Detail! Detail! Detail!

By Roger Wilkinson

I said to a junior player the other day………“Did you have breakfast this morning?”

He said……….“Yes I had porridge”

I said………“Did you put it in your mouth or up your nose?”

“In my mouth of course”…………he said with a chuckle

“Why?”…….I asked.

I explained that there was only about a ¼ of an inch between the two but the good habits and life skill he had been taught meant that he always made that right decision. Football is like life and teaching the importance of the detail in those decisions is vital!



Fast forward a couple of days and I was watching an English Championship game between two of the top teams and I did a 3 minute (yes 3 minute!) audit of the individualism and decision making of both teams from the 66th to the 69th minute. This is what I saw:

  • Centre backs heading and giving away possession when they had space and time to bring the ball down.
  • Wide men trying to cross through defenders with no chance of the ball getting in to the box unless the defender’s leg magically disappeared!!
  • Defenders, in loads of space, kicking the ball out when a Pique type player would have pulled it down and played his way out.
  • Players turning into trouble, and in some cases cheaply losing the ball because their touch was too heavy.
  • Players “punching” the ball into team mates, tightly marked, giving them a control problem.

I’ve got to be honest, I did see one of the front men cleverly link with a team mate in a tight situation on the edge of the box giving one little glimpse of potential high quality detail.

Apart from that solitary example during the 3-minute snap shot there was scant regard for, or evidence of the detail that is so vital to maintain and exploit possession in the game.

Surely coaches and players only have to watch the likes of Silva, Ozil, Modric or Lahm to see that what defines their greatness is the dedication to the quality and detail of their play.


It was so evident in those 3 minutes, that these players have cruelly missed out the important skill development and understanding of the detail that is required in their play during their development journey.

Obviously they have experienced deficient coaching from an early age but just as importantly why haven’t the flaws been corrected during the Academy stage from 9 to 18 yrs? Also, what are they doing day in day out as senior professionals?

So how do we change this faulty production line?

First of all, the main criteria all the way through the player’s development should be to produce the extra detail and clever understanding in their play needed for greatness.  We don’t just want good habits we want great habits! Let’s innovate a gamestyle whereby individualism combines to produce outstanding and clever linkage. At no stage in the player’s development can we afford to skim over the precious detail that required in their play to achieve greatness.

At junior and youth level we need outstanding coaches who are focused on developing individualism and understanding not on how many U14 league games they can win! Their barometer for success is not junior league titles BUT the number of outstanding players they bring through to the senior and international game.

At senior level we want coaches and managers that despite the pressure to win games and stay in a job, still coach, develop and extend the abilities of their players and teams.

Development of a player should not stop when they reach senior level.  We need coaches and managers that continue to develop the detail in their players and teams that allow them to achieve style and results.

Whatever level you are currently working at, I urge you to never settle for ordinary! Make a commitment to giving your players the detail in their play that will help them achieve greatness.


18 thoughts on “Detail! Detail! Detail!

  1. I remember watching Leeds v Forest about 5 years ago, it was not too long after attending a PPL1 course and I remembered Roger talking about the over hit passes in the pro game. So I watched out for it during the game, it didn’t take long before I saw a pass thumped into the striker with his back at goal, the ball bounced up to his chest height and he lost it. The commentator said nothing about the quality of the pass, as if it is perfectly normal. What we see is a lack of knowledge in the game, so detailed information is missed. Pro players need coaching of the basics, just like kids do. Too much emphasis on team work, when the individual is making too many mistakes.
    Stevenage academy U10, a ball is punched in hard and the kid who received it could not control it. The coach tells the player off for his poor touch, but the passer was never spoken too. Some may argue that if they get used to those type of passes there first touch will improve and the team can play out of tight areas. From what I see its causing teams to lose possession more than it helps them.

    “At junior and youth level we need outstanding coaches who are focused on developing individualism and understanding not on how many U14 league games they can win! Their barometer for success is not junior league titles BUT the number of outstanding players they bring through to the senior and international game.” Although you are absolutely right Roger, we must not forget that 90+% of 14 year olds are playing outside of academy level and for them winning titles, cups may be the only time they ever do. So many boys stop training regularly around 14/15 for numerous reasons, it becomes impossible to instill high standards.
    Winning is important to the players, lets not forget that. Too many losses and you will lose support for your methods. Does not mean you forget about the high standards you want from players, thats the coaches duty.

