The Space In The Sky

By John Cartwright

My father took me to see my second pro. football match …….it was Leyton Orient v Notts. County in about 1947. He had taken me to watch a famous player of those days… TOMMY LAWTON, an English international centre forward. “Watch him son, he’ll score with his head today,” my father said. Sure enough I can remember him scoring a majestic headed goal to win a game that was fiercely contested on a muddy surface.


The game of football has moved on in many ways since those days……..mostly for the better, but the ability to head the ball is one of the skills of the game that has not shown a similar improvement. There are still good headers of the ball—especially defenders who can power the ball away, but there is a general lack of craftsmanship when it comes to the more subtle and creative variables involved with heading the ball. There is always emphasis on power and timing in heading sessions but little importance is shown for; — ‘cushioned’ headers; — back headers; — glanced headers; — turned headers; and equally important…….. the decision-making to chest control the ball instead of heading it when space and opportunities permit.

Tiki-Taki football is effective only when it produces sufficient, penetrative end products. Too many teams are playing football with possession statistics being the overriding requirement; penetration on the ground and in the air    must be the positive culmination of possession-play. We should not forget the use of statistics to establish the number of penetrations through the field of play that have been made in games ——possession numbers allied to penetrative field area numbers would provide interesting and informative details of whole team performance.

Many teams are now ‘parking the bus’ and using counter-attack methods in games against opponents using high possession tactics. By drawing their players back to establish a solid block in their defensive third they  have reduced the gaps available for the Tiki-Taki tactics to succeed———-but they are unable to ‘fill the space in the sky’ and quality delivery of the ball in the air from direct, wide or angled positions to skilful headers of the ball can ‘sink’ these  defensive tactics and provide teams with the necessary playing variation for  possession football.


I am not suggesting the return of ‘Direct| Football’ methods and big forwards with little football craft other than the ability to jump to head the ball, but we must realize the game does not ‘stay the same’ tactics change and the production of players should incorporate all skillful aspects of the game. One of the best young players I ever had the privilege to coach was Paul Walsh, who stood about 5ft 8” tall but could win the ball in the air against much taller opponents — Paul, was also hugely talented on the ball —- the coaching challenge before us is to produce players who possess the full playing requirements for the modern game — skills…tactics…physical. Heading must not be a forgotten skill, for the ‘space in the sky’ is a permanent feature and the ability to utilize it must not be overlooked.

23 thoughts on “The Space In The Sky

  1. Hi John….
    I think that a key phrase is “quality delivery of the ball in the air”. Many times when a player in possession attempts a through pass to set a striker through on goal, he makes a wrong decision of playing a ground pass and it is intercepted by a defender. When the correct decision is made and the ball is played through in the air, then a driven pass is made and the ball is overhit and carries harmlessly through to the keeper. We do not often see nicely chipped passes over ther defence, imparting back spin, so that as it hits the ground it holds up perfectly for a foward to run on to without checking his stride, breaking clear of the defence to close in on goal with only the keeper to beat.
    Particularly in grassroots football, we get a lot of high,straight balls played into the opposing defence and these are easily dealt with by big defenders who are competent in the air. If the high pass is played on an angle to a forward pulling away from his marker on his far shoulder side, then he gets out of his marker’s field of vision momentarily as his eyes are on the ball and the chance to break the defensive line is much greater, as well as the forward being able to keep onside much more easily by holding his position along the line until the ball is played.
    Even the best defenders do not like being ‘turned round’ by well angled passes of quality being made in the air. Although never a great fan of the old Wimbledon FC in the eighties, it has to be said that this was an aspect of play which they developed well and even the best defenders had serious problems against them.

    • Hi Steve. I agree that the delivery and decisions relating to aerial passes is often very poor. It should also be mentioned that positioning in the box, especially towards the back of the six yard area is often left vacant. Crosses to this area with related attacking options has tended to be overridden by low crosses. Once again the word variation needs to be emphasised with regards to attacking options in this important area.

