Football: Changing tactics for wingers

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The Independent Online
MORE YEARS ago than I can bother to add up, I was introduced to Manoel Francisco dos Santos, better known as Garrincha, who frequently performed miracles for Brazil and is established beyond all legitimate doubt as one of the most arousingly effective wingers football has ever seen.

He did not have much in the way of interpreted conversation which was hardly surprising since he had been denied an education, being barely literate, if not without native cunning. Although crippled since childhood, with legs that were curiously twisted, there was very little he couldn't do with a ball, and there was something altogether awesome about his sinuous surges and brutal shooting.

Garrincha, 'the Little Bird', had great natural gifts and astonishing speed, but was so unpredictable that it would have been pointless to involve him in tactical discussions. Brazil simply got the ball to Garrincha on the right wing and let him get on with it.

I am telling you this because reference to an elite group of British wingers on these pages yesterday appears to have stirred up the natives, especially a life-long supporter of Rangers, who telephoned to argue a case for Willie Henderson, their outside-right of the Sixties.

Also, it raises thoughts about wingers that probably never occur to people who make a habit of deploring developments that have threatened to make the breed largely redundant in the modern game.

When suggesting that Ryan Giggs of Manchester United could restore faith in the genre, I pointed to five wingers: Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, George Best, Cliff Jones and Jimmy Johnstone, who were not only pleasing to the eye, and therefore great crowd pullers, but consistently effective.

Others certainly made their mark, but usually in an auxiliary role, and having little else to contribute when the game was running against the men responsible for bringing them into action. The style of wing play changed so completely in the Sixties that the very position looked at times to be completely obsolete. Critics of Alf Ramsey's teams, who were unable to resist harsh comment even amid the triumph of 1966, labelled the England team 'Wingless Wonders'.

Changes in defensive strategy brought this about. Wingers were denied time and space in which to collect the ball when full-backs were sent in to mark them closely. They could no longer turn and take on defenders, and it took courage and brains to play in a position which had not previously made any excessive demands on those particular qualities. The change was in many ways remarkable, if only because British football had once thrived on its wing play.

For example, Matthews was England's most famous footballer for 30 years, a shuffling, immensely gifted footballer, the 'Wizard of Dribble' who could mesmerize full-backs and then destroy them with a sudden, demoralising burst of speed. But what was permissable in the tactical context of the Fifties was seen in the Seventies to be a scandalous waste of a player. Even in the match for which he is most remembered - the 1953 FA Cup final in which he eventually inspired Blackpool's 4-3 defeat of Bolton Wanderers - Matthews often stood in isolation on his touchline.

When wingers began to return at the end of the Sixties it was with a new sense of responsibility. Outstanding attackers such as Best and Eddie Gray of Leeds United, who could loosely be regarded as wingers, were expected to turn their hand to defensive work.

This may bring up in the minds of many people the question of whether today's crop of wingers are really wingers at all. Is Chris Waddle a winger, or a highly skilled provider operating on the right side of midfield? Certainly, there are not as many tales touching on the cerebral deficiencies associated with wingers as there used to be.

The Wolverhampton Wanderers outside-left in the 1960 FA Cup final against Blackburn Rovers was Des Horne, a pacy South African, who found it so difficult to absorb and apply tactical information that the Wolves manager, Stan Cullis, did not refer to him in the team talk. Piqued at this, Horne asked what was required of him. Thinking about his talented inside-left, Peter Broadbent, and the large advertisement that then stood above the Wembley scoreboard, Cullis said: 'Whenever Peter gets the ball I want you to run straight at the 'R' in Radio Times.'

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