Statistics – Wrong Priorities!

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.

Italy England Soccer

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.


37 thoughts on “Statistics – Wrong Priorities!

  1. Really great article. Shows that stats made always bad picture about whole game…
    Thanks for inspiration!

  2. It seems incredible that when a club is looking at a player they are considering buying in the transfer market, then they study his statistics which they run off a computer as if they can’t trust their own judgement from personal observation in match play. I understand that this has been the method used in American sports for many years and we used to laugh at this method of judging talent and ability, but now it seems an integral part of football.
    At one time, club managers used to clock up hundreds, even thousands, of miles driving up and down motorways to look at a player. They studied a player they wanted playing against teams at the top of the league and against those around the bottom. They wanted to see them in home and away matches. They wanted to see them in various weather and temperature conditions, to judge their attitude, resilience and adjustment to the environment. So many factors can afffect a player’s performance and the thorough manager wanted to spend his club’s money wisely and to make sure that he was really getting the player that he wanted.
    Computers seem to have taken over in various aspects of modern life, and no more so than in football.

    • Hi Steve. Well said mate. The game gets madder and madder as time goes by. Sorry, it’s not the game that’s mad it’s some of the people in it.

    • Hi Steve. Well said mate. The game seems to get madder and madder as time goes by. Sorry, it’s not the game that’s mad it’s some of the people involved in it.

  3. Last week I went on a coaches tour to Holland to study the coaching techniques and methods at the Academies of AZ Alkmaar and Feyenoord. This was an interesting experience and provoked many interesting topics for debate and discussion.
    One of the most interesting features was the Under 12 team at AZ Alkmaar. It was interesting to see how well they recognised and used space. Their movement into space showed their understanding of this concept and how their early years of coaching had developed this awareness. At 12 years they are now ready to progress on to other technical coaching points and skills. I found this contrasting sharply with players of a similar age, and much older, in England who do not understand the importance of space and how to use it because it has received insufficient attention in the early years of coaching.
    On the Levels 1 and 2 of Premier Skills it is continually emphasised that the most important thing in football is space.All the work tests the players’ ability to play in reduced areas of space, challenging them to play under gradually increasing levels of pressure, depending on levels of ability. Judging by what we saw in Holland, the Dutch get their order of priorities right to ensure that their young players understand the importance of space from the earliest age.
    Incidentally, we were told at Feyenoord that at the 2014 World Cup there were 12 players in the tournament who had come through the Feyenoord Academy. This is one statistic that is definately worth noting!

  4. Hi Steve. How do you get these invites (visits) to foreign coaching sessions. When you get another can you let me know and if possible i will go with you.
    The importance of space awawareness in LIFE is a vital ingredient in survival. If this awareness were not available human /animal survival would not be possible. In football, unless a player has ‘razor sharp’ space awareness that is developed and ‘honed’ from the very beginning of his/her football ‘journey’ it will be impossible to play the game to a standard suitable for even the lowest levels of the game.
    The Street Game has not been understood and therefore, space awareness has not been introduced and used correctly in coaching. There has been too much emphasis on ‘structured organization’ and not on realistic playing situations throughout the history of coaching in this country. Our game follows academic learning methods and realistic awareness practises have found little favour within our scholarly-influenced football coaching hierarchy. The real ‘thinkers’ about the game have been overlooked and football coaching and developement here has suffered badly as a result.
    There is an appropriate saying that satisfies exactly the past and present development muddle we have here, it is —– ‘Bull…..t baffles brains’. How true!

  5. Hi all. Last Saturday i was invited by some friends to a distribution of Trophies for various teams who were all part of a junior football club. In conversation with some of the coaches who work with the youngsters at the club i asked them if they knew what — THE DNA OF PERFORMANCE PHILOSOPHY was all about. None had a clue what i was talking about. Instead of these coaches at the foundation levels of the game who need a recognizable football ‘pathway’ to follow, it is a supercilious bunch of words that provides nothing to those thousands of coaches who really matter in the teaching of the game here.

