532 Words on: A retraction and apology

Last week I posted about my miserable childhood introduction to football. For those who either can’t be bothered reading it or don’t want to be exposed to such wretched dickensian tragedy, the TLDR version is my coach made me play as a sweeper and it wasn’t a good time – because said gaffer neglected to inform me what a sweeper actually is. For all I knew then and have known since it might as well have been the sooty profession narrowly avoided by Oliver Twist himself.

Now, I accept that this is probably a suboptimal knowledge gap for a football blogger to have. So over the past week I have attempted to find out, not only what a sweeper is but also how the position’s defining features suit me as a player.

My first port of call was, of course, my chief tactical advisor – Birkenhead United assistant coach Andrew Parkinson. Parky told me “it’s a fluid role. The left and right backs along with one centre back will pick up an attacking player, whereas the sweeper will remain free to control the defensive shape.” I smiled and nodded appreciatively, still not really any the wiser.

But then he helpfully added something that made me sit up and take notice. “If your coach had said play like Franco Baresi you would have known exactly what he wanted!” Wait, Baresi was a sweeper??? Shit. It’s difficult to credibly mock people who have never heard of certain members of AC Milan’s back four in the early 90s when I myself have no real understanding of what Baresi did for most of his career. I had to double my efforts to get my head around this.

After pleading for Parky to explain it to me in Pleblish, and watching a bit of Baresi on YouTube, I think I’ve ascertained that a sweeper, or libero as they are much more stylishly known, is in essence a ball playing centre back. Often small and agile but also strong, they seize possession by any means necessary and take the ball forward to create an extra player in midfield.

Trouble is, that’s all well and good but it in no way provides any sound explanation as to what my coach was smoking thinking this in any way reflected my skill-set on a football pitch, then, now or in any alternate reality imaginable. After a few days pondering this conundrum I identified one credible link between early career Baresi and early career Giordani, and one link only – Milan were crap in the early 80’s and so was I.

There is one other distinct possibility though. Maybe I misheard and my coach didn’t say sweeper at all. Maybe it was SLEEPER. I do enjoy a good snooze, it definitely beats chasing a football on a frosty foggy Waikato morning, and under his tutelage my style of play did resemble that of a railway sleeper – ie an inanimate rectangular lump of macrocarpa.

This has to be it. Mea culpa! I have seriously misjudged this guy all these years. He was actually onto something. An undiscovered pioneering tactical genius, he invented a new position – I just hadn’t understood its potential. Problem solved. Thank you next.