Our Football Dilemma

By John Cartwright

What is the main cause for our continual demise in playing standards? This question has been at the forefront of our football discussions for decades. Numerous answers have been prescribed for the problem but with little obvious success. There have been changes to virtually every aspect of the game here, from off the field preparation to on the field practice and playing, all seemingly with little effect on producing an observable improvement in playing quality at all levels.

It is said that individual ability dictates the game-style used, yet our players, who are not totally defunct of the skills to play the game, find it difficult to deliver those skills into the competitive game using the British way of playing. I watch teams’ practice and see interesting ability from players of all ages but unfortunately it is not reproduced in games. Simplicity dominates playing demands here, why? If we have players who are physically capable, have sufficient skills and game awareness the only answer to our dilemma must be the enforcement of a GAME-STYLE that suffocates individual playing identity.

Direct play methods have been part of our game here since the game was invented. Limited playing ideas (tactics) and low skill levels produced a game-style that was fast and furious; combined with this was the poor surfaces on which games were played. There is however, a question that needs answering; why did our continental opponents, who suffered the same playing surfaces as us, refrain from continuing to play in a direct way and move their game-styles towards a more skilful brand of football?

Fear of failure ‘sits’ on the shoulders’ of all who are involved in the game; winning is important wherever and at whatever level the game is played. However, we seem to ‘digest’ fear to an extent that forces us to employ a simplistic game-style that denies players a ‘canvas’ on which to display their true ability. There are a few brave souls here who are prepared to produce a more ‘total’ type of game-style, but too often they have become over-obsessed with continental possession and have ignored the use of penetration methods in their desire to introduce more sophisticated playing methods.

Our football dilemma concerns a game-style we seem unable to dispense with leading to poor passing/crossing and a lack of clever individualism and team play. We sacrifice the ‘Beautiful Game’ for a ‘Neanderthal’ version comprised of constant speed, strength and simplistic tactics; all of these are part and parcel of the game but should not envelop it totally. The use of all the aforementioned playing aspects is fine — but only when it is either necessary or beneficial to use them.

Long passing forward, especially to heavily marked forwards is an over-used option that provides little opportunity for both players and their teams to develop a playing style that allows ability to display itself. Shorter passing is a playing style that is used extensively throughout the football world – but not here! Patience on the field as well as by fans on the terraces is part and parcel of foreign football. Generally, game-styles used at  club level abroad carries over into their international teams and in both situations this allows for continuity and understanding in their playing of the game. They keep possession much better than us with passes that are usually much easier to control even when under severe pressure from opponents. Accordingly, individual skills are able to be displayed and combined movement throughout teams’ is less predictable than the obvious straight line passing and movement we use too often.

As our foreign opponents introduce more variations into their game-style I believe their players and their teams will be able to display their playing ability even more effectively, whereas our ‘up and at ‘em’ game-style will continue to make performances a mere lottery for teams and players. Unless we rethink our game-style and how to develop players correctly from day one we will continue to send players into games involving a game-style that hinders individual and team performance rather than enhances it.

42 thoughts on “Our Football Dilemma

  1. Hi all. Am i mistaken, but is practice actually a waste of time here? We play the game at all levels in such a way that virtually all elements of practice seem either unuseable or totally vacant in our competitive ‘hit and miss’ version of the game. What do you think?

  2. I think that in England we have for years been obsessed with the maxim – “football is a simple game.” This is true as the actual basis of the game, i.e. to get the ball into the opponents’ goal more times than they get it into yours. Unfortunately, we interpret simplicity in terms of a simplistic game style and tactical approach. So we have prevented countless numbers of young players from fully realising their potential because we have neglected individualism. We have said throughout living memory that football is a team game and NOT for individuals. It has taken the introduction of the Premier Skills coaching methodology, and the coaching ideas of John Cartwright, to establish individualism as the first element in a young player’s development. Team play follows on from that – skillful, imaginative individuals conjoining as a team. But everything comes back to the individual.
    I thought that Tottenham’s new manager, Tim Sherwood,intelligently used the word simplicity in relation to football, when he said that he had been brought up to view football as a simple game, implied as a thinly disguised criticism of his predicessor. He remarked that he would not be confusing his players with complicated defensive tactics. The best way to keep defensively tight, he stated, was to keep good possession, because the opposition could not play without the ball and so if you kept possession then they could not hurt you. Common sense, really, and the basis of Barcelona’s play for the last 6 years. Critics have said throughout Barca’s glory years, that they need to strengthen at centre half, proved by the fact that they often play Mashcerano there. But because they were in possession for such long periods of the game, if this position was a weakness then it rarely mattered because Barca’s possession meant that they always had control.
    So, John, with regard to the point on practice being relevant, then clearly it is for Barcelona.But English teams often play possession games in training, but many of them go out and play a ‘fighting’ game on Saturday. Our “hit and miss version of the game”, in this instance, is not consistent with the training done during the week. Or is it, as John has said in a previous article, that “the coach controls the practice, but the players control the game.”