  6. Hi all. After watching the semi-final games of the Champions’ League, can we really believe that we are anywhere near being contenders for this trophy? The playing qualities of both individuals and teams is far beyond that of the game here. Unless we extricate our ‘football heads from the sand’ and start to see the ‘truth’ and not believe the ‘hype’ associated with football here we have little chance of competing at top levels in European or World competitions. But do we really care about the game here? It seems that as long as our personal ‘tribe’ gets 3 points and there is enough money for the purchase of yet another foreign import. …. all is well…….or is it!

  7. Hi John…I fully agree that we have a massive amount of work to do if we are to seriously compete in the major international tournaments with a realistic chance of success. I feel that a priority must be given to greatly improving our defensive play. I thought that the recent session put on at the LFCA by Neil Banfield, (Arsenal FC), ‘1v1 Defending’, hit the nail on the head in so many respects. The forthcoming Champions’ League Final, Barcelona v Juventus, is mouth-watering in the extreme. But what I think could be key to what I would expect to be a Barcelona triumph, apart from their individual brilliance, is the ability of their defenders to defend in 1 v 1 situations, thereby enabling them to commit more players into attack. Defenders like Pique and Mascharano are well capable of of defending without the need for extra players to be always in covering positions. It seems to me that we have not yet even considred seriously in this country the requirement of 1 v 1 defending and so that, on its own, will hold us back from joining the leading nations.
    The coaches tour to Holland was organsed by Murray Jones, who has a sports tour company. I saw it organised on both the London Football Coaches Association website and the Surrey Football Coaches Association also circularised members. Murray is hoping to organise a similar tour later in the year to Germany to see the academy coaching at two of their clubs , (possibly Borussia Moenchengladbach and Schalke). I can let you know when something definate is fixed up.
    Incidentally, possibly the mystery of the FA’s proposd DNA will become clearer next Tuesday, May 19th, when the FA Licensed Coaches Club is holding a work-shop on the subject at Barnet FC., (10am – 5pm).

    • Hi Steve. Thanks for the info.. Your points regarding Barcelona’s players being able to defend in 1v1 situations relates directly back to the development methods of the club and to the scouting methods for recent new players and their ability to defend irrespective of their positions in a team.
      As we have said so often, top ability possess a full range of playing ability. There is no short- cut to become a ‘really top’ player; both offensive and defensive qualities relates to top performance

      • Hi Steve. Did you go to The FA session at Barnet F C ? If you did, what did you think. If you didn’t, do you know anyone who went. I would like to hear about how the FA are going to introduce their DNA of Performance Philosophy to youngsters.

  8. Hi John…Yes, I went to the FA session at Barnet. I thought that it posed more questions than it answered. The FA want to develop a possession-based game following the success of Barelona and the Spanish national team in recent years. They want this game style to run through all the age-group teams up to the senior side, in both male and female football. They want all coaches, regardless of the level at which they work, to be on board in delivering the coaching so that it becomes the national playing style.
    That’s all well and good, but I did not see a clear coaching methodology laid out which would enable all coaches, at whatever level they work, to produce this type of football. We saw 7 year olds playing a tag game which was good in developing motor skills which today’s youngsters need due to these skills not developing naturally as they once were in street games.We saw 12 and 13 year olds playing various types of possession games which were good, but I did not hear any messages of what was, or should have been, in the coach’s mind as he performed his work. The playing area was too long to encourage play rounds across the pitch, so there was a succession of long balls played down the field, contrary to what i thought was being looked for. The width was OK, but had the length been shorter then it would have been a better area in which to coach play rounds, search for gaps to probe into and then penetrate. There was no cross field running, either with or without the ball, and no coaching reference that this was what needed to happen.
    In my opinion, there was simply no coaching methodology or progression to help the coaches on their way to produce the football that the FA want as the England DNA.
    Most worryingly, there was no mention of the need to get the message home that in today’s football the top players, who clearly we must produce if this really is to be the England DNA, must be able to play under pressure. Obviously, the kids provided for the event by a local school, could not play in the sort of tight area that would be needed as the work progressed, but no mention was made that this must be the objective if, as the FA state, the aim is to win the World Cup in 2022, (much too early in my opinion).
    One of the people on the FA ‘think tank’ re this DNA, is Matt Crocker. I understand that he used to be in charge of the Youth Development section at Southampton. He did a good job there as the promotion of a number of good young players into the southampton 1st team in the last year or two, has proved. Southampton have a clear vision of the type of player they are attemting to produce, the game style they want to play and, also, the philosophy of the 1st team manager that they would consider employing. That is the reason why the change of coach a year ago and loss of several players has not disrupted the perfomances in the Premier League and the emergence of even more young players into their 1st team.
    I think that the example of Southampton has been a critical factor in the FA wishing to adopt this DNA idea. However, it is one thing producing this at a club,but quite another thing putting it into practice nationally and, as things stand, I can’t see it working.
    First of all. we have to have a clear coaching methodology. We know that we have it with Premier Skills but although the FA lift bits and pieces from it, they do not fit it all together, so there are too many loose ends and it does not work.
    This was my impression from yesterday’s event at Barnet.

