Finish Positively From All Heights and Distances

By John Cartwright

No better use of the lottery analogy can be found than in the context of finishing in football; if one doesn’t buy a Lottery ticket one will not win ; accordingly, if one doesn’t take the chance(s) that present themselves in football – you wont score goals! However, there is a clear distinction between the ‘gamble’ of buying a winning Lottery ticket and the more predictable and recognizable opportunities from which goals can be scored.

Arsenal v Wigan

There are thousands of football coaching manuals detailing the techniques involved in kicking and heading of the ball and how these can be suitably adapted to scoring goals. All of these books describe the ‘how’ to do something, which of course is vitally important if a skilful and successful outcome is to be achieved, but behind every undertaking there must be a real desire on behalf of the performer to make it happen.

Goal-scoring, above everything else, is about ‘wanting to score’. It is the very catalyst of the game and therefore it tends to be the most difficult part of the game to master.

Goal-scorers are not all physically alike; the physical shape is not necessarily important; a smaller player tends to need more speed to overcome a height disadvantage; the taller player can add the alternative of Heading as an option in attacking play. In all cases however, scoring is about getting into goal-scoring positions, being prepared to score and having the skills to score.

Bergkamp - Visitor!

Bergkamp – Visitor!

‘A faint heart never won a football match’. The bravery of the prolific goal-scorer is unquestionable. To score goals on a regular basis he/she must enter areas where knocks and physical contact will most certainly occur. Irrespective of the possibility of injury this player must ‘hunt’ for every chance that offers itself, but remain unaffected by missing a chance to score. A top go goal-scorer’s courage is reflected by his natural instinct to try again to do the most difficult thing in the game — score!.

Goal-scoring then has a great deal to do with attitude of mind. Some players get their thrills in being recognized as providers of chances for others to convert; the mean goal-scorer however, has his/her attention on ‘putting the ball in the net’; the truly great player however, has the combined qualities of being both ‘provider and finisher’.

Positioning is the secret of goal-scoring success. Before a goal is scored the scorer must ‘find’ the positions from which to score. Like all aspects of the game, realistic practice teaches the scorer how, where and when to get into goal-scoring positions and what to do to finish; unless the desire to score is also a prominent feature, goal-scoring becomes irregular and not prolific. On arriving at the right time into a goal-scoring position a player must quickly assess –the flight, speed and angle of the approaching ball and the time and space in which to do his work. Goals can be scored in an assortment of ways including from–rebounds- deflections- knock-downs – defensive blunders etc. and the true finisher must prepare him/herself to take any chance when it happens. Goals scored before millions of viewers may look simple but are the product of hours of practice and the ‘signals’ received during practice. Realistic practises that create realistic goal-scoring situations must be part and parcel of coaching at all levels –for all players.

‘How’ to take a chance or take a ‘positional gamble’ often requires split second decisions to be made and players must be prepared to ‘manufacture’ the necessary body shape to assist in quickly producing the football skills and adaptations to deal with the awkward arrival of a chance to be successful. Mental bravery is an outstanding feature in all top sports performers; fear of failure must not sit heavily on the shoulders of those who want to score goals and criticism must not deter players from seeking out the next goal-scoring opportunity .

Too often in today’s game here we produce the ‘patient predator’ rather than the ‘football thoroughbred’. Patience, not overall playing quality is the total sum of so many of our front players; their contribution tends to be a ‘waiting game’ positioned ‘on the shoulder’ of an opposing defender, looking for the chance to break  into the space behind. This lack of involvement and an over-reliance on good service from colleagues is tolerated as long as goals are forthcoming, but when not, both individual and team performances suffer.

I believe that ‘goal-scorers’ should be as complete in their playing ability as possible. The area in which they compete is the most demanding and requires the highest playing qualities — not just ‘runners and fighters’. Accordingly, team linkage in attacking play would improve and goals would be shared around the team more equally.  The scoring of goals must not be seen as the responsibility of the few, the desire and opportunity to ‘hit the net’ should be open to all out-field players.

But no matter who scores and how it happens, the elation makes up for all the hard work, criticism and disappointments. Our game needs far more ‘total players’ able to play the ‘total game’ and enjoy that special feeling of scoring a goal or two or three!


19 thoughts on “Finish Positively From All Heights and Distances

  1. If a player makes good movement in the penalty box then he can get free of tight marking defenders to get on the end of a cross, even if the defenders are of taller stature and heavier build. But there seems to be a lack of good movement among many of our players these days. Watching the televised Dutch football, I am impressed by the way that many of their young strikers, when preparing themselves to meet a cross, begin with a run behind the back of the nearest defender.They then check back and and make another run, diagonally across the front of the marker, leaving him standing, to meet the ball just as it arrives. The movement and anticipation beats the defender rather than the physical attributes of the forward. In England we place greater emphasis on the physical make up of the forward, believing that strength will be the deciding factor. But there have been numerous prolific goalscorers, who were both short in stature and lightweight in build, (Law, Greaves, ‘Pop’ Robson are three of many who come to mind), whose movement allowed them to find and create just enough space to put the ball in the ‘onion bag’.