  2. Hi all. It is no surprise that the two finalists for the Champions’ League are the two teams who have the best playing variations. Both Real and Athletico contain elements of possession football combined with fast penetrations. They also have players who are excellent on the ground as well as in the air. It seems that the Premier Skills methodology is once again ahead of the game in describing the need for playing variations and having realistic and practical sessions within their development programmes to produce players capable of using them.

  3. John I feel I was privileged to attend the practice play level 3 course yourself and roger wilkinson held at west brom a couple of years ago. The heading session, kicking variations as well as the playing the thirds were a revelation and logical especially now so much attention is being paid to possession practices. Variations in play and penetration with the detail and craft that the practice play coach education gives is so rarely coached and practiced from the sessions I get to observe. I agree both Real and Atheti showed variations in there play to get the results they required. I would urge premier skills to put on more levels 1,2 and 3 courses as well as try to produce DVDs with the different levels on. This would be a way to spread the methodology. The ideas of staying with the ball, individualism combining with others when necessary , and introducing combination play are excellent.

  4. I thought that against Bayern Munich in the Champions’ League semi-final, Real Madrid positioned players well in order to counter attack before actually regaining possssion. So they are actually planning their counter attack when the opposition are attacking. Real did not have players wasting energy chasing back when it was too late for them to effect the play; they got themselves into space to be available for quick passes from defence when possession was regained and thereby were able to launch quick, penetrative counter attacks.
    In the other semi final, Athletico Madrid showed some real quality in the second half when they kept the ball for long periods, not letting Chelsea back into the game. This shows that both the Madrid clubs have absorbed the lessons of recent years in developing a game in which they can vary from a counter attacking style to a possession based game. I’m sure that Guardiola will now fix his attention on introducing such variations into Bayern’s play because last season under their previous coach, Heynkes, they were a very effective counter attacking team.

    • I think both Madrid teams were assembled with the main target of defeating the tactics of a Barcelona team, styled by Guardiola. In particular, the penetrative pace and power of Real. as seen in the defeat of Bayen in the champios league.

      I also completely agree with the fact that Bayern were a great counter attacking team under Heynkes. I believe it was possibly something lacking from their play this season.
      I do hope guardiola can rectify this, as I do believe him to be somewhat of a one trick pony as a Coach.

      Every team needs a “plan B”

  5. Hi Robbie.Thanks for the positive comments we are producing Level 2 and Level 3 this year.Will let you know as soon as completed.Cheers Roger Wilkinson

  6. Hi all, GREAT BLOG again John… sorry but I now have a lot to add!

    You’re so right about uninformative stats! There should be stats on penetrative dribbles rather than completed dribbles. Clear cut chances created rather than shots on/off target.
    “my team had 18 shots but yours only had 6 so you were lucky to win” but say none of those 18 shots where actually clear chances to score and just pot shots out of frustration due to a lack of penetration! The game is about creation, penetration and the coaches who choose to stop the creation by getting players behind the ball even though those players are labelled world class and cost millions to buy then its up to the possession based coaches to find variety with their possession. The variety can only be found by teaching a variety of skills at GRASSROOTS level. Pep Guardiola is stuck with a winger who is conditioned to cutting in on his left foot because he was never encouraged to kick the ball with the outside of the foot, unable to play chipped back spin passes and unable to scoop the ball over defenses.

    OUTSIDE OF THE FOOT (Quaresma, Bale & Suarez)
    Nobody seems to use this part of the foot anymore? so frustrating and proves how dull MODERN players are, even the latin players. I have seen footage of Cruyff, Litmanen, Molby, Eder, Junior, Roberto Carlos, Branco, Hoddle, Barnes, Waddle, Socrates, Garrincha, Pele, Carlos Alberto, Rivelinho, Rivaldo, Falcao and Zico all effectively use the outside of the foot to either:
    – bend free kicks around the wall with immense power
    – play aerial diagonal balls
    – cross the ball
    – through balls on the floor or in the air
    – pass the ball to feet around defenders

