Championship teams visiting Falmer may characteristically set out to impede rather than assuage the flow of the game they are part of, but their attitude may actually recall a side anyone would enjoy comparison to: Brazil. In 1982, on the Costa del Sol, Socrates, Zico and friends were idolised not only for their myriad individual talents, but also for a comprehension of the game which left most teams trailing in their visionary green and gold dust.
“They are so good that they are willing to let you take control of the ball and then set out to kid you into passing it where they want,” observed a rueful Jock Stein, the manager of a Scottish team mauled after falling into the trap. This ability among teams and their coaching staff to collectively understand the game is a concept we have all established familiarity with through Gus’s relentless imploring for it, but perhaps the tables have turned on his ethos as much as they have on our league position.
Obviously, squads in this division lack the perfect menace to precisely dictate where other teams play the ball but, watching us play beautifully without adding finality to finesse, there is an unmistakable sense that our opponents have us contained within comfortable parameters, that our claims of uniqueness may actually reveal a two-sided joke other managers are in on. That Gus’s adversaries spend the build-up to matches tailoring a plan to combat our style was a source of trumpeted pride as much as cautionary whisper in pre-season. Now it seems a compliment and a curse.
Few fail to be seduced by the style, but opposition managers are requiting it with murderous intent founded on patience and quick breaks. Gus himself, a suited conductor of an inconsistent orchestra attempting to play a tune of often exquisite complexity, is patently too consumed by perfection. Thus, the unflinching directness of Buckley or the byline-bound sprints of LuaLua seem a possession-jeapordising risk too far.
In Vicente’s continued unexplainable absence – and Gus could not have guessed that an innocuous home pre-season friendly and an essentially meaningless cup game at Swindon would weaken our sorceror’s body to such disrepair – the midfield appears an unnecessarily defensive one. True, a LuaLua type compromises our assurance when defending set pieces, but safety should be a secondary concern when our impotence allows the opposition a distinct chance of three points if they can score.
The midfield has no daggers – nor stealth, mortars or bullets within it – and Gus ends up resembling a general repeatedly shooting himself in the foot. Our manager has earned the right to do as he likes, and it is hard not to scorn the faithless voices, predominantly in the posh seats, who only have cause to grumble via the high standards Gus has set – I imagine, if we had appointed a less precocious, more established boss we would be near the top of League One, with far less debate among 10,000 fewer fans. Yet our current teamsheets seem more attuned to defending a lead we rarely gain (often by bad luck, admittedly).
There is as much intrigue in watching Bloom’s apprentice solve the riddle as there will be relief if he prevails. Winless runs must spoil games rather than months, or the season will be lost. Shuffling the pack upfront may only conceal a tactical shortfall.