By John Cartwright
As I have said so often ..….. “our game is played from first to last whistle at a fast and furious pace”. All aspects of play tend towards speed and aggression with guile and gentility as limited features. This tendency towards a ‘hurry-up’ game –style is most obvious with passing the ball where refinement and style is excluded in favour of ‘bash the ball’ methods. Our tactical preference of longer types of passing often creates too much distance between back, middle and forward positions causing a lack of closer support situations. When passing the ball over all distances and in most situations we use speed/fast rather than slow/soft as a preferred method of delivery. The result so often is loss of possession followed by a renewed ‘fight’ to recover the ball…. only to give it away cheaply again…..and so our inglorious game ‘battles’ on.
Short/slower passes are preferred to long/faster ones in football in most other countries around the world where their game-styles and formations are tactically more concentrated and game’s tend to be played with more variation in tempo. Careful delivery of the ball is an integral part of the game abroad and consequently, there is more emphasis on ‘feel and touch’ when passing it; the ball is rolled, not ‘hit’ and more consideration is given to passes that satisfy game situations and benefits receiving players. When it is necessary to add more speed to a pass over short or longer distances suitable adjustments are made in the foreign game making it less predictable than the more direct game-style seen too often here.
We find it difficult to play with variations in tempo and this becomes most obvious when the ball is played forward. Passes from back areas into midfield or front areas, or from midfield into front areas are delivered with too much unnecessary speed making control difficult for receiving players who are usually under pressure from tight marking defenders. Instead of a receiving player being able to control the ball and use it with ease we find that undue passing speed is a primary reason for lost possession. Generally, it is the receiving player who is criticised for poor play when in fact the deliverer of the pass is largely at fault. We must acknowledge the fact that being able to deliver more passes accurately and effectively into forward positions creates more goal-scoring opportunities and therefore, more chances of winning games.
Even though there is a tentative effort to improve the preparatory part of our game across back areas the passing malaise remains and a faster before slower playing tempo continues to dominate when passes forward are made. The present focus on statistics regarding the number of passes made during games detracts from the more important issue of…. Penetrations…… achieved through the field from these preparatory passing sequences. For team possession to mean anything it must also contain both forward penetrative passes and runs with the ball; lack of either produces ‘chessboard football’ that few enjoy watching. From a young age our players should be introduced to passing speed variations over all distances and in all directions. I have seen very few coaches give advice to players at all levels regarding these important points. Touch on the ball to inject the correct speed is a skill that must be developed for all playing roles and positions and for all passing situations.
Passing is the ‘framework’ on which tactics is built, without quality passing skills any playing structure will fail.