By John Cartwright
Moving a football purposely around a football pitch against active opposition is not easy, it requires various skills brought together at the same time to accomplish successfully. Passing is the linkage of the game, whether it is performed with any part of the body (hands included if by goalkeepers). Teams’ who have players able to use their individualism in conjunction with an ability to combine with team-mates when necessary, have ‘gold dust’ at their disposal ….. Barcelona are a great example! As individualism has faded from our game, the importance of passing and receiving the ball has increased. The unpredictable ‘tanner ball player’ of the past has been forsaken for a safer option…. the ‘negative passer’.
Passing can be made unpredictable just as dribbling is, but in today’s football obvious, simplistic passing tends to be the rule. Passes backwards and sideways are made too frequently in all areas of the field when better passing options forward are available. However, when forward passes over varying distances into more pressurized situations are made they tend to break down un-necessarily so often in games. Too often the use of the forward pass into mid-field is dispensed with as longer passes to front players is preferred. Our front players have an annoying tendency to prefer making runs in beyond opposing defences rather than have a pass to their feet and in the vast majority of cases ball possession is lost; the impatience in our game supersedes preparatory playing aspects! The most regular cause for forward passes to go astray is usually due to too much speed given to the pass forcing receivers to make difficult controls to retain possession whilst under pressure from opponents. The percentage of slower passes forward into both mid-field and front positions should be much higher than we see at present. The combination of incorrect passing speed and over-stretched distances between passer and receiver allows marking defenders the opportunity to make successful interceptions and challenges for the ball.
The art of receiving is also compromised when ball speed and distance are disregarded. Being able to receive the ball in a half-turned, ‘screening’ position is virtually impossible when ball speed and travel length is incorrect. Ball retention from forward passes is vital if successful attacking play is to be achieved. A carefully directed forward pass provides a receiver with a much better chance to retain the ball for him/herself as well as offering more opportunity for further team linkage to develop and prosper as play moves towards the opposing goal.
Barcelona, have developed a passing game that focuses on slower passing speeds over shorter distances in the majority of cases. Their use of the forward pass is often delivered to simply draw opponents away from positions through which other passes can then be sent or into which colleagues can run. Playing in this way makes receiving easier, increases team ball possession, opens gaps in opposing defences and provides more goal-scoring opportunities.
The faster forward pass that Barcelona sometimes delivers to exploit an attacking opportunity is not always successful even though these players have extremely high skill levels ………our teams’ with less skill and tactically awareness ‘hit’ fast passes too frequently over long distances and expect to play successful football……… it hasn’t worked in the past for us, it doesn’t work now and success playing this way just isn’t going to happen in the future! We must educate our coaches, and subsequently the players they work with, to embrace a more controlled passing game-style in which forward passes are not sent ‘rocket-like’ to distant targets, but are delivered to receiving players in all parts of the field with greater care and suitability.
Individual and team performances should not be a matter of luck on the day. We must develop a playing attitude and a game-style that gives all players a better chance to display their playing skills and not just their physical and athletic qualities whilst our teams’ must make combination play a dominant feature of our game.
Forward passes must ‘stick’ more often. Like forward running with the ball, the forward pass must become a possession conscious ‘penetrative thrust’ in our game and not the ‘give-away’ pass it has become.