  3. Hi Steve. I have to laugh to myself when i go to games. Warm-ups tend to include small area practice in which passing (not movement however) tends to be used prior to the start of the game. However, when the game actually gets under way there is an almost total disregard of the work attempted just minutes before kick-off and ‘Fightball’ follows automatically ( with negative possession play as a camouflage in between.

  4. The problem is that the coach educators, of which many have real ability , have not acquired that extra underlying intelligent “feel “for the game that the Greenwoods,Sextons,Allisons,Cartwrights and Venables of this world have somehow acquired. Its the difference between ordinary composers and great composers!!

  5. Hi all. We must conquer the huge problem of the fans ‘lack’ of football understanding.I’m sure players lose possession of the ball so much because of the lack of patience from fans. Passes are made forward that are often unnecessary and usually unplayable in order to satisfy the fans’ desire to get the ball close to the opposition’s end and away from their own — result equals —‘give it away, fight to get it back football’!

  6. Hi all. The question is — how do we overcome the problem — can it be overcome both in the development of players and in the education of fans? Both issues must be tackled at the same time or we will continue with the disappointing football we see so often here.

  7. Hi John….
    Yes, “the education of fans”. If the crowds in our stadiums showed more appreciation of patient build-up play in preference to the constant 100 mph English-style, then it would be of enormous help in the development of an effective and attractive game style. The typical English fan wants to see the ball going forward at every available opportunity. Working the ball through tight areas invariably provokes groans of dissatisfaction from the stands. Too many of the fans want to see the ball in and around the opposition penalty area as often as possible.The job of an enlightened coach is made doubly difficult and if the players’ confidence is fragile then they can soon lose heart with the game style which the coach wants them to produce, if the spectators jeer at their efforts in playing a ‘new’ game.
    The “education” needs to take the form of appreciation of real football. There has probably never been as much education of the game given through the media, but this is in the form of tactical understanding. TV studios are full of gadgets for ex-players to use to explain what is going wrong, or right, in a particular match. But this has not lead to a deeper appreciation of game understanding, that would lead to a demand for a less frenetic long ball game of constant high pace.
    It is ironic that our TV sets these days enable us to regularly see the world’s best players and teams in live action, together with the slow motion play backs of outstanding pieces of play and endless analysis from the ‘experts’. But our game does not improve. Years ago there wasn’t the smallest fraction of the TV coverage given to football as there is now. You were lucky to see more than one live game a season, (the FA Cup Final). Even brief highlights were as rare as gold dust. A child in the street was more likely to practice the skills of Matthews, Finney and Puskas from the photographs he had seen in a newspaper or magazine than from any screen.
    But there is the old chestnut again – the disappearance of street football! It always comes back to that and the FA’s failure to produce a Coaching Scheme which addresses this crucial problem. The fans in the stands and on the terraces are, or have been, players at varying levels. The seeds of appreciation of real football must be sown in the early years, whether you are destined to be a world famous player of global status or a casual Sunday morning player in the public park. It does not matter what level your ability takes you to; if you have that appreciation of the game then you take it into the stadium with you and you will demand a quality and style of play which we have not seen in England for a very long time.

  8. Not sure if your right about the fans any more. Arsenal, Tottenham, Man U, Chelsea, Swansea fans for example do not insist on the ball going forward. Leeds fans have been moaning about the amount of times we give the ball away on fans forums. Fans are changing and with the the constant talk of tika taka, many English fans are knowledgable enough to know that possession is important. I remember in 1985 Leeds played Portsmouth in the old 2nd division and Leeds were losing and played the ball back to the keeper, to roars of disapproval. Back then and probably through the 90s that would have been the case. Now when I go I never hear the crowd go mad about playing back to the goalkeeper.

