Where’s the runners – with the ball?

By John Cartwright

I see players enter the field ready to ‘do battle’, their ‘monitor vests’ firmly strapped to their chests; how far will they run today? Of course fitness is a vital part of most sporting events, but has an obsession with fitness levels overcome playing skills and game understanding? I think so!

I see players run non-stop in games at all age levels, I also see them use physical force that is often closer to aggression than competitiveness. Physicality has usurped playing skills throughout our game and force not fantasy rules it.


I see one and two touch practises take priority over staying with the ball as an option with passes made irrespective of necessity and penetrative alternatives are ignored.

I see players pass the ball to marked colleagues when they themselves are in open space. There is no consideration of creating an overload situation, for simplicity rules our game!

I see players find themselves in gaps in opposing defensive systems that have opened up but passes are made sideways and backwards and attacking opportunities go amiss.

I see penetrative situations fail because supporting players don’t understand how to react to these situations and a player on the ball either gives it away cheaply or makes an unnecessary ‘possession drilled’ pass and another attacking opportunity goes to waste.

I see passes HIT and not STROKED to colleagues which more often than not produces a poor control and lost possession of the ball.

I could go on and on, but where are the players who have the ability to make positive decisions when on the ball?  Where are the Bobby Charlton’s, the Jimmy Greaves, the George Best’s, the Kenny Dalglish’s, the Stanley Matthew’s, the Tom Finney’s? etc. etc. Coaching in today’s terms cannot produce such exciting individuals, boring, simplistic, mediocrity is now the pinnacle of success. Those who have shaped our development methods over the years are seeing the ‘robotic’ disaster they have created.


Running with the ball – and staying on the ball to create problems for defenders seems to have disappeared from our game. Losing possession whilst attempting to be creative and positive in this way must not be seen as a failure but a learning experience that players can only improve if allowed to continue and find the answers. There is nothing more exciting in the game than players who run with the ball past opponents and through gaps; there are no better examples than today’s foreign stars, Messi and Ronaldo? Nobody will ever convince me that players like these have not failed time and again in their effort to beat opposing players – but they have shown personal courage to continue even after failure. Those who have been involved in their development must also be highly praised as well for their courage to allow them to carry on and refusing to impose the ‘play it simple’ option too readily.

Football is a clever game as well as a difficult game to play. This simplicity nonsense that is continually haled as the way to play must be discontinued if we are to produce players with creative ability. We must find and use development methods that insure the production of skills and game awareness with players ready to run positively with the ball whenever possible. Without ‘coaching courage’ the game becomes just a ‘robotic production line’…. A Morris minor would love to have been a Mercedes but production requirements of industrial corporations don’t work that way, but structured manufacturing methods should not apply to the development of footballers…..John Doe, can be moulded into a Lionel Messi, but first our football production line must begin to favour Greatness more than Grimness! By establishing a development system that has greatness as the pinnacle to achieve would lift everything at lower levels towards higher playing standards and so benefit all playing levels of our game.

A University is not expected to produce students with mediocre ability. High grades are expected overall with the some reaching the highest academic standards ….. the ‘Messi, Ronaldo standards’! Like a University education, higher expectations in the teaching, learning and playing the game must become essential objectives in football development in the future.



34 thoughts on “Where’s the runners – with the ball?

  1. I agree with your observations. My local pro club has a player who can dribble past people for fun, but they tend to play him as a sub and always on the wing. He excites the crowd and with a more free role or one in field where he is more involved in the play more often could, I believe, make more of an impact on the game.
    New age phase priorities recently introduced by The FA as part of their DNA development actively encourage players to ‘stay on’ and ‘ excite with’ the ball. If we can convince coaches, at all levels of the importance of these basic building blocks, which you describe, we may finally make some forward progress

    • Could you please translate “new age phase priorities” and does this plan have to rely on grassroots coaches who generally have nfi and care even less .

      • “Age Phase Priorities” for coaches to consider key areas to build and develop skills. Relies on coaches at all levels takingbon developing ideas for better development of players.