    Practice Play Level 1 has so much info in it compared to a FA Level 1. Unfortunately the FA have the monopoly on course work. It is the poor standard of Level 1 that sets the coach on the wrong path. How can we be expected to give detailed info to kids, when “let the game be the teacher” are the FA mantra?

  2. You are so right Dave.The kids want to win ,like they see their favourite teams do, but the coaches should be about development and there is a big need for parent education. As you say an enormous percentage of players are outside academy level that also opens a further discussion regarding early segregation and the effectiveness of the academy system where less than 2% are retained past 21. And please academy system can we start producing the Charltons,Gascoiynes,Osgoods,Moores ,Waddles of the past !!

  3. Academys claim they want barca type players yet still search for big fast athletic players,I have a u15s released from two Academys yet his got quicker feet,great first touch than the first team players,left turns right turns out of trouble amazing dribbling not looking at the ball but his small and don’t suit the team play I’ve
    been told but as they say
    football is about opinions

  4. There is a great lack of patience in football, especially English football, these days which is mirrored in our everyday life. You never used to hear car horns being blown when there was a queue of traffic – we thought this was a foreign habit and we would sit quietly in line until the traffic cleared. But not any more. Motorists habitually sound their horns now at the slightest hint of delay to signify their annoyance at the briefest hold up in their journey.
    So it is in football. We want to get from A to B in the shortest possible time, i.e. from our goal to their goal, whatever obstacles may lie in our path. We don’t want to probe, explore and come out of congested areas to find an alternative route down the field. This hurry, hurry attitude shows itself in the attitudes of both the players and spectators.
    Most critically, I think that it is particularly noticeable among our young players. I find myself increasingly having to tell youngsters in the grassroots game to relax and be patient when in possession. They are the victims of managers and coaches of junior clubs who are demanding a fast paced passing, (i.e. kicking), game from the youngest players.
    The central defenders who Roger observed smashing the ball downfield when under no pressure, have no conception of thoughtfully bringing the ball out of defence or passing constructively into the feet of midfield colleagues. A little while ago I heard a former English Premier League centre half admit at a coaching seminar, that he had made a good living from the game by his heading ability and by being able to kick the ball a long way.
    Our game is immersed in fear, from the fear of failure at the top level with defeats costing millions of pounds in lost revenue, right down to the junior grassroots game where a simplistic, functional game is adopted at the earliest age groups and therefore so much untapped potential is lost to the game.

  5. At the recent female world cup, the Japanese coach described English football as ‘simple soccer’ and this is true at all levels male and female.
    That is also the view from the rest of the world.
    Sadly Cant see it changing any day soon

  6. I have read Roger’s ‘blog’ and the replies. The sense of frustration is obvious that our game is in a mess. The frustration observed here is exactly what I have experienced myself and been fighting for the past 50 years!
    The game in this country is firmly in the control of money and incompetent football hierarchy. It’s a sad situation for the game and for young players — past, present and future.

  7. Paul Cooper once said we must teach kids to fall in love with the game. That has always stuck with me.
    In the UK it seems now many older grassroot teams have to have large squads to compensate for the amount of players not attending. Adult teams sometimes have over 20 sign up, just so they can get a team out. Many youth teams struggle to get all players to attend training most weeks once they reach 14/15. I believe competitive matches start too early, kids lose the enthusiasm. Coaching sessions must be detailed with a long term view. There MUST also be time for kids just to play without coaches. The detail Roger talked-about must take in the social side of the game for long term success. No matter what the level of player, having time to be with friends and just playing instills a love of the game. Would players of the past be the same if they only had coaches. Rather than arrange tournaments or extra training sessions, try arranging kick abouts with a few of the teams and get these kids back in the parks.