  9. Hi dubs….
    Cleverness is still in short supply in England. I do not think there is any other country in the world where a player would be applauded for giving the ball a hefty kick out of play , when under the minimal amount of pressure, to break up an opposition attack. This happens frequently in football played by the younger age groups, as well as the various grades of the professional game.
    From my observation, spectators in the pro game will accept to a certain degree a change in style if it brings their team success. But if results fall away then they make their feelings clearly heard, and this is usually for a return to a more direct style of play.
    The professional game today has an unhealthy degree of tribalism. In the past, players like Matthews and Best put thousands on the gate when Blackpool and Manchester United were the visitors at an away ground. People wanted to see these ‘greats’ of the game in the flesh. TV had less control over the game as it does today. Nowadays, it seems to me that fans go to the game when Ronaldo or Suarez is playing because they want to see them dumped on their backsides and their teams beaten.
    So i think that there is less appreciation of the arts and skills of the game.

  10. Hi all. In reply to Dubs i would say that crowds tolerate possession football but do not appreciate the importance of it. They are not aware of how possession football correctly combined with longer passing as a timely variation can produce an almost unbeatable game-style combination.

    • To be fair John, not many coaches fully understand possession football either. Fans may only tolerate it, which means they are not generally screaming for the ball to go forward, which does allow for teams to play a patient possession style of play.
      What is apparent though how many coaches at the very top level are not coaching teams to keep possession. The recent Man U v Spurs match I noted how rarely Spurs full backs were not dropping off when RM or LM had the ball and was put under pressure and facing their own goal.

  11. Hi Dubs. Fans tolerate possession football because a few clubs are attempting to play it. I agree that what is being played here is generally ‘superficial keep-ball’ and this is partly due to coaches lacking understanding but also because many players are uncomfortable with possession football………..it hasn’t been part of their football development unfortunately!

  12. From what i have seen on the televised Spanish football this season, Barcelona are attempting to change their game style under their new Argentine coach, Martino. They are playing longer passes to get forwards in behind the opposition defence earlier than used to be the case. I think that Martino had been aware that many teams had begun to successfully combat the tiki taka style that had brought Barcelona great success over a number of years. I think that the previous coach, Vilanova, had also begun to make a change but his serious illness had prevented him taking his work to a conclusion..
    I have read that many of the club’s fans and journalists in the Spanish press have been highly critical of Barcelona’s change in game style. They wanted Barca to persist in their possession style and reclaim their place at the top without changing their approach. But Martino knows that possession without penetration is ineffective. Guardiola knew this too, but the years of keeping Barca at the top with their brilliant possession play had taken its toll and he did not have the energy in him at the time to effect a change at the Spanish club. But at his new club, Bayern Munich, you can see a combination in styles, with possession play mixed in with long passes played in behind the defence when the pass is on.
    I think that Martino must hope that his bosses at Barcelona and the club’s fans show patience and understanding of the problems so that the necessary changes can be made. This is a similar challenge facing English supporters, who must show equal patience with a coach honestly attempting to create a better game style, but in our case, the change is towards greater possession but always with the object of penetration being the end result.

  13. Hi all. I was at a game recently and the players attempted to keep the ball in order to develop better opportunities to pass the ball forward with more certainty — the crowd continually demanded that the ball be sent forward even to nobody or even to an opposing player! Until our crowds learn to study the game more and realize the importance of good ball possession, we will never reach top playing status. There needs to be more thought given to the influence that fans have on game-style here. Fear on the field by players acquired from the fear of failure from fansis an increasing feature in our game

    • Hi John. Surely one of the determining factors is change of pace rather than the English game which is all together quick very often. Even when keeping the ball. The best slow it when in control and quicken it when they need to and then it is like lightening…they can change gear in an instance!

  14. Watching the TV highlights of FA Cup Third round matches over the weekend, I thought that there were examples which underlined the comments which John Cartwright has made, that there are English players at all levels with ability to play the game. I thought that teams from the lower grades, such as Rochdale and Macclesfield, produced play and scored goals from good play. Players were picked out in and around the penalty area with good passes and goals scored from good finishing technique, even in heavy conditions. It was not a case of high balls being launched blindly into packed penalty areas for big strikers to smash into and force the ball into the net.
    So if an attractive, possession-based game style could be introduced, then this could be combined with the ability which many of our players do possess to help English football emerge from the international wilderness.

  15. Hi John. I think another part of the game – more precisely, the players themselves – that is insisted-upon by the English (clubs, fans, coaches, scouts, academies) is SPEED AT ALL COSTS.
    You can’t execute the style of play you’re talking about until the game is slowed down slightly. But English football is still played at breakneck speed, and I have heard from Roger Wilkinson himself that a young New Zealand boy, who had a trial at an English club, and was told he was ‘technically excellent, just not fast enough’.
    Perhaps the irony of the old saying ‘be careful what you wish for, you just might get it’ is completely lost on English football?