      • Not sure grassroots coaches don’t care. The key is persuading them to persevere with new ideas and to accept they will find it difficult, initially, to become proficient at using new material.
        If we know that learning is not linear and can be ‘messy’ for children why would it be different for coaches?
        We need to support coaches to persist with new approaches and help them to recognise that they will feel awkward but that gradually it will get easier, so long as they don’t succumb to temptation and revert to what feels comfortable. As coaches we need to stretch ourselves in the same way that we would likevplayers to stretch themselves

    • thanks for the link,
      does grassroots coaching support the FA vision ?
      How does the FA get the message across to grassroots when even FA community clubs dont appear to have technical directors
      What course and model sessions can a grassroots coach attend and get this message, and where are freely available model sessions to support this ?

      Slightly off topic , but i have 2 rellos in grassroots and the coaching ignorance is amazing, 2 rello in elite and again one has to question coaching knowledge.
      returning to the UK has been an eye opener , as the same discussions are still being had when i departed , mean while the rest of the world moves forward in the football development.

  2. It is appropriate that the article is headed up with a photograph of George Best. Running with the ball requires good balance and great players who ran with the ball, like Best, had this in abundance. The Irish wizard developed his running and dribbling ability on the hard streets of Belfast and if he took a tumble then a fall would be a very painful experience. So he learnt to ride and evade the tackles and staying on his feet was a priority.
    When Best joined Manchester United as a young teenager, he trained in the mornings but then went back for extra work in the afternoons. This ‘unofficial’ training was organised by senior pros for young apprentices who had come from all around the country and hoped to make a career for themselves at the famous club. A game was set up on a pitch laid with cinders and the senior players took every opportunity to crunch-tackle any talented youngster. A fall on the cinder pitch ripped the skin off the legs of many young players but Best remained largely unmarked. His balance, trickery and lightening reactions, saved him from the effects of physical punishment and it soon became apparent to everyone that here was a great talent.
    That’s not the way we want to coach our young players today, of course, but we must allow all of them the time to fully exploit and express their abilities. It seems to me that many youngsters, from the earliest age, are categorised into a section marked ‘limited ability’ and any attempt to develop their individualism is abandoned.

  3. Interesting observations lads I remember as well that Busby told the coaches to “leave him alone” and don t try to change him.John also gave us the concept of introducing to the players the vision of “route planning ‘ before and during dribbling which is second nature to the Bests/Messi’s of this world who developed on the street.

  4. It’s always interesting to read these posts. I seldom reply. I’ve a bit of time on my hands today!

    I think the referral to GPS is a bit of a red herring. It depends on the philosophy behind the use of GPS. It can and is used to reduce the amount of running. If managers ask players to run they will run. Like anything else, it’s a tool and some people are better at using them than others.

    There does need to be more players that aren’t afraid to take on players. There can always be more. But as an earlier ‘poster’ stated that is something that is encouraged now. I don’t know if it was before but it does seem like a succession of philosophies that were adopted were more risk aversive.

    In my limited experience, defences are unbalanced by quick, forward play and often, even if the dribble doesn’t ‘work’ the next phase can see something positive happen. I did some analysis for a semi pro team a few years back and they were more successful when they had more possessions rather than more possession. So they took players on, unbalanced the defence, lost it, won it back, tried again etc. Those possessions tended to be higher up the pitch.

    In terms of players being more aggressive nowadays. I’m not sure. If Best were playing now he’d have thrived under the non contact version of the game we now see.

    The game is all about opinions.

    • Hi David. Best, would certainly enjoy himself in games today; not because the game is ‘softer’ competitively. but because players who played against him would be unable to cope with his individualism and would, on many occasions. get RED carded leaving him with less opposition to play against!