    • Hi Steve. The lack of cleverness in the game here is demonstrated yet again by the poor off-the-ball movement when it comes to creating space either to receive a pass or enable a finish at goal. The ‘one run for the opponent–one run for me’ routine is becoming a lost art in our game.

  2. It is noticeable that in grassroots football a lot of the shooting practice is unrealistic. Probably because players and coaches alike have been thrilled to see Ronaldo hit a rocket shot into the back of the net from 30+ yards, so balls are served in from a point on the byline to a queue of players to hit a shot from a similar distance as they each run in for their turn with no opposition other than the keeper. This ignores the fact that most goals are scored in and around the 6 yard area where it is an environment of congestion. Finishing must be practiced in similar conditions, as is outlined in Level 2 of Premier Skills in the section “Kicking Variations”, where players are coached to snap up opportunities in areas of limited space, where the ball arrives from all angles, as happens in match play.

  3. Hi all It’s going to be interesting to see what the ‘DNA of Performance’ will be associated with front players in particular. However, this categorizing of players and the positions they play from might prove to be a limiting factor in our game and just one more stage in the ‘roboticising’ of players and the game here.

  4. Hi John…The ‘roboticising’ of players, through the FA’s DNA plan, is contrary to the work that coaches like Pep Guardiola and Arrigo Sacchi are working on. Sacchi became dismayed at the trends in player development following his highly successful years coaching AC Milan, when he laid down a marker for the rest of the football world to follow. Instead of multi-functional players, too many coaches reverted to producing specialists. But then Guardiola came along and his work, first at Barcleona and now at Bayern Munich, is producing players able to perfom a whole variety of positional functions in just one match. On arriving in Munich, Guardiola soon recognised the game intelligence of Lahm and converted him into a midfield player, sometimes in the pivot role and sometimes in an attacking role. Similarly, Muller is difficult to classify as either a striker or a midfield player because his positioning on the pitch shifts within a single match, depending on the flow of the game and the requirements which the game throws up.
    The FA should be prioritising the development of players to acquire all-round skills and abilities which would render positionalising a thing of the past. It is not uncommon nowadays, in international football, to see a team adopt a 4-6-0 formation, which is not a defensive strategy, but providing the opportunities for different players to break forward into attacking positions.

  5. Hi all. Lack of creativity and playing imagination at the top of the game with British ‘bred’ players stems from a long history of ‘choreographed’ coaching in which structured organization (drills and uncompetitive practises) have been over-used. ‘Straight-line’ practice produces ‘straight-line playing’ and roboticism is the result we see on the fields at all levels.

  6. Probably the most promising English player at the moment is Raheem Sterling.He could hardly be described as “robotic” and so one assumes that he has been developed by more enlightebned coaches at Queens Park Rangers, (his first club), and latterly at Liverpool. I read a quote a little while ago by Brendan Rodgers, that his main object in football is to prove that young English players are perfectly capable of being developed as skillful and imaginative players, just as much as their continental counterparts, and Sterling would appear to be proof of that.
    It would be interesting to hear from coaches involved in his development, at both QPR and Liverpool, what coaching methods were used to bring him to the level at which he has currently attained. I think it is possible that the background from which he came in his particular area of London, whilst it could not be described as the ‘street football’ of previous generations, but his childhood free play involved the game in tight,restricted areas, developing the footwork and ball mastery that we see today. If that is the case, then it is to the credit of QPR and/or Liverpool that the skill acquired from his environment was not removed, as has undoubtedly been the case with many talented young players who appeared before him.
    One has only to cite the example of Lionel Messi, who arrived at Barcelona from Argentina at the age of 10, and was expertly handled by the coaches at that club to maximise his talents to the full, without losing anything by negative, unimaginative over-coaching.

  7. The holiday matches have provided plenty of ‘enertainment’ in terms of goals scored and goalmouth thrills which, we are told, is what the average football spectator in England wants to see. But the standard of defending, and also goalkeeping, is so low that talented English forwards, like Kane and Sterling, are scoring goals that they would not be doing if the defending was on the same level as that, say, in Italy and Spain.
    We always get the call for a mid-winter break at this time of year, but just as fatigue and ‘burn-out’ result from an over-paced game style, then also poor defensive play, with inattention given to correct positioning and anticipation, which results in defenders hurling themselves into last-ditch tackles, also contributes to tiredness and exhaustion.
    We must recognise that it is our game style, rather than an excess of matches, which holds us back on the world stage, and so produces regular failure in international tournaments.