  16. Hi all. We must start to think ‘outside the square’ when it comes to improving our game-style’. What’s the sense in practising something that the fans don’t understand nor want to see? There must be a different approach to all Media programming for football. Present forms of programming and display do not satisfy the required understanding levels of the game. If we want to ‘hit the heights ‘ domestically and internationally we must combine the needs of playing and watching more intelligently for each requires the other for lasting success.

  17. Last Sunday Swansea scored their first goal against Manchester United with a classic third man running move: a good pass was played forward to the striker Boney, who was dropping off the Man Utd central defenders into space. He layed the ball back to a Swansea support player and Swanea’s left sided attacker, Routledge, was sprinting through the gap in the Man Utd defence, left by Ferdinand and Evans who had been drawn towards Boney. Routledge timed his run perfectly onto the support player’s through pass, to score and put Swansea on their way to a well deserved win.
    When commenting in the ITV studio afterwards, Scotland manager, Gordon Strachan, said words to the effect that every youth coach in the country should be given a tape of that Swansea goal as an example of how to practice attacking play and the movement and awareness required. Drawing defenders out of their safe, comfort zones for an off the ball runner to exploit the space makes for exciting, entertaining football which i am sure the fans would “want to see”. Third man running is relevant to whatever system a coach may elect to use. Aspects of play such as this are more important than systems but the TV ‘experts’ concentrate too much on systems and formations. As a result, many of football’s paying customers decline to be educated because they believe that this side of the game is ‘mumbo jumbo’.
    Fifty years ago, Ron Greenwood introduced third man running at West Ham United and regularly sliced open opposition defences. The crowds loved it and they loved it just as much the other night when Swansea scored their goal against Man Utd. But we need to see more attacking play based on third man running and the crowds will come flocking back. They will also, as a result, be more educated and appreciative crowds as they were many years ago at Upton Park.

  18. Hi all. I find it truly amazing that so many professional clubs don’t allow parents to watch the work their children are doing. The work provided for the players should also be explained to the parents in discussion groups during sessions so that parent and child can converse together about the work etc. during the time between sessions. Football mis-understanding should be erradicated at every opportunity throughout all levels of the game.

    • I agree John, probably because many of the coaches are not confident enough though. No adults around allows the coach to do things unchallenged.

      Looking forward to the London FA workshop on the 27th January.

  19. Parents/guardians etc of young players in academies would have to be engaged in the coaching being done if football homework was being set, as recommended in the Premier Skills methodology. I can only assume, therefore, that the academies are not setting homework or, if they are, then they are simply leaving it to the children to practice a particular skill alone, before the next coaching session. It would be far more beneficial if a parent who took the child to the academy was engaged in the work being done and told the key points to look for,since someone to serve into the young player when he/she practices away from the club, is often necessary. Then the parent or older brother/sister who has been enlightened by the coach at the academy, would help enormously during the rest of the week in observing the player and helping with the correct service, which is vital for the effective practice of a technique or skill.