    • Hi Steve. Thanks for your prompt reply. I thought that the intro of this might be a bit of a ‘patchwork’ attempt. They are unable to visualise a ‘total playing concept’ and how to progress in a progressive way towards it. This playing vision must be suitable for the English football culture primarily but also contain important aspects of the game from abroad. …… It must be a winning method that satisfies the English fan.
      Before I began to put the Premier Skills methodology together I first established in my mind who had I seen play the forceful English game well here but who had also introduced individualism and tactically creative team-play to their style. Once I had made my mind up it was relatively easy to then set about constructing a development structure towards that vision by establishing a realistic ‘pathway’ from junior through to senior levels of the game.

    • I went to this event. Many very good ideas in coaching sessions particularly the older player session. There was a clear process and methodology which I think you missed? Linked to the video shown the focus was ‘Staying on the ball’ which at times included keeping it, short or long passes. It was broken down into 3 parts. Before during and after receiving possession of the ball linked to using the letter S so grassroots coaches could remember the process!. Before: Scanning (awareness). Selection (early decision making). During (Stay on ball (travel with it), Set-up team mates (try to penetrate), Secure and build possession or Shoot). After: Support the attack, or Support the defence. Stand still? Too many people on the sidelines talking/not watching properly in my opinion and missed great session always looking for negativity. I asked the tutors and its true grass root coaches don’t seem to understand the focus. It was HOW WE PLAY (sessional STRUCTURE being main showcase) not What to Coach! We did this on my degree in Portugal and is why England is behind. You cannot be expert coaches by watching just sessions you have to study coaching and processes which many didn’t on the day. Process was there but many could only understand basic plan do review bit due to lack of experiences and academic foundations

  9. Hi all. I have watched the latest UEFA U/17 Championship in Bulgaria with some concern at the constant use of speed in the games. It seems that speed is a ‘camouflage’ for poor game skills and tactics understanding. There has been a lack of composure in the games with speed and strength too often being used before guile and patience. It seems that recognition of penetrative openings is lacking and force not cleverness is preferred.
    I don’t see enough young players who have control over their ‘enthusiasm’ and can change their decision-making according to varying game situations. Being able to select the correct use of speed or patience is the mark of top performance. All haste too often ends up with less quality as an end product.

  10. Hi John… In my opinion, the teams doing well in the Under 17 Championship in Bulgaria are those which win the ball back quickly in midfield and pass it forward into space for speedy forwards to run on to. Counter attacking is the weapon which successful teams have in their armoury these days. Of course, it’s effective when the opponents are caught out of position, but when a team is faced with a blanket defence then a team must be able to probe for openings by moving the ball around until a gap appears and then the players who can ‘see a pass’ come into their own. Germany are very effective in the counter attacking game. They have a big centre forward, Serra, who is very good in the air and their players are all athletic.They switch the play well but, from what I have seen, much of their game is built around speed and strength. I have not seen much of France but i understand that they have played the best football. It will be interesting to see how they perform against Germany in the Final.
    However, the player i have been most impressed with , though i have not seen all the games, is actually an English player. Marcus Edwards, who plays the number 10 role in ‘the hole’ behind the main striker, has been excellent. He screens the ball well, runs well with the ball and has awareness of space. He scored an exceptional goal against the Republic of Ireland, when he turned away from a congested area and ran with the ball to the side of defenders to score with a fierce shot. He is from Tottenham and their youth coaches would appear to be doing a fine job with him.

