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Occam’s Razor

by Peter Prickett - Follow Peter https://twitter.com/PeterPrickett

Enjoy what you read - Checkout Peter's blog http://www.pger.net/football/

Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora.

William of Occam (Okham) (1285-1347) must have been a football fan.

Sometime circa 1300 Franciscan Friar and philospher William of Occam wrote the above words. The translation form the latin is approximately – It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer. Occam was seeking a method to distinguish theories from each other in order to find the correct solution. There is beauty in simplicity.

The world is a complex place. There are a great many interpersonal relationships at play, coupled with the laws of physics, societal norms and the status quo clashing with revolution. Yet on a different level it is a very simple place, one of right and wrong. Philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) provided an aptly simple summary.

  • Life: everyone is entitled to live.
  • Liberty: everyone is entitled to do anything they want to so long as it doesn’t conflict with the first right.
  • Estate: everyone is entitled to own all they create or gain through gift or trade so long as it doesn’t conflict with the first two rights.


The trick is to understand the complexity but then be able to strip it back. Remove that which is not needed.

Frustra fit plura quod potest fieri per pauciora.


Picasso with his method of “Ruthless reduction” would have approved. As he stripped away the layers to create his trademark bull.


Bill Shankly would have approved too.

Shankly passing

So too would Johan Cruyff.

Cruyff simple

Frustra fit plura quod potest fieri per pauciora.

The simplicity of the game of football is a major part of it’s appeal. It does not take much to get a game going and no matter what the circumstances, no matter the number of participants, the way to win will always be the same simplistic truth. Score more goals than the other team.

How you score more goals than that team is where the complexity arrives. Then you add in the ways to stop the other teams from scoring and we have thousands of possibilities. The weight of possibility is a beautiful thing but so too is the purity of simplicity.

Cruyff was perhaps the greatest footballing philosopher. With a a turn of phrase and ability to distill the truth of the game. While others form complex tactical theory Cruyff would cut it down with a wait that was not flippant. None of Harry Redknapp’s “tactics, tic-tacs” for Johan.

The fundamentals of Cruyff’s approach to the game have become a kind of truth. To a degree the numbers you right down as a formation are not all that important. What is important is that when you have the ball the pitch is big and if you joined the dots of your team’s players they form some sort of hexagonal shape. When your team hasn’t got the ball, get as many players back to defend as you can but make sure there is still a player or two you can use to counter attack. Jurgen Klopp reclaimed some of football’s simplicity with his pressing philosophy. Recently Henryk Mkhitaryan compared Klopp and Mourinho, saying that Klopp’s main tactic was to chase the ball like kids. The kids have got it right. It is almost impossible to play when you are being swarmed by opponents. Pressing the ball is inherent in children. A simplicity that coaches remove from them and then at the highest level they have to pour back in.

Where we really think of simplicity and beauty is in passing. Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona being the ultimate example. Players seemed to only dribble when they had to, not when they wanted to (apart from one obvious exception). The world watched in awe as Cruyff’s greatest disciple produced a team that played with simplicity itself. Controlling the ball, passing the ball, making yourself available for the next pass. One touch, two touch, the rat-a-tat-tat rhythm mesmerising opponent after opponent. Pure simplicity. Yet, if it was so simple why isn’t everyone doing it?

The answer is because Cruyff was right. As was William of Occam. The reason not everyone is doing is that they do not have the razor, to shave away unnecessary assumptions and find the truth.

Frustra fit plura quod potest fieri per pauciora.

William of Occam would have made an excellent football coach.

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