  20. “The question is — how do we overcome the problem — can it be overcome both in the development of players and in the education of fans? Both issues must be tackled at the same time or we will continue with the disappointing football we see so often here.”
    John asks how do we overcome the problem?? I do not believe we can overcome the problem until the Premier League collapses in some form of hyper inflation or debt crisis and we return to what will be essentially League Division 1. Liverpool won the old European Cup with 1 Welshman, 1 Irishman and 9 Englishmen. Celtic in 1967 won that cup with 11 Glaswegians raised on street football. If our foreign imports left now we would not be able to reach past the qualifying rounds of a Championship League pre season. We would be at the same level as Norway , Iceland or Cyprus…and well behind Turkey, Serbia and even Poland. We simply will NOT BE TOLD by Johnny foreigner how to play OUR game!!
    Not even at grassroots. I have recently been “sacked” from my position as Football Development officer at London’s biggest amateur setup….11 men’s teams + 3 vets teams. This is after getting John Cartwright to last year’s end of season annual dinner as a guest of honor? Apparently …wait for it….some players don’t like all that “Tiki Taka?” LOL!!! Three of my young players …16/17 year olds were drafted into our 1st team last year and bailed them out of relegation precisely because these boys KNOW how to get control of a game by dominating possession but the English HATE this type of domination. This is why I have been politely shown the door!
    The problem is this. English players try to win a game before they control a game. From the first minute they lose control of their emotions and need to score a goal. John mentioned a warm up he observed. EXACTLY right John. They do a possession session but as soon as they are on the pitch they are dominated by their emotions. It’s the Captain Mannering School of Panic Attack (Don’t Panic Don’t Panic). Everyone starts shouting and screaming at each other but there is NO VISION…therefore as the Bible says….Where there is no vision the people perish. Ask a grassroots manager what his game style is and it will be astounding if he is able to reply without at least a week to get back to you. I know this because I tried it recently and I got some very odd looks.
    In response to Johns comments on possession obsession I would say that I have been accused of possession obsession too…but…in order to penetrate a gap (break a line) you have to drill a hole ….but in invasion games you need to use width as a prerequisite to penetration. Football is a sideways game (yes John …your words) and to play through a gap you have to entice the opposition out. My boys do this with their eyes shut because I have a centre back, a wing back and a central mid. The centre back will carry the ball towards the full back and draw two opponents towards them. The wing back bounces the pass back and the centre back now turns the ball out to the other centre back who is now in acres of space and able to carry the ball into midfield thus breaking the line and we have now overloaded the midfield. My boys do this with their eyes closed and it drives the opposition mad. If they throw another pressing player forward onto the other centre back we can EASILY penetrate into midfield.Also the Goalkeeper is very happy to sweep and join the play arounds. After the first five minutes the space in midfield opens up more as the opposition tire from chasing the ball around. The midfield players play a lot of short bouncing plays to drag the opposition around. Instead of the mantra “straight in boys” ..my mantra is “make them run” because I know that penetration requires some patient skillful “drilling”. I learnt this from watching Holland in the 70’s, Barca recently and the courses at Premier Skills but the English are unteachable. Tonight I was at a training session where the coach ( a PE teacher) put on some good sessions which required intelligent play and decision making but he DID NOT EXPLAIN the sessions purpose. Just like John’s example of the warm up…I know for sure that on Saturday NONE of what they did will be put into practice because the teacher did not TEACH. He expected that the “game “ would be the teacher. That thinking DOES apply to street football where the game IS the teacher but once you move to coaching you must start with the Vision; ie the playing style. All the English know is that whilst it’s true we don’t have a playing style of our own we do know that we F*kg hate those Spanish and will NEVER play that poncey football. Come back Captain Mannering.

  21. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/england/10307953/England-are-paying-the-price-for-not-having-any-creative-free-spirits-available-to-Roy-Hodgson.html

    according to Owen (or his ghost writer)…..

    “In Chelsea’s case you have Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian, Mata and so on: three or four ghosting around the striker. Liverpool have also played with one striker and Iago Aspas and Philippe Coutinho floating about. Players are roaming everywhere. Manchester City are another example. Samir Nasri, Silva and others who can play off the front.

    When you watch England you think: we do not have one player, really, who can play in that role. Wayne Rooney could do it, but it is not his natural function. His main strengths are elsewhere. This is what the Football Association and coaches are starting to lean towards. In youth and academy matches the emphasis is on the No 10. But in many ways it is too late. When we achieve a regular supply of these creative types in five or 10 years the game may have evolved again. It is the fashion now but it may not be the fashion when other countries move the game in another direction.

    So the creativity is just not there for England. We do not have that type of player in this country, in our culture. Paul Scholes is often cited as the most recent exception but when he started out he was an attacking midfielder, known for his surging runs into the box and fierce shots. He could find pockets and exploit space but his main instinct was to drive on as an attacking player.”

    His comments re Mezut Ozil are poignant. He notes the type of midfield player who is able to find pockets of space that English players simply can’t do. Trying to address this with players will be a nightmare for coaches. It requires the player to stop and recognise that they have a big problem and todays generation simply fall into an angry denial.

  22. In England for years we have been coaching young players to support but in static situations. We say that you must support the player in possession in front of the ball, to the side of the ball and behind the ball. You get triangles but they are static triangles.Owen says in the ‘Telegraph’ article, an England player rarely has more than one supporting option. Barcelona always have several passing options to the man on the ball but it is support of constant movement. In a book on the career of of Johann Cruyff, the Dutch genius says that third man running, coached from a young age in Holland, is the secret behind the movement which has always typified their football.

  23. Hi all. WOW! such a lot of well thought-out stuff from two experienced, football intelligent guys. As you both say, we have massive problems in our game that are being overlooked. We will not accept the obvious truth that the long-term use of FA Coaching methods has failed…. miserably!!