    • Hi Steve. There are two types of counter attack methods; the first is dropping deep and on regaining the ball breaking forward with the ball or playing it forward quickly; the second is, as you mention, from fast closing down and quick penetrations forward. However, in all situations in the game players must be prepared to either play quickly or play patiently according to their recognition of playing needs at the time. My point is that too many players don’t seem to have acquired this vital game awareness and expect speed and brute force to supply answer all questions set to them.
      I agree that Markus Edwards has has shown some excellence in games. However, along with so many other players from all teams there is a definite lack of linkage in midfield and front zones.
      It’s interesting to note that the FA are trying to copy Spanish/Barcelona possession type football. A problem with this is that both Spain and Barcelona have modified their game-styles to provide more penetrative play to their game. Once again we are copying other nations instead of concentrating on improving our own playing style and injecting aspects of the best from other nations. Will we see more of the ‘basic, pass, pass, pass’ player produced instead of players with high individual ability who are capable of combining with others if required to do so ? Probably the answer to that question is …….yes!

  11. I thought that France deserved their 4-1 win over Germany in the U-17 UEFA Final on Friday night and, from what i saw, they were the best team in the Tournament. However, I think that what John says about young players in many countries, producing speed and strength before guile and patience, is a timely warning to everyone involved in youth and young player development.
    If the speed and power element takes hold of football globally then I thnk that it is possible that in perhaps the not too distant future, England could achieve some international success at senior level. This could come despite not greatly improving our technical and game understanding levels.
    I think back to 1966 when England’s World Cup success was more due to qualities which put England in the ‘hard to beat’ category, rather than an example of technical excellence. We soon found ourselves pushed back into the backwaters of international football and non-qualification for World Cups, when the leading football nations put the necessary hard work into developing their game and left us far behind. We must not go through that same cycle again.
    At the DNA seminar at Barnet last week, great attention was placed on the latest FA pronouncement that the aim is World Cup victory in 2022. In my opinion that is too early and this should not be the prime aim of our National Associaion. We need real, joined-up thinking about what lines our young player development should follow. It is far more important than making wild statements of wonderful success in any particular year. John has identified a flaw in the make-up of young players in Europe generally; that they cannot recognise situations when they should be travelling fast and playing with speed and when they should be slowing the pace down and searching for ‘guile and patience’. It would be much better if we as a football nation made this an objective in our coaching because, as is widely known, English football has always had the great problem of being played at a constant speed of 100mph.
    So we come back again to the Premier Skills methodology: right from th start of the initial work in Level 1, the players are encouraged and coached to vary their playing speeds as they search for space in empty gates as they move around the coaching area.
    Getting this element right and projecting it to the coaches who were in attendance the other day in Barnet, is far more important than over-excited cheer-leading of when we hope to win the World Cup.

    • Hi Steve. We must consider the venues for both Euro and World Cup competitions and the summer temperature. Both Uefa and FIFA tend to select venues in countries where the weather can be expected to be warm and settled for fixtures to be completed without stoppages or postponements.At the same time a holiday atmosphere for fans attending the competitions must also be cosidered to allow maximum opportunities for fans to spend money in the selected venues. Playing conditions seem less important than financial ones and football tactics and playing qualities need to be carefully considered by nations involved.
      Those countries who qualify for the final stages of internatiional competions seem to have styles that comprise
      an ability to vary playing speeds and so limit excessive physical effort in high temperatures and closely arranged games. The all-action playing style associated with the game in these islands has been more of a handicap than an aid when it comes to the final stages of international competitions and we must ‘conquer’ our ‘over-impulsive’ playing style and furnish our game with ‘British commitment combined with foreign skills’
      The phrase,’all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ could easily apply to the game here where, ‘ all work and no play makes English football a tired spectacle’…………especially after a long, punishing, domestic season, followed by high pressured games against top football nations in summer temperatures. We must teach our players of the future to play the game of football with both competitiveness and cleverness that will produce success and forsake the aggressive mediocracy that has blighted our playing of this great sport.

