OVERLOADING

By John Cartwright

We’ve all become fully acquainted with the confrontational brawls termed football matches here. Players move up and down the field competing with an opponent when in attacking or defending modes. Who is the ‘winner’ of these duals is usually recognized as the player who has out-battled the other physically or has defaulted less than his/her adversary. The use of tactical variations to increase player numbers (overloads) in the area around the ball is a rare occurrence and usually only seen when used down flank positions.  Overloading in attacking play should be recognized as equally important and used just as extensively as when bringing extra defenders into play when defending.

The ability to overload attacking situations quickly and effectively can give the most organised defensive systems severe problems. For players to assist in different areas of the field when overloading, requires confidence that comes from individual playing skills as well as tactical intellect. These important playing ‘weapons’, as we well know, are limited in the game here and consequently overloading is a rare occurrence.

The ability for players to ‘step into’ a developing attacking situation to increase passing and possession opportunities should be a part of the game that is developed from an early age. Rotation of positions to join play or to cover back to fill gaps left by ‘overloaders’ should be a common-place in games but isn’t. Our players have been produced from a young age as ‘positionalized  performers’ who are uncomfortable outside a ‘familiar’ playing zone and are unable to display playing skills beyond a ‘groomed’ and simplistic level.

Overloading around the ball can occur in all areas of the field; even a Goalkeeper can offer himself as an extra player to offset pressure on back players! If a GK has the confidence and skill with the ball at his feet, he becomes an important ‘starter’ of attacking play and not just a ‘stopper’ of it. In fact, having a GK who is skilled on the ball, offers the opportunity of an 11 v 10 advantage over a team without such an enterprising ‘Goal-player’! Oh I can hear the noise of disbelief from those who see catastrophe in having an ‘attack-minded’ goalie, but if properly developed in conjunction with outfield players who understand and are prepared to cover for him/her, the over-used  long punt up-field from ‘goalies’ could be dramatically reduced to allow more certainty of ball possession from back areas.

Throughout the whole length and width of a football field, the opportunities and NEED for overloading to occur is painfully obvious in our game. Delivery of the ball through the field is littered with loss of the ball as players grapple with opponents in singular duals. We have become a pass-pass-pass-pass-pass, mostly backwards and sideways playing nation, unable to penetrate with both precision and poise and as reliant as ever, after playing ‘false keep-ball’, on the good old long, high ball towards a big front player. The use  of playing formations that create an extra player to appear around the ball are a rarity and even when used but countered by opposing marking, there is little ‘out of position’ movement by teams’ to increase overloading situations and what was 2v 2 becomes 3v3 etc. – and the ‘fight’ goes on!

The game of football deserves to be played in a thoughtful, attractive and effective way. Winning a game is not the most important thing; winning a game playing with style is the most important thing! The teaching and use of overloading to coaches and players is essential if we are to move forward as a football nation. We must learn to harness and combine our passion for the game with the skills and tactical intellect that top quality football is all about. Overloading correctly used, places players and their teams’ in  ‘no lose’ situations. Isn’t it a great feeling when one realizes that whatever the opposing team does to thwart your attempts to play, one has that extra piece of playing quality provided by an extra player ‘arriving’ to secure ball possession and allow an attack to move forward with more certainty and produce better goal-scoring chances? The ability to overload in games requires a combination of individual ability allied to team and tactical intellect; we possess very few of these qualities and consequently, I see little attempt to introduce overloading situations  both on training grounds or in match play here. It means we will have to tolerate the ‘fightball’ we have become used to watching and are ‘addicted’ into believing is ‘the best in the world’. I don’t believe it; i don’t enjoy watching it. – Nor should you!