  5. Hi David. I am certainly not averse to new ideas and products being used in the game. I’m sure that if they are well trialled they can be of great benefit. However, the introduction of equipment for fitness, practice etc. has not improved the playing skills required for the game. Everything is supplementary to quality ability. I’m not suggesting these supplementary aspects aren’t important, but we must not discount the overall importance of playing skills and game understanding—–and this requires quality teaching of the game !
    I watch games at all age levels and players do not tackle correctly. Referees, allow tackles to be made that are dangerous and often totally unnecessary. Stand-up tackles are becoming a thing of the past — now players slide at each other more often than not causing injuries. Players are fitter and faster than in the past and this combined with limited playing ability too often results in aggressive contacts — players wern’t more ‘he-men’ in previous days, they were just better at the skills of the game —- even in several inches of mud!
    Possession football is vitally important —see Barcelona — what must be understood with possession football is, — has a penetrative opportunity been esablished from it to be exploited? players today fail to recognise these penetrative opportunities and rely on simplistic methods to continue with the ball. Negative responses to positive opportunities has become a feature of the game. Giving the ball away and resorting to ‘scrimmage’ football is where our game stands today and unless we reconfigure a more skilfull approach to the game we will not break the boring physical conflicts we call football.

  6. I see it all the time at all levels of the game.Grass roots coaches spending hours on the latest FIFA fitness programme with kids who can t recieve the ball properly with both feet but it uses up time and needs no coaching expertise.Coaches at all levels using the latest mannequin (the latest craze is blow up mannequins ) cos its topical but has no relevance to realistic coaching but it looks good.Now GPS cos its shows how far and fast you run before passing with no quality or understanding.!!!

  7. Hi all. When will our ‘football academic hierarchy’ begin to talk in away that we ordinary football folk can understand what they’re talking about.
    DNA of Performance Philosophy and now New age phase priorities. Who are they trying to impress? Certainly the true football public will not appreciate such out of place, academic rubbish.

  8. Picking up on John’s last comment, I am very disappointed with the direction in which the FA Coaching Scheme is heading. A little while ago i thought that the inclusion of coaches from the profesional game into the St. George’s Park structure, with a good club background like Geoff Pike (West Ham) and Ted Dale (Chelsea), was resulting in a huge amount of football knowledge and coaching expertise being pumped into courses and work shops.
    Unfortunately, this has been sabotaged by jargon and terminology that only causes confusion and attempts to hide the simplistic nature of our football which, the FA claims, is aimed at bringing World Cup success in 2022.
    Success in a major international tournament is as far away as it has ever been in the last forty odd years. We are simply not addressing the vital issue of youth development correctly and whilst aspects of Premier Skills methodology are clearly visible on some FA Courses, the continuity and way it all links together, from what I have seen, is not there. Until these vital issues are addressed then the next English winners of World Cup medals have not yet been born.

  9. One of the big attractions of practice play methodology was the staying with the ball start point. What a great concept. I.ve been walking the grass on Saturday and Sunday mornings for 8yrs and all to often I have heard adults bereating players who seek to stay on the ball. I’ve heard academy coaches vow to get that player to pass the ball rather than exploit there natural inclination to run and stay with the ball. I’ve spent the last 3yrs trying to encourage my child to not be ordinary and push against the tide. The system in England produces very few coaches who are brave enough to allow a player to fail and keep trying. Unlike Argentina or Brazil or other south american countries.
    Well now the fa want to encourage staying on the ball !!! How long has it taken
    John and roger have a ready made excellent methodology to produce all the things we now want to see.
    The kids are their I watch them play uninterrupted until the academy system gets them

  10. Hi all. I’m fuming at the pompous, arrogant, ridiculous wording that has been introduced into coaching. It’s about time the misfits running (ruining) development here came down off their pedestals and started to live in the real football world where instruction should include clarity. The academic garbage that is at present supposed to represent football terminology does nothing for the teaching of the game but adds confusion for inexperienced coaches. Good coaching requires good practice combined with clear and purposeful language —– not academic ‘bull….’ !

  11. One couldn’t help but admire the way PSG went about their business at Stamford Bridge. They were more capable that the home side at ‘marrying up’ conjoining with team play.

    It stood out like a sore thumb that the Parisians were far more comfortable on the ball in their back four – Silva and Luiz especially – and this is where the good things began for them. Proficient at PLAY-ROUNDS and penetrative passing forward they were able to dominate the match with well-weighted passes. PSG knew when to go back to change to go forward.