    Nelinho’s goal in the 1978 World Cup play-off for third spot against Italy was an example of how bland modern players are. Zico’s through ball to Branco in the 1986 World Cup Quarter Finals against France which won a penalty is further evidence of the blandness. Zico had to play the ball at that moment but based on the position of the ball in relation to the position of his feet and body the only way he could execute it at the right moment was by playing the ball with the outside of the foot. Carlos Alberto’s superb ball to Jairzinho leading up to Gordan Banks’ famous save in 1970 World Cup another example. Modern players might see the picture but they have to SHIFT the ball back into a position were they can pass/cross with the inside of the foot. This takes seconds longer and the opportunity is lost. I see this a lot with strikers who have superb movement, they make the run, or peel off, but the midfielder can’t thread the ball or chip the ball through because they have to shift the ball into position for the inside of the foot kicking action, the attacker now is offside or the line of the pass is now blocked and the striker left frustrated. (Luis Suarez last week vs Chelsea) BLAND! NO VARIATION! LIMITED SKILL!

    Of the modern day players I see use the outside of the foot is the ENIGMA, Ricardo Quaresma (Gareth Bale & Luis Suarez). On the flanks I have seen him whip crosses into the danger zone with accuracy and bend with the outside of the foot. This crossing ability with the outside of the foot doesn’t allow the defender trying to stop the crosser to predict the wingers predictable move back onto their stronger inside of the foot (Robben & Ribery). The body action of the outside of the foot cross gives the markers in the box less time to react also. The Tiki-taka team’s wingers are spending too much time stuck on the flanks having too many ineffective touches, allowing the parked bus time to organise and concentrate.

    In the modern game with have Pirlo and previously Ronaldinho. Under Rijkaard Barca played Ronaldinho on the left and Ludovic Giuly on the right. The ball would be with Ronaldhino a lot, on the left or inside left, resulting in the BUS shifting over creating space on the right and Ronaldinho would glide chipped passes over to Giuly who would time his run. But when when Ronaldinho came inside/central, Giuly would run from right to centre and Ronaldinho would chip the ball (BACKSPIN) over the bus into the Frenchmen. 2006 Champions League Semi Final in Milan.

    Steve you make an excellent point about the back spin straight line ball. Pirlo is a master of this and if we if have strikers who are willing to make the skilled runs and movements then the midfielders must have the kicking variation to make sure the the movement by the striker is not a waste. If the defense know they are are against a playmaker who can thread a ball like Iniesta but also chip a ball like Pirlo then anxiety will creep in, there will be close offside calls and the psychological advantage is tipped towards the team that has the COURAGE to play rather than the COACH that can only play without the ball. Defenders will push out towards to playmaker due to his kicking variety but that will allow him to draw defenders towards him and play tiki-taka on the floor around the scared defenders.

    From deep pivot positions Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets can thread a ball into the final third to feet on the floor like no other. But when this is not possible then a delicate chipped ball SHOULD be the variation into the the back to goal striker’s chest, the attacking midfielder who is a willing runner (Fabregas) can receive a delicate lay-off from the chest and bang, penetration with the aerial ball!

    There needs to be imagination and improvisation like Crisitano Ronaldo’s back heel volley yesterday. At my training session yesterday one of our children aged 10 had the ball in the final third with a defensive block ahead and a static forward ahead of him. The child then flicked the ball up (as to start kick ups) and then in his second touch with the ball now 2 feet aerial he volley lofted the ball over the defense and the striker didn’t read the moment but nor did the defense. Why practice kick ups? why the fascination with the youtube clips of kick ups and yet nobody understands how to incorporate ball juggling skills into the game and offer aerial penetration. IMPROVISATION and SPONTANEITY

