By John Cartwright
What does Dribbling represent to you? Is it the use of nimble footwork — is it the ‘bogus’ use of feints with various parts of the body – or is it running with the ball followed by changes of direction…….. or is it something else? All of the aforementioned can be described as dribbling but what must be emphasized when discussing this important skill is……..which of those dribbling methods causes most problems to a defender and his supporting players? In my opinion it is the skill of running with the ball with changes of direction.
It is time to delegate the long over-visualized ‘picture’ of the ‘Dribbler’ to the dustbin. The fixation about dribbling that relates to over-complicated and generally unnecessary feints and fancy footwork should be cast aside. Oh yes, there are the occasional times in a season in which a player extricates him/herself from a tight situation that is pleasing on the eye, but these rarities are so inconsequential in general play that time spent learning a multitude of tricks etc. is time mis-spent.
When I was a youngster playing football in the street or in the school playground where space was limited it taught me the importance of running with the ball ACROSS defenders and not taking the ball AT them………. Lionel Messi, is the modern exhibitor of this dribbling skill. When confronted by an opponent an attacking player must attempt to move him in order to go past him. Going directly at an opponent simply sends him backwards amongst additional supporting colleagues thus lessening the possibilities for the attacker. Good defenders have acquired better defensive qualities than their counterparts in years gone by; they have much improved athletic ability and more tactical appreciation of their defensive roles. Defenders today concentrate more on the ball rather than be distracted by feint plays and in so doing they have acquired the ability to ‘guide’ attackers thus becoming a ‘dictator’ to them. More than any feint play it is the movement of the ball that will move a defender. When an attacker takes the ball ACROSS a defender that defender is forced to move accordingly. The movement ACROSS a defender as opposed to a movement AT a defender produces two immediate problems for the defender; his balance is affected; and he leaves space as he vacates one area and is moved into another area on the field……. the attacker now ‘dictates’ to the defender. The attacking player, now ‘in the driving seat’, must maximise the advantage he/she has achieved. The skill of running with the ball and ‘screening’ it from an opponent must be used to restrict a tackle from being made. Equally important, the attacker must be aware of the space he/she is from the opposing player. This space awareness allows an attacker to make decisions whether to accelerate past the opponent or change direction quickly and turn back before the opponent can recover.
Many playing alternatives become available to an attacker and his team if movements ACROSS defenders are used. As already mentioned, the balance of an opponent is affected and this provides an attacking player with several options to use; a defender can be ‘nut-megged’ far easier as he/she are forced to move across than if attacked in a direct way — space from which a defender is drawn away from can be filled by supporting players of the attacking team — plus there are numerous combination plays such as ‘take-overs’ – ‘wall passes’ – ‘overlaps’ – and ‘set-up passes’ to be used.
The game has moved on from the days of Sir Stanley Matthews, the original ‘Wizard of the dribble’. Defenders have become better athletes and are more tactically aware. We must continue to consider dribbling as an important part of the game and encourage young players to develop the ability to beat opponents and link other playing alternatives to their dribbling skill. But in order to make this happen we must change our perception of dribbling and the way it is introduced to future generations.