01 July 2008

What We Talk About When We Talk About Marcello Gallardo

The Question, for today, is Marcello Gallardo. Specifically, why do opinions diverge on his performance so much? The same game that has some writers and commenters raving about him is the same game that leaves other observers scratching their heads and saying "I don't get it, what's so special?" Is he a genius, or is he making passes according to a game in his head that he, and no one else on the pitch, is really playing.

The easy answer is to say "well, the truth is somewhere in between." That answer is wrong. Marcello Gallardo neatly illustrates one of the truths about soccer that makes it so enjoyable, and yet so frustrating. There are a few positions that are difficult to objectively judge when watching. Sometimes it is a limitation of TV. You can see an attacker dribble around a keeper after a long through ball, but who was supposed to be marking him? Why wasn't the defense organized? Sadly, that is probably cropped off your image making a judgement about a goal difficult. But if you're at the game, or get a replay with a wide angle, you can probably piece it all together.

The problem is a bit more difficult when you're talking about a holding midfielder. Are they man marking? Are they playing more zonally? Where should they be, when should they get forward, who is making the run that they need to be aware of. Plays at a distance affect the center of your attention.

With an attacking midfielder, especially one that plays like Gallardo as opposed to Gomez, the problem is even greater. Marcello thinks in longer passes than Christian Gomez, which means where fellow players are (and where defenders aren't) is more of an issue. Also, since more time elapses during the pass, the vectors of the ball and the run are longer (remember those arrows in math?) Which means the potential space you are looking at is expanded. Christian was great at a one touch pass, playing short, dribbling around a marker, and slipping a ball through. Gallardo plays the long ball, but it's not Route 1. It's a speculative highway that another player may or may not see.

So the answer is that Gallardo is great, right, and that the other players are to blame for not making those runs? Not so fast. Gallardo does see these runs, and plays the ball for them, but that doesn't necessarily make it the right choice. Players can check to him, and he'll play over their head, when he should play it short and take the return pass. The longer pass is more speculative, and sometimes improbable to a fault. Even if Gallardo believes he can perfectly weight the ball, he also must assume that the run will have the right line, and that the player gets the right jump. Sometimes the easy play is right.

To look at Gallardo's play is, to some extent, to look at yourself as an observer. How are you feeling today? Adventurous? Artistic? Then Gallardo will no doubt manifest himself as a genius, and you and he are simpatico. Are you feeling cautious, prudent, and efficient? Then the play of Gallardo is no doubt extravagant and foolhardy and does not pay as much attention to his teammates as it should.

We see the Gallardo we want to see on the field, and that colors our perceptions of him. Perhaps the doll is not just diminuitive, but also he is dressed up by each observer to fit their own feelings. It is not that the truth lies in between for Gallardo. No, it is that both extremes are true, but say more about the observer than the observed.



At 01 July, 2008 10:22, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Solid analysis.

Two quick points/queries.

Perhaps the flip side of the same analysis could apply to quality defensive midfielders (such as Shalrie Joseph)?

Perhaps this post should be be considered again later in the season as it is apparent that Gallardo & Co. continue to learn from each other and anticipate runs and passes more accurately in recent games than they did in the early part of the season? A congruent learning process can be found in Pointee Football where a new quarterback has to learn a new playbook and get to know the skills/capabilities of his offensive line of a period of time.

At 01 July, 2008 10:26, Blogger Chris said...

Love this post D. The gritty vs. the artistic.

And yet... the doll got his goal this weekend on something that fell in between. Attacking the box and slipping in between defenders right where Gomito himself might have been preying.

If Gallardo increasingly takes those chances , I think there will be more singing his praises at the end of the season.

At 01 July, 2008 11:03, Blogger (j)on said...

I was going to write this EXACT post on the Offside. So, way to read my mind.

At 01 July, 2008 11:28, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done!

But this then brings us to the question of: how do Marcelo's tendencies interact with the team's shape and objectives? I don't just believe Marcelo plays well because I like adventurous play. It's a question of what he brings to the offense in concert with the other players.

Not all turnovers are created equal. Those balls to no one are still serving a purpose - they ensure the defense must always be alert to the skillful long pass, even if it doesn't come off in that particular instance. If you're frustrated by it, ask yourself: how is this any different from Gomez dribbling too agressively and losing the ball in tight traffic? That happened quite a lot, too. But in each case, the aggressiveness isn't a stupid or wasted turnover, because the quality of Gomez's short moves and Gallardo's long ones both serve to open up future space for teammates even when those moves aren't successful.

