Peter Corrigan: Premiership's gift to the world - furious pace

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The Independent Football

Many an old heart would have been gladdened by the sight of our footballers blitzing big holes in two of Europe's most formidable defences last week. First, Juventus were shattered by a first-half high-tempo onslaught from Liverpool, and then Bayern Munich's defence was destroyed by Chelsea's long-ball tactics.

Many an old heart would have been gladdened by the sight of our footballers blitzing big holes in two of Europe's most formidable defences last week. First, Juventus were shattered by a first-half high-tempo onslaught from Liverpool, and then Bayern Munich's defence was destroyed by Chelsea's long-ball tactics.

What appealed most about these exhibitions of the old-fashioned way was that they were conducted on our behalf mainly by foreign imports. There are many ways of playing football, and a great side will master them all, but there was a sizeable irony on display last week to anyone who recalls the great debates of 30 or more years ago on the suitability of our fast and forthright style of play for international football.

There was a time when, confronted by beastly foreigners, we contented ourselves with the thought neatly expressed by Corporal Jones of Dad's Army in his popular catch-phrase: "They don't like it up 'em". Cpl Jones was referring to the bayonet, but the saying had broadened its meaning to embrace any demonstration of British aggression, and nowhere was this more appropriate than in football, the game we gave to the world.

Unfortunately, the world took the game but not our way of playing it, and over a century or so they have perfected techniques to which the sons of the mother country can only rarely aspire. In the early 1970s, after his Liverpool team had been trounced by Ajax, the great Bill Shankly denounced the Dutch team's style with the words: "That sort of football will get the game stopped."

What he meant was that British fans, brought up on blood and thunder, would not tolerate the slower, more controlled short-passing game beloved of the Continentals. Shankly would have relished the way Liverpool tore into Juventus from the off on Tuesday.

He would have also been mystified at the personnel involved, that the man who planned the smash-and-grab raid was Rafael Benitez, a Spaniard, and that the Liverpool front-line comprised a Czech, a Frenchman and another Spaniard. He would certainly have been impressed at the skill involved. The move that led to Luis Garcia's 25-yard volley from Anthony Le Tallec's cross would have beaten any defence.

Juventus's coach, Fabio Capello, looked as shell-shocked as his team, but gradually the Italians rediscovered their equilibrium and were able to get back into the game as Liverpool's storm blew itself out. The sad error of the home side's highly promising young goalkeeper, Scott Carson, in allowing Juventus the prize of an away goal makes Liverpool's task in the second leg more difficult, and it will be interesting to see if Benitez urges his men into another charge.

The oddest reaction to the bombardment that enabled Chelsea to score four goals against Bayern Munich on Wednesday came from Bayern's English midfielder, Owen Hargreaves. He announced himself unimpressed by Chelsea because "the passes from them were just long balls. They were simply banging them forward and flicking them on, and Didier Drogba caused us problems with his size and jumping ability."

That a Brit is indignant that a team should descend to hitting high balls at a big centre-forward betrays a worrying ignorance of what used to make the game tick in his country of origin. He compared Chelsea to Celtic, who also played the long ball against Bayern two seasons ago. "They had John Hartson and Chris Sutton up front and Henrik Larsson running on to the second ball. It's tough to defend against," he said.

Hargreaves then went on to praise Arsenal for having the right idea, because "they tried to pass the ball through the middle". The fact that Bayern beat Arsenal suggests that Jose Mourinho would not need to be a genius to give the German team another basinful of the same treatment in the second leg this week.

When the argument about the English style was at its height, it was the England team who were called upon to play in a more sophisticated manner. Sadly, it led to a somnolent, square-ball pattern of play that used to drive Wembley crowds mad with frustration.

We still haven't produced a winning formula. Many thought that the influx of so many foreign players and managers would educate us and our players to play in a more technically adept way. The amazing thing is that the Premiership is still played at a furious pace. I am sure our players have learned a lot from the incomers, but when it comes to tempo they have adapted to ours more than we have adapted to theirs.

Last week's action was the most vivid indication yet that that it is no longer unfashionable to play with all guns blazing, and that there is a viable alternative to all that patience and passing. Whether this thought can be carried into combat by our national teams is another matter. Jackie Charlton did it successfully with the Republic of Ireland 15 or so years ago. Maybe even Sven Goran Eriksson could be persuaded to let slip the dogs of war.

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