Speed Kills!

Our Highways Authority issued a driving warning that states — ‘SPEED KILLS’.  This evocative statement was delivered to road users as deaths mounted on our roads due to excessive speed. Roads of varying types are designated with appropriate speed limits, but disregard of these warnings is often the cause of road fatalities.

Why have I written about traffic speed violations and the deaths that ensue from speeding in a football ‘blog’?  Well, like the disastrous consequences too much speed has on the road, the over-emphasis given to speed in our football is a paramount cause of the ‘death of our game’ in this country.


Of course, safe driving does not necessarily mean slow driving; on Motorways there is a higher speed limit attached but this extra speed allowance must be used carefully and adjusted to suit traffic and road conditions. The game of football is no different; the correct use of speed is essential in producing the best results.

Our game is riddled with ‘SPEED MANIA’ – we have little conception of when to play slowly and when to quicken the tempo in games. The use of ‘Motorway – full-ahead speed’ irrespective of the circumstances at the time is a debilitating problem in our game. However, a strange thing is occurring in our game — some teams are playing slowly, some might say — too slowly!  This about-turn in tactics by some clubs here should be applauded but questioned at the same time; changing such a prominent national game feature as game speed is not something that can be achieved overnight. The playing variations and decisions on changing from one playing speed to another is not fully understood by coaches and players and is often mis-applied.

Barcelona FC – the initiator of slower, preparatory, build-up play is the example that much of football is attempting to copy. Their brand of slower, possession football allied to quicker, penetrative movements is admired by many but poorly copied by all. Playing football a-la-Barcelona style requires high quality individual skills allied to superb levels of team and game understanding and these qualities take time to acquire.  A Learner driver is not allowed onto Motorways because he/she does not have the skill or experience of driving at this level. Similarly, even an experienced driver would have great difficulty to sit behind the wheel of a Formula one racing car going at high speed. The promotion from Learner to Formula One driver takes time; the same situation must be accorded to footballers’ for in all walks of life, gainful experience is the ultimate requirement for improvement and success.


Our players have been brought up on a ‘maximum effort all the time’ playing culture. There has been scant concern with speed assessment in the game and a ‘crash-bang-wallop’ playing style has been seen as the way to play. Physical qualities, especially speed, are more common at all levels here than game skills. The constant demand for more and more speed to counteract the lack of talented players available is not only a disturbing feature of our game but something that can only lead to disaster. The game in this country is ‘hyped’ beyond recognition of its true status: We ‘import’ foreign skill as we can’t produce our own skilful players and we continue with coaching and development methods that have historically failed to produce both players and a suitable national game-style.

The faster one does something the more likelihood of mistakes and failure; the Learner driver trying to handle a racing car at high speed is no different than a footballer playing at a speed beyond his playing ability, each will be unable to cope with the demands set them thus leading to disaster — on the track and on the football field !

6 thoughts on “Speed Kills!

  1. Another interesting article and one which reflects what I try to tell our players about, “controlling the tempo of the game”. We have to try to educate the players in the subtle arts of game management – why play at 100mph when you are winning with little time to go in the game? The quote about “maximum effort all the time” still holds true for me personally, but that maximum effort could refer to concentration and not the speed of play.

    • HI Tony. Thanks for your comments. The point about ‘maximum effort’ relates to our lack of ability to recognize and use of space and time in the game. Possession football is about keeping the ball and searching for penetrative opportunities to occur and then exploiting them. We play ‘force football’ — we force mistakes on opponents rather than create openings for ourselfs. Our use of speed is a misuse of an important playing ‘weapon’ …. in competitive situations one does not show all ones ‘tricks’ to the opponent, the use of speed is a ‘trick’ that should not be used indiscriminaetely but when it is able to achieve maximum affect.

  2. I am reliably informed that studies show that the average speed of play by teams in The Premiership is consistently higher than the average speed of play in European leagues. Probably not that surprising and possibly a factor in why England teams are often reported as being tired in major international competition.

    However, I am also told, from the same source, that the quickest speed of play at the fastest points of the game is higher in European leagues than it is in the Premiership. This is, perhaps, more surprising but helps to illustrate John’s point that constant 90 mile an hour football is both unneccessary and ill-advised.
    Our European counterparts recognise and presumably are taught, the importance of changing the speed of the game.