    Furthermore, their game style allowed for clever ‘mobility’ in front of the Chelsea defence and outside the centre backs. Taking up the HALF-POSITIONS John talks about, PSG led Chelsea on a merry dance at times.

    Tactically, they were very good and Chelsea couldn’t handle that aspect.

    However, it was the application of these tactical ploys that enabled the key ‘individuals’ to make a difference and win the game.

  12. PSG were extremely impressive this week in the Champions’ League against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. But so also were Borussia Dortmund in their Europa League 1st leg home tie against Tottenham. I have been heartened by Pochettino’s willingness to promote young English players since he came to the Premier League, but they were outclassed in Germany.
    Our League is exciting and a close fought contest. In France PSG had Ligue 1 virtually settled by Christmas whilst in the Bundesliga, Dortmund are closing the gap on Bayern but no one else is in sight. But until the Premier League hype is reduced and the media view the football on offer with a more critical eye, then we shall continue to struggle, not only at National Team level but also in the European club competitions where past domination now seems a distant memory.
    If you look at the performance of centre half David Luiz of PSG then you see a quality defender skilled at interceptions in defensive situations and reading the game, but also confident and intelligent at coming forward with the ball into midfield. When he was with Chelsea he was eventually considered a liability and a poor defender. But with PSG the tempo varies and he is able to dictate the flow of the game: when to slow it down and when to quicken it up. He was uncomfortable with Chelsea in a style of football when constant high pace was demanded and it is this problem of inability to vary pace that I think is one of our biggest problems.

  13. Reading John’s continued open criticism of the FA Coaching Scheme one could be led into thinking that this applied really only to England.

    Well, maybe those with an authorative voice in other territories, that follow the English malaise, should also start beating the drum.

    Don’t leave it up to John.

  14. Hi Brazil94. It is becoming painfully obvious to anyone who watches the game here that there is a massive problem already deeply set into our game —- we are watching ROBOTIC FOOTBALL PLAYED BY ROBOTICALLY DRILLED PLAYERS! — and nobody seems prepared to face up to this problem.This situation can only have been created by the formalised approach that has been set out in the coaching programs that have been applied to development here over many years. How else could such a general playing malaise ‘infect’ our game other than through a regular ‘dosage’ of robotic learning methods. There is little wrong with the fitness levels of our players at all ages — they’ll ‘fight and scrap’ for 90mins+ but with very little playing content. Individualism has become a lost art and because of this our game has become ‘bogged down’ with repetitive, simplisity.
    Unless our game rejects the over-structured coaching and playing infrastructure that has blighted development here over decades we will continue down the ‘academic’ — by the book methods, that have brought us to this boring, relentless playing level we have now. Football is a sporting show; it should present colour, excitement and talent and not dull regularity. The long hours of football learning once acquired in streets and playgrounds that produced the real stars of the past has gone forever, but that does not mean that intelligent coaching methods cannot replace those ‘golden hours’ of yesterday. I use the word intelligent because it applies directly to the present need for carefully applied practical realism to be introduced into development —– PRACTICE THE GAME IN A REALISTIC WAY–THEN PLAY WHAT YOU’VE PRACTISED. Develop the individual who can ‘go it alone’ or join with others if necessary. Has anyone been watching BARCELONA over the last decade— Inspiring aren’t they?

  15. “The long hours of football learning once acquired in streets and playgrounds that produced the real stars of the past has gone forever, but that does not mean that intelligent coaching methods cannot replace those ‘golden hours’ of yesterday. I use the word intelligent because it applies directly to the present need for carefully applied practical realism to be introduced into development —– PRACTICE THE GAME IN A REALISTIC WAY–THEN PLAY WHAT YOU’VE PRACTISED. Develop the individual who can ‘go it alone’ or join with others if necessary. ”
    This should be written down as one of the guiding principles for coaches working at any level .

  16. Sorry, missed a few days and quite a few comments. My perspective, for what it’s worth….

    In response to dirk says:
    March 6, 2016 at 8:02 pm
    To be fair; most GR coaches are amateurs, a lot of whom believe they ‘know’ football and are reluctant to do more courses or self-development than the minimum required. Others are unable (through life commitments) or unwilling to make the sacrifice that is required to take on more study (whether courses, in service events or just observing more experienced coaches) because it’s “a hobby” or” just” to allow their child to take part. In football, there is a belief that ‘anyone can coach, it’s just football’ which maybe contributes towards a denigration of any formal education in the game with high profile pundits and ex-players perpetuating that view.