  24. Ian Holloway has been manager of Millwall for little over a week, but last Saturday, in Millwall’s first home game since his appointment, his team showed that the work he has been doing on the training field is already having an effect. There were many instances of third man runnng. Players who had previously looked to hit passes from back to front were now looking to keep possession over shorter distances, waiting for the opportunity to play the longer pass and the support was combined with movement, as Michael Owen highlighted in his ‘Telegraph’ article. The third man running followed on from this movement and support and the opponents, Ipswich, were opened up on many occasions.
    Holloway created a similar game style at Blackpool and showed bravery in pursuing the development in the Premier League with players who had previously played only in the lower leagues. It was a shame when that season ended in relegation and so it will be interesting to see how Millwall develop in the weeks and months ahead.

  25. “The mediocre triumph because, having little or nothing else to do, they can devote themselves to intrigue, backstabbing, and jockeying for power. In my own little career, I have often seen the genuinely gifted and morally upright pushed aside or thwarted by schemers and apparatchiks who viewed their betters with a mixture of fear and hatred. An apparatchik may be defined as a person who doesn’t mind how long a meeting goes on unless he has another meeting to attend. He is interested in power for its own sake, divorced from purpose though he claims to want it for the good of humanity, but has very sensitive antennae for the power of others. When that power is strong, he retreats; when it shows a weakness, he pounces. Apparatchiks, like the Clintons, never forget; their minds are like filing cabinets.

    There are Mrs. Clintons now in all organizations, each according to his or her level. Some dictate the fate of nations and others decide on the most trivial of local matters, but their manner of proceeding is identical. Why, almost everywhere you look, should such mediocrity triumph?”


    Oh how much does this article reflect the football world in the age of the Premiere Leagu. John wrote that wonderful piece entitled “The Beckham Delusion”. In a world where a Hilary Clinton could be seen as a viable leader of the western world it should be no surprise to find journalists and other assorted spin monkeys fawning over a media made poster boy. All footballers know that Giggs and Scholes were light years ahead of Beckham. In fact Xavi himself speaks of Scholes as a true great but….its’ who you know and how you ponce about that gets you to the place of influence. Beckham is part of the celebrity aristocracy. A decent player but never anything special, he rode the media’s game of creating a fantasy for good little boys. He’s a Barbie doll; he looks pretty.
    I wish Millwall the best with Holloway. Blackpool were a breath of fresh air with him but mediocrity is the name of the English game. I advise my good players to look abroad to make it in pro football. If you can make it as an English boy in Portugal or France you have the chance of learning the art of football. Then come back here where nobody can tell you how to play.

  26. I agree with Fletch that if English players went abroad to have “the chance of learning the art of football” they would become much better players. This was the case with Lineker, Waddell, Wilkins, Gascoigne and others, before the inception of the Premier League meant that the big money is now to be found in England.
    I was interested in a quote which i read recently by Gus Poyet. The Sunderland manager said that the difference between negotiating a transfer of a foreign player with that of an English player was that in the preliminary discussions, the foreigner wanted detailed information regarding the game style and tactical play that would be required of him; by contrast, the English player usually just wanted to talk about the financial implications of the transfer.
    Another example of our slide into mediocrity.

  27. Hi all. For those of us who attempt to change the thinking and playing of the game here must realize that it is delivering a game-style that combines careful preparation-play as used in other parts of the world with the fierce, fast, penetrative-play we use here. The use of just a single playing style has not and will not bring success. Teaching this combination — playing it —and selling it to fans, is a huge job, but a necessary one for the future of the game here.

  28. Hi John….
    I thnk that it is vital that we combine the game styles and take the best of our game and mix it with the superor qualities to be found in the football style of other countries. We must not lose our never-say-die characteristics in favour of attempting, say, to adapt to a purely Spanish style.. We would fall flat on our faces if we tryed to do this, anyway. You are right when you say that attempting to achieve this combination in styles, “and selling it to fans”, is “a huge job”. From what I have seen in televised matches, the Barcelona coach, Martino, is experiencing such problems this season. In spite of Barcelona being top of La Liga and progressing in the Champions’ League, he faces criticism from the fans and press because he is trying to change their game style as he correctly concludes that his team must look for longer passes played earlier into the back of opponents’ defences, as more and more teams gradually organise themselves to combat Barca’s tiki taki approach which has brought them so much success during the last few years. This is not to say that the tiki taki style is dead; just to add another dimension to it and stay one step ahead of the opposition as they try to counteract it.
    The press and public in all countries must be aware when work of this type is being attempted.Otherwise a coach could lose his job before he has had the chance to take his work to a conclusion.

