By John Cartwright
I am often asked, “Did you go to University; and which one was it?” My reply, not facetiously given, is, “ yes — the University of the Street.” Like thousands of players I grew up with the street and congested school playgrounds as my football ‘classroom’. In both of these playing areas lack of space was the overriding aspect with high numbers of players in numerous games in all directions being played at the same time. But the lack of space was something that had to be overcome and a simple but important playing phenomenon displayed itself —- movement sideways provided more space and playing options than a direct approach through more congested areas. The space gained and the increased playing options was like unlocking a route through a difficult maze and finding the exit. I have always attempted to re-create the limited space situations of the past into my coaching methods for I believe that ‘street learning’ was special and only PREMIER SKILLS COACHING METHODS have been able to replicate its qualities despite 60 plus years of futile attempts by our National Association.
Recently, sideways movement in team-play and from individuals within the team has been brilliantly displayed by Barcalona FC. They have introduced a sideways passing approach to their game with preparatory possession across all four play-round zones of the field; in conjunction with this their players are prepared to run the ball across opposing defenders rather than directly at them —Lionel Messi, the world’s best player is an expert.
“Sideways!” I can hear people exclaim, “you don’t score goals going sideways, you score goals by going forward!” and they are absolutely correct. However, what we have failed to recognize in football is the other simple fact —- spaces created during preparatory play provides forward, penetrative opportunities for attacking teams that can be utilized quickly from all parts of the field increasing attacking opportunities and goal-scoring chances. Our direct approach has meant the game becoming more of a physical battle than a skilful contest and because we are not experienced ‘ball-keepers’ the sudden introduction of possession football into our game has produced a mis-application of the playing qualities required.
Sideways football has become a boring feature in our game. It has been incorrectly introduced and poorly used with a lack of positive penetration during games being a notable feature. Poorly educated players trying to play this more sophisticated game-style has seen negative possession followed by direct punts forward as penetrative situations have failed to be recognized and exploited. A serious lack of game understanding that fails to combine possession football with penetration can be seen throughout the whole of our game from youngsters to senior pros. The sudden introduction of possession football has displayed the vast lack of teaching and playing qualities we truly have here. The ‘overnight’ introduction of the ‘Barcalona style’ into our game is often more a comedy act than a crucial change in playing style.
The use of ‘keep-ball’ methods has not been fully understood and is misused leading to a ‘half-priced’ version that does little to exemplify its real qualities as displayed by so many other countries abroad. Even Barcalona, have had difficulties in exploiting the gaps their ‘Tiki-Taki’ game-style produced, but the individual playing qualities of so many of their squad managed to bring victories over several years. But nothing stays the same forever and Barcalona, found the lack of penetration in their game against ‘park-the-bus’ defending made it essential that more emphasis was placed on positive end products from their long bouts of possession play. They are in the process at this time of improving the combination of ‘keep-ball’ with more penetration —a positive version of ‘keep-ball’ —- eg. SNEAK-BALL — artful preparation with fast ‘smash and grabs at the goodies’(gaps),— might be the simplest way to describe their present attempts to forge a more positive, combined game-style . They still lack a powerful presence in the air however!
Within the possession-focused game , the need to change the direction of play and to move attacking action from side to side is vital, for during these sideways movements the spaces that occur between opposing players are there to be breached with forward passes or individual runs with the ball. Without positive exploitation of these created gaps possession football is a faulty playing style; frustrating the watcher, falsifying the statistics of the game and misjudging mediocrity as good or even great! To play the difficult game of Association Football well—it’s not easy as so many non-players mention—individual playing skills and tactical understanding must be progressively learned from very junior levels. In this way changes in playing styles along with individual skills can be performed more quickly and effectively.