    In response to dirk says:
    March 8, 2016 at 12:57 pm
    A lot of grassroots coaches do support The FA Vision. The FA gets the messages across via formal courses, free to attend local workshops for coaches, the free to access FA Licensed Coaches Club members’ website, free to dial in to webinars, via the electronic and physical coaching magazine “The Boot Room”, via social media, through local and national conferences, The FA Coach Mentoring Scheme (where coaches are supported, on the grass, in their own environment via a funded scheme by the FA and Sport England) and so on.

    Some coaches limit their own exposure to further learning either through lack of time (as mentioned above) or because they think they have nothing more to learn.

    Model sessions are provided at attendance events and there are readily available practice sessions via the Future Game book templates which are also available, free, via the members’ website mentioned above.

    Charter Standard clubs have shown that they have a well-established set of ethics in place, positive policies to deal with child welfare and have at least minimal coach qualifications for their volunteer workforce.

    Technical Directors at clubs would be a question for their own club structure and philosophy and like you, I would think that would be advantageous. However, again, one of the issues I have come across is that some clubs are reluctant to ‘tell’ their volunteers what to do / how to coach in case they lose them (and, sometimes the players as well). Having said that, some GR clubs are now modelling their structure on the professional clubs with Foundation (5-11) and Youth Development (12-16) phase groups and ‘head’ coaches at those age groups to try and support the coaches (most usually parent/coach volunteers) with their development.

    I have, actually, been advocating for years a semi-professional structure at GR clubs to allow ‘intentional coaches’ (experienced, well qualified) to be head coaches and work with parent volunteers to develop their skills and understanding for the benefit of players and the game as well as the coaches themselves. Having said that, when I have offered ‘in house’ coach development sessions at a GR club at which I used to volunteer I was disappointed with the low numbers that would attend; usually the ones attending were the same people who were keen for new ideas and approaches

    I guess we can all identify good and less good practitioners in all walks of life; teachers, doctors, police officers, shop assistants. The degree to which people have knowledge and experience depends on their involvement, training, personal development etc. Again, if they have not been exposed to coaching, playing or education (as is the case with some volunteer parent/coaches) although less so with elite coaches, but again, depends on experience etc. You only get so much from formal courses; the rest is built on trial and error, mentoring, personal research, observation etc

    In response to David says:
    March 7, 2016 at 9:11 am
    Certainly the FA Vision and ‘DNA’ as well as the ‘Age Phase Priorities” highlights the importance of ball mastery, control and manipulation as well as having the bravery to have the ball under pressure. Perhaps coaches in the past were more inclined to a pragmatic, risk averse approach to the game but my view is that that is changing.

    In response to John Cartwright says:
    March 8, 2016 at 10:42 am
    I believe The FA is merely trying to find a common way to promote a change in the way the game should be perceived, coached and played. The phrase “DNA” merely means this is something that is part of our ‘make up’. It’s common parlance in business and other walks of life having been integrated from science. But if you talk to anyone in the street to explain what DNA means, they will have a pretty good idea. In this context, it’s what the FA is looking to be part of our ‘make up’ as we try to move our game forward. As a by-the-way, the reference I made above wasn’t so much the “NEW Age Phase Priorities” but the “Age Phase Priorities”.

    Not so much academic speak but trying to show coaches (at all levels) that there are certain things that they should concentrate on at different ages of player development to ensure a progressive and well-ordered development.
    Again, relating these to the pro club academies, most people (especially coaches) now understand, I think, the Foundation and Youth Development phases and this is just trying to say, well, if the pro-clubs work to this structure, so can the amateur game – the game is the game after all. It’s trying to provide a ready reference / easy structure for even volunteer coaches to look to and be able to plan meaningful practice and approach to the game.