  12. I thought that Norwich City’s performance in the Championship Play-Off Final on Monday against Middlesbrough, showed a lot of promise in how their Manager/Coach, Alex Neil, wants to play the game. Retaining possession and playing with patience, moving the ball about between players whilst looking for openings,Norwich proved that you did not need the best players in the world to adopt that approach. The second goal, scored by Redmond, was a great example of this: they searched for an opening in the Middesbrough defence until Redmond found space and an early pass released him to score with a good shot.
    Norwich City, as a club, also deserve praise for their recruitment of Neil earlier in the season because it must have been the result of some serious research. This was clearly the case in the engagement of a relatively unknown coach from the Scottish League.
    With the season now coming to an end, a number of clubs in the English Leagues are looking to appoint a new Manager/Coach. The newspapers,as usual, are putting forward familiar names, but could other clubs not take a leaf out of Norwich’s book and make enquiries on a less celebrated figure, but who has shown promise and ability, even if it has been at a lower level? All clubs should take more care and responsibility when they appoint a new boss.It seems to me that a lot of them take the easy, lazy option and go for a ‘name’, even when he has had little success for several years. Working under financial constraints, readiness to promote promising young players, and the establishment of a distinctive and attractive playing style, should figure highly in the demands of the prospective employers.

  13. Ron Greenwood used to say; “there is nothing new in football, just new ways of looking at things”. If evidence was needed of the value of the techncal points made in the Premier Skills coaching methodology, then the clips of film put together in BBC2’s appreciation programme on Sunday of Sir Stanley Matthews, provided it.
    It was fascinating to see Matthews dribble the ball up to the left back, move the ball inside to shift the defender and then come back in a flash and beat him by going into the space created on the outside. In old interviews, Matthews admitted that as he approached the opponent his eyes were up and he was deciding on what he would do several seconds later. In Premier Skills terminology, he was “playing in the future” by “plotting his route”. If he reached the byline by going past the left back he would cut the ball back to a team mate who was in space, as he did to lay on the winning goal in the 1953 FA Cup Final. If his centre forward was threatening the far post then he crossed high to that area to produce a headed goal. If the defence was hastily back-tracking towards goal then he might produce a quick, lower placed cross to exploit uncertainty between keeper and defenders.
    Matthews admitted that his game depended on changes of pace. He went from virtually walking pace to top speed in seconds, when he spotted space to run into, either with or without the ball. Giving an insight into what went on in those pre-coaching days, Matthews revealed that in training he would do his own little exercises when he practised running in short 10 – 15 yard bursts whilst the rest of the players did their endless lapping of the pitch.
    No wonder Matthews could find space in the most crowded areas. At Blackpool he used to practise running down the promenade, thronged with holidaymakers, weaving in and out of the people whilst looking for the chinks of space further ahead before he reached it.
    Now we have Lionel Messi to provide these magical moments but we must use the coaching approach, as laid down in Premier Skills, to give us another English hero.

  14. Hi all. The latest piece of ‘football magic’ performed by Lionel Messi, in the final against Athletico Bibao, was yet another football statement by him of the importance of individualism in the game — for the continued quality of the game and for the excitement of the fans.
    Our over academic, class-room approach to development will never provide the vital coaching ingredients that can provide.the essential ‘pathways’ for individualism to be achieved. The early mediocritising of players to fit team requirements at junior levels is a blight on our game and a disgraceful waste of playing potential. Over the years those who have been placed in control of football development have failed to provide the forward thinking our game has needed. Poor practice methods aligned with an unsuitable, competitive playing infrastructure has produced players who are unable and fearful of being individualistic.
    This ‘dumbing-down’ of talent must not be allowed to continue. We must refresh our game by encouraging our youngsters to emulate the true stars — past and present –who represent the skills of the game in both singular and combined situations. The teaching of individualism that provides an open awareness and use of combined play when required must be part and parcel of any future development structure. Young coaches must be taught to provide a coaching platform that inspires both brilliance in individual cleverness and creativity but can also recognise the need to conjoin with colleagues when necessary.
    We must dislodge the present false standards applied to our game. In recent years ‘hype’ not quality playing ability has lifted too many of our players to levels that are not justifed when compared with the playing quality of true true stars of the game. Messi, and Ronaldo, presently occupy the upper status of true stars of world football, we have produced nothing that compares with this level of ability for decades and this situation will not improve whilst we continue to follow the mediocritic coaching ‘dogma’ that has engulfed development here for decades.
    It’s time for a massive change in thinking about the way we play football and how we set the methods and standards to force ourself into the very top of world football. Short-term ‘tweakings’ in development must be forsaken for a ‘ long-term ‘winning vision’ with suitable development ‘targets’ created from junior to senior levels. Alongside all the obvious skills, tactics and physical aspects involved in development there is a large space that needs to be filled — game understanding ! Unless we increase an awareness of what top-quality performance requires and be capable of seeing and introducing variations over time from both individuals and teams, we will never reach the required high standards that must be attained and retained.
    Young coaches, having acquired basic qualifications, need more help and assistance from senior coaches when involved with young players. It is at these early stages that players must be given the correct information and work if they are to progress. I do not think that this important area of development has been shown the importance it deserves and we have suffered the consequences over the years.
    We must develop many Messi’s in the future. I truly believe we have the latent talent here but we go about nurturing and progressing it badly. It is time that those of us who love and appreciate the game demand that future generations of young players are not allowed to be brought up to think and play a brand of football that bears scant resemblance to its real magnificence. Let’s fight for the future of those youngsters and for the ‘beautiful game’