But then on the flip side: does Gallardo's style match well with the surrounding talent? I don't think this team, as built, is going to exploit his moves as well as it exploited those of Gomez. Gallardo wants to play a pace-and-anticipation game, while Gomez wants to play a dribble-and-dish game. DCU does not have the pace to exploit Gallardo's passes for maximum impact. And so we reach your observation that Gallardo would do well to make the shorter pass at times, to work with the guys who thrive on one-twos in traffic (Moreno, Emilio, Fred) and (naturally) played so well with Gomez.

And then: are we going to reorganize the talent around Gallardo when he is already over thirty, and here on just a two year deal? I suspect people may find their frustrations will continue, because I don't see the front office making a major overhaul to "fit" the team to Gallardo's style.

At 01 July, 2008 12:12, Blogger EdTheRed said...

Me and el Muñeco are muy simpatico. I love me some artistic futbol.

At 01 July, 2008 13:25, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thoughtful analysis, but i wonder if it let's gallardo off the hook for his decisions on the field. for instance, if you don't have a winger that can get to your long ball then it's probably a bad decision to send him one.

in the end, i think it's about making the players around you better. sure there is going to be an adjustment period, but in the near future it's going to become clear, one way or the other, if el Muñeco makes d.c. better than the sum of our parts ... and that probably isn't going to have anything to do with how frisky or conservative i'm feeling.

At 01 July, 2008 14:08, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was these posts that drew me to this blog in the first place.
However, how, then, do we judge Gallardo's performance if so much of it is subjective? Assists and goals? The overall scoreline? I know you hate it when people bring up the money, but there is that, plus the opportunity cost of having a DP spot available, so how do we, or the coaching and front office staff decide if they're getting their money's worth?
I say this as a fan of Gallardo. I think he brings a new type of attack to the MLS. I don't think I've really seen a midfielder as prone or effective at spraying balls forward out of the midfield. And while the team may not be optimized to exploit his style of play, they have begun to do so.
But as I see it, the determination of his quality comes from his decision-making. He has been with the team long enough, and seen them fail enough, to realize that he can't just play the way he wants to - there does need to be a mix of his long passes with short passes and ball control. That, however, is an awfully vague and also subjective test.
So I will say this. Many other teams have gotten a lot more from their DP spots than United has. The other players, such as Beckham, Whitey, Angel and Schelotto - they have very specific roles that hinge far less on team work (and they have largely lived up to those roles). Gallardo wasn't hired to score or lob in perfect crosses/score on set pieces. I actually was opposed to United hiring a DP to do one or two things, Gallardo was more or less what I asked for. I may have been wrong. Maybe what United needs IS a midfielder who will shoot from far outside the 18 or a striker with exceptional prowess, if the team cannot maximize the strength that Gallardo does bring. But then, I would point out, United has scored a lot of goals, perhaps indicating that they are learning to use Gallardo to slice up defenses, but that remains to be seen.
Long post, but I have to add, my greatest problem is that damn sign that Gallardo carries around on non-game days that reads something like "The End Is Near!"

At 01 July, 2008 14:15, Blogger Longshoe said...

Great, great post, one of my all time favorites of yours.

Count me solidly in Team Marcello. I love the way he plays, and I think he'll take the team to another level in the long run. It's just been a bumpy road in the short term.

At 01 July, 2008 14:17, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah. The argument of the artist. I think that your painting looks like something a five year old made, and you say that I lack vision.

To some degree, the argument is certainly correct. I couldn't care less about this level of artistry. Show me a nice back-heel, a one-two combination, and two defenders tripping over their own feet and I love it. Expecting me to appreciate a speculative pass from behind the mid-line is asking too much and frankly is exactly what will cause the sport to never gain wide acceptance in the US.

I will accept your arguments that Gallardo is good. Only to a degree though. True greatness would mean that there is a measurable drop in production when he leaves the field. Chicago and NY certainly proved that was not the case.

I suppose that is actually a good thing, since we should obviously expect 2 or 3 more suspensions from Chucky (the homicidal doll) through the rest of the season.

