The wind is increasing in the second half as Brescia nurse a two goal advantage against the home side. Livorno are a few places ahead of Brescia before the match and both are mired at the lower end of the table in Italy’s Serie B. The weather is getting atrocious; the winds are farcical. Boarding behind the net has found its way onto the field and the match has to be stopped momentarily for Livorno’s keeper to pull it off the pitch. Placards and debris are flying around the stands while goal kicks and set pieces have to be reset numerous times because the ball keeps rolling away after being placed stationary.
Brescia’s approach in the second half is simple. Playing in a 4-3-3 they sit back and let Livorno have the ball. The four defenders and three midfielders stay very close together and they break with only their front three on the counter — occasionally a midfielder joins in support. Who could blame them? They are away from home, battling relegation, up two goals, and playing in some of the worst conditions you could play in before a match has to be abandoned.
At this point there is no beauty to Brescia’s game. They stack the dangerous areas with multiple players, get men in the way, and launch the ball forward whenever they get the chance. That’s not to say Livorno are playing aesthetically themselves, they are devoid of any creativity and, seemingly intimidated by the gale storm and Brescia’s compactness, resign themselves to launching looping balls into the box. The approach for both sides at the surface makes sense. Ugly conditions call for ugly play. There’s no intricate passing to be found here, only strength and grit can see this type of match through.
In the 72nd minute Brescia’s young Polish anchor man, Bartosz Salamon, finds the ball at his feet in his defensive third. He looks left, looks right, then forward, but no one is in a position to receive a pass. Resigned to hitting the ball forward away from goal, Salamon sends a long wayward pass high in the air. The wind carries it into touch and Brescia lose possession once again, but not for Salamon’s lack of trying.
Who is Bartosz Salamon?
Brescia eventually saw the match out and ended up winning 2-0, but they rarely completed multiple passes in the second half. It’s one thing to concede possession and hit your opponents on the counter when you have the lead; it’s another to admit that a strong wind renders you unable to make a short, simple pass and that long aerial balls will be more effective. The fact is that any pass over 15 yards, be it in the air or on the ground, was affected by the wind. A Brescia player could aim a long pass and hit it with the perfect weight but inevitably it would be strewn well off target. Only shorter passes had any chance of being regularly completed, but with the lead Brescia decided the onus was on Livorno to complete those passes.
Bartosz Salamon is a young, tall midfielder who has been an ever present player for Brescia this season. The Polish youngster was brought to Italy from Lech Poznan. He has a slow, languid style that is not appealing to every football fan. Some interpret it as laziness, others say that those who don’t appreciate it are simple minded, but the truth is that if a style is effective then it is effective – what makes it effective is a different point entirely.
The Barcelona link
Perhaps it is not surprising that a club like Brescia has found a player such as Salamon a key part of their starting eleven this season. In the early part of the new millennium a 30 year old Josep Guardiola spent time at the club. Guardiola the manager is maybe the most impressive boss in football today, but Guardiola the footballer has become a representation of the evolution of football over his career. A skilled, diminutive, ball playing central midfielder, Guardiola played deep and relished the ball at his feet. However the game began to change over his career, or at least the perception of what could be successful changed, and physical, combative defensive midfielders became in vogue. Guardiola left Barcelona in 2001 and moved to Brescia where he played alongside a young midfielder who showed similar qualities to him – Andrea Pirlo. Guardiola has been public in his praise of Pirlo, a small, relatively unathletic but immeasurably smart footballer who exhibits supreme confidence when he has the ball at his feet.
When watching Bartosz Salamon play the immediate comparison one thinks of is Sergio Busquets. No one is saying Salamon is as talented as the Spaniard, his exploits at such a young age are incomparable, but the basic qualities are similar. Both are tall, both play mainly in front of the defense but have been deployed as central defenders (note: since I wrote this article Salamon has been played almost exclusively at center back), both prefer a calm passing game, and both rely on smart positioning and economy of movement rather than tireless running.
Inevitably there are differences, and some of these are what lead to the gulf in class between the two players. Salamon is more of a tackler while Busquets favours intercepting passes and pressing in order to force mistakes in order to win the ball back. Salamon is more ambitious in his passing but his ability often fails to catch up to his brain and he loses possession too easily sometimes. Busquets on the other hand is much smarter in his passing choices and rarely loses possession of the ball. What’s undeniable though is that both are what you would call ‘Guardiola type’ players.
What does the future hold?
Taking Guardiola’s connection with Brescia and Salamon’s similarity to Busquets into account it is perhaps not so shocking to hear that Guardiola was reportedly interested in bringing Salamon to Barcelona recently. Polish football fans have learned to be cautious when it comes to transfer rumours regarding young players. Having highly touted prospects such as Maciej Korzym and Marcin Burkhardt being linked to Chelsea and Inter Milan only to end up becoming nothing more than Polish league level players will do that to a fanbase, but the Salamon to Barcelona speculation seems a little different. It is a fact that Guardiola visited Brescia’s training grounds, so it is true that Guardiola saw Salamon play, and it is not hard to imagine that of the Brescia players he saw that a young, deep lying ball playing midfielder caught his eye. That being said, it is hard to imagine the best club in the world has legitimate interest in any second division player, let alone Salamon specifically.
Perhaps Guardiola won’t have to buy Salamon in order to manage him one day. After his visit to his old club, the same one where he remarked that Brescia have some interesting young players, Guardiola said he wanted to one day manage the Italian side. Granted, he also said he would do it for free, so what he said should be taken with a grain of salt. Even considering that if Guardiola does go to Brescia at some point after great success at Barcelona, mirroring his playing career, there is a good chance Salamon will no longer be at the club.
Salamon is not a player who stands out at a mediocre club. Brescia are fighting to stay in Italy’s second tier and in the win against Livorno he was solid if unspectacular. He can function well in different styles but a patient, possession based system will bring out the best in him. Those types of teams are typically not the relegation fighters, and Poland as a nation are not one of the stronger teams. They currently rely on countering and winning the ball high up the pitch to facilitate their offense. But who knows? Maybe Brescia are on their way to such a style with Salamon a key cog for the future. Maybe he will be bought by a team that sees his potential. Or maybe, although Polish fans won’t hold their breath, Salamon will herald a new focus for the Polish national team, one where they attempt to play the modern style that the very best teams in the world play — the style so fiercely reintroduced to the footballing world by Salamon’s alleged admirer Pep Guardiola.