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21 thoughts on “OVERLOADING

  1. When West Germany finished as runners up and then in third place in the 1966 and 1970 World Cups respectively, Franz Beckenbauer was a young and extremely talented midfield player. I recall that in 1967 he played in the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final,for his club, Bayern Munich, against Rangers, as a sweeper, or libero as the position was known as on the continent, behind a man for man marking defence, which was German playing policy at the time. I remember there being widespread criticism after the match of restricting such a gifted player to a purely defensive role, although he continued to play in midfield for the national team.
    By 1972, however, Beckenbauer was playing in the libero role for West Germany, but with a critical difference. He played FROM his position behind the defence, moving forward into midfield with the ball, or following up to support his passes which he made into midfield players. By this ‘overloading’ West Germany dominated opponents, no more so than against England at Wembley early in 1972, when they won 3 – 1, with the best performance by a visiting national team I have ever seen at the national stadium.
    In the summer of that year West Germany won the European Nations Cup, and two years later followed it up with the World Cup, with Beckenbauer the key figure as an attacking libero.
    It is a crying shame, but England, around that same period, could have played in a similar manner because we had the ideal player to do it – World Cup winning skipper, Bobby Moore. Moore has always been known as an exemplary defender who read the game brilliantly and who rescued so many situations by interception and anticipation.But, in my opinion, he had so much more to offer. For West Ham United, Moore would be much more involved in the attacking build up play and moved forward frequently into midfield, long before Beckenbauer was doing it. At club level he was encouraged in doing this by Ron Greenwood, but for England he was kept on a tighter rein by Alf Ramsey, who was less adventurous and who put much more emphasis on defence.
    This cautious approach, (lack of ‘fantasy’ the continentals call it), has carried on down the years in England. In his early days at West Ham, Rio Ferdinand came out of defence with the ball to join in the midfield play but gradually this disappeared from his game until he became a simple, if extremely effective, stopper centre back.
    I think that both Phil Jones and Chris Smalling at Manchester United, in the early stages of their careers, have shown the ability and intelligence to move forward from their back positions and influence play further forward, but will they be allowed to develop this side of their game? If they are then it would make the future of English football much brighter.

  2. Hi Steve. You’re always number one to reply to ‘blogs’ and you make some extremely interesting points . Yes, Bobby could have been used more offensively but that is the problem we have here, we’re stuck with our football history and reproduce players and teams to play not too dissimilar from years gone by.
    It should also be noted that i believe that ‘overloading’ is not just available from back players, it can occur from any position in order to increase the playing options for anyone on the ball. Front players, both central or wide should be able to move off their normal playing ‘stations’ and link up with colleagues in order to out-number defenders aginst them.
    What do you think about an attacking ‘goal-player; able to break forward with the ball past closed- down colleagues and deliver passes to his players in more advanced positions instead of just punting the ball upfield.? — Do we have the guts to try it ……………. i doubt it, but it would be something new in the game woudn’t it!

  3. One of the things I love in football is the ‘free role’ that allows talented players to roam around the pitch into positions where they can create goalscoring opportunities. The classic number 10 springs to mind here – in continental (especially Italian) and South American football this position is only nominally a forward and is free to roam. They can make overloads happen both by popping up in a space to create a physical superiority in numbers, or else by using skill to get past opposing players and cut them out of the game. The English number 10 is shouted at if he leaves his forward position. Even when Rooney, one of the best English talents, roams deep from a forward position I have heard commentors say he should be staying put up front. Imagine what it’s like for a 10-year old!
    Of course as you say, the overloads can and should happen in all parts of the pitch, not just the final third, but exactly as you mention, players that are shouted at for leaving their assigned position will be afraid to provide creative play.

    As to “Winning a game is not the most important thing; winning a game playing with style is the most important thing!”. This reminds me of a phrase by Giovanni Agnelli, Juventus president in the seventies and eighties – when asked whether he wanted the best team to win, or his team to win, he replied “fortunately the two usually coincide”. I think the same thing can be applied to winning vs winning by playing with style – if the emphasis is on playing with style, and all other things (basic skill, physical fitness etc) being equal, more often than not a team will win.