    In response to Steve Haslam says:
    March 9, 2016 at 10:58 am
    Again, I don’t believe anything is being ‘sabotaged’ by jargon and terminology. In all walks of life there is jargon; business, education, sport, media – it’s just a sort of verbal shorthand that allows people to have ready reference points for whichever ‘business’ or industry they are in.
    Youth development is definitely being addressed by the approach to coaching, with newly revised, fewer courses about to be launched later this year with a closer link and approach between them and consistent messages from the national governing body.
    Interestingly, I have read, at length, the ‘Kick In the Right Direction’ report that was commissioned back in the early 90’s by the PFA (I think, from memory) who, amongst other things, expressed a desire that the FA should have no part in the development of youth players or the programmes of work set up by pro-clubs for the development of youth players. If that has been the case (which, to a large extent it has), then the fault of any inappropriate or poor youth development rests firmly at the gates of the clubs, not The FA (although accepting that they have provided the accredited coaching courses – but see comments above about how good coaches develop and from where they get their learning)

    In response to
    John Cartwright says:
    March 10, 2016 at 11:12 pm
    – I can only speak for the people with whom I have had contact and personal interaction but I can honestly say that they have a genuine interest in talking the game forward, at all levels. There is a common sense of purpose and no stone is being left unturned in trying to construct a positive football future for the National Game. I believe they are now providing much needed clarity and direction and including all parts of the game not just the ‘elite’.

    I don’t think the wording or terminology is intended to be pompous, as I mention earlier, I think a lot of the wording is in common use in a variety of environments these days. “DNA” I touched on above. Age Phase Priorities links with Foundation, Youth Development and Professional Development (Senior Development) Phases used in academies and is now common across GR and academy discussions. It sets out some simple and relevant areas for young player development at different ages and, perhaps gives, especially grassroots, coaches a lead on things they should concentrate on rather than a mish-mash of things where coaches feel they have to teach everything right now

    Previously, football has used phrases such as “Total Football”, “The Whirl”, “Catenaccio”, “False 9”, “WM”, “Tiki-Taka”, “Gegenpressing” etc and we came to use and incorporate those terms into our understanding of the game. Language and jargon, evolves and so long as we have a common understanding, I don’t think we should let it become a major issue.

    The FA is looking at what can be learned from abroad, but also ensuring that we don’t lose what makes us who we are; the people there are seeking new solutions and trying to marry the best of all worlds in creating a new history in which we can all share. The FA is doing things differently and trying to take us all on a journey. They won’t get everything right, few organisations do (even Brazil don’t win every World Cup), but I honestly believe that it is in good hands and football in this country is moving in the right direction.

    Finally, this post and responses tends to focus on ‘our’ football – presumably about its Englishness or at least Britishness.
    So far as The Premier League is concerned, (and increasingly the Championship) I wonder how much of it is actually ‘our’ football. The league is populated with managers, coaches and players who presumably had their football education from more “enlightened” regimes or countries.

    Whilst I accept that the viewing public here, generally, still prefers fast, combative football which contributes to what is played on the pitch, I would wonder whether or not the style we see on show is really ‘ours’ any more.

    Increasingly, though, I think there is more spectator sophistication as a result of being able to see some of the best teams in the world live on TV almost every evening and I think there is a move towards more recognition of progressive, intelligent play (as alluded to by John in a post from a few years’ ago now about educating the watching public).

    Now, having said all that, there is a Premier Skills Practice Play Level 1 course available at Ifield, Crawley, Sussex this Saturday 19th March delivered by Dave Williams. There’s still time to enrol and you won’t be disappointed:

    • Hi Steve. I have been around the coaching and development scene here since the mid 1950’s. During that time I have seen ‘natural’ development exchanged for ‘programmed’ development. This situation was necessary as social economics improved throughout the country. In combination with this, Schoolteachers interested in football were invited into the Pro. Game as scouts (they were close to football in schools and often did the job cheaply)
      I saw coaching events gradually draw more and more inexperienced ‘students’ receive coaching certification that has been totally inadequate in supplying a suitable teaching foundation for the game. Like so many areas of life, so many aspects of it are controlled by people who have insufficient practical background for the jobs…….football is no different. Our game here has faltered over the years due to ‘unhinged’ coaching programs that lead nowwhere. I wrote the Premier Skills Coaching Programs to establish a gradual ‘pathway’ of realistic practical work that combined towards a playing vision…GAME-STYLE. Within each development level vitally important playing aspects were highlighted for …..INDIVIDUALS and GROUP/TEAM improvement.
      I have seen aspects of my work introduced into coaching ….but with no regard for the importance of continuity. It is a well-defined development process that has realism and clarity and offers a workable pathway towards greatness that we need not bits and pieces put together and supported by non-football language.