    Tiki-taka and latin teams/players have been heavily influenced by Futsal as their players in their younger years played Futsal. I have coached Futsal and it proved to be a great coaching tool to teach quick defensive organisation, combination play, counter attacking play and individual ball skills. Many teams park the bus in Futsal and look to release quick counters on a much smaller pitch, makes sense, less distance to travel! – BUT rotational positioning, individual ball trickery, fast one touch combination play, the TOE POKE shot that parked buses and GK’s can’t read and the SCOOP BALL all pose problems for the counter attacking teams. The scooping of a futsal ball is easier than a football, as the futsal ball is heavier and slower therefore easier to wedge your foot under and then scoop up. But the underrated Michael Laudrup, Raul Gonzalez and Ronaldinho have used the scoop in football. Last week Busquets used the scoop to penetrate the Villareal block with Fabregas the willing runner in behind and he then CUSHIONED a header into the path of Messi to fire home. To be fair its not a difficult skill to learn, like all it requires practice and use of a different surface of the foot that most coach’s just don’t teach. In those areas just outside the box with the defensive block ahead and no way to thread a ball to feet or through the scoop is an effective alternative to the chipped pass or floor pass as its less likely to run on to the GK. It could also be used by wingers to release inside overlapping full backs.

    If as you say John that we can teach players to use a variety of heading skills, chest skills and kicking skills then possession can still rule football! It requires coaches to be creative, imaginative, innovative and above all willing to try something new! We must not let the counter attacking to become the main trend. I think its important and has to be part of a teams play but it must not be the main style because counter attacking football relies on speed and power and when there is lots of time and space resulting in players (who struggle when denied space) being labelled world class. There is less emphasis on creation, ball control and a variety of skill when countering and more of a focus on running purely because of the space made available by the brave team. I have noticed that teams that rely on counter attacking struggle and suffer like no other against parked buses.

    Possession with VARIATION

  7. Hi Dav. WOW! You certainly made a lot of important points. It just goes to show everyone how deflated and mis-applied the development methods are here. All the points you mention should be subscribed to as young players develop through their coaching programs. Because of the lack of continuity in our coaching, the ‘slap-dash’ approach fails to provide sufficient time and realistic practicses for youngsters to absorb these game aspects.

  8. Recent matches involving Liverpool underline how important it is to have playing variations. The inability to produce these variations seems to have cost them the Premier League title. Their recent matches with Man City, Norwich, Chelsea and Crystal Palace have shown errors in their decision making when they appear to have the match, and the result, under control. The modern term to keep a game won and conseve energy for the next game, is ‘game management’. Liverpool seem to be lacking in this requirement.
    At Swansea, Brendan Rodgers had players who were inferior in individual quality. Rodgers recognised this and produced a possession-based game which reduced the time spent in chasing around trying to regain the ball when a more direct approach would have given up the ball too often. It seems to have been overlooked at Liverpool that their back players have weaknesses and in the closing weeks of the season these have been exposed when Liverpool have allowed the opposition to counter attack them at pace. Their defenders have often been caught out of position and facing 1 v. 1 situations, in which they are not comfortable.Even in the games which Liverpool won, as against Man City and Norwich,these weaknesses were apparent, but Liverpool have given opponents the chance to get back into the game by not not killing the game off by keeping the ball and letting the opposition run themselves into exhaustion.
    Rodgers got Swansea doing this and had Liverpool played the same way then they would now be preparing to be crowned as Premier League Champions.

    • Totally agree Steve with your comments on Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool have played in two ways. Possession against defensive teams and exciting counter attacking against attack minded teams but like you said their “game management” has been poor and their mentality of ” you score 3, we score 5″ was always going to be their downfall. Brasil 1982!

      Some of the players Rodgers has used are not what he wanted. He wanted to sell Henderson and Im sure he knows that even though he has adapted Gerrard’s game that the squad is not able to play keep ball for long periods to see the game out (defend by keeping ball) so instead he has been creative to adapt his vision in relation to the pace available on the counter attack and educate Henderson to do the defensive leg work when teams hit Liverpool on the break.

      Without wanting to sacrifice his romantic belief in attacking football he has dropped 7-8 players behind the ball to launch counters with Sterling or Coutinho or a vertical Gerrard pass to Suarez and Sturridge. This has cost him because the midfield defensive block is not a block and it’s easy to apply pressure to the back line especially with Gerrard’s lack of mobility. Franco Baresi said that a team with a great defense is only as good as its protection in front. Liverpool could have done with likes of Alonso’s organisational skills and Mascherano or Hamann’s midfield defensive skills.

