The Chasm

By John Cartwright

When one watches both Spain and Barcelona play their version of the game of football, it truly is ‘The Beautiful Game’ as depicted by the great Pele`. When one compares their brand of football with the ugly mess we continue to serve up, the gap between the two styles is not just large, it’s a chasm!

Rinus Michels, the former coach to Holland in the 1970’s and 80`s, left a legacy called ‘Total Football’ that his footballing heir, Johann Cruyff inherited and adapted to produce the football quality we see today from the Spaniards.  Their objective (vision) was ‘Total Football’ – this was the playing pedestal for them to attain. Once they knew what type of game they wanted to play they set about creating the practice and playing ‘pathways’ (programs) to reach it. This seems quite a logical approach, but it is something we are unable to understand and consequently, we have ‘thrashed’ about trying to play the game without knowing where we are going and are unable to follow a reliable route forward.

Without a playing vision: (a) There is no obvious route forward possible. (b) How can coaching programs be produced towards……..what?  (c) How can coaches be produced to work towards………what? (d) How can players be produced to play………what?

Since Cruyff’s, methodical approach to developing a game-style and the production of players to play it, Barcelona FC, under Guardiola’s excellent coaching ability,  and Spanish international teams at all ages have made huge progress.

Meanwhile what about us? Well, things don’t seem to move so smoothly here. We continue in the main with a game-style that is based primarily on a menu of ‘roll up your sleeves and give 120%’ effort! This state of affairs permeates all levels of the game; at junior levels, selection depends more on size than ability and at senior levels, speed and strength are the dominant playing factors. Why was Cruyff, able to exert such a commanding presence over the game in Spain whilst our so-called ‘stars’ or Sirs, are more noticeable by their absence when it comes to positive action, or if asked to make telling comments on the true state of our game.

The football quality we see from the Spanish is built on simple logic – football’s a game that requires skill to play it, so produce or find the players with skill to play it.  Simple isn’t it! The cleverness of Guardiola, has been his intelligent tactical use of the formation he plays and the astute introduction of highly skilled players in all positions to make the system of play function so smoothly. Could we reach the same high playing standards as those presently on display from the Spanish? Yes, is the answer to that question, but it will take bravery and a fierce determination to stay on track and not to be derailed by short –term failure.

The slick Spanish game-style is indeed a magnificent spectacle to watch. Whether in possession, where they demonstrate their individualism along with their ability to combine so effectively, or when out of possession, where they defend so collectively and so swiftly, they play a game that is difficult to combat; — but there is a flaw in their playing method – a lack of variation in their game-style. This is clearly visible against teams who ‘park the bus’ and rely on counter attacks from deep to score. Both Barcelona and the Spanish national teams do not utilize the correct use of aerial play at certain times in the game to go over crowded situations rather than always trying to find ways through them. I am not a disciple of long ball tactics as is well known, but I am in favour of playing variations and the CORRECT use of them.

We have a fierce football spirit that at present is forced to run out of control due to a lack of individual skill in our players and an over-dependence on basic tactical formations that creates ‘combative football’ not constructive, composed football. We must eradicate these playing omissions but retain our competitive instincts to provide an all-round game of individual skill able to combine, allied to better tactical awareness and controlled determination. The ability to mould the qualities of good play together is the ultimate task of all who lead football teams, but this leadership must have a designated objective to reach. The Spanish have shown us that a vision can be set and achieved. It’s up to us to follow their example, climb from the ‘football chasm’ that now exists between us, beat them and improve on the standards they have set!

9 thoughts on “The Chasm

  1. Very interesting. In a way it was Mourihnos reluctance to park the bus, which led to his recent defeat against Barca.
    The total Technique principal has evolved in to the game for those coaches who focus on player development, Coerver coaching is a prime example, again Dutch in basis. The sad factor is coaches pick up these technically strong players and do not know nor understand how to play them and revert to direct tactics because the responsibility of the ‘win’ is easier to gain tactically for the coach rather than technically for the developing player. Bolton were a prime example in the prem under Alladice.
    In my opinion it is the direction and supervision of coaching staff at the youth level that is ignored. The position of DOC is a great appointment, sadly most of them are coaching teams and not their coaches, disappointing!!

  2. Hi Neil. All coaches should receive better education, none more so than at the junior end — get it wrong here and you pay the price throughout the rest of the playing years…… and beyond !! This where we have made our biggest coaching mistakes..Over the years we have lost millions of talented youngsters to poor coaching methods; How many more kids will fail, and for how much longer must this ridiculous situation be allowed to continue?

  3. I would like to establish whether there happens to be many coaches in this country who believe the way we coach and how we play the game is ok. Let me know if what we serve up now and in the past on the training grounds and playing fields, is the best we can offer. I don’t think it is by any stretch of the imagination. Am i wrong? If not, are we prepared to change and what are the changes needed in your opinion?

