By Roger Wilkinson
“You find out that life is just a game of inches because in either game – life or football the margin for error is so small.
I mean one half step too late or too early you don’t quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite control it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in every break of the game every minute, every second.
On this team, we fight for that inch.
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for that inch.
We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch.
Cause we know when we add up all those inches that’s going to make the f—-g difference between WINNING and LOSING”
Al Pacino – Any Given Sunday
I don’t know who wrote those lines for Al Pacino but I do know they had an innate understanding of the importance of Time and Space in competitive team games especially soccer.
A common factor that all great players show is the ability to create those extra inches in space for themselves so providing the time to exploit the opportunities those “inches” provide for them. John Cartwright has already written a tremendous article earlier on the blog on “Time Positions” Those little pockets of space that give players that all important commodity time .
Kenny Dalgleish and Eric Cantona were two intelligent outstanding players who were great at using this ability to find space despite the fact that neither was over endowed with pace.
“I mean one half a step too late or too early you don’t quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite control it”
I watched a game yesterday between two teams who are top of their countries Premier League it was interesting and enlightening in relation to the lack of understanding and detail in the team play.
The following points stood out continually throughout the game;
a. The number of times players would pass the ball too late because they looked up after they received the ball not before and because their feet were too slow to adjust their body positions to allow them to scan before receiving.
b. In a tight game the number of passes that were too hard and to the wrong foot of the tightly marked team-mate were too numerous to count.
c. The frequent times that a player`s first touch was into a space that could be challenged instead of into a free space – remembering that soccer is a game that has 360 degrees worth of first touch options.
d. Back players looking to receive the ball off their keepers whilst facing the keeper and unaware of the game behind them and simply passing the ball back to where it came from.
e. Midfield players receiving passes from the back and doing exactly the same, and because of their body shape being completely unaware of the receiving ,turning and running or passing options available to them – “one half step too late or too early” was so evident.
f. The number of occasions the players were running with the ball using the foot nearest to the defender making it easy for the defender to take it off them.
The players were keen and energetic but did not have the high level skills and understanding to retain possession in tight areas and therefore to be able to successfully conjoin with each other.
I DO NOT BLAME THE PLAYERS THEIR ENTHUSIASM AND COMMITMENT WAS SECOND TO NONE BUT GREAT CHUNKS OF THEIR LEARNING PATHWAY WAS DEFICIENT OR NON EXISTENT.
At Premier Skills as early as possible we introduce the skills and understanding the young player needs to be able to be able to gain (fight) for those extra inches of space by;
(a) Making decoy runs to take defenders away before dropping in to the “holes” created.
(b) Hiding in blind side positions off defenders before sliding unnoticed in to those little pockets of space.
(c) Encouraging the players to “play ahead of themselves” by moving their feet and body early in order to see situations before receiving the ball so enabling them to receive and “touch- move” the ball in to safe space.
(d) Being prepared to use their body to screen the ball by stepping into and across the line of aggressive opponents
(e) Recognizing early opportunities to run through and exploit space.
(f) Working on receiving and touching the ball with “real feel” using all parts of the feet and body to take the ball in to safe areas.
(g) Insisting on passes that are stroked (felt) with quality in to team mates and are passed to the safe side of the player to enable them to receive with maximum ease.
(h) Always working the players in to realistic situations and practices to ensure they understand the space “inches” needed to successfully beat an opponent without being tackled.
The coach has to teach the importance of those body positions and those inches to the young player as early as possible in their playing career. In order to achieve this, the coach must use realistic practices that not only develop the skills but also the game understanding, vision and football language that enables those young players to accelerate and maximize their potential.
I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch.
Because that`s what LIVING is the six inches in front of your face.
That’s football guys”