  8. The holiday matches produced plenty of goals and goalmouth action, which, we are told, is what the average English football spectator wants to see. However, the standard of defending, and also goalkeeping, is so low that talented young English forwards, like Kane and Sterling, are scoring goals which they would not be doing if they were playing , say, in Italy or Spain.
    There is always a call for a mid-winter break at this time of year, but it is the amount of matches played, rather than the game style, which is given as the reason. If we persist in a fast-paced game then ‘burn-out’ and muscle injuries will result. Also, the poor defending results in players throwing themselves into last ditched tackles producing injuries, which would not occur if our players defended with better positioning and anticipation.
    If we recognised that it is our game style, rather than number of matches, which results in continued failure on the international stage, then we could concentrate our energies on correcting this rather than thinking that a fortnight or one month break would give us a better chance of winning either the World Cup or European Championship.

  9. Hi all

    First of, apologies for not commenting on your previous couple of blogs John.

    When I think of finishing I see images of Romario, Ronaldo de Lima and Robbie Fowler – just my personal memories!

    In terms of the modern game I have noticed forwards/or players in the penalty area do not make clever runs to the near post any more (poachers quick movement and quick one touch finish) and runs from the 6 yard area to out – to a distance of 7-9 yards from goal for a cut back (Gerd Muller).

    You make an excellent point John – about forwards who only look to play off the shoulder to run in behind. But these forwards can only prosper against high lines, counter attacks, transitions and oceans of space. I think Luis Suarez is an example of a clever attacker who can play across the opponents back line – whether it be in behind, in front, in between lines, in between defenders, tight spaces, linking, acting as a wall, holding the ball up and turning to create chances for him self or having the assisting skills to create goals with dinked crosses, cut backs and lay offs. His street football education has also equipped him with improvisation skills to shoot from extremely tight angles to expose gaps left by GKs’ at the near post, striking shots with the outside of the foot, volleys, shots from various distances, free kicks and heading as we saw against England when he superbly placed but also powered home a header from a Cavani cross against England at WC 2014. Not to mention his pressing, tackling, balance and sly craft to regain the advantage when it appears lost. He maybe football’s modern day anti-hero but his arguably the planets no.1 forward in terms of variety of skills.

    When I look at coaching manuals, internet video clips, downloads from twitter all I see is line drills for shooting with very very basic objectives such as :
    – strike the ball low
    – strike the ball hard
    – strike the ball across the GK
    – strike the ball with the instep or inside of the foot

    – dinks (Messi)
    – scoops/wedged (Raul/Suker)
    – nutmegs
    – disguised hips (Ronaldo de Lima)
    – Round the GK (Greaves/Careca)
    – Toe pokes (from Futsal, Romario, Ronaldo de Lima, Ronaldinho and more recently Oscar scored one against Croatia in the opening game of WC 2014
    – outside of the foot flicks/pushed/stabs (Romario)
    – outside of the foot place but curled finishes (Fowler)
    – two footed
    – glanced headers (Klinsmann)
    – downward headers
    – headers back across goal
    – looped header beyond the near post across to the far post
    – headers of the back of the head

    there must be more finishing skills!

    Children are constantly taught to finish across the GK – but not taught to recognise when the GK has left a gap at the near post when the player on the ball is not in an obvious shooting position – from this less obvious position the player could produce a sly crafty shot into the gap in the near post?

    When teaching them 1v1 to goal against the GK – provide the child with the variety of distance, variety of angle and this will provide the opportunity to teach dinks, nutmegs, disguise, both feet, opening body/hips, rounding the GK and outside of the foot etc…

    When a child gets in goal scoring position and one of their touches lets them down, or their balance is lost or the ball is about to run away – this is where the toe poke can regain the advantage and due to the lack of upper body movement for the toe poke, it has disguise and the poke action is almost like a one inch Bruce Lee punch – totally unexpected, quick and powerful.

    When a child does not shoot because the ball is on their weaker side – YES we should strive to make them two footed with their finishing but we should teach the whole repertoire of options when the ball is on the weaker foot:
    – outside of the foot
    – the robana
    – fake to shoot with the weaker foot and bring the ball back onto the stronger foot (Rivaldo, Messi, Baggio)

    Shooting/finishing/heading to score – is taught too much in a line drill format where the elements of chaos, time and space and randomness do not exist. They create a robotic environment and the player is actually closing off there scope to experiment, create and improvise. Ultimately creating finishes who can only kick the ball in a limited one dimensional fashion.