  4. I know that John Cartwright is an admirer of the Liverpool team of the 70s and 80s which achieved so much success both domestically and in European club competitions.Basically, they had two ways to play.They had a patient, passing game for the European cup ties in which they played the continental teams at their own game of probing for openings with the emphasis on possession.This was a slower paced,more thoughtful approach to what they applied in weekly league matches where they played a more typical British style of faster,direct play with lots of crosses and goalmouth action.Their supporters accepted the slower paced football for the European ties because they realised that the typical British approach would not succeed agasinst the best Italian,Spanish and German teams.Their keepers became much more confident at dealing with high crosses and their central defenders had learnt to deal with the physical British approach of the aerial game.So Liverpool acquired and developed players who could adapt their play to a match against Inter Milan and then three days later they reverted to type for a league match against Birmingham City.The Liverpool supporters would not accept the slower possession game in weekly league matches.They wanted the typical British game then,what they had been brought up on and could identify with,so Liverpool gave them that and achieved success with both styles of play.Shankly and Paisley both knew the score regarding the supporters’ feelings on game style and so they achieved a kind of balancing act.
    I recall in the mid 70s west ham united’s strikers were often Pop Robson and Billy Jennings.They were very good at making darting,angled runs through the opposition defence and primarily they wanted the ball on the floor.Manager John Lyall then bought a journey- man centre forward,David Cross,who was basically a very ordinary player,although he improved considerably with the coaching he received at west Ham,but John Lyall wanted a variation for when the angled passes and clever runs of Robson and Jennings were not coming off.So the aerial ability and hold-up play of cross paid dividends.This contrasts with what John cartwright says in his blog when he comments on the problems which Barcelona have when they do not vary their game-style.This was very noticeable last year when Inter came to park the bus in the Nou camp in the Champions league semi final.

  5. Another nice article, thanks John. I have only been coaching for 6 years and I too believe the standard of coaching served up here in the UK is poor. There are too many coaches who work at grassroots level who don’t have the education or knowledge but above all truly don’t have the passion for coaching.

    I may upset few when I say this but many coaches don’t plan sessions and some who claim too just take a drill/ game from a book, dvd or a website and place it in their session. Any coach who uses a drill/game from elsewhere without adapting it shows a lack of consideration for children and a lack of creativity because they were unable to tweak the original idea or come up with something of their own.

    If coach has to take a practice form elsewhere that means they don’t know the requirements for their individual players and don’t have a vision. You need to know what coaching your player/s require based on your playing style/vision/beliefs.

    It’s not fair or right that we have coaches who do not know how to communicate to a 6 year old, it’s not fair that coaches don’t plan sessions, it’s not fair that each session is geared towards gaining 3 points every Sunday. There has to be an individual belief by a coach/organization (Johan Cruyff, Tele Santana, Bill Shankly, Bob Paisely). This belief/vision forces the coach to be creative and to work towards producing players under that vision.

    I have only been on the Practice Play level 1 and want to and will do the level 2. With the group I coach we already had an idea to work towards and Premier Skills just reinforced that. The games I participated in and learnt about on the PP Level 1 have been part of our sessions but I have made changes to them to suit my personnel beliefs and suit the player’s needs.

    Since coaching I have always believed that you learn the game by playing the game. You don’t learn how drive by practicing in a car park.

    There are too many coaches who don’t have the passion. Some may say they don’t have the time because of work etc… I think that’s a load of rubbish, if you are passionate about something you make the time. There are too many coaches who become coaches but don’t have the knowledge but as people don’t believe in gaining further knowledge. There are too many coaches who forget that players/children are people and that coaching the brain is just as important. There is too much emphasis on winning. And finally there are too many people in grassroots who just demand physical effort. “work smarter, not harder” Rinus Michels.

    There are too many grassroots clubs who dont have a playing vision.

  6. WOW! Thanks Steve and Dav. Passionate ‘blogs’ from you both. What is needed is an army of men and women with the same passion to force a massive change in the historical and continuing lack of direction and neglect in football development methods in this country.

  7. I think that Dav Dhillon hits some nails firmly on the head in his post.Many coaches in the grassroots game,and i think many higher up,pick up a practice/drill from the internet or a coaching publication and then go along to their club to put it on because they are impressed by its content and understand what it is trying to achieve.But,as Dav says,there is no long term vision.I admit that i have done this many times myself.
    The fact is that there are quite a number of people who are making money out of grassroots coaches.The proliferation of coaching books and internet coaching sites proves this.Some are good though but i think that some are suspect.Just recently an advertisement has appeared to subscribe to a coaching site which claims to have documented coaching sessions from Premiership clubs.Are these what coaches at grassroots really require if they are working in the 5 -12 year age band?Secondly,it seems strange to me if Premiership clubs are willing to divulge their coaching methods because these days it is easier to get into Fort Knox than enter Premiership training grounds.So why are they suddenly so keen to share their methods and techniques?
    With the advent of the Practice/Play methodology by Premier Skills we at last have the means to coach towards a vision and so,as John Cartwright says in his analogy,having packed the luggage into the car we know where we are heading for the holiday.

  8. The Level 1 Practice/Play Course at Wimbledon Goals Centre yesterday was another example of how coaches,most of whom have no experience outside of the FA Coaching Scheme,are taking to it with enthusiasm.Almost without exception I am finding that coaches are bowled over by the technical content but also in the methodical way in which it is presented.But above all I think that coaches at all levels are impressed by the realistic background in which all the work is performed.
    I think that the lack of realism is one of the biggest weaknesses in so many drills and exercises which have been put into the coaching fraternity for so many years now.The Practice/Play methodology confronts this problem by the coaching area in which it is performed and the coach is given responsibility to adjust the size of the area and tweak various other details by using his own observation and judgement which are vital qualities in his/her development as a coach.
    As I have said before,I think it is vital to repeat the Practice/Play courses several times in order to absorb all the technical content which is presented.It is also interesting to discover how many coaches on the courses are struck by the similarity of the constructed coaching area to the pitch when Barcelona are playing.I find that many coaches share my opinion that the movement and skills which you perform in that area so closely resemble the match play of Barcelona.
    As has been said before,coaching is never easy but the Practice/Play methodology,with its realism and centring on vision,certainly makes it more rewarding.

  9. Steve, what precise and intelligent comments you have written. Thanks for describing so well what i want coaching practice to reflect; — the vision towards which programs can created — the coaches able to teach those programs — the production of players able to play the ‘vision of the game’. The Spanish have done it, so should we.

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