  29. Hi Steve. I totally agree with you on all the points you make. I believe we fail to comprehend the problems we have in our game and are in denial regarding the teaching, playing and watching malaise we have here.

  30. Hi all. Recently i have seen clear examples of how our historically played game-style– Direct play denies players at ALL LEVELS the opportunity to display their real playing ability. Good players, even exceptional talent, is continuously being sacrificed on the ‘altar’ of our ‘Fightball.’ playing style and our game flounders year after year. When will we stop denying the obvious—-our game needs drastic repairs—- on and off the field!
    Nobody can show their real worth in an environment that ‘worships’ simplistic mediocracy as we do here!!

  31. Clever players run with the ball at space. They recognise space and run with the ball into these spaces. This is the starting point for individualsim in the Level 1 of Premier Skills. So if we want our young players, in their first introduction to playing the game, to set off on the road to cleverness then instead of goals, to KICK the ball into, we need the ‘gates’, representing space, to RUN the ball into, which becomes the way, initially, to score. Goals are replaced by gates to encourage running with the ball into space.

  32. Hi John, another fantastic blog above and thanks for the coaching session today! It was SUPERB and many of the things you spoke of after about how our game is in tatters was INSPIRATIONAL! I can honestly say I learn’t more today to benefit me as a coach than what the FA courses have ever taught me! You mentioned we need disciples, I’d like to think I’m one as my sessions are game related , practices in tight spaces, focus on individualism, time and space, discourage panic but encourage bravery and intelligence with the ball and like yourself I’m constantly mentioning Barcelona to the children.

    Just touching on many points above, I think we have too many fans who are “know it all’s” and even coaches and I think the poor punditry on TV encourages this so called expert knowledge. When are people going to realize the TV pundits for our UK games are just a form of entertainment. They spend too much time talking about refereeing decisions and they only ever analyse the goals or goal scoring chances. When I watch the Spanish football the pundits don’t have fancy gadgets, or unrequited banter (entertainment) but instead they talk about the game just played, tactically! why the game was won or lost, or why a certain team failed, or how a team should have set up to play. They mention the word TACTICALLY SO OFTEN! and yet this word is mentioned by our Pundits on a very rear basis. The funny thing is these La Liga pundits are often ex-Spanish players and I think their more educated comments says everything about how they were taught the game!

    • Unfortunately this article is spot on. On many a Sunday morning I have seen players lambasted from the sidelines for trying to take players on, showing off their skills or doing a trick or back heel to make a pass, whether they are successful or not seems irrelevant. It seems to most coaches, parents or fellow athletes the use of individual skill is a no-no. I spent 6 years living in Spain and the organisation of the training sessions and attitude of all involved greatly impressed me and inspired my decision to become a football coach myself. During this time I saw the Spanish national team grow from a team of quality and potential to the international dominant force they have become, all this with a bunch of players that would probably never have succeeded in this country because they didn’t have the power and strength of an Andy Carroll. Oh the irony!

  33. gutted I couldn’t make it yesterday….but good news for me Saturday. Ellis Ashworth ( son of Laurence) captained Essex boys to the national county FA final. Ellis is one of the few centre backs you will see who runs with the ball. He often makes sideways runs towards his other centre back drawing out opposition forwards to free up his full back. He was overlooked at Norwich last year because one of the boys who they preferred was 2 inches taller!!!! This is the Norwich team that beat Chelsea in last years FA youth Cup final. Ellis’s problem is that a lot of the boys around him simply don’t understand what he is doing and even more alarming is nor do some of the coaches.
    Great point Dav about TV pundits…you are absolutely spot on…. my nine year old is banned from watching MoD unless the sound is OFF.

  34. Hi Fletch. Really sorry you did not make it last night ; you are a well respected member with great passion and knowledge of the game. Thanks for the call this morning; i have left a message for Sam. to contact you or me. Best regards…… John

  35. Hi all,
    I was at the London Coaches session that John did last night.
    It was the first time in a while I have attended one of these sessions but when somebody told me John would be presenting it (and having worked with him in years gone by … he is THE best youth coach I have ever worked with) I had to attend.
    John, hope he doesn’t mind reminding everyone (!) is 73 … 73 going on 33!

