By John Cartwright
There are two important sections that must bind together when working to produce CREATIVE KEEP-BALL as a playing style; the first is CONSTRUCTIVE PREPARATION PLAY: the second is CALCULATED PENETRATION.
In each section it is vitally important to designate realistic ‘achievements’ as targets to attain. These ‘achievements’ must be carefully introduced to players to build a deep understanding of these aspects of the game.
All top-class Restaurants employ super Chefs, kitchen staff and table waiters; for quality meals needs expert preparation, creative presentation and perceptive service to satisfy expectant customers. The ‘football meal’ must provide all the same qualities when served to expectant fans! Like the expectant diner, football fans expect the best from their team, but unless all the necessary work has been correctly instilled in players on training grounds throughout the development and senior years the ‘football meal’ served to them will be a total disappointment.
Our domestic and international teams are continually being criticised for their inability to retain possession of the ball. This enormous flaw in the way we play has been an obvious problem for many decades, but what has been done to eradicate this ‘disease’ from our game? In my opinion, very little! Even now, with the stunning example of keep-ball delivered by Spanish football, our feeble attempts to replicate their playing style are bereft of individualism, tactical intelligence and fluidity that produces nothing more than a ‘poor man’s Barcelona’ style of play.
As I stated at the beginning of this ‘blog’, the two essential ingredients for Creative keep-ball are; Constructive preparation play and Calculated penetration. These must be developed in conjunction with each other for the qualities of possession to be fully realized — ‘the first provides the second’.
CONSTRUCTIVE PREPARATION PLAY:
Just keeping the ball might look statistically ok but too often opportunities to benefit from phases of extended keep-ball are not taken, thus losing the reason for keeping the ball! High percentage passing is fine as long as it has produced high levels of penetrative chances that have been exploited —some of those chances might ‘bear fruit’ others may not, but all must be eagerly attempted once created. Our players must be taught – WHY they should play keep-ball – HOW they should play it – WHAT must be recognized during keep-ball phases –WHEN to exploit penetrative opportunities.
The often mistaken and over-use of attempted penetration in our game is due entirely to past and present coaching and development methods. The damning indictment of coaching here is visible in the consistent lack of skilful players produced for our game and the poor game understanding they possess that produces a ‘fightball’ game-style. The present Pass-Pass-Pass ‘mania’ we are beginning to see in our game is little more than a ‘camouflage’ of poor ability and a ‘pass the buck’ usually followed by a ‘hit and hope’ long ball forward is a style that is endemic in all levels of football here. The importance of goal-scoring must not be neglected, but unless constructive preparatory play is firmly and decisively incorporated into our football psyche and used extensively throughout all levels, our game will continue to under-achieve.
Scoring goals is the most difficult part of playing football; it is the climax of effort and ability for both the scorer and his team-mates. Because of the ‘glory’ the surrounds goal-scoring many young players hasten to be ‘strikers’. In many other positions that hold less glory, players adopt a playing role for various nebulous reasons. In all cases of early positioning of players the important issues of skill acquisition and total game understanding suffers as specialization advances the chance of becoming a ‘bit part player’ rather than a ‘total footballer’.
We seem to hold the belief in this country that ‘goal-scorers’ don’t need to involve themselves in preparation play and simply wait for others to produce chances for them. This historical playing ‘regimentation’ has meant our game-style has stayed virtually the same over many decades. The lack of rotational movement in our game especially in forward positions has produced a lack of flair and creativity. Goals are expected from the few when in fact more goals would be scored with more players being able to enter forward spaces.
Poor service in a Restaurant can spoil the best food and make a disappointing experience for the customer. In football, service that provides goal chances is an art and is almost as important as the skill of ‘hitting the net’. Good service that provides good finishing opportunities must be inter-connecting; the ‘gains’ from effective, penetrative keep-ball must be followed by goals scored by players from all parts of a team.
The ‘selling’ of Creative keep-ball to coaches, players and equally importantly to fans, is something that will need more than ultra-modern St, George’s, it will require considerable thought ‘marketing’ and consistent effort throughout the land before a more subtle and skilful playing style can be a permanent feature here.