By John Cartwright

The word ‘PATIENCE’ in the dictionary is described as; ‘the ability to stay calm in a difficult situation’. It is a word that equates to a basic quality required for sport and life itself.  Patience becomes impatience through the inability to control a situation and take it forward successfully.  Impatience in football is due, in the main, to playing skills being pressurized and found wanting. A perfect example of patience and skill in the game of football is regularly demonstrated by Barcelona Football Club.  Their success has been achieved by fielding a team of highly skilled players who’s skills, when under pressure, do not ‘buckle’.  The tragedy for our game is, we don’t have players with high enough individual skills to play more patiently, so we play in a fast and physical manner to camouflage this basic omission.

I think it’s generally accepted that to do something quickly tends to lead to more mistakes being made. The faster something is attempted, the quicker and precise the skill must be to succeed.  How then can we expect to play a difficult game such as football in such a fast and furious manner and be successful when we lack the level of skill to play at such a fast pace? We can’t play fast and be successful through lack of individual skills; we can’t play more patiently either for the same reason — what a ‘pickle’ our game is in!

I have ‘banged the drum’ about making improvements to our development structure for a very long time, without much success I might say, but the mess in which our game now wallows, justifies my concerns. The use of skill and its importance in all aspects of life is an accepted fact, why has this not been a dominating feature in the development methods introduced into our game over the years? There has been an alarming lack of both foresight and practical game understanding by those charged with directing the teaching of the game here that has resulted in the present confused playing chaos we see.

Poor individual skill has increased a fear factor into our game. Closely allied to this has been the introduction of simplistic playing methods that have ‘kicked patience out of our game’;  we only retain possession of the ball when under minimum pressure, but fail miserably to keep it once confronted with the slightest amount of interference; our passing of the ball is more aligned to ‘passing the buck’ than a ball!  Our team selections reflects the paucity of talent available; we can’t play without a significant number of big, strong players preferably with pace, who can ‘win fights  but not necessarily football matches’. The damaging result of skill deficiencies to our game is obvious but nobody at the helm seems prepared to make the important changes so earnestly needed. Don’t they see the huge difference in playing quality between ourselves and other successful football nations? Perhaps they don’t understand the game enough to recognize that vital changes are needed and quickly if we are to establish ourselves in football’s top echelons. Perhaps they don’t care enough – money’s good-pension time’s just around the corner—why rock the boat ? Whatever the reason, the time is running out and firm and responsible leadership is needed to pull our flagging and indebted game from its present path to obscurity to a higher status at world level.

‘Simplicity is genius’, is a statement often heard in football circles. I disagree. Simplicity is an option to be used when necessary in the game. Whilst we continue to look for the easy/lazy route to play the difficult sport of football, we will only find simplistic answers. Let’s make a clear and positive statement  ‘football’s a difficult game to play and it requires high levels of individual skill to play it’. Once we accept this obvious fact we might then produce the coaches and the players who possess the virtues this fantastic game requires.


  1. Great post! I will pass it on. Are you aware of the Brazilian Soccer Schools(BSS)? These people led by founder Simon Clifford share your views and are doing something about it. In Harrogate we have one of best exponents of BSS in Stuart Owen. The points you raise are well made and our experience is that the biggest barrier to progress are the adults not the kids. Youngsters want to learn to play properly and develop their skills. Indeed, they delight in it. It is “coaches” who just want to win some piffling match at the weekend who are the biggest problem.

  2. Hi Andrew. i fully agree with what you have said about many of the coaches who work with young players. We have known that winning games is too often the driving force behind much of the football played at junior levels. My questions are, 1. Why have the FA allowed this to continue? 2. What practical ideas do they have to make the necessary changes?
    Answers: 1. They are too indecisive to take a really firm stance on junior football. 2. None that would make a positive difference.
    How are we to produce talented players for the future when the foundations of the game here are allowed to crumble?

  3. i have just finished coaching on the premier skills professional opportunities course in Birmingham. I was staggered at how quickly the majority of our 16-18 year old players wanted to get the ball forward and how so often a long risky pass was chosen to be the right pass over a short pass to retain possession.

    When I questioned the boys there response was its just how we normally play!!! Our young players have been robbed of a well rounded footballing education, by the coaching and beliefs of too many of the football people in this country.

