Chelsea: Football puts Zeno in charge of policy, pins hope on half steps

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05: Frank Lampard, Manager of Chelsea gives instructions during the FA Cup Third Round match between Chelsea and Nottingham Forest at Stamford Bridge on January 05, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 05: Frank Lampard, Manager of Chelsea gives instructions during the FA Cup Third Round match between Chelsea and Nottingham Forest at Stamford Bridge on January 05, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images) /

Germany is leading the way back to football games, but not without some unvalidated measures in place, because social distancing. Hopefully, by the time Chelsea are training again, Germany’s experiment will show what is truly necessary.

Old and busted: Half spaces. New hotness: Half steps. The Bundesliga is apparently adopting Zeno’s Paradox as their guiding principle as they prepare to resume play on May 9. The Wall Street Journal reports Borussia Dortmund have been building up from two to four to six to eight players practicing at a time over the last month. They are not working on set pieces nor tackling, since both involve too close physical contact. Head coach Lucien Favre said “They stay 10-15 yards away from each other, passing the ball, moving, and we go all the way to the goal like that.”

This must be particularly difficult for Borussia Dortmund’s sports science team to stomach, let alone train around. Perhaps more than anyone else on the staff, they are familiar with the concepts of phase transitions and non-linear behavior. They know that – literally and metaphorically – you can only do so much walking before you have to run, and the former is not much preparation for the latter.

For those of you not conversant in dynamic systems theory as applied to sports science by Frans Bosch, here’s a brief primer on what I’m talking about.

Running is not just walking really fast. No matter how fast you walk – even if you approach those ridiculous race-walker speeds – you will never reach a point where, hey, look at that! I’ve seamlessly transitioned to running now. There is no continuous progression between walking and running. To go from one to the other you have to fully discontinue one, and then abruptly start the other.

Therefore, walking for longer durations and at higher speeds can help build the cardiovascular foundation that will support running, but walking is not training for running. Eventually, you need to run, and all the walking you did will be little more than a memory: it did not make you a better or more skillful runner.

At some point, Borussia Dortmund, the rest of the Bundesliga, Chelsea and every other football club in the world will need to play 11 v 11. They will need to do it at practice, with set pieces and tackling. Then they will need to do it against other teams battling for titles, Champions League places and pride.

There’s only so much training value to be had at the kind of isolated, component-level training taking place at Borussia Dortmund right now.

How well it will transfer to a competitive game of football is an open question. Just like how every strength and conditioning coach must determine how well an exercise will transfer to an in-sport task demand, knowing that transfer is never 100%, so must the coaching staff of these clubs determine how well these quasi-sessions will translate to real football.

Like every other restriction and policy put in place by governments worldwide during the coronavirus pandemic, there is no basis for believing that the measures Borussia Dortmund (and other clubs) are taking are effective or necessary; nor that they won’t dramatically compromise performance on the post-intervention tests.

Lucien Favre – like the other coaches and players – is yet another experimental subject who did not give informed consent in accordance with the Helsinki Declaration.

The only thing in Favre’s favour is that the unrealities have been imposed across the board.

Don’t worry, though. Proving once again that there’s no absurdity so extreme that a governing body can’t push it further, FIFA’s chief medic Michel D’Hooghe mused that spitting should be a bookable offence when football returns.

Chelsea what if's. Mazacar then, Mazacar now, Mazacar forever. light

Spitting on or at another player is already a red card offence. Does Monsieur D’Hooghe have any evidence of coronavirus transmission from outdoor saliva-based incidental surface contact? Of course not. Nor should he feel pressured to. This whole global episode has been the triumph of models over empiricism, #science over science and power over all.

In terms D’Hooghe would understand, his opinion here has “no commercial value,” just like the painting he received in return for his vote to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

Half steps are better than no steps. But half steps with no bases for the half that’s been removed nor the half that’s been allowed to stay will not help anybody take the full steps that someday we will all take again. Half steps can only get so close before you have to stop completely and switch over to what your goal was all along.

Next. Meireles, Cuadrado and other notable one-and-done Chelsea players. dark

Hopefully Chelsea will learn from Borussia Dortmund’s experience and not just follow in their footsteps, or worse, follow the path laid out for them by the governing bodies of England or Europe.