  8. I’m not sure that the competitive element in junior football leads to children losing their love and enthusiasm for the game when they are barely into their teens. I recall that in one of my earliest teams in which I played, we lost every game, the lowest score being 14 – 0. But no-one left that team thoughout the whole season and we had a full squad of players for every match.
    From what I have observed, kids from reasonably successful teams, (in terms of results), have been just as liable to give up football for other pursuits. This brings to mind the observation made about Lionel Messi: it wasn’t what Barcelona’s coaches did for Messi, it’s what they didn’t do; i.e. they didn’t take away the gems of skill and football genius he had learnt on the streets of Buenos Aires by suffocating him with a more simplistic game style which could have happened elsewhere, e.g. England. They allowed his skill to blossom and flower to produce maybe the greatest player of all time.
    I think that David makes a good point when he says that instead of the interminable tournaments or extra training sessions, “try arranging kick abouts with a few of the teams and get these kids back in the parks”. I have tried something in after-school clubs which has produced some benefits. There is nothing worse for a child of limited ability, when better players starve him/her of the ball by not passing to him/her. The better player knows that the limited player will only lose the ball if he/she passes to him/her and so the better player turns away to look for a better option. This can be soul-destroying for the limited player and can certainly lead to diminshed love and enthusiasm for the game. So I have tried walking out onto the field/playground at the start of the session holding two footballs and throwing them onto the training area. “There you are”, I say, “Have a game”.
    I stand back and observe what happens. The better players, the ones who already play for junior clubs, gravitate towards each other, passing the ball between their friends of superior ability. The lesser players also form their own group with the other ball. Then, with my encouragement, they pick up two teams in their own little groups and two matches in the training area are soon taking place. Being starved of the ball becomes much less of a problem and you only need to look at their faces to see that everyone is now enjoying themselves.

  9. Hi Steve, I am saying starting weekly matches at 6 years old is too young. I never started until 11as did most of my generation. Not saying competition is driving kids away. A 14 yr old may have played 7 years of organised football, it’s not always much fun when children only experience football run by adults.
    I read recently that a child’s brain isn’t hardwired like an adults, it’s starts to change around 11 or 12.

  10. Barcelona’s La Liga match on Wednesday evening saw their opponents, Sporting Gijon, field what was virtually their second team, making about nine changes from the team which they fielded the previous weekend. This is indicative of what I feel is a disturbing trend in major leagues around Europe, when a team in the relegation area, as Sporting Gijon are, give up virtually all hope of achieving a positive result against one of the top teams. They decide to ‘rest’ the majority of their recognised first team players for the next match, when they face less daunting opponents who they believe they have a realistic chance of taking valuable points off.
    I feel that this is in very poor spirit and disrespectful both to the game and to the spectators. The match was at Sporting’s stadium and in front of a larger than normal crowd. The spectators wanted to see Barcelona’s famous stars, but they also wanted to see Sporting approach the match with both the attitude and game plan that gave them a chance of success. What Sporting did actually cheated and short-changed the paying customer.
    This has also occurred in England. I recall a few years ago that Wolves went to Old Trafford to play Man Utd, then in their pomp and romping away to the Title, with their reserve team. The first eleven was being saved for the next match against opponents who were also in relegation trouble.
    A coach or manager should view a match against a stronger and, individually, superior team as a challenge. He must use his coaching skills to pit his wits against the opposition coach and sometimes the inferior team can come out on top. If there is interference from club owners and other people higher up, which I think is a real possibility in some cases, then the coach must let them know in no uncertain terms, that he is in charge and he will do everything in his power to achieve a positive result with his best team.
    Last weekend, prior to the Sporting Gijon match, Barcelona played Celta Vigo at the Nou Camp. That was an entirely different encounter because, although Barcelona recorded a 6 – 1 win, that was not a reflection of the 90 minutes play. Celta went into the match with a plan to mark Barca man for man all over the pitch. It was an ambitious decision by their coach and ultimately they crumbled with exhaustion in the face of Barca brilliance. But for much of the match their plan worked well and they gave their opponents some problems. In one of the early season matches on their own ground, Celta put four past Barcelona. But since then results have gone against them and they have slipped down the table. But I hope that they recover because their coach has the courage to take on the best by instilling belief into his players.