  15. The English game is full of fear, and the young player is particularly fearful. He is afraid to try innovative pieces of skill for fear of making a mistake. The English coach is afraid of innovation because he fears ridicule if his enterprise falls flat on its face when the opponent takes advantage and scores. We therefore rely on old, tried and trusted methods, even though they have proved useless, in terms of quality player development, for generations.
    A player carries a tool bag over his back. His tools are all the skills which he picks up over his playing life. His coach is reponsible for filling that tool bag. But the English player’s tool bag is very light because there is not much in it. Sometimes we ask: what has a player got in his locker? The locker is the tool bag. If the coach is only interested in producing a simplistic game style then it cannot be expected that his players will have much in their locker. All coaches must be educated in filling these lockers and tool bags of their players.
    The coach must have a full and comprehensive knowledge of the skills and techniques of the game and when they should be applied. He must know how to progress the practise/learning process, so that his players are challenged by decreased space and increased opposition. I think that this is a particular failing of the present coaching approach for many coaches, at least in grassroots football,because many often stick to drill type practises with no opposition. I think that this is a crucial failing in the coach education which can be accessed from both written and online sources.
    Coaches in this country are not being shown how to think as deeply about the game as they should and the young player compares unfavourably with his continental counterpart through a combination of fear and ignorance.

  16. The Champions’ League Final last Saturday provided some great football and moments of high skill that young players and their coaches must take on board so that we can see a return to higher standards in this country.
    However, both Barcelona and Juventus were guilty of poor decision making when they attempted to play out from the back from the keeper, even though the opponents had squeezed forward to close down the back players. A number of times the ball was lost in the defending third and goals could have been conceded. The general opinion seems to be that they take this risk because it is “their way of playing”.
    I think that this is a mistaken view of how a team sets out its playing style. If the opponent squeezes high to deny space in the defensive zone then space must exist somewhere else. They should look beyond the pressure into these less congested areas and play longer passes into them. Barcelona could have conceded in the first two minutes through the poor decision making by keeper Ter Stegen and he was similarly guilty on a number of other occasions. Juventus also got themselves in trouble through keeper Buffon playing out short into areas where Barcelona were threatening a high press.
    Barcelona have undoubtedy changed their playing style to make longer passes and passes into the areas of space behind the opposing defence. Their possession rate of 62% for the match was much lower than in previous years when they regularly had figures of at least 80%.
    Barcelona played long switch of play passes to exploit the spaces out wide to isolate Juventus’s full backs. Juventus’s decision to play a midfield diamond meant that their right and left midfield players were tucked in narrow to defend the central areas and so Barcelona, with the use of longer passes, were able to create a number of 1 v 1 situations out on the flanks with the Juventus full backs isolated.
    Barcelona are now European Club Champions for the first time since they beat Man United at Wembley in 2011 and their re-emergence at the pinnacle of European club football is, in my opinion, due to their ability to “mix the playing styles”, as John Cartwright has described it.

