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"Anti-football" is a lethargic passing style of football that relies only on passing and an extremely defensive, aggressive physical, robust style of play of football where one team deploys their whole team, except the striker, behind the ball. In doing so, they try their best to stop the opposition from scoring, rather than trying to win the game themselves. It is also used to criticize the playing style of teams who prevent the game from moving on with actions such as: kicking the ball forward without trying to reach any players, intentionally diving and stopping the play for several minutes or kicking the ball away when a free-kick is awarded, to waste time (usually penalized with a yellow card if too flagrant).
History and usage
The phrase has been in use in English since at least 2001, where Gary Armstrong and Richard Giulianotti used the phrase in their book Fear and Loathing in World Football to describe the tactics of Argentine team Estudiantes de La Plata in the 1968 Copa Intercontinental, citing usage of the phrase in a 1968 editorial in the Argentine sports magazine El Gráfico.
In November 2006, Arsenal's Cesc Fàbregas characterized style of play in the English Premier League as anti-football, in the week following a 1–0 defeat to West Ham United, stating: "Teams just defend, defend, and defend; they try to waste time. I call it 'anti-football,' but we have to accept this happens and break teams down." After a frustrating FA Cup tie against Blackburn in 2007, Fabregas could be seen exchanging angry words with Mark Hughes. Hughes explained: "When we shook hands at the end, the young man asked me a question which I thought was disrespectful. He asked me if I had played for Barcelona and when I said yes, he shook his head as if in disbelief. Then he said, 'Well, that wasn't Barcelona football'."
In their run to the 2008 UEFA Cup Final, Rangers manager Walter Smith deployed an ultra-defensive method which was dubbed Watenaccio. Smith used a 4–1–4–1 variation which used centre-backs and centre-midfielders in wide positions, and resulted in Rangers conceding 2 goals on their way to the final. The tactics brought criticism from opposition players such as Barcelona's Lionel Messi, who described the tactics as "anti-football".
In 2010, Johan Cruyff again used the phrase 'anti-football' but on this occasion applying it to the style of play used by his own country's national team, the Netherlands, in the 2010 FIFA World Cup final against Spain. The day after the final Cruyff attacked the Dutch team for renouncing the Netherlands' long standing commitment to playing attacking and entertaining football: "They [the Netherlands] didn't want the ball. And regrettably, sadly, they played very dirty. So much so that they should have been down to nine immediately, then they made two [such] ugly and hard tackles that even I felt the damage. This ugly, vulgar, hard, hermetic, hardly eye-catching, hardly football style, yes it served the Dutch to unsettle Spain. If with this they got satisfaction, fine, but they ended up losing. They were playing anti-football." Other commentators had already described the Dutch style of play during the tournament and particularly in the semifinal and the final as anti-football prior to Cruyff's comments.
After being defeated 2–0, Vietnam coach Henrique Calisto used the phrase 'anti-football' referring to the tactic used against his team by surprise winner Philippines at the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup group stage in Vietnam.
After being defeated by France during the 2018 World Cup semi-final, Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois accused the French of being "an anti-football team", despite the fact that France had significantly more shots on goal while having less possession, and that Belgium by far were the team that had committed the most fouls.
- Gary Armstrong & Richard Giulianotti (2001). Fear and Loathing in World Football. p. 242. ISBN 978-1859734636.
- David Sheppard (10 November 2006). "Fabregas slates the 'anti-football' of Premiership rivals". ESPN.
- Michael Wade (19 April 2011). "Six of the best: Cesc Fabregas run-ins". Talksport.
- "Forget Watenaccio – Walter Smith's Rangers can go for Celtic's jugular". The Guardian. 1 January 2010. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
- "Uefa Cup final tactics". BBC. 14 May 2008. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
- "Rangers played anti-football, bemoans Messi". The Guardian. 24 October 2007. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
- "Barcelona's Lionel Messi hits out at Rangers". The Telegraph. 24 October 2007. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
- Press Association (2010-07-12). "World Cup final: Johan Cruyff hits out at 'anti-football' Holland". Guardian Unlimited.
- "Historic victory leaves McMenemy bewildered". AFF Suzuki Cup 2010. 2010-12-06. Archived from the original on 7 December 2010.