the world of “False Nines.”

Those in the know will give you an approving thumbs up and wink.

And, in the end, isn’t that why everyone follows soccer: to look smarter than the person in the cubicle next to you?

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