  17. 2011 Steve Haslam said:

    Barcelona’s brilliance in playing in tight situations, as Brazil94 refers to and, as John Cartwright points out, this has been so many years in the making, is what makes them such a breathtaking example to present before all young players. And, as ever, it is their bravery, their unshakeable belief in their approach, which enables this to happen. I have heard that after the match last Saturday, the 3-1 win in Madrid, Guardiola thanked keeper Valdes in front of everyone in the dressing room. He thanked him because, following his disastrous first minute mistake in miskicking the ball straight to Di Maria who set up Benzema for the opening goal, he did not flinch in his belief of receiving pass backs to his feet and setting up Barcelona attacks from well judged passes to his team mates.
    Barcelona have this belief, this ‘vision’, and that is what sets them apart, but, with bravery, we could all have it and then at least we would be on the right path.

  18. Hi Brazil94…
    It has been noticeable in England youth team matches at various age groups that the players are being encouraged to play out from the back. This is good and it is right that young players are encouraged and coached to receive a throw from the keeper and work the ball forward, rather than a long punt downfield, as has so often been the case in the past.
    However, if the opponents press forward and prevent short passes to players dropping close to the penalty area, then there must be spaces in more forward areas. It is therefore important for the keeper, or anyone else in possession, to look beyond the pressure and play longer passes into those areas.
    I think, despite the moments of hesitancy by Ter Stegen last Saturday, that this more direct approach under certain circumstances, is a major contribution that Luis Enrique has made at Barcelona since he became coach. It is important to remember that there is always space on a football pitch. The pitch size and dimensions are still the same as they were 150 years ago when organised football, as we know it, was originated. The size of the goals is still the same and it was always 11 versus 11. There may be less space in the area around the ball but, therefore, that means there must be space somewhere else.
    Incidentally, the incident which you mention concerning the goal which Valdes gave away through a poor clearance from his area a few years ago, came up in a conversation with a coach who has since become the Manager at a prominent London football club. He pointed out that Guardiola was fortunate in being able to publicly express his sympathy towards Valdes for a grave error in a vital match, because he had “a lot of credit with the supporters, directors etc” which someone else would be unlikely to have without the fantastic track record which Guardiola possesses.
    Anyway, I think that it’s good that you have expressed disagreement with something which has gone on this blog and more people should do this, because the main purpose of it, in my opinion, is to provoke discussion and debate and everyone learns from that, even if not everyone agrees with everything.

  19. However, i would to a degree certainly agree with your 2011 comments…it is important for back players to be able to play in the ‘tight’ and Barcelona will go on doing it!

    The mix of playing styles could be related to the signing of Suarez – and the he plays -by looking for spaces beyond , and Messi being a hybrid wide man-no10. I have noticed that if Messi goes central then Suarez will adjust. And with Juve being narrow the space was alsways going to be with Neymar/Alba.

    Enrique probably brought the nous of recogising the group’s strengths and playing accordingly.

    Messi is also developing into a deeper playmaker if you like.

  20. Hi Brazil94…Villa and Sanchis, before the arrival of Suarez, also looked for balls played into the back of the defence because Guardiola realised that a possession game on its own would be successful for only so long.Mourinho’s Inter Milan proved that tiki taka could be beaten by staying strictly positioned in the semi final of the Champions’ League in 2010 and ultimately became European Club Champions.
    A good team with a good coach is always capable of outwitting the opposition, with imagination and good preparation. Last season the former Tottenham Manager, David Pleat, gave an insight to the London Football Coaches Association in a talk which he gave. He said that in the first twenty minutes of matches during the late 1980s, Tottenham used to knock the ball continuously into the space behind the opposition defensive line, looking for forwards like Clive Allen to run onto. This caused the opposing defence to drop deeper and deeper towards their goal, so now the space was in front of their defence. Tottenham got players like Hoddle moving into this space, (now referred to as playing between the lines), to exploit this new situation which had arisen. Whatever the opponents did Totteham had an answer, because there is always space somewhere.

  21. Thierry Henry on BEIN SPORTS Post match Final said:

    “I’ve been in that dressing room and if he don’t try to pass the ball from the back you’re are not playing.”

    “The Barca way.. the proper way”.

