Faulty Breaks!

By John Cartwright

Why does so much of our football resemble driving a car downhill at speed with no brakes? Uncontrolled speed has become a major part of our game which, allied to a lack of playing skills, has brought chaos rather than class to football here. From the Referee’s first whistle to the last, we play the thoughtful and skilful game of football as if it were a contest of ‘fitness first’ and ‘full steam ahead’. With little time for players to think, look or make correct decisions, the poor old football often resembles a bullet ricocheting from one scrimmage to another.


Where are the players, ‘home-bred or imported’ with the playing quality to play the game with both the skill and game understanding and who are capable of selecting the correct time for ‘speeding or cruising’? Subtlety and cleverness in using selective injections of speed into a game have been eroded in favour of ‘panic attack’ football that demands all-out effort all of the time! Giving 100% effort should not mean 100% of ‘chase and fight’, it should mean playing the game using all the qualities required — and should include, calm control and game awareness.

The present playing ‘hullabaloo’ is devoid of the awareness to select when to play quickly and when to shift into cruising speed. The use of fast counter-attack tactics can be extremely beneficial against teams who defend in depth. However, if or when an opposing team manages to recover their defensive positioning to halt or slow-down the attack a problem occurs in our game —- we can’t put our ‘foot on the brakes’! Instead of reappraising the situation and reconnoitre for other attacking opportunities, we try to maintain the original attacking speed regardless of the chance of success. Our crowds demand speed and irrespective of its value at the time ……. we give it to them….. ‘crash-bang-wallop’!


The teaching and use of speed variations in our game must be high on the list for coaches. The frequent waste of possession through playing at unnecessary speed is a major problem in our game — it produces a frenzied aspect where calmness and creativity should dominate. Our foreign opponents seem to have more control over the use of speed than we do. They are more adept at playing as game situations demand. Many overseas countries have spent valuable time developing players with high levels of individual skill. The value of having such skilful qualities is clearly displayed in situations when decisions on varying playing speeds need to be made.

We need to make vital changes to our development methods and speed awareness must be part of those changes.

20 thoughts on “Faulty Breaks!

  1. Its interesting to hear the punditry of all the former man utd players on TV.
    Not one of them seems to have learnt alot whilst playing as they all want it quick and play forward asap.
    The WSL leaders play the skilless game and rely on brute force and the 2nd ball game.
    It seems that some younger players do and play with more thought but it is not what will get you in the wsl 1st team.

  2. Hi all. Sorry about the wrong spelling of the blog’s title. ……all speed and no no composure at the computer!

  3. Actually the different spelling is a truism!! So called fast breaks on the counter attack are so often in a thoughtless straight line into a fight situation.In wide situations this is especially true as you see players running in to narrow crowded corridors instead of going where the space is.With full time pro’s this could be a theme added in to the gamestyle – they have plenty of time to work on it!! Clever breaks instead of faulty breaks could be the result.

  4. Hi Dirk, I think the United pundits are actually talking about a change of pace not playing quickly all the time. United’s recent history has included dribblers and wingers (from Best, Morgan, Hill and Coppell, to Giggs, Ronaldo, Valencia who counter attack with speed, accuracy and use changes of pace. Van Gaal seems to be prepared to dominate the ball, but without the traditional injections of pace for which United are known. Together with an ‘appreciation’ of the Galactico ‘model’, we are led to believe, perhaps Van Gall is attempting to adjust United’s identity.

    • Hi Steve. Whichever way United go tactically the decision-making on when to play at a fast pace and when to switch to cruise control to prepare for another injection of attacking speed when an opportunity is possible needs to be recognised. Our game tends to go at full pace irrespective of attacking opportunities. ‘Fightball’ tends to be the result. Football is a clever game, we have ‘brutalised’ it using force and not finesse as an answer to all the questions the playing of the game poses.

      • Late response, John, apologies. I tend to agree but feel that United (and probably Liverpool when they were dominant) had that recognition of when to inject pace and when to ‘rest with the ball’ and probe for openings; lulling teams into a false sense of security before pouncing when the opportunity presented itself. I am told (I haven’t seen them) that there are statistics which shows that the highest average speed of play is in the Premier League but the highest actual speed of play happens in European leagues, which potentially underpins what we already observe and perhaps illustrates why our players are ‘tired’ when they go to international competitions. They are playing flat out all year whereas players who play in other leagues are less so.
        However, as more international players come to the Premier League are we already seeing that ‘tiredness’ affect national teams whose players play in ‘our’ league?