  4. Why give kids positions anyway ? If they are only playing small sided games (which they should) they do not need to be tethered to a particular spot on the pitch . I tell the team I coach to “go and work out where is the best place to be” and we are doing OK . We are always overloading other teams in areas but then also can get caught out at the back if too many push upfield (especially with a long punt from the team we are playing). Its all part of the learning process but as far as I can tell we are the only team who take this approach in our league – everyone else has set roles . I even heard one coach shout at one of his players ( aged 8)that he was the “holding midfielder”. I personally think games like Futsal – small sided, indoor and with a ball that sticks to the ground is the best trainer for encouraging “independant thought” in kids.

  5. Hi James. Thanks for your reply, i certainly agree with you regarding the reasons why the best teams’ usually win is because their game contains all the necessary winninig ‘ingredients’. |The problem we face is simple — we don’t provide our players and therefore our game with sufficient ‘ingredients’ to produce attractive and winning football !

  6. Hi John. The concept of a ‘goal-player’, i.e. a goalkeeper who joins in the outfield play when certain situations exist, is extremely interesting but it is most doubtful that anyone with sufficient courage exists in the modern game to introduce this tactic. I’m sorry to keep harking back to a certain era, but I recall in the mid-sixties, around the time that West Ham United played an unforgettable European Cup Winner’ Cup Final with Munich 1860 at Wembley, that Ron Greenwood was working with his goalkeeper, Jim Standen, along these lines in training. I think that he had been influenced by the Munich keeper, Radenkovic, in the Wembley match because the Yugoslav keeper had been very effective in his use of the ball outside the penalty area. Unfortunately, due to a succession of injuries, loss of form etc., Standen did not play in goal for West Ham much longer and when they signed Bobby Ferguson he took quite some time to settle in and so Ron Greenwood was never really able to progress his work of converting a goal keeper into a goal-player.
    When you consider how good Van Der Sar was with the ball at his feet, then he really should have been taken to a higher level as a semi-outfield player. I wonder if he would have done so if he had remained longer with his original club, Ajax ? He furthered his career financially in the Italian and English leagues but he came into an environment where there was caution and less bravery than existed in Holland, especially at that time at Ajax.
    I think that at the present time the best chance of this concept coming to reality is at Barcelona because Guardiola seems to posssess bravery in abundance and an unshakeable belief in his methods and principles. But even at Barcelona, keeper Valdes, although displaying fine control and passing skills when he has the ball at his feet, never ventures far beyond his penalty area to create overload situations.
    If and when someone does become the first-ever goal-player, then it will really be a land mark in the history of the game.

  7. Hi Robbo, it was nice to meet you. I’m glad you are finding our work is beneficial and i hope you will try to ‘convert’ as many people working with our young players into being Premier skills coaches.
    Good luck and best wishes for Christmas and 2012

  8. The change from the long-established 4-4-2 formation to 4-3-3, or variations, means that in the middle of the field the team playing 4-3-3 against the 4-4-2 team outnumbers them in that area by 3 to 2. The team suffering this numerical disadvantage will normally adjust its formation to ‘match up’ the opposition formation. But not always. I have seen teams at professional and semi-professional levels persist with their 4-4-2 lineup even when they have been outnumbered in this department.
    I recall at Euro 2000, when England played Portugal in their opening match in Eindhoven, England took an early two goal lead. A comment was made at the time that although England had the boost of this early lead, Portugal always looked the most likely winners because they had the numerical superiority in that midfield area against England’s rigid 4-4-2. So it proved, and Portugal eventually ran out fairly comfortable 3-2 winners because England did not react to Portugal’s formation.
    As John Cartwright says, by simply matching up simply prevents numerical inferiority, but rarely do we see teams in England taking the next step by creating the overload by pushing another man forward. We always look at football as one player on another and a confrontational dual.