      The balance has been sacrificed and he has tried to keep to his philosophy but adapting it due to personal maybe. Swansea may not have Suarez or Coutinho but maybe their physical nimble midfield attributes and positional possession game understanding is better to keep keep keep the ball against a team chasing the game. This Liverpool team can only boss the ball if the opponent has dropped deep.

      The likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Alonso, Modric, Kroos, Thiago, Turan etc… are all able to continuously move into pockets of space to receive and move again and again. I don’t believe Gerrard, Henderson and Lucas can do this and so he has adapted to relying on the direct play of the front players. On one he deserves credit for adapting and on the other hand maybe some of the positional defensive skills have suffered or been neglected????

      They may have got more exposed and found out in more tactically aware league’s. But they have been great to watch and proof that a British coach and British players can entertain. Their football has lacked maturity at times but they have played some lovely stuff in comparison to their big spending rivals.

  9. Hi all. I have said for many, many years that any game-style that is preferred by club or country must first be founded on the playing quality of the back players. If these players are not sound in all aspects of the game their inabilities will have a negative affect on other areas of the team.

  10. Even though there have been a number of examples of teams playing defensively and relying on occasional counter attacks to grab a goal, there does not seem to be much imagination of how to break down these packed defences. Back in the sixties when Inter Milan achieved considerable success in both the Italian League and European Cup, they frustated many opponents with their their tight man for man marking with a sweeper, or libero, covering behind who was free of any marking duties. They won the European Cup in 1964 and 1965 when few people outside Italy had much knowledge about them but when Celtic, astutely managed by Jock Stein, beat them in the 1967 Final they seemed to have discovered the key to unlock their defence. They had a full back called Tommy Gemmill who galloped forward continuously down his flank to overlap his winger on that side. The key, however, was that on getting behind the Inter defence and arriving at the byline, Gemmill pulled low crosses along the floor back on a diagonal line to find space around the edge of the Inter box for a midfield player to arrive late and finish with a well struck, first time shot. That was how Celtic turned a 0-1 deficit into a 2-1 victory.
    We see many full backs attempting to get round the back of the opposing defence but too often they finish with a high cross. The ball cut back into space would be a better option now as it was all those years ago.
    I am also surprised that many teams when defending deeply around the edge of their penalty area, try to play an offside trap. Sometimes it works but i would have thought it was too close to your own goal to be a safe option. Even though Aston Villa held out for more than an hour last night at Man City they nearly came unstuck once or twice trying to maintain the offside line instead of going for cover at all times.
    When Inter perfected the ‘catenaccio’ game in the sixties offside was never an option. They man marked relentlessly and had cover at all times. It will be interesting to see if man for man marking with a libero reappears at any time in the near future, when a coach decides to play as defensively as one or two have in recent months.

  11. John you are so right about about the fact that all playing styles must have a sound defense. Pep Guardiola’s famous Barca era is always famed based on their exciting attacking football. But many don’t realize that his first focus when he took the job was defending skills and how they defended. This focus on having a skilled defense has always been the first step to build a winning formula and this has cost Brendan Rodgers’ exciting entertaining team.

    Steve your comments on the low cut back cross in that famous Lisbon final have been replicated more recently. Pep’s Barca used that move a lot with Dani Alves, or short passes played from out to inside from Alves to a player running from deep. Dani Alves and not Xavi and Iniesta has assisted most of Messi’s goals. There are many goals once Pep moved Messi inside where he received passes from Alves with a cut back or lateral pass against the parked bus and from there Messi with his wide range of finishing skills has been clinical to drive shots home or beautifully place shots from outside the area or edge of the area through the bus. Pedro was another player who profited from this pass where he would run onto the cut back or lateral pass and drive into the area resulting in defenders diving in and conceding penalties.

