a system of twenty-two elements ….

Champs League SF Leg 2 Valery Lobanovsky

Valeriy Lobanovskyi was a twenty-two-year-old winger when, in 1961, Dynamo Kyiv won the Soviet Supreme title for the first time.
They had come so close so often that their fans had begun to despair of it ever happening, and the joy at Dynamo’s victory was heightened by relief.
Amid the jubilation, though, Lobanovskyi wasn’t happy, as he made clear on what was supposed to be a celebratory visit to the Science and research Institute of the Construction Industry with his team-mates Oleh Bazylevych and Vladimir Levchenko.
‘Yes, we have won the league,’ Volodymyr Sabaldyr, a Kyivan scientist and long-time amateur footballer, remembers him saying in the face of excited congratulations. ‘But so what? Sometimes we played badly. We just got more points than other teams who played worse than us. I can’t accept your praise as there are no grounds for it.’
Sabaldyr asked him how it felt to have achieved something that had been a dream for Kyivans for decades.
‘A realised dream ceases to be a dream,’ Lobanovskyi replied.
‘What is your dream as a scientist? Your degree? Your doctorate? Your post-doctoral thesis?’

‘Maybe,’ Sabaldyr replied. ‘But a real scientist dreams about making a contribution to scientific development, about leaving his mark on it.’
‘And there you have your answer.’

Lobanovskyi the player was dilettantish and opposed to Viktor Maslov’s strictures, and yet the perfectionist rationalism, the ambitious and analytic intelligence, was there from the start.
Perhaps that is no great surprise.
He was, after all, gifted enough as a mathematician to win a gold medal when he graduated from high school, while the era in which he grew up was obsessed with scientific progress.
Born in 1939, Lobanovskyi was a teenager as the USSR opened its first nuclear power station and sent Sputnik into space, while Kyiv itself was the centre of the Soviet computer industry.
The first cybernetic institute in the USSR was opened there in 1957, and quickly became acknowledged as a world leader in automated control systems, artificial intelligence and mathematical modelling.
It was there in 1963 that an early prototype of the modern PC was developed.

At the time Lobanovskyi was studying heating engineering at the Kyivan Polytechnic Institute, the potential of computers and their possible applications in almost all spheres was just becoming apparent.
It was exciting, it was new, and it is no great surprise that Lobanovskyi should have been carried along by the wave of technological optimism.
In him was acted out the great struggle between individuality and system: the player in him wanted to dribble, to invent tricks and to embarrass his opponents, and yet, as he later admitted, his training at the Polytechnic Institute drove him to a systematic approach, to break down football into its component tasks.

Football, he explained, eventually became for him a system of twenty-two elements – two sub-systems of eleven elements – moving within a defined area (the pitch) and subject to a series of restrictions (the laws of the game).
If the two sub-systems were equal, the outcome would be a draw. If one were stronger, it would win.

So much is obvious, even if the manner of addressing it is not.
But the aspect that Lobanovskyi found truly fascinating is that the sub-systems were subject to a peculiarity: the efficiency of the sub-system is greater than the sum of the efficiencies of the elements that comprise it.
This, as Lobanovskyi saw it, meant that football was ripe for the application of the cybernetic techniques being taught at the Polytechnic Institute.
Football, he concluded, was less about individuals than about coalitions and the connections between them.
‘All life,’ as he later said, ‘is a number.’

Valeriy Lobanovskyi was a huge supporter of the 4-4-2 because he saw the key to winning any game was not control of the ball but control of the space on the pitch – not only control of space when attacking but control of space when the team was in more defensive positions. As a result, he divided football into 22 elements (players) divided into sub-systems 11 elements each which moved within a defined area (the pitch). If the sub-systems were equal, it was a draw. If one sub-system was better than the other, they would win. As simple as that! Lobanovskyi believed that football was not about individuals but about coalitions, connections and the bond that the individuals in a team shared. He encouraged these bonds in various training sessions in which he would carry out a specific number of drills, the most popular being blindfolded 5-a-side matches. These training sessions resulted in an almost telepathic understanding between the players.

Lobanovskyi believed that pace and teamwork were equally important, hence his emphasis on fitness and teamwork drills. He preferred a player to playing in a particular position and being good at it rather than being able to play anywhere and be versatile. As a result, he was absolutely against the “Total Football” style of play preferred by the Germans and Dutch.

He was also one of the first to apply psychology to the game of football, Lobanovskyi famously said, “I don’t just speak of the sporting aspect of things, I’m equally inspired by scientific theories, which enable me to plan the training sessions, or by philosophical ideas, which allow me to organize the group of which I have charge. Every manager in the world says that the most difficult thing of all is the leadership of men. They are right, but do they know that reading philosophical works can help us?“

 

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