    After 3 days and a series of premier skills practices the players began to understand the way to play the game the right way. If only we could do this on a major scale, then maybe just maybe we might not be in such a footballing mess.

    great article once again

  4. Shortly after England were humbled by a brilliant Hungarian team at Wembley in 1953 by a score-line of 6-3 a book was written entitled ‘Soccer Revolution’.The author was Dr Willy Meisl and he was an outspoken critic at the time of English football, or rather, of how English football had become.He had been a great admirer of English football in the 1920s but in the years leading up the 2nd World War and the years following it he despaired of how football in England became more and more dominated by speed.In ‘Soccer Revolution’ Meisl constantly refers to speed being the great disease in English football and that speed,power and physical strength were increasingly the prime qualities in leading English teams.Meisl knew what he was talking about,he had a regular column in ‘World Sports’ which was almost a John Cartwright blog of the post war era and created a lot of interest and controversy at the time.His brother Hugo was coach of Austria in the 1930s,dubbed “Wunderteam”,and they were the equal of the 1953 Hungary.But both of the Meisl brothers had taken their inspiration in the early years of the 20th century from England and English coaches who went abroad to coach and spread the gospel when skill and craft were the essential features of the English and before speed took over.
    As with everything,education must start with the very young.In this regard i feel i must draw attention to an FA initiative which i witnessed in Kent a few days ago presented by senior FA Coaches entitled ‘Match Day Management’.Basically,the presentation was aimed at taking the ‘win at all costs’ mentality out of the junior,mini-socccer game.The youngsters are welcomed to the match venue as normal and a topic is presented to them which the coach says will be focused on for the match that day.In this instance the topic was’when to pass and when to dribble’.Then each child had to write down on a flip chart a particular skill or aspect of play that he or she wanted to improve on in that match.So everything was being aimed at development,there was no mention of winning or what the league placings were.The coach also kept the player(s) who was substitute involved by keeping a count of how many passes were made or how many dribbles were attempted.At half time these figures were referred to by the coach and again at full time.So what i am attempting to describe is a scenario where everything is being directed towards development and improvement.Each player was referred back to the flip chart to remind them what skill/technique they had hoped to show improvement in and whether they were happy with their performance in that skill.
    I think that the FA are intending to repeat these workshops throughout the country and i think that it is a step in the right direction.The coaches who put on the presentation emphasised how important it was to involve the parents with this approach which I felt was consistent with the Premier Skills approach of ‘parent as first coach’.

  5. Hi Steve. I read your comments wuth both interest and some concern. I am suspicious of yet another ‘acedemic initiative’ introduced into devlopment by the FA. An eye-catching title ‘Match Day Management’ offers no more than a ‘bluff’ to camouflage the inadequate preparation of players and a disjointed development model.
    The game of football demands fast and accurate decisions from players within the game. Being able to react spontaneously and successfully to situations is the hallmark of top quality performance. Recognizing ‘skills for situations’ is what should be developed on training grounds in situations suitably constructed for age and playing ability. The competitive match should be carefully designed to ‘exam’ the work accomplished in the
    period(s) before the game. The players should be prepared to ‘play what they have been practising’ and not have a singular aspect or skill prioritized. The game is about dealing with ‘totality’ and practice should be about developing the players’ competance to adjust-adapt and deal with the variations within a game, not concentrate on delivering what’s written on a piece of paper prior to kick-off.
    The coach must have a program that is affixed to a vision of how he wishes to se the game played. Each practice session is a stepping stone towards achieving that playing vision; each game is an examination of the the work attempted and completed up to that point. The issuing of bits of paper to players to write down some aspect of the game and the statistics that go with it, smacks of the class-room approach that has delivered playing mediocrity for our game over the years and not the individual brilliance it needs.
    Another false pathway because of no established playing ‘destination’ and no more than another piece of ‘camouflage’ to hide a failed development structure.

  6. The players should be prepared to ‘play what they have been practising’ and not have a singular aspect or skill prioritized.

    John; when you came to speak at my club at the beginning of the season this is exactly what we said. This is what we have done this season. We have only practised what we will do on Saturday. ie we go from a possesion game with no goals to a game with goals with the coach (me) making occasional interventions usually to do with reminding players to constantly look to play the ball into areas of overload. We have 12 teams in our league and we are the only team who can play comfortably from the back; not that we are dogmatic about playing from the back but teams are totally unable to stop us coming out because we practice possesion religiously.In fact I would say apart from Barca and Arsenal, Swansea are the only team I’ve seen who can do what my part timers do easily. In other words it is our vision. We watch Barca and Arsenal and believe in and want to play this type of football so the players are easy to coach because they have already bought into the vision. Our goalkeeper is superb on the deck. We will be losing a couple of players at the end of the season who for whatever reason “don’t get it” and we have the replacements lined up.These players are no more or less talented than the others; they simply don’t have the vision. Therefore they have not aquired the skills to carry it out.
    So we never do “isolated practice” or even “defending set peices in a match” even though our defending at set peices is poor because we feel that our strengths are with the ball. If we were a pro club we might have time to address our weaknesses.

  7. The fallacy of division is a presupposition. This argument is based on the assumption that a collective whole will necessarily share all the characteristics of the individual pieces (spelt correctly this time). So “dribbling” cannot be isolated from “passing” in the belief that those skills need to be taken out and then put back in when they have been “polished”.

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