    Maybe coaches at all levels who are trying to create a possession/penetration style are also forgetting to teach or incorporate the coaching points of finishing – maybe finishing zones/areas should be identified and interpreted and longer range instances should be identified and interpreted.

    For the younger the player maybe the size of the goal, type of ball and size of the ball should be considered. For too long children been shooting at huge goals where the GK is too small in relation to the goal – allowing the culture of “smash it” the shot lacks accuracy, but it’s ok because the goal is big so the child gets success with a shot that just needs to hit target. The phrase of “at least hit the target” to me is a something that aspires for ORDINARY. Maybe younger players should learn to finish with footballs of a different sizes and weights – if they can master all types of footballs, all types of surface areas then finishing can become a doddle. Maybe use foam balls to introduce heading to score for the very young?

    The coaches direct comment after a finish is also crucial. If a goal is scored where the finish is poor, or has not been considered but due to poor defending and goal keeping – should the coach really say “good finish” or “good goal, well done”?. It may sound harsh for a child but false praise can only create longer term bad habits!

    Thank you John for another thought provoking blog!

  10. Hi Dav. You make very important points with regards to developing the finishing qualities of young players. Finishing is a skill requiring numerous decisions and variations. This an aspect of the game that must be practiced with realism carefully applied.

  11. Saido Berahino showed good finishing skills yesterday with the four goals he scored for West Brom in the FA Cup tie against Gateshead. I was particularly interested in the goal he scored when he held the same position in the penalty area for what seemed like an age, as the ball was moved around by his colleagues, before finally being passed to him and he calmly slotted it into the net. So many players run here and there, like frantic ants, around their opponents’ penalty area, because they have been told by coaches that they must keep moving. But Berehino realised that he was in space and despite the movement of other players around him, that space remained there and so there was no need to move. He recognised that he was in space and so it was an unusual situation where the best advice was to stand still and well done to the young striker for realising this.

  12. Hi Steve and all others interested in improving the skills for the game here. SAIDO BERAHINO –born 1993 in BURUNDI and began his football development in the streets. How many times must the example of the attributes of street football be clearly shown for the ‘Academics’ who control development here to wake up and apologise for the mess they have made of player learning over the years. He didn’t move because he’d been in the same situation thousands of times in the street and was able to read or recognize what to do —-in this case stand still!

  13. When a 19 year old Uruguayan, Gimenez, scored the second goal for Atletico Madrid last night, against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey 5th round 1st leg, you could say that it was what used to be called a typical British goal. Yes, it was typically British in the days when we excelled at heading and struck fear into the hearts of continental defences, because we attacked quality high crosses delivered into the box for players to attack with enthusiasm and well timed runs.
    Gimenez’s goal showed just how much work has been done at clubs like Atletco to adopt this aspect of the game as one of their strengths. Their best players are now decidedly better at dealing with the high cross, both offensively and defensively, than we are. Gimenez’s run was perfectly timed and the power which he got into the header made it unstoppable. Their technical skill when the ball is on the floor is still of the highest standard, but teams like Atletico Madrid can now dominate in the air as well.
    I think that we have failed to develop good headers of the ball for some years now and it is a long time since I saw a young English player score with the kind of header which Gimenez did last night. As John has said, we are not working at this part of the game and it is rare to see the FA produce any sessions which develop heading ability. It is another example of our failure to address the disappearance of street/pick-up football. At one time it was common to see a group of children crossing the ball for someone to head for goal and invent, between themselves, various forms of “headers and volleys” games. So our coaching scheme must incorporate realistic and interesting work to compensate for the aquisition of another skill previously practised ‘in the street’.

    • HI Steve and all other interested followers. As a said in a previous ‘blog’; both of the teams that reached the final of the Champions League last season were powerful in the air in all areas of the field. We forgot to mention Heading in the publication ‘The Future Game’, so it seems we will only play the game on the floor!

  14. I am surprised that Diego Simeone is not more highly rated in this country than he appears to be. Perhaps it is because the Atletico Madrid coach is remembered for his part in Beckham’s sending off during England-Argentina at the 1998 World Cup. Besides being a fine tactician, Simeone produces, and introduces, very good young talent, as was shown in the Copa del Rey match with Real Madrid earlier this week.

  15. Hi all. Last night’s game between Barcelona and Athletico Madrid was a complete professional spectacle. All the ingredients were there for the fans; Individual skills- Superb combination play–Tactical variations-Athleticism-Goals-Missed chances-Gamesmanship (good and bad). It put our ‘over/hyped’, robotic game onto the back shelf.

  16. Yes John. I attended the match and as you said it had all the ingredients to make for a top class encounter. I watched much of the dredge of TV regarding the Manchester United – Southampton clash and the comparison was odious. Here in Barcelona was a REAL football game with a the arts and crafts.

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