What's new? Norralot. At Highbury last Saturday I saw Thierry Henry do His Trick. Hard to describe in words, though I could show you using those two dummies and that pouffe over there. He did it against the Chelsea goalie, but usually it's when he's confronted by two defenders. He turns his back on them, swivels to one side, and comes out again, still with the ball.
It's marvellous when it works. The defenders look right twats, but it's a dangerous trick. He could get badly clattered, moving backwards, not knowing who else might be about to come into him. Gazza used to try a similar manoeuvre, but that depended on his bum to propel him round opponents. Henry relies on his balletic skill. It's His Trick, one he has made his own, as Cruyff made his little trick his own. So, well done, Thierry.
Anything else? I did notice Wigan try a good corner-kick ploy. You know what it's like these days, madness, makes me scream, both sides crammed into the six-yard box, all pushing and shoving, clinging on to shirts, arms, bollocks, anything they can get hold of. What Wigan did was keep almost all their players well outside the box, on the 18-yard line. They stayed there, while the corner went over. Naturally, all the defenders jumped like idiots to head it clear, as they are programmed to do, and the ball came out to the Wigan players, in masses of space. They did it twice, and both times it worked, in that they got ample time and space for a good shot on goal, but both times the shot was rubbish. They didn't try it again. Shame.
Apart from that, I can't think of any new development over the past two seasons, either in personal tricks or team formations. Free-kicks have got worse recently, rarely going in, even from Beckham. They've given up the one where it gets flicked up for someone else to volley. What do they do all week in training?
I did notice a kick-off ploy a few seasons ago, from Arsenal, I think. In effect, kick-offs are a free-kick in the middle of the park, a chance to put the opponents under pressure, yet they are always wasted. A little tap to the side, then it goes back, often right back to the goalie. What Arsenal did, if it was Arsenal, was to line several players up on the far left of the centre line. The person kicking off belts it hard down the left wing for them to chase, ending up, so they hope, with the ball and a shot on goal.
Darren Huckerby, one of our great underachievers, on loan to Notts Forest until the end of the season, went straight from the kick-off in the second half to race directly down the middle with the ball, creating a goal in just ten seconds. He'd already scored twice by then, so was full of confidence, but it was the sort of surprise you rarely see in football.
English football is currently at a peak. We have the world's richest club, Man Utd, and this season the Premiership is getting bigger crowds - average 35,000 - than any other league in the world. We have star players, like Beckham and Owen, whom so many clubs would like to buy, and half a dozen managers working here who could go anywhere. Yet nothing new or original seems to be happening. Players hardly try to beat other players these days. It's all pass and move. Individual brilliance, of the sort Ryan Giggs can conjure up, gets rarer all the time.
In the past, new ideas often came from having to deal with new rules, such as an alteration in the offside laws. So perhaps we need more changes. The ending of a back pass to the goalie did much to stimulate the lumpen minds and negative methods of defenders. But new things often arrived because someone had a good idea, like the notion of passing, which came from Scotland in the 1880s. Until then, the norm was for the best dribbler to charge ahead, as in playground football, till he lost the ball.
This is not to criticise modern football. I love the speed and excitement, the passing and control. How every player can kill a ball is wonderful. But perhaps it's got too fast for its own good, the pressures too great to allow for mistakes or experiments. When it comes to innovation, footballers' thoughts turn to other topics. Should I have it shaved or tinted, perhaps an Alice band? If I score, how shall I celebrate? My T-shirt, what will I write on it? That's really what they think about in training . . .