By John Cartwright
I find one of the most infuriating aspects of the British game is our inability to turn the ball away from tight situations towards open space. Time after time, at all levels of our game, the ball is returned ‘back from whence it came’! Our players, especially our back players, when under the slightest pressure from closing opponents, simply ‘hoof’ the ball towards the nearest corner —‘Direct Play’ often leading to unnecessary ball loss.
Body shape (half-turn) whilst in supporting positions should be a natural occurrence with players but it isn’t and an incorrect, flat body shape tends to be favoured. There is an obvious lack of skill when receiving the ball but combined with this there is both a paucity of game understanding as well as a lack of physical nimbleness to re-adjust feet and body quickly to turn the ball and the game into open space.
Sometimes it must be said, passes to supporting players are sent with too much speed giving the receiver unnecessary control problems. Great ‘receivers and turners’ – Anders Iniesta (Barcelona) is a fine example – can deal with all types of pass to him and ‘manufacture’ a turn with one touch on the ball even when under severe pressure. He has perfected an ability to turn the game from tight to open space using — OPEN TURNS (forward space available) or CLOSED TURNS (screened turn: due to limited forward space available). Decision making on space and time availability is vital in order to estimate the interference distance between the player on the ball and his immediate opponent. These playing skills are important for players to possess and should be part of everyday teaching and learning of the game for it allows better individual and team possession to occur.
The ‘Hoof the ball towards the nearest corner at every opportunity’ approach to playing the game must be curtailed – but not totally dispensed with—(more about this in a future ‘blog’) but its present overuse must be recognized as to why it is used so much in our game – and the answer is —– fear! Poor playing skills in conjunction with poor game understanding and poor agility provides the breeding ground for discomfort for players when they find themselves on the ball and under pressure –especially when under pressure near to ones own goal in competitive match-play!
If we are to improve as a football nation our ability under pressure to turn the ball and the game in all areas of the field must become second nature or we will continue to be slaves to the limitations of Direct Play methods.