If you saw a spy film with awful acting would you declare that all films about the secret service were rubbish? No, because when done well it's a fine genre. Some secret agent movies have better casts than others. Yet when zonal marking is executed poorly TV and pub pundits condemn it completely.
Listening to UK football coverage you'd think the global recession, tax increases and rain were caused by zonal marking. "Oooh I've never liked it" whimpers the retired pro on TV studio sofa. "For me, this zone stuff has got to go" they say.
Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have been criticised for employing the system recently. It just isn't British. "Foreign muck coming here, ruining our game with their lazy zones," may seem ridiculous but isn't far from the guff you hear.
Bobby Moore was one of the finest zone markers in history. Chris Whyte and Chris Fairclough aren't as famous as Franz Beckenbauer or Franco Baresi. But the central defensive duo won the league with Leeds in 1992 thanks to 'the zone'. Howard Wilkinson, the last English coach to win the top flight, is a fierce advocate. Fairclough and Whyte were open to the idea. It earned them winner's medals.
With adaptable, flexible players, zonal marking is simple. You don't have to be Arrigo Sacchi's Milan. "I've never seen a space score a goal," offers the non believer. But he hasn¹t seen a player score without the ball either. "If the ball comes into your space, attack it," Wilkinson says. Difficult to understand?
Perhaps it is easier to blame a scheme than a pampered, tactically dyslexic player. A method is only as good as the practitioner. High concentration is crucial to zonal defending. Maybe some Premier League stars aren't good at concentrating. Interestingly, experts on Match of the Day etc, don't tut and shake their heads every time someone scores against a man-marking team.
Of course, the zone can break down in open play or set-pieces. Brazil, labelled by Fabio Capello as "the best interpreters of zonal marking," were caught out from a corner by Holland's Aaron Winter in the 1994 World Cup quarter-final. A warning for what Zinedine Zidane would do to them twice in the 1998 final.
Man-marking will always have merits. In special circumstances many zone teams man-mark at set-pieces. During the latter part of his Chelsea reign,Jose Mourinho told man-mountain Michael Ballack to grapple with aerial threat Cristiano Ronaldo at corners. The German did a good job shackling the winger. Mourinho loved reminding the press how infrequently his fellow countryman scored against the Blues.
But it is time for English football to stop haranguing zonal marking. Errors can occur in any structure. Instead of denouncing the technique why not recognise that the defender didn't do his job well, or even admit that he just isn¹t good enough.