    We have all made excellent points regarding variation for penetration such as the use of the aerial ball with skill. But the point you mention Steve about the famous Celtic team and that cut back ball highlights the coach’s ability to see the picture, see solutions, see spaces, see weaknesses – basically to be tactically aware and tactically creative. For me this is another feature of the game that is very bland due to un-creative blind coaches. I think along with the aerial ball skills football fails to:
    – use goal keepers more effectively against parked buses
    – use more ball playing defenders are needed
    – implement and teach a wider variety of player movement in open play
    – devise creative set pieces routines

    The media have reacted critically about Greg Dykes FA commission on the future of English football. The media and fans have all jumped on the changes regarding introduction of B teams but nobody wants to talk about the coaching at grassroots level. I want to see the report before making knee jerk reactions like the ignorant fickle media and fans!

    Arsene Wenger has reacted by saying there is too much competitive football for players aged 8-17 and not enough training. He also said that he has seen Academy players enter their academy experience and yet they can’t even head the ball or use their left foot. This is an indirect criticism of grassroots football. What makes me angry is when people like Arense Wengers do not directly criticize or attack the standards of grassroots coaching. The many many people in the game with high esteem who see the homegrown players with poor skills as result of poor grassroots education do not speak up enough!

  12. Hi Dav…
    I agree with your comments about grassroots football and especially when you refer to “poor grassroots education”. Arsene Wenger is probably reluctant to be too critical of grassroots football because he knows that many people give up untold hours of their time in dedicating themselves to providing children and young adults with an active, productive use of their leisure time. It is not their fault that they have not been provided with a satisfactory coach education programme by the National Association.
    This is why it is vitally neccessary for the Premier Skills approach to be spread as widely as possible because, as we converts know, this is the best coach education programme that there has ever been in this country.

  13. The idea put forward by Greg Dyke for Premier League clubs to enter B teams in a new League 3 alongside Conference Premier teams, seems to have provoked a lot of debate, most of it in disagreement.
    I don’t quite understand why the old reserve team format for clubs, ( Football Combination in the south of England, Central League in the north), was scrapped. I always thought that young players improve by playing with, and against, good players. In the old structure, experienced international players, usually in the first team, often turned out in the reserves when they were coming back from injury, or perhaps they had suffered a spell of indifferent form and went in the reserves to get their confidence back. If they were ‘good talkers’ then the benefit of playing alongside talented youngster was considerable. In addition, many experienced first team players developed the ability to lead and instruct young players during the game, and this had a beneficial effect on the experienced player for when he hung up his boots and turned to coaching.
    Jamie Carragher made the point recently, that he thought that Liverpool’s disappointing slump was possibly because they had few leaders in the team, especially in defence. If the reserve team format was still there then their
    players could have developed those type of leadership, coaching skills when playing in the ‘stiffs’ and those qualities would have become part of their game and perhaps Liverpool would now, as I write, be favourites to win the Premier League.

  14. Hi Steve. I agree that a return of ‘second team football’ would be a useful opportunity for young players to increase their development time. However, it is the period up to this point that has failed to provide our players with the playing qualities necessary to make the impact at senior level. The present u/21 set-up is a clear example of poor early development—-organised effort to camouflage skill deficiencies.

    Our game has been infiltrated by non-playing acedemics who have little understanding of realistic playing requirements and the ‘practice/play’ methods required throughout the development period to produce players with all the qualities for the game. This failure has been on-going sincethe introduction of organised coaching

  15. Young trainee coaches must be taught that a beautifully organised coaching area, with coloured cones placed meticulously around the area, does not guarantee a productive and skill enhancing session. It is vitally important to have a well organised session, of course, but many parents, when they bring their child to a coaching class, are impressed by the number of cones laid out in pretty patterns, without considering whether a learning element is actually taking place. Because there is a greater simplicity in setting up a practice under practice/play conditions, this enables the parent to replcate the practice in the back garden with their child and a few friends, providing extra practice time with the parent making one or two coaching points that he/she has picked up from the coach at the session.
    A certain amount of chaos in the session lends realism, as John has often pointed out, as long as the chaos is controlled. I think that many coaches are afraid for chaos to be present but every coach knows if a learning element is taking place in his/her session.
    I think that this ‘controlled chaos’ needs to be prominently highlighted right at the start of coach education, as it is in the Premier Skills scheme.