  9. Hi Steve. The problem with ‘positionalization’ of players in the British game goes right back to junior football and the structured methods used when practising followed by competitive games. Street games utilized a ‘total football’ concept with players involving themselves in the action both offensively and defensively (nearest to the goal became the GK).
    Coaching here has constructed a massive problem at the very start of the development journey; it has produced poor coach education programs and equally poor player development programs. What should be solid foundations is nothing more than ability built on sand that cracks and fails as time goes by.
    Do you remember when you were at school; your best subjects were invariably those taught to you by the BEST TEACHERS! From infant to senior school, we remember those teachers’ who taught in a clear and gradually progressive manner; they made their subject interesting and uncovered a clear pathway of learning for their students.
    Good teachers (coaches) first nurture talent towards doorways that open onto more expansive learning. The ‘building blocks’ towards greatness on the football ground are set by outstanding teachers, not ‘charlatans’ in possession of an expensive piece of paper (coaching certificate).
    The ability to coach well at junior levels should not be about winning matches, but winning the hearts and the minds of the players first, for only then will players evolve who are able to win both consistently and with style.

  10. Hi John i have just come home from assisting my daughters school football coach who i took on a practice play course last sunday at Welwyn Garden city. I had attended a course earlier this year and was keen to take in the info again.
    In talking to her school coach found out he had the same views as me and i told him about practice play. Today he tried ideas from practice play 1 and was really impressed with the results. I am hoping we will see the fruit of the great work you have designed and the beginnings of seeing our young school players enjoy the freedom of expression that i had growing up learning to express myself from playing countless hours up the common with no adults to limit our imaginations.
    Individualism shall be the cornerstone. I’m hoping i will get to see these young players exploit space and feel free to try overloading because they are not tied to a sentry post position on the pitch and a position that i to often see is the only place they get to play during there young football lives.
    The conversion is happening

  11. Steve, Interesting idea about the ball-playing keeper. The only issue I see with this is the diminishing returns. It’s great when a keeper has both the ball skills and the confidence to act as an additional outfield player which allows better possession football in a team’s own half, and this can work very well with the keeper going a few yards from the penalty area. That’s from personal experience playing “rush goalie” (don’t know if that’s a widespread term for sweeper/keeper combination) in 7-a-side.
    Beyond ‘a few yards out’ there is little additional utility to a keeper participating in the ball playing further upfield considering that the risk is a huge chance of conceding if a mistake is made. The real utility is that with the keeper patrolling the “D” , his central defenders are more free to roam

  12. Hi John. When you watch Barcelona it is often impossible to put a position on many of their players apart from Valdes (keeper), Puyol/Pique (centre back),Abidal (left back). The rest move around relative to where the ball is on the field. This brings to mind the concept of the ‘whirl’ which Dr.Willy Meisl foresaw in the early fifties when Hungary were at their peak. That is, a playing system where all the players are multi-purpose and are able to fulfil any task, whether in midfield,attack or defence, on the field. When Holland and Ajax were highly successful in the late sixties/early seventies the term ‘total football’ was coined which seemed to be along the road to this idea. Barcelona have developed the idea still further.
    Looking at another Spanish team, Athletic Bilbao, who, I feel, are
    very well coached by the Argentinian, Bielsa,they are ‘positionalised’ and so are different in that respect from Barcelona, but it seems to me that it is a very expansive system. I don’t know what you, or any one else who reads this site thinks, but it looks to me like a 2-3-3-2 line-up. The 2 centre backs stay defensive and spaced about the width of the penalty area apart. The holding midfield player is positioned between them, but further forward, and is flanked by 2 wing backs who get forward at every opportunity. Then 3 midfield players,skilful and industrious, and 2 strikers.
    Bielsa often makes frequent positional/tactical switches during a match, depending on the situations. As I have said before, Bielsa is a very attack-minded coach who always looks to take the initiative.
    From what I have seen, I think that the nearest team in England to adopting this tactical shape is Swansea. Again,it is difficult to be sure of shapes on a TV screen, but their centre backs sit deep and their full backs/wing backs are positioned very high. I think that their game-style is very attractive and it is ironic that Britton in midfield is a key player. When he was younger, I understand that he was discarded by both Arsenal and West Ham for being too small but their loss has certainly been Swansea’s gain.

  13. Have Barcelona developed it further in real terms Steve from the likes of France ( Tigana, Giresse, Platini, Fernandez, Ghengini etc ) and the Brazilians of 82 ( Socrates, Zico, Cerezo, Falcao, Eder, Junior) etc… History always repeats.