I am willing to accept that, as the team gels, Gallardo is not a downgrade. However, he is certainly not an upgrade. Since we pay him 5 times what Gomez wanted to stay here, I would say that we should have expected an upgrade.

At 01 July, 2008 15:38, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For all of you true artists out there, I submit to you the Gallardo of Ethernet cables.


At 01 July, 2008 16:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love it!

Such discussions is the reason why I come here to read what you and the posters say.

I think what clouds my judgment is the whole MLS DP situation. Its skewed. There are many players that are severely underpaid by the standards of many smaller leagues like ours. On another hand, each DP use up money that could have bought a handful of solid professionals. Whether any specific DP fulfills the club's goal and earns his money worth is a case-by-case. I agree with skippy that guys like Beckham and Blanco do that for their clubs (looking from aside). And we remember some overpaid disasters.

I am on a fence with Gallardo. He was brought in to fulfill 2 roles: leadership position and creative midfielder position. So far I don't see him as authoritative figure as Blanco, or Etcheverry, or Moreno, or Olsen. I do want you to tell me that you see it (for the sake of DCU)

On creative side, I actually do appreciate and enjoy the game with long passes into free zones to stretch defense, etc. (Actually I like it more than weaving of a hundred short passes.) I have no problem when it is not complete once in a while because a runner was not quick enough, or pass not exact, or defense read it well. As long as it pays off more often.

My concern with quality of Gallardo passing is in losing many shorter passes, or disappearing for stretches of the game. Yes, and unnecessary roughness.

I was not following his game before, so I don't know what potential of his is not realizing yet. As a DP, he can not be measured as just any other player. By the "any other player" standards, he IS really very good. By the standards of the game setting leader earning as much as at least 6 other guys on the pitch - I am not convinced yet.
But I am willing to give him all benefits of the doubt he needs.

At 01 July, 2008 16:08, Blogger rke said...

Great discussion! However, I think we're beginning to see things play out in favor of a pragmatic artist...

First, it's a little too simplistic to say that Gallardo serves long balls while Gomez played short.

Gallardo's game is not about lobbing long, English balls over the defense -- it's about reading the field and predicting plays. It involves short play as well as long.

Part of what we're seeing when we say that this team is beginning to "gel" is 1) that our offense is getting better at reading Gallardo's intent, and 2) that Gallardo is getting to know his teammates' strengths. Players are making more creative runs, and Gallardo is learning how much lead they can handle. He's also learning just how much he can trust the feet of Moreno (and others) on the short plays.

Remember when we used to complain that DCU always attacked up the middle? That we were easy to predict? Those days are gone.

I don't know how useful it is to guess at how this team might have looked had Gomez stuck around. But I will say that it's looking very different -- and very dangerous -- with Gallardo at the helm. And we have plenty of improvement still left in us.

At 01 July, 2008 17:00, Blogger Ray said...

There is a missing question: "why?"

Why the disconnect in the United team?

I suspect that it comes from a level of tactical maturity that is no longer present in United. I last saw it in 1998 or 1999.

Look back at those years, and you could see players making off-the-ball runs into space, in anticipation of Etcheverry's passes.

We do not have a coach or players with the tactical nous to be able to keep up with our new #10.

We aspire to his level; but we are not there yet.

If we achieve it, we will be as good as those United teams of old. If not, it is a failed experiment.

Either way, it is the result of a tactical maturity and understanding within his DNA that we have not seen in some time.

There it is.

At 01 July, 2008 18:05, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RKE's point about the variety of our attacking options is well taken. We can make dribble-and-pass moves up the middle with Jaime and Fred. We can spray the ball accurately down the flanks, or occasionally through the center, with Gallardo. We can take power shots from distance with Simms. When Burch is on the field, we can add dangerous crosses into the mix. And you have an excellent poacher ready to clean up all the resulting garbage.

Perhaps this is what Soehn was talking about when he said that once the team started to click, "I wouldn't want to face us." There may be no one aspect of the offensive game that DCU will dominate this year... but we will always have a way to score, and if your defense has a weakness, we can always exploit it.

At 01 July, 2008 21:44, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like rke and gruthos' last arguments. If the increased offense is really due to Gallardo instantly reading the weaks spots on the field and distributing the ball to the person best poised to exploit that weakness, then I am duly impressed.

I am not sure that is what is happenning though. For me, it comes to this: Can anyone argue that he is the team's MVP? Can you even argue that he is top 5?