  16. John you are right that the phase before reserve football or B team football is the problem and Steve you are bang on with the chaos sessions as evident in Premier Skills scheme.

    Many coaches are afraid of the chaos session as they want complete structured control and many feel that the game or practice breaks down in the chaos session which puts them off. But the game or practice breaking down in the chaos session is the whole point and the moment to teach!!! its the point the coach must step in to fix the breakage in play so they can handle and successfully use skills in the chaos!

    The chaos session results in the children being forced to make many many decisions with and without the ball in an environment where space changes – like the real game. The chaos session may not always flow, it may not always look organised or pretty but its difficulty can make playing in a match simple!

    Brazil’s national team for years trained to play 11v11 on half of an 11v11 pitch, why? if they master playing 11v11 in a small area then playing in a larger area will be easier.

    Yesterday one of the coaches who works with me put on a fabulous chaos activity which to him didn’t work. The activity involved the children to play in pairs with the objective of passes being wrapped into their partner and they cushion the ball off for a return pass at an angle (rather how Pep’s Barca would strike the over hit pass at the right moment into Messi on the edge of the box to open up a defensive block). This worked well unopposed and then he progressed activity by adding defenders, so multiple 2v1’s in the same area. At first the children struggled with stray passes, over hit passes, under hit passes, inaccurate passes, cushioned passes laid off at wrong angle, and receivers not creating passing lines to receive with the defenders having huge success. Many coaches at this point at grassroots level may have thought “this isn’t working” but we coached the players the solutions and this proved that sessions must be chaos but sessions must progress into opposed situations. After we provided the guidance there was an improvement but from a far it may have still looked too unstructured and just CHAOTIC! But I suggested to my colleague that when they go into the end game with the children now focusing on game positioning and the one ball rather than multiple balls in an area – then the session will look more controlled because the game will feel and be easier than the chaotic practice due to the experience in the chaotic practice. The result, we had children move in central pockets of space back to goal or side on receiving zipped/wrapped passes with runners either side receiving cushioned lay-offs and the defenders drawn into the central player who cushioned the ball into the space with one touch. From here we can think about teaching how the defense copes with this kind of play in future sessions!

    The key is for me, the Premier Skills chaotic sessions, or street football, or the small area practices that La Masia preach are very difficult to play in. But once mastered – the game can be easy

  17. Two questions asked by members of the LFCA last Monday evening. 1.How should coaches working with young players dispel the problem of ‘winning football matches’ to satisfy parents? This has been a problem since the game was invented. The answer is for our FA to have the courage to introduce a variation to winning being just kicking the ball through three white posts!
    2.When should the work displayed by Coach Neil Banfield, be used? I have said for many years that all work should be set out from day one in a continuous development process (see Premier Skills Programs) and the introduction of game aspects should unfold as the development periods evolve from junior through to senior levels.

  18. Hi John…
    To the best of my knowledge, Premier Skills is the first coaching outlet to project a coaching approach where the Game Practice produces a situation where the scoring method does not culminate in a kick/shot through a goal, i.e. instead, a scoring method where the ball must be run through a gate at the other end of the pitch to produce a ‘score’. This is consistent with the previous work undertaken where in the exercises leading up to the Game Practice,from Group Practice and Small Area Practice, the work aimed at indvidualism, passing and receiving, and recognising space all involves going through unguarded gates.
    I thought that Neil Banfield’s session at the LFCA was excellent and of great benefit to everyone, regardless of the level of football at which they work. The topic – “Turning The Game Forward”- released the young players from the one dimensional mind-set in which they had been marooned since they played organised football, of constantly laying the ball back every time it was played to them. You could see how the boys in the session, being given the chance to try something new as a release from a simplistic game style so prevalent in this country, relished the opportunity to express themselves more fully and as you said later in the evening, even after a short session, by the end of it they had already become more positive about turning.
    Finally, what a superb performance by Rakitic for Sevilla in the Europa League Final earlier this week. On that form he could be one of the stars of the World Cup for his country, Croatia. It is worth noting that he is actually fom Switzerland, his parents having moved there from the Balkan country before he was born. So his youth development years were actually in a country which we would consider inferior in football terms to our own, but instead, it is in fact another country with a superior youth development programme.