  14. Steve, hope you enjoyed the conference last Monday – sorry didn’t get a chance to speak with you after seeing you but was in the middle of a conversation with other chap and then we got the 4 minute warning to go outside for John Peacock’s session.

    Anyway, picking up on your post above – I didn’t see Bilbao on TV last night but your description reminds me of the old 2 – 3 – 5 line up (with a variation admittedly) that was just fading out as I became conscious of football…..and which may have actually been a 2-3-2-3 anyway !

    I just finished reading a book called “Inverting the Pyramid” essentially a history book about the evolution of football and its formations going from 2 – 3 – 5 to a 5 – 3 – 2 or even a 4 – 3- 2-1. Your observation of Bilbao makes me think that the pendulum is swinging again towards a more attack minded game (especially with Barca and how they play, more than actually ‘line-up’) albeit with a more pragmatic approach than in the 50s and before and, as Brazil94 says, history repeats itself from time to time.

    PS in “Inverting the Pyramid” there is a chapter near the end of the book called “The coach who wasn’t a horse”. This chapter refers to Arrigo Sacchi who, when asked how he could coach Milan not having been a player of any note, replied “A jockey does not have to have been a horse”. The book is worth readig if only some of the great observations he makes about coaching and helping to make the players know more than he so they can make decisions autonomously and as determined by the game, not by the coach. Fantastic stuff !

  15. I have been giving some thought to what BARCELONA ACTUALLY DO. And this relates to both overloading and ‘so-called’ TIka-Taka. My thought is that Barcelona work against prevailing thought. In other words, whilst coach speak is to go from Small sided to the 11v11 as a matter of course and the English FA structure of coaching ( and its off-shoots) loads the full badge with coaching in the Eleven sided game; Barcelona differentiate and paradoxically go the other way. A general coaching methodology is ‘not to force it,’ and to move the ball to where the team has space; to player often in flank areas (particularly in England and the English speaking world) can cross and play in the ‘fight-ball’, as opposed to the Charles Hughes ‘fight-ball’ which scwillions of FA qualified coaches preach. This is not to denigrate the cross, which as John recently pointed out is a pass. However, and I will get back too my point eventually, the coaches parlance adds the postie directional comment of ‘deliver,’ In itself as mind-boggling as a newspapers delivery ball who flings his papers in the general direction of the buyer’s address. The coaches comment suggests that a total lack of appreciation is prevalent, and pity the poor souls who are coached to deliver!

    Getting back to my key point is that in effect BARCELONA ARE THE BEST FORCERS in the business because on the big stage they basically play Small-sided games constantly and are prepared to ‘stay with the ball in 2v2s, 3v3s, or 4v4s etc, but importantly with overload to make 3v2, 4v2s for a few seconds while this small-sided game changes. They move the ball somewhere else; with a longer pass and then its back into their small-sided game because the can outplay any in the ‘tight’ – whether this be through little combinations, staying with the ball, dribbling etc. In our coaching environments are we happy to keep the ball in these tight areas as Barcelona do? This leads into the ideas of Roger’s crucial skills; into overloading; this leads into the concept of ‘being an individual first and foremost.’ A good individual will be happy to give it to another good individual as he will get it back and so on: Xavi – Iniesta- Xavi- Messi – Iniesta -Messi and so forth and they will do this in very little space – and if you the opposition get sucked in, and give us space to exploit then Barcelona say ‘we”ll give it a go!” And if you hold you line and let us play in our little groups then a Messi/an Inieta or a Sanchez will face you up and take you out of the game with a dribble and then relink.

    Hopefully food for thought; therefore for me watch them play their small-sided games, in anticipation that the opposition will biet of more than they can chew and then watch them go, by getting on the fringes and exploiting weakness they have created because they are the GREATEST team ever at deliberately playing in the ‘tight.’

  16. Barcelona FC deserve every accolade that they are receving. The football we are watching from them has been well planned over the course of many years — practised accordingly and played with belief.
    Nothing of substance is created quickly, Barcelona’s football has ‘raised football’s bar’ and i congratulate them for the artistry and quality they have brought to a game that, prior to them, was degenerating into nothing more than physical contests. Unfortunately, physical contests are what we are still producing in the majority of the football played here—— at all levels, — because we’ve never set out a plan to better it!

