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Derby City Rovers’ Swashbuckling Futbol is a Tactical System Steeped in History

By Eric Major (@LouBoardingCrew)


What exactly is Swashbuckling Futbol? According to Nathan Pitcock, owner and chairman of Derby City Rovers, it is football played in the tactical ideas of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal Football Club. A style played with open passing and tight pressing defending. Always building and pushing forward, especially when moving play from the backline to the front. It is a system that sacrifices cynicism for work-rate. And a system that relies entirely on the cohesiveness of the squad, and their ability to innately be able to pick out a perfectly weighted, killer pass to meet a run that has carved open a defense, and to ultimately create scoring opportunities. Thus creating goals.


Tactically, it’s very progressive. Progressive in the sense that it doesn’t rely on parking the bus, to absorb pressure and build a counter. It relies more on fast movement of the ball, and the outfield players making creative and aware runs, looking for openings to create space. Thus making themselves available for driving play forward with the intent of creating goal opportunities. Swashbuckling Futbol alludes to tactical leaps forward, like the traditional Scottish pass and run. Or Jimmy Hogan’s positionally ambiguous seeds of what became Total Football at Ajax. Or the free flowing attacking football of the Busby Babes, Shankly’s Liverpool, or Stein’s Celtic.  It is a system that demands a lot of its players, in terms of imagination and drive. But if all parts are working in sync, Swashbuckling Futbol can very easily turn into beautiful football.

DCR showed glimpses of what will mature into full-on Swashbuckling Futbol, with time to establish the system in its pomp. There were moments where they looked absolutely lethal on the counter. Where their finishing, or inability to do so, was their only hindrance. During their five match unbeaten run, when all gears were clicking; the passing was sharp, and the possession was full of intent. And when DCR got inside 25 yards, they looked ominous on the trot. The passing movements, the runs, the 1-2 passes; they could turn defense into attack with fluidity. And they found more success playing shorter passes, a la Tiki Taka, than they did trying to go over the top, or play centering balls in off the wings. In other words, they found more success keeping the ball on the floor, in lieu playing for headers.


One of the other ways that Swashbuckling Futbol found success last season, was long runs and passes down the center of the pitch on the counter. For example, in pushing out of their own half, DCR would have a striker on the move. Usually forcing the opposition back four into committing to stopping him, or committing to trying to catch him offside. In doing that, it created a lot of space for playmaking. Whether that involved hitting that striker on the run, as he pushed up field, or whether it involved playing the ball off to a winger, or second striker, as they pushed up the field; that was wholly dependent upon the vision of the midfielder linking up play. Usually if they went with the second striker route, he would be trying to play the ball into the striker up front, as he broke into the opposition 18 yard box. Sometimes it would lead to goals. Sometimes it would lead to corners. Sometimes it would lead to wasted chances. And there were even the random times where it led to a penalty. That’s why it worked. It created opportunities.


Following the Scottish pass and run tradition, Swashbuckling Futbol is a return to basics. It is, at its very essence, a simplifying of all of the tactical absurdity that has come to dominate football since the days of the 2-3-5, and Herbert Chapman’s WM formation. That pass and run style of play had little to do with tactical shape. It proved more reliant on vision, technique, and teamwork. More than it was reliant on speed. In this case, speed is rendered redundant if the midfielder cannot find the striker making his run. But it also relies on the ability of the playmaker, to be able to read the defensive shape, and to assess what his options are. Maybe it is a more direct route one play. Or maybe it requires working indirectly, off the wings. Either way, it is a system that demands quite a bit from its players to achieve.  And that’s one thing that I am looking forward to, with this coming season, at DCR. To see how Swashbuckling Futbol will evolved with a new manager in place, and see how our lads work within that system. And more importantly, to see if the foundations of the system, put into place last season, will start to pay dividends this season.