Wednesday, 3 August 2011

A Brief History of Tactics - The Verrou

The Verrou

With the rest of Europe making clear tactical progress, it fell to the Swiss to find a way to combat the WM and the Danubian school. The Swiss players were not generally as gifted as their European counterparts, or as physically fit as the British, and so they needed tactics to overcome the superiority of their opponents. The system the Swiss designed was aimed to get the very best out of more limited players.

The man that came up with the plan, Karl Rappan, was not actually Swiss himself but Austrian. He had enjoyed success as a player with Rapid Vienna, and had been capped for the Austrian national team but he moved to Servette in Switzerland to take up the position of player-coach. While there he created a system which built on both the pyramid and the WM, which became known as the Verrou (or the bolt in English).

The bolt retained the use of an attacking centre-half which had been the cornerstone of the pyramid and also lined up the two full-backs one behind the other as had often taken place under the classical 2-3-5 formation. The greatest innovation though was to withdraw the two wing-halves into a deeper role, responsible for marking the opposing wingers. Although wing-halves had been charged with this role under the 2-3-5, less emphasis was placed on their attacking duties under the Verrou. By lining up the full-backs one behind the other, it allowed one to go to the ball and challenge, while the other acted as a spare man, sweeping up behind him.

This was in effect the first use of the verrouller or libero in football, a position that would continue to evolve in the coming years. Rappan enjoyed a great deal of success with the system as he won two league titles with Servette, and five more with Grasshoppers. It was in international football that it would have it’s greatest impact. Using the Verrou the Swiss defeated England in a friendly and knocked Germany out of the 1938 World Cup, showing quite how difficult a system it could be to face.

Switzerland (below) v. Hungary, 1938

The great difficulty of the system, particularly when played by a more ambitious side than Switzerland, came in the distance between the defence and attack. Although under the Verrou the inside-forwards were expected to drop deep (arguably even deeper than Alex James did for Arsenal), there was a tendency for large gaps to open up between the defence and attack, due to the withdrawn position of the wing-halves and the out-right attacking placement of the wingers. The key therefore was in finding a centre-half with the quality to command the entire midfield, acting as a true link for the entire team. Fortunately for Rappan he had Verneti, one of the world’s finest centre-halves at the time.

The Swiss may have invented the Verrou, but it was Uruguay who won football’s greatest prize with it at the 1950 World Cup. Hosts Brazil had crushed all opposition in the build up to their deciding World Cup match against the Uruguayans, with one notable exception: Switzerland. Brazil had won their other 4 games by a total margin of 17 goals, but the plucky Swiss held them to a 2-2 draw. Knowing this Juan Lopez Fontana, the Uruguayan coach, chose to mimic the Swiss system for the vital clash. Pulling Gonzalez into the sweeper position with Tejera just in front drew the half-backs, Schubert Gambetta and Victor Andrade, back into defensive slots and left Obdulio Varela, the black chief, as the classic attacking centre-half. If Verneti had been a fine centre-half, Varela was a sensational one, and against all odds Uruguay defeated Brazil to capture the World Cup in the Maracana and cause the most painful defeat in Brazilian football history.  

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