By John Cartwright
The ’flat back four’ defensive system has been used extensively throughout the football world for some considerable time and only very occasionally have we seen alternative methods used by Clubs’ and Countries. One must begin to question whether it is time a different approach to defending is required, what this might be and how this might add specific changes to the game.
The flat defensive line was introduced by Brazil and was used to (a) increase central cover with a two central defenders and (b) to allow full-backs to get closer when marking opposing wide players. The central defenders’ role has remained much the same with defensive duties as very much a main responsibility. However, the role of full-backs has meant an increase in their attacking duties. Throughout this period teams’ have devised different tactical shapes in mid-field and in forward positions in an attempt to maintain solidity in defence whilst increasing more attacking diversity Irrespective of these tactical modifications the flat defensive line has, in most cases, remained a major defensive, organised shape at all levels of the game.
Is this reliance on the ‘flat (offside obsessed) defensive style becoming more of a hindrance than an asset in the modern game? Our game is choking on mediocrity and is in dire need of a newer, more ‘stream-lined’ game-style to be introduced. Rinus Michels, the great Dutch architect of ‘Total Football’, developed a style of play that required expansive movement in team- play but we must go beyond his coaching brilliance and uncover an even more ambitious playing style for the future of our game. ‘Rotational Football’ should be the way ahead for our game; in the street matches’ of the past, positions were exchanged constantly with even the position of Goalkeeper being filled by whoever was the deepest player at the time. I am not suggesting that ‘Rotational Football’ should go to those lengths but ‘fixed’ outfield positions should be less structured and preference given to a more ‘rounded’ football style.
In order to achieve the changes described, a ‘revolution’ in development would need to occur in order to produce talented coaches able to teach the game and who in turn would produce talented players capable of playing the game towards a new football vision. Long established playing concepts would have to be dispensed with…. for example; the ‘stopper central defender’- the ‘defensive mid-fielder’ – the ‘attacking mid-fielder’ – the ‘winger’ – the ‘front striker’……….. the ‘rotational footballer’ would cover all the roles described. For instance, players in central defensive roles must become capable attackers when opportunities occur. Instead of just full-backs surging forward down flank positions, those players that normally occupy rear central areas of teams’ must also be prepared to break forward to increase attacking play and any spaces that occur must be quickly filled rotationally by colleagues. Rotational movement by all players must be made both up and down field as well as across the field to provide cover and support for both defensive and attacking phases of play.
Straight defensive lines across the field of play, so prominent in the game today, would change and varying defensive shapes with different angles and depths would increase playing fluidity in both defence and attack. The present man-for-man ‘fight’ we see so often in all areas of the field would be a thing of the past as the frequent interchange of positions would create a more free-flowing game-style. ‘Rotational Football’ would incorporate defensive situations throughout the field of play that would satisfy playing demands as they occur. From flat-lined to balanced cover; front or rear ‘sweepers’; pressure play or retreat followed by the counter attack, alternative defensive shapes would respond to the job in hand. In conjunction with adaptive defensive play more creativity and imagination could evolve in attacking play from a system that allowed more freedom and opportunity to exploit attacking opportunities following successful defensive situations in all parts of the field. Fast overloading when defending and attacking in all areas of the field would be more achievable and more successful as players were freed from positional negativity.
We must begin to produce complete players to play fuller roles in a more dynamic game-style and discontinue with the ‘bit players’ who form the ‘patch-work’ positioned mediocrity so prevalent in our game today. ROTATIONAL FOOTBALL must be the way forward for coaches, players and fans. Intelligence and energy must be used more positively and more collectively; the day of limited ability, the big hearted 100% player who gives his/her all but who’s all contains nothing of quality, must be finally cast aside. Quality is quality and no more must anything be allowed as a substitute.