At 01 July, 2008 23:23, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I love this kind of controversy. Really makes things fun. In full disclosure, I was the anonymous poster who said that Gallardo had a "monster game" in a comment on the Galaxy game. Right after Jeremy bashed him in a comment that I hadn't read. Do I stand by that assessment? Yeah, I guess, although I may have been caught up in the glorious win.

As a first point, it's worth noting, as every reader of this blog knows, how much we're paying this guy. Is he worth the same (rough) amount that's being paid to Blanco or Beckham (notwithstanding the latter's pathetic performance in the recent game)? I would say, clearly NO. Hell, for a tenth of the price, Gomez fit much better with the team.

But that could be a result of Gomez's experience with the team compared to Gallardo. So has Gallardo improved as part of the team? Yeah. I'd say that's clear. He may have punted certain aspects of the game on Sunday (which, full disclosure, I didn't pick up on TV), but he also appeared to be involved in lots of threatening moves on goal. And he appeared to control, and then attack, the Galaxy midfield in a way that he didn't in the past.

My ultimate assessment is that if Emilio, Fred, Gallardo and a few others continue to get on same page as they have recently, then Gallardo will be able to thrive. And, I would argue, he showed much more hustle than Becks on Sunday. Now that's not worth 2.5 million, but it makes me like him a lot more than most prima donnas.

At 01 July, 2008 23:32, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't had the time to read beyond the headline, but is that an intentional Old 97s reference?

At 02 July, 2008 07:42, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gallardo is playing at his skill level , which is many degrees higher than his team mates ,,,,,,,,,,,this has a tendency to make him look bad at times and in reality he is playing bad because he has failed to adjust to his team mates,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,on the other hand , is it fair to ask him to play down ?
I think the problem lies with the front office in the assembly of the team this year,,,,,,,,,,,,,,it really is too bad 90% of the team doesn't or can't recognize the angles Gallardo is playing.........Gallardo recognizes angles and configurations that present themselves to scoring opportunities , his team mates simply see space,,,,,,,,,,,,sometimes I wonder if any of them really know what fourth and fifth man offense is , I know Gallardo does.............

At 02 July, 2008 08:59, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Temperature check:

A number of posts compare Gallardo to Gomez; however, the respective arguments then seem to reference Gomez Version 2006 (rather than Gomez Version 2007 who disappeared during the first half of the season and fizzled in the play-off run). Gomez is still dangeroues; however, he's got a handful of tricks, teams know how to anticipate him, close him down and ultimately neutralize him as a No. 10. Ultimately, any comparison between Gallardo and Gomez should reference Gomez 2007 or even Gomez 2008... which I don't think lives up to some of the praises in these posts.

At 02 July, 2008 10:20, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The headline is an allusion to Raymond Carver's most famous collection of short stories.

At 02 July, 2008 11:13, Blogger D said...

A few quick comments in response before I get to work on the debrief...

Dave/BDR: BDR is correct in that, in my head, the reference was directly to Carver, though the Old 97s reference the same thing on Fight Songs.

Mickey: Agreed on both counts, and I even tried to write a bit about that before moving on the main point.

Skippy/Jeremy: One of the key things I was trying to get across is that I don't think the anti-Gallardo comments are wrong. Not at all. There are simultaneous values of truth at play. And well referenced in your last sentence Skippy. Justice is like the Hawk!

Ray: I think you make a great point on the question of "Why" What should be happening is that United develops a group-mind around Gallardo, but right now everyone is still guessing. That's how we'll know if it worked or not, when we see players not guessing about each other's intentions but consistently being on the same page. We're getting better, but we're not there yet, and one does wonder if a little more help from the coaches could have gotten us there faster.

At 02 July, 2008 13:23, Anonymous Anonymous said...

See, I don't read (note my first comment). I only listen to music.

At 03 July, 2008 22:16, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BUT IS HE WORTH, what, $2.5 MILLION???????????? Even a diminished Gomez or an old Moreno (can't really score many goals in the run of play anymore) is a better, dollar for dollar, that Gallardo. No?

At 04 July, 2008 10:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The money United paying is well worth it compare to Gomez. It's not just about scoring and dominating the field, of course we hope for, but brings attention to the league in general. How much DC #10 shirts sell in latin American with Gomez's and how much for Gallardo's name on it? There is just no to compare these two.


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