  19. Watching the UEFA Under 17 match on Thursday, Scotland v. Switzerland,it provided more evidence of the progress that seems to be being made in Scottish youth football which I have noticed in televised matches during the last year or two. Coming back strongly in the second half after being 0-1 down, the Scots put on a very useful striker, Hardie, and turned the match round to win 3-1. The Dutch influence, which i have noticed in previous matches, again seemed to be in evidence. Ex- English league player, Scott Gemmill, is the manager and I understand is highly rated, but the Dutch coaching supremo in the Scottish development system,Marc Wotte, was very evident with a stream of instructions which he was issuing from the touchline. I have had the impression that since Wotte and a number of other coaches from Holland came into the Scottish FA coaching setup, there has been a distinct improvement in the performances at Scottish youth level.
    On the same day, England lost to Holland but, to be fair, the result was academic because both teams had already qualified for the semi finals and England made seven changes to the team which had played the previous match to give game time to those who had not played so far. England had won both their previous matches, beating a weak Malta team and thrashing Turkey 4-0 when, by all accounts, England had been extremely impressive,although I did not see that match.
    In the commentary, it was stated that the England striker, Izzy Brown, had recently been transferred from West Brom to Chelsea. This raises the question of just what are his chances of getting first team action at Chelsea? Apparently, at West Brom Brown had already had 2 substitute appearances in the first team but it is hard to see him getting the same opportunities at Chelsea. There were no indicators given in the Eurosport commentary, but I just wonder if some of the Scottish boys are already getting some first team experience in the Scottish League which, together with the coaching programme installed by Marc Wotte, is already having beneficial effects in the Scottish young player development.
    Both England and Scotland have been kept apart in the semi finals so it will be interesting to see what happens if they meet in the Final. Scotland will have a severe test from Holland in the semi finals whilst England play Portugal.

  20. It is strange how team formations go in and out of popularity, just like fashion. It was not long ago that many coaches said that the 3-5-2 system, with various adaptations but always with a back three, had had its day and eveybody seemed to go back to a back four. But last weekend I have discovered that in three quite prominent matches, teams set up in a 3-5-2 formation.
    First there was Hull City in the FA Cup Final, which in fact is a structure which they have used on many occasions this season. Then Bayern Munich used the same set up in the German Cup Final against Borussia Dortmund. and finally, Van Gaal used 3-5-2 in Holland’s World Cup warm up with Ecuador.
    I was quite impressed with Hull City on occasions when, on chasing passes towards the corner flag, their forward players did not force a cross, in the too often seen hopeful fashion, but instead turned away from the challenging opponent and played the ball back down the line from where someone tried to work the ball across the field into a position where a more dangerous penetrating pass could be made.
    Following Arsenal’s FA Cup victory i heard an interesting radio interview with Frank McLintock. He recalled that when he was playing for Arsenal in the early seventies, he played about 10 yards from his central defensive partner, Simpson. Similarly, Simpson was about 10 yards from left back McNab, and Mclintock himself was 10 yards from right back Rice. This was their water-tight defensive unit which slid across the pitch from side to side. McLintock contrasted this to the defensive set up with Arsenal now who, in common with many other teams, have the central defenders split the width of the penalty area, the central midfielder drops between them and the full backs push high up the pitch. McLintock commented that this depended heavily on intense pressing the moment the opposition gained possession, and McLintock felt that this was an area of weakness for Arsenal. It was clear that he favoured the defensive set up that they used in his day.
    It raises the question as to whether sometimes teams change their tactics to fit in with modern trends, rather than first questioning whether they have the players to make the new system work.

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