Bu John Cartwright
Since the ‘explosion’ of Possession Football onto the game – so brilliantly displayed by Barcelona FC over recent years but who found that they needed to include more penetrative passing and on/off the ball movement to their ‘Ticki-Tacki’ playing style – statistics relating solely to ball possession has become an over-obsessive feature in our game. Fascination with stats figures has become such a dominant aspect in the game that players are bought on their stats figures. These calculations display the physical and technical qualities of players but are less effective in providing a level of game understanding. It is game understanding that takes precedence over decision-making in the game – what is to be attempted and how it is accomplished must be ‘recognized’ by players first before appropriate action takes place.
The stats on team performance relate in the main to two aspects of the game, the percentage of ball possession achieved and the number of passes made but tend to ignore the importance of the number of successful and failed penetrations that have been made. The deciding factor of a team’s possession football ability must relate to their creation of space and their ability to exploit it otherwise possession football becomes negative football.
Penetrative opportunities should be attempted from each of the four ‘Play-round’ zones on the field. From the deepest to the most forward Play-round zone, players must be prepared to change from possession mode to penetrative mode when an opportunity occurs. Whether the ball is passed forward or taken forward the chance to breach an opponent’s defensive ‘shield’ anywhere on the field must be attempted decisively. The successful or failed penetration attempts during a game should be monitored in the same way as possession percentages and passing numbers for all are important features of quality football.
The infatuation with negative ‘keep-ball’ tactics in which the ball is forever going backwards and sideways and is then generally followed by a ‘give-away’ long, hopeful kick forward has become a feature of the game at all levels here. Low playing standards has produced simplistic, ‘pass-the-buck’ football to be played that is immediately discontinued when players come under the slightest pressure from opposing players – the long, hopeful kick forward into a ‘fightball’ situation or a pass backwards is usually the sole response.
Positive penetration from set-up passes into mid-field or front players are a rare occurrence in our game with passes either poorly delivered or poorly received and used. Similarly, when ‘gaps’ occur in the defensive ‘shields’ of opposing teams our players either fail to recognize them or ignore the opportunity to run the ball through them and continue with the ‘safety’ of simplistic, false football that their ability can only provide. Dynamic, attacking play that is both positive and exciting throughout the field of play must be taught to our players from an early age and we must substantially improve the low playing standards that are tolerated at present.
Our national game-style must include positive ball possession that all players in all positions on the field can deliver when required to do so. Penetrations when available or created must be exploited at every opportunity as the ‘bonus’ factor of the game and statistics must recognize and register them accordingly.