  5. Hi all. Probably the best example of the misguided understanding of the game is visible when our back players are in possession; there is the obvious fault of not recognising when to penetrate gaps with speed in front of them prefering to play sideways and backwards———- in my opinion this is totally due to their lack of playing quality and game understanding and is a constant example of poor fast/slow decision-making in the game.

  6. Hi John…I think that, therefore because the Dutch have been so good at opening up the pitch and working in a development way, the most interesting aspect of Van G’s United will be ultimately how the back players play in possession and whether they develop the game understanding to break out from the back and penetrate gaps.

  7. West Ham’s performances in the Premier League so far this season illustrate the problems which English football has in controlling the pace of the game correctly. In two away matches West Ham have won unexpectedly, but deservedly, at Arsenal and Liverpool. In both matches West Ham passed the ball around well with patience, drew the opposition out and hurt them with quick, incisive attacks when the gaps appeared. But in two home matches when you would have expected them to pick up points, the Hammers lost each one, to Leicester and Bournemouth, with much inferior performances of mistakes and scrappy play.
    When confronted with a team that sits off and invites them on to them, West Ham responded with over-anxious play of constant, uncontrolled speed and were made to pay on each occasion.
    Their manager, Slavin Bilic, is aware of the problem and states that he will work on this aspect in training. He points out that the high number of away wins and low number of home successes in the Premier League as a whole during the early weeks of the season, is indicative of this failing with English teams in general.
    The crowd could also help in these situations. Instead of demanding high-octane attacks from the first whistle, they could exercise some patience as well and in the opening stage applaud good technical play as the pattern of the play is being set, instead of screaming for ‘cavalry charges’ from the word go.

  8. hi Steve. I love the phrase ‘Cavalry charges’. It represents exactly the fierce, ‘into the fire we go’ attitude that our game represents. Instead of ‘warhorses’ we need show jumpers.

  9. On the evidence of the Euro2016 qualifying matches which have been televised during the last few days, it seems that player development is unsatisfactory in a number of what you would call, established football countries and not just in England.
    Holland and Italy are two countries where you would always expect to see a high technical standard but that is not the case at the moment. Both countries seem to be resorting to using a big, strong target player up front with purely industrious, hardworking players in midfield. The sudden demise of Holland, from being number 2 and number 3 respectively in the last two World Cups, and now facing elimination from next year’s tournament, is particularly alarming.
    Credit is due to teams like Iceland, Wales and Northern Ireland who have taken advantage of the circumstances and with a few others could provide some unfamiliar faces in next years Finals. But they have exploited the situation through good organisation and hard running rather than the arts and crafts of the game. This is a poor substitute for what we really want to see in the game but this is what happens when football’s super-powers allow their development programme to stagnate.
    I think that the only real quality has come from Germany, against Poland and Scotland, but they do have defensive weaknesses at full back and centre half and Neuer has begun to make mistakes in goal.

  10. Hi all. Are we all going ‘bonkers’ ? We play San Marino, who would have trouble surviving in our League 2 and Switzerland, who we used to select an England ‘B’ team for the fixture. Rooney scores a penalty in each game and there’s not one England player who looks anything but ordinary. I’m sorry, but I am unable to feel euphoric over England’s mediocre performances. Believe me, if we continue to praise such unexciting performances we will never achieve the true level of performance that is needed to win major competitions.
    Our players display a boring ‘sameness’ that is reflected throughout all levels of our game. The FA Coaching and Development models have gradually brought our game to a playing situation that applauds ‘football robots’ devoid of individualism and skill.

  11. Hi John…. I thought that England were lucky to beat Switzerland who threatened to score several times against a defence that played very flat. England’s attempts at playing the offside trap were suicidal against forwards whose movement had them in trouble several times. Germany would surely have punished England severely.
    It is a serious concern that the younger players, who had initially shown real promise, seem to have stopped progressing. Chamberlain, Barkley, Clyne, Shelvey and Sterling had ‘in and out’ games. Young players can’t be expected to produce top level performances all the time, I know, but it seems to happen so often that we think we some top level players but they fail to fulfil their promise.
    On the plus side, Smalling is improving for Man Utd as well as England and Kane is dangerous around the penalty area. He is also capable of holding the ball up well by shielding it, linking play with good lay offs and making dangerous runs in behind the defence.
    But there seems little reason to be optimistic about France 2016.