    His enthusiasm alone stands him aside to most coaches but then you listen to him speak and you realise that it’s more than enthusiasm, it’s passion. Passion for the great game.
    It is a travesty that John’s views have been taken in the wrong way or used against him over the years, preventing him from truly having the opportunity to try and change views on how we coach and play the game.

    Somebody elsewhere on this blog has mentioned ‘inspiration’. Inspiration comes from understanding what John is saying. If you understand the philosophy, then be inspired and become the disciple that the game needs. But as many times throughout history, it is frustrating being a disciple because it will sometimes seem that nobody is listening. … Persevere!

    The game in this country (UK) suffers from:

    – set ideology historically (or is that ‘hysterically’ !) … fans demand ‘action’
    – poor Coach/Education fundamentals both in content and delivery
    – too much £££’s that turns heads the wrong way (television??) … yet we all still pay sky/btsport /chelseatv etc.!
    – fear of failure as i) a coach ii) a team iii) as a club … therefore, percentages and route one become too important
    – poor talent identification (scouts see strength/power/pace/size) … although these attributes are vital, they are focused on too much
    – pressure to ‘… to do it OUR WAY or else …’ (the FA/Premier League)

    Some people would say that all the above are ‘killing’ our game. I’d rather say that they stagnate our game and keep it the same. There is no vision or moving forwards.

    The session that John did last night is one that I first saw him do in the ’90’s having worked with him as a young starry eyed coach, just beginning my journey.
    I have been inspired and have tried to spread the ‘gospel’. I have lost count of how many walls I have banged my head against. But it just makes you even more determined.

    Keep up the good work John!

    A mention must also go to the London Coaches Association for giving John the opportunity to help lead our game at Grassroots level. It is important that young/new coaches understand that there is another way to play this great game of ours!

    Sandy Sharma
    UEFA ‘A’ Licence

  36. On Monday evening we had another demonstration from John Cartwright on how to coach a topic, (in this case – playing out from the back), by first of all embedding the principle details by getting the players to work the ball from their hands, and then building up into an opposed practice with the ball at their feet. With an increase in opposition numbers then the session culminated into a directional,game-type situation.
    For those who have done Premier Skills courses it becomes clear that this methodology follows the same pattern each time; small group practice with the introduction of the work with use of the hands, going into small area practice when the work introduces opposition and then game practice when the work covered is tested in a scenario closely related to the directional game where the coach can clearly check the understanding and relative progress of the players.
    In my opinion it is a clear and concise approach and with clear understanding well within the capabilities of everyone involved in coaching and preparing teams – whatever the level. The pieces fall into place like a jigsaw puzzle.
    For the future of football in this country, it is vital that our National Association adopts this methodology on its courses as soon as possible. Because the FA Coaching Scheme is a conglomeration of ideas, and i freely admit that many of them are good, it has led to confusion in application and interpretation. Many coaches, as a result, have become unsure of how they should proceed down a certain path and consequently adopt a safety-first approach where they coach in static situations. They work along drill-based lines, often bringing out relevant points, but the result is a lack of realism in the work and therefore lack of progress in players’ development.

  37. Mancheser City’s exciting attacking play has currently taken them to the top of the Premier League. They are many peoples’ favourites to be in that same position at the season’s end in May, although their defensive work is often not of the same quality as their attacking play.
    Their football tells us how good the standard of player development is in Spain, Argentina, Africa and various other countries. – but not England. Only Joe Hart is a regular starter with an English birth certificate. I have read that Man City have invested heavily in facilities and a training complex for the development of young talent. This is good to hear, but are they going to make a serious attempt to coach and develop young English talent, particularly from the Manchester area, or will they be plundering the academies in Europe, Africa and South America for 15 – 16 year olds to simply polish up the products who have had the vital work of early years done in other parts of the world?
    Producing figures on a balance sheet as evidence of serious money being directed at youth development in the form of facilities seems to me to be a ploy to get round the “Financial Fair Play” regulations; it is not proof that a club is going to make the production of native local talent a priority. It is not necessary to spend countless millions on facilities to develop young players. Fantastic facilities do not automatically mean a guarantee of outstanding young player development. Brazil produces an endless conveyor belt of talent, much of it from the favellas of impoverished towns and villages, where the playing ability and skill have risen from playing surfaces little more than a mixture of dirt and gravel. Rasmus Ankersen’s “The Goldmine Effect” provides many examples of fantastic talent in a host of different sports being produced in conditions which can only be described as primitive. The book illustrates that enlightened coaching and the dedication of both the teacher and pupil is what produces the sporting excellence and is far more important than throwing any amount of money at the problem.

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