  11. Detail is important when coaching and developing players at all levels, but it is recognition of details in competitive play that makes a quality player. The higher the playing level the faster recognition must happen. It is only through realistic practice followed by games suitably adjusted at each level that fast appreciation of situations can be acquired.
    A great example of fast recognition and quick response is Lionel Messi. He has been allowed by those who have worked with him to continue with a playing style throughout his football life. He recognises situations because he has confronted them from a child. In fact, he has reached a stage where he is so aware that he waits for situations to occur and then responds….brilliant !

  12. I was disappointed with the reaction to the foul committed by Dele Alli last Thursday in the Europa League match against Fiorentina. Alli clearly put his foot into the Fiorentina player when he was on the ground and the Tottenham player should have received a red card for a serious foul play. But Pochettino was more intent on emphasising the need for a mean streak in the make-up of an outstanding player and did not condemn Alli’s actions as I feel he should have done.
    Alli has shown a lot of promise this season and has been fast-tracked into the England senior team as well as Tottenham’s first team. But he is far from the finished product and we seem to be in danger of yet again failing to fully develop a promising player. We want to teach him to be a winner and a competitor before we have fully taught him how to play the game.
    He has many attributes to become a very good player but he still needs considerable coaching in technical skills and the development of football intelligence to really fulfil his potential. I think that in England we have failed to produce many outstanding players because we stopped short of fully developing their talent. We have produced players with great heart and never say die attitude but have failed to cover the details in their football education that Roger talks about.

  13. “Detail is important when coaching and developing players at all levels, but it is recognition of details in competitive play that makes a quality player. The higher the playing level the faster recognition must happen. It is only through realistic practice followed by games suitably adjusted at each level that fast appreciation of situations can be acquired.”
    This in a nutshell says it all !!!

  14. Anyone who loves the game of football should try to see this present Barcelona team play live. As I have said for decades (with scant response from football’s coaching hierarchy I might add) “football’s not simply a team game, it’s a game for INDIVIDUALS who combine when necessary.”
    We continue to produce ‘ROBOTS’ not footballers. Barcelona, have footballers in every position from Ter Stegen to Neymar, all are —- SKILLED TRADESMEN not labourours! Whilst we continue to employ inexperienced ‘academics’ to administer coaching and development, we will never close the ability gap and robotic organisation will be prioritised over individualism and the game here will continue down the road to boring predictability.
    Thank you Barcelona, for having the foresight to develop a fascinating game-style and also as a club, ………. having the ‘guts’ to play it !

  15. If any one of the top three in La Liga – Barcelona, Atletico Madrid or Real Madrid – played in the Premier League, I am sure they would win it comfortably. The standard of our League has been poor this season. It has been refreshing to see a new team, Leicester City, challenging for the Title, but they have benefitted from the low standard. Similarly, Tottenham deserve credit for achieving good results whilst promoting young English talent, but if they were playing in La Liga they would be well out of the running by now.
    The English Title battle is exciting but this is no substitute for quality. It is often pointed out that in the Premier League there is no such thing as an easy game and there is always the possibility of a lowly team beating a team from the top four. But this is due to a levelling down in standards and those ‘fighting’ qualities, which are important, but play too big a part in the final result.
    All the time, the numbers of players available to the England team who take the field in the Premier League each weekend gets less and less. I see the situation getting even worse next season, when the clubs get their share of the enormous new TV deal and even more top foreign talent will be brought over to our League. In these circumstances, a Tottenham League Title success would be the best thing that could happen for our football at the moment.

  16. best bit of football was at Juventus, when the centre back under pressure receives the goal kick on the edge of the 18, performs no touch turn and proceeds to carry the ball into the opposition half.
    Can we please produce players that can do that.

  17. Hello,

    I’m just wondering if you could help me?

    My name’s Shanie Herbert – I am a Researcher at a production company called Shine North and we’re looking at filming an advert with the LAD BIBLE. Thus, I’m in search of some England football-mad LADS that have a funny story to tell about why they love football and perhaps the lengths they’ve gone to for their love of it!

    If there’s anyone you think would be suitable, they can contact me at

    Thanks so much


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