“Parking the bus” – a phrase now levied at any team who deviate from the Keegan attacking philosophy of ‘scoring one more’. Though managers on the losing end have often criticised defensive displays, it was Jose Mourinho who cemented the association with the big red vehicles you find in London. His most recent use was after the match against West Ham, a clear underdog who managed to come away from Stamford Bridge with a hard-fought point. Had Sam Allardyce, West Ham’s veteran manager, gone 4-2-4 like an eager schoolkid on Football Manager hoping for goals galore – Mourinho would no doubt be grinning at the 10-1 victory.
Had Mourinho not used said ‘anti-football’ tactics himself, his point may be more valid. Recent ‘shut-up-shop’ performances at Old Trafford and the Etihad come to mind, but the most recent was the smash-and-grab at Anfield that derailed Liverpool’s sought-after title challenge. Liverpool were criticised for tactical naivety, as Jose’s Chelsea countered twice successfully to blunt the fangs of the Kop’s much lauded attack.
The Italian national team famously adopt a defensive minded approach, something which then trickled down to its domestic leagues. Numerous managers agree with this sentiment of ‘building from the back’, so why then is a team demonised for favouring a sensible defensive structure as opposed to a conveyerbelt of balls for the striker to tap in?
A parallel can be found within football simulation video games: For example the ‘Football Manager’ series, where exasperated players often flock to SI Games’ busy forum (the makers of said series) and rant wildly about how despite their team boasting favourable statistics – they still lost, often to a lone chance by the opposition. The pure definition of the ‘smash-and-grab’ or alternatively, the Italian art of absorbing the pressure and waiting patiently for a counter when the opposing team is busy looking where to place it in the net. It appears the only difference between a classy defensive display and ‘parking the bus’ is the post-match interview. A top manager like Mourinho, who like Alex Ferguson, is happy to wax lyrical to the press after a favourable result, displays the opposite after a defeat where his team were favourites to win, then becoming the archetypical sore loser who finds fault in the victors, the opposition, rather than his and the teams own failings.
“Parking the bus?” – yes it sounds snappy and conjures an amusing image but it’s just a line trotted out by media darlings who indulge the ego-massage afforded to them by the press sycophants, who are all too happy to deflect the blame to the plucky underdog who refused to roll over for them.