    Stuart Pearce was recently quoted as saying that continentals “manage” the game better than we do and I unerstand that he means by that the game situation, having a longer view than the immediacy of the next pass or run and, of course, the speed of the game.

    With Brendan Rogers recently being recognised for the phrase ‘resting with the ball’ and John’s reference to the style of play of Liverpool in the 70s and 80s it can be seen that managing and varying tempo in the game is a key aspect of playing good football.

  3. Definitely agree with this blog. The English style still focuses too much on physicality and fitness rather than tactical awareness and skill. This is mostly witnessed at international level when the English players do not have support from their European colleagues as they would at club level. I saw the Barcelona game last Sunday and they way the team change tempo from a slow methodical passing game to an all out blitz comprising of intelligent runs , penetrating passes or dribbles and then back again is truely awesome.

    Steve’s point above about players being tired when it comes to tournaments is also very valid. Playing at 100 mph all the time also results in injury.

    I think it was Johan Cruyff who stated “Football is a game that you play with your brain”. This is the one message we (as a footballing nation) should be passing onto our young footballers as soon as they start playing the game. I look at players like Gerrard and hear comments like “his legs won’t allow him to be a box to box player anymore – thats his stregnth”, but why can’t a player of this calibre be clever enough to change his game style? I look at Pirlo for Italy and he hardly ever breaks a sweat, but he still dictates many games at the highest level with his technical ability and his quick thinking.

    I really hope that now we have more younger managers in the EPL with different ideas on how the game should be played (Rodgers, Martinez, Laudrup, Villas Boas) it will help change the coaching mentality and direction our nation has been on for far too long.

  4. I think that this is a very good and welcome article because there has been a fallacy for so long now that the reason why our players are ‘burnt out’ in the summer when the big international tournaments, World Cup and European Championship, are played, is because of the number of matches which our teams play during the season.
    This is not true – it is simply the way we play games, at the non-stop, 100 mph tempo, with little, if any, variation in pace. In countries such as Spain,Germany and France they play just as many League matches, together with domestic cups and European club tournament matches. Admittedly, we have the League Cup, which has always been irrelevant , but many other countries, such as Spain, play their domestic cup competition over two legs, in every round, up to, and including, the final.
    Barcelona have achieved unprecedented success over the last few years and during this time, the demands made on them in terms of matches have been immense. But they never complain about the number of matches, sometimes having to make a trip half way round the world and back again to fulfil a fixture, and almost always serve up the highest standards of play for the paying customer.
    We used to be told that our training facilities and pitches were not good enough to produce players who could take on and beat the best Europeans and South Americans. At the grass roots end, much of the facilities still do leave a lot to be desired, but from what I have seen our elite players have facilities to rival any that you would find abroad. But are we producing players of superior quality now that we have these facilities? Not so far and so, as has been discussed many times on this blog, we come back to the inadequcies of the coaching.
    The analogy with driving a car, which John uses, is a good one to illustrate what is inherently wrong with our football. Another would be to think of a novice typist who tries to type 200 words in a minute by rattling away as fast as possible on a typewriter. This would lead to numerous erors – the novice typist is simply not experienced or skillful enough to achieve that target. He/she must go slower and put in hours of practice to build up to that kind of output.
    It is the same with playing football and our crowds must recognise that the helter-skelter football is producing thrills and spills but it is not producing quality. The junior team managers and coaches in the sports grounds and school fields must recognise that their duty is to educate their young players and not try to produce a mini-version of what they see at their local Football League club.
    Brendan Rodgers has proved in the last few years, first at Swansea and now at Liverpool, that you can produce a playing style in this country which is continental in pace as well as in its style. What’s more, many of the players he had at Swansea had played most of their careers in the lower divsions but they appeared to adapt readily to his methods. Just as importantly, their fans liked it and it is good to see that when Rodgers left, the club appointed a Manager who wanted to continue working with the same approach.

  5. Hi Steve. I admire Swansea’s determination to continue the job started by Rogers by appointing Laudraup. However, the gap between individual playing qualitiy and team fluency compared to senior foreign clubs is still wide. We still have a preoccupation with positions and remaining ‘fixed’ in them. Players and teams’ that have ‘tactical flow’ have the ingredients for positional rotation — game intelligence and individual skills. We lack both of these qualities in our game because we don’t teach or allow it to be practised/played from an early age. Movements to create space/time (overloads) are a rareity throughout all levels of our game — and it shouldn’t be so!

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