    “You have to pass the ball from the back”.

    “You have to pass the ball from the back, you concede a goal, you concede two, you concede three, You still have to pass the ball from the back whether you agree with it or not.”

  22. Hi Brazil94….
    The quotes you attribute to Thierry Henry on what i assume was a foreign TV channel, were also the same as those he expressed during the match on Sky Sports in Britain.
    Is there really a “proper way”? A coach reacts to the actions of the opponents and tactics which their coach produces.
    Henry appears to be saying, from the comments which you quote, that a team should persist in playing the ball from the back, even after the third goal has gone in, due to the opponent squeezing up to close down all the space in your defensive third. So Henry does not seem to be aware that if there is little or no space in your defensive third, due to the opponents’ actions, then there must be more space somewhere else. This is when the coach earns his crust, by educating his players in the correct decision-making when the opposition threaten your game plan and you have to adapt and adjust.

  23. From what I have seen of England so far in the Womens’ World Cup, it has again underlined the fact that they are being coached to produce the same kind of play as their male counterparts. As has been discussed on this blog before, this is a great pity because the womens’ game should not be a carbon copy of the way that men play. A game of greater finesse and technique should have been developed through coaching when the numbers of participants began to considerably increase a few years ago and coaches moved into the womens/girls game. Unfortunately, they have continued to use the same methodology as that employed for many years with men and boys. A great opportunity to produce something different, and better, was therefore missed.
    However, I was impressed by Fran Kirby, who scored the vital opening goal against Mexico to keep England in contention for a place in the last 16. She took her goal well by finding space in a tight situation and has a good change of pace. I think she is only 17 and was the top scorer in womens football in England last season for her club, Reading, in the second division of the womens’ league.

  24. Hi Steve. If you look back on past blogs you will find my piece on Women’s football. I see that Martin Samiuel, in today’s Daily Mail, has written an article stating the same beliefs.
    I wrote a book back in the 70’s that included football practises for you girls, this was long before women’ football was as popular as it’s become now. My recent blog on the subject lamented the lost opportunity of the women’ s game to offer a different approach than just copying the men’s faulty development methods. The poor quality of the latest FIFA tournament in Canada, must nott be camouflaged by ”hype’ if the quality of the women’ s game is to improve.

  25. Hi John…From what I have seen so far in the Womens’ World Cup, it is pieces of individualism from talented players that has impressed, rather than examples of good team play or game intelligence. An example last night was Andrade of Colombia who I would imagine developed her skill in street play, in common with her male counterparts in that part of the world. Unfortunately,the Colombian midfield players failed to recover back into defensive positions when they lost the ball, which was largely responsible for their defeat.

  26. Glad womens football has be raised again.
    Overall England are dire and mediocre , just look at Aluko and J Scott, all they can do is run fast.
    Columbia players would play futsal for many years before football, hence the ball control, which the English ex players disrespect as ‘tricks and flicks’.

  27. The quality of the women’s World Cup improved and Japan and France played some great stuff. Compare Japan’s positive Possesion to England boys U21 clueless negative Possesion. They have built a game suited to their national traits. England’s women have done well to reach the semi finals so far but ther game style mirrors a Tony Pulis afraid to lose rather than go and win style not very attractive to watch and it was interesting to hear the English coaches of England and Canada talk about there teams qualities of physicality, Grit aggression and passion and how they were going to fight for the win. Same old nonsense camoflaging poor quality But the work at junior levels is going to hopefully produce a more attractive adventurous intelligent game style. Where my daughter is playing at a centre of excellance I have watched some great football at U13 and U15 levels with some very talented players they deserve to be given the best chance possible of maximising there potential. But I do wish practice play coach education was exposed to these coaches I believe and know there are many open minded young and older coaches like myself who are very receptive to learning and see the failings of FA coach education and are not wholly convinced by it and are looking for answers. I meet a young coach at a football in the community scheme who had attended the LFCA masterclass where John delivered the new street football game and he spoke enthusiasm of what he saw and heard and complained of his disappointment with the FA level 2 he was currently on. if only the opportunity to attend practice play courses levels 1,2,3 were more readily available let alone the other levels that I have not seen 5 and 6.

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