    • Hi Steve. You and I can go back a long time remembering young players of the past; Duncan Edwards, Jimmy Greaves, Cliff Jones, Bobby Moore etc. these players and many more made their club and international debuts in their late teens — and had long and successful careers.
      You mention, Smalling as an improved player but, like so many of our ‘home-bred’ central defenders, he seems to be uncomfortable when entering the opposition’s half! Kane, had a good year last season, but he was an ‘unknown’ and must now display much more quality now opponents are more aware of him.
      I do not see a ‘naturalness’ in our players; they seem unable to produce the unexpected. Coaches — coach by the book; players — play by the book. Our game has acquired the ‘sameness’ production methods as car manufacturing — Robotic !


  12. Hi John…Yes, the players of the past often made their full international debuts, as well as for their clubs’ first teams, when still in their teens. This makes the introduction of under 21 development squads, in place of reserve teams, all the more difficult to understand and a retrograde step. It’s keeping young players of promise back from experiencing senior football at a young age, especially beneficial when playing alongside senior players willing and able to help them through games.
    The reluctance and inability of central defenders to go forward into the opponents’ half and join in the midfield play, is a serious issue and I have seen no focus on this from the FA coaching department. Even Switzerland’s centre half joined an attack and continued all the way to the England penalty area and could have scored. In England we still think that the use of centre halves in attack is simply to use their height to get on the end of high balls at corners and free kicks. At one time most teams, and not just those in the 1st division, had one central defender who was good enough to bring the ball out of defence in order to initiate an attack. But now they play as if on sentry duty and cannot leave their post.

  13. Barcelona’s winning goal against Atletico Madrid last night will go down as another great piece of play by Messi, but I thought that the contribution of Suarez was just as brilliant. The superbly light ‘touch off’ by the Uruguayan into the path of the scorer, in a tight area congested by both friend and foe, made it all possible. The delicacy and lightness of Suarez’s touch was vital. There was simply no margin for error of even the slightest degree or the opportunity would have been lost.
    When we see so many attempted one touch passes off our leading players skew off due to over-weighted, inaccurate passing, then the example of a master technician reminds us of the enormous amount of work we have to do.

    • Hi Steve. I watched an u/16 game recently of players from Premier League clubs. The game moved at one pace—-fast from start to finish and consisted of scrimmage after scrimmage. Players were totally unaware of speed variations in attacking play and effort not football brains was the sum total of the game.
      We have a football crisis raging in our game that is being fed by poor coaching and woeful administration. Ignore all the ‘hype’, our football future is looking very grim indeed.

  14. I think that the lack of “speed variations”, which John refers to in the above post, has been one of the biggest weaknesses in English football for a very long time. The games begin at breakneck speed, with teams thinking that they must win the game within the first five minutes. Similarly, I have seen football played in other countries where the pace of the play rarely increases above the pedestrian, which is equally a weakness, if in reverse.
    As with most approaches in football, a balance must be struck between the two extremes. The pace must be dropped with the movement of the ball the speed which counts, until space for penetration of the opponents’ defences can be created and then speed of player movement increases accordingly.
    As with many things in the higher grades of football, the reaction of the crowd plays an important part. There seems to be a trend these days for loud, ‘battle-ground’ music to be played as the teams line up for the kick off, with frenzied shouting, intended to stir up the crowd, from the match day announcer. The players are being informed in no uncertain terms that the crowd expect to see the ball in the opponents’ penalty box within seconds, rather than minutes, of the kick off.
    I recall in the past that many managers instructed their players, just before they went out on to the pitch to start the match, to make it their first aim from the kick off to pass the ball around until everyone in the team had had at least one touch before thinking about an attack on the opposition goal.
    That is not an attitude of mind which I see in evidence in many matches played in England today, at any level.

  15. I recall one of my coaches when I was playing U18 football explaining that the game should be played like you would dance a waltz – Slow, Slow,Quick, Quick, Slow.
    Variations on playing speed are illustrated very well in the Practice Play methodology

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