  17. Hence route one – the English hoof ; hence the English cross – another hoof; hence the lack of intelligence – might as well have been kicked with a hoof!.

  18. Hi Steve The Seagull….sorry that I could not speak to you longer at the Conference last week. Yes, I have read “Inverting The Pyramid”, I think that it is one of the best football books ever written. Jonathan Wilson also does a tactical article in “World Soccer” each month, which also is extremely interesting. I think that you are right to make the observation that Bielsa’s 2-3-3-2 formation, (if I am identifying it correctly), is close to the pre-WM formation when the centre half was the midfield general before a change to the off-side law in 1925 brought him back into a defensive position between the two full backs. But as has been outlined on this site over the last year or two, the central defender, from Beckenbauer to Pique, can still be a creative player as well as a defensive lynchpin, by having the licence to move forward into overloading situations in midfield and beyond.
    But at the end of the day, the playing formation is merely a framework for a team to project its playing philosophy. Barcelona’s brilliance in playing in tight situations, as Brazil94 refers to and, as John Cartwright points out, this has been so many years in the making, is what makes them such a breathtaking example to present before all young players. And, as ever, it is their bravery, their unshakeable belief in their approach, which enables this to happen. I have heard that after the match last Saturday, the 3-1 win in Madrid, Guardiola thanked keeper Valdes in front of everyone in the dressing room. He thanked him because, following his disastrous first minute mistake in miskicking the ball straight to Di Maria who set up Benzema for the opening goal, he did not flinch in his belief of receiving pass backs to his feet and setting up Barcelona attacks from well judged passes to his team mates.
    Barcelona have this belief, this ‘vision’, and that is what sets them apart, but, with bravery, we could all have it and then at least we would be on the right path.

  19. Steve, thanks for the reply. I agree about your view of the creativity of back players. In most sides I have coached some of the best technical players I have had have been encouraged to, at least line up, in defence but woth freedom to move forward.

    I am trying to do that now with a young team and giving permission and encouragement to central back players to move forward with the ball. For me it’s about the confidence and ability to do so, but adding the all important factor of decision making. When is it appropriate to do so and what will I do if (something) happens. Unfortunately there is some consternation with some of the adults associated with the team that it is ‘too risky’ and I am still trying to persuade the argument that, initially, it is a risky strategy and approach but that that is how they will learn how to move with the ball, how to screen it, when to link up and when to run in advance of the ball to create other link opportunities.

    It is also how they will learn to be among the most accomplished players in their peer group (eventually) at whatever level they may ultimately play. Rather arrogantly I am trying to do my bit to change the whole philosophy of how the game is both viewed and played from the grassroots up – which, to my way of thinking, is the only way to embed it within our culture.

    As Brazil 74 says as well, I am trying to encourage passing to draw people in specifically with the intent to then create an overload elsewhere (ideally a 1 vs 0). Long term development is the only way; but at 1.5hours per week at grassroots, it’s a calling rather than a ‘job’ !!

  20. Seagull Steve – definitely not arrogant but much needed. Also been reading the Jonathan Wilson book – after the first few chapters, I can undestand why we have so many Scottish managers. Also reading Eamon Dunphy’s “Only a Game?” and, don’t shout it(!), “Football for the Brave” by someone I can’t remember at present ;>)

    Have you had feedback from your players on the tactical style you are trying to nuture? I tried out a 3-2-1 in U8s with the idea that the middle of the 3 can be the libero, moving up with/without the ball to support the attack when required. Also trying out 2-2-2 with defensive and midfield players supporting and interchanging roles if/when required. At this age, doing it gradually with lots of praise and more game time for the players for those who are in those positions. The attacking 2 I am swapping more regularly. Biggest issue I have with players thinking that being in defence is akin to purgatory. Of all the 30 players we have, only 1 stated he was a defender – maybe we are rearing a generation of attack minded individuals?

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