      • Hi John,

        That’s where I think Premier Skills’ “Practice Play” methodology and the 5 degrees of work comes into its own.

        We delivered a Practice Play Level 1 at Crawley yesterday with Dave Williams. The coaches all liked the work and, especially, made several comments about the graduated detail provided all of which, because of the nature of the practice, is directly related to ‘the game’.

        We were fortunate to have the legendary Steve Haslam attend as well who, along with Dave, as an active coach and exponent of the methodology for many years was able to help encourage the coaches that this work has a consistent application, over weeks, months and years and that it is not a ‘quick fix’ or an occasional ‘session’ to be added in.

        He was able to add context of the benefits of working consistently with the approach and detail (the continuity you mention above) and that it is unnecessary to change the practice every week and find a new ‘whizzy’ practice from the internet (as many coaches feel they should).

  17. I have just been on a short trip to Holland with a group of coaches with the opportunity to study the coaching methods employed in the Youth Academies of two clubs playing in the top division in Holland – PSV Eindhoven and Willem II. This followed a similar trip to Holland last year when the clubs visited were AZ Alkmaar and Feyenoord.
    From what I have observed there is quite a similar situation to that which exists in England. There are some coaches who still employ similar coaching methods and practices that they recall from their own playing days. These are in the form of drills or repetitive practices but are performed in a way where the pace and intensity of match play is missing and consequently there is a lack of realism. That is not to say that all this work is worthless because it is not, but the coaches who use this approach are perhaps reluctant to look at different approaches because they feel that what they did in their day as players was good enough for them and so it should be good enough for the modern day player.
    There was an example of contrasting coaching methodology one day at Willem II. A coach who was working with a group of Under 16 players was coaching an overlap practice with the players working from two groups. They were attacking two separate goals at either end of the coaching area and the players moved from one end of the area to the other as they completed each movement in an attempt to produce a smooth tempo. It was a simple overlap, resulting in either a high or low cross for a striker to finish as the ball was played in.
    Unfortunately, the practice was performed too slowly and passes were made when, had there been opposition, they would never have reached their intended target. I thought that the coach compounded the lack of value in his work when, after about 20 minutes of working on this practice, he used the coaching area to set up a ‘keep ball’ game. Though there was now fluid movement there was no connection between this work and the practice that he had previously been doing. There was no progression from the first practice into the ‘keep ball’ because his second exercise bore no relevance to the work he had done just before – it was purely a possession practice with no transference of an overlap element which the coach had previously worked on.
    However, observation of coaching done with a slightly older group with a different coach at Willem revealed what I thought was much better work. This coach played a 5 v 5 game in the coaching area with a floating player who played for whichever team had possession. There was a target player at each end of the pitch.The object was for the team in possession to find the target player at the end of the area to which they playing and, having achieved this, they then switched to playing towards the target player at the opposite end. The additional value of the practice was the fact that the team with the ball, on achieving possession, immediately positioned a player wide on each side of the pitch, resembling a wing back, with the remaining players adopting a shape of backs, midfield and forwards to attack swiftly towards the end to which they were playing. It was evident that what the coach was particularly looking at was the work of the two wide players and each attack had to be channelled through these two players. They were coached to work very hard and effectively in the wide areas, in both an ‘in possession’ situation and an ‘out of possession’ situation.
    The work performed with this group was of a much higher tempo and the players were playing in, and reacting to, realistic game situations rather than the unrealistic and slow tempo work observed with the other group of players. The work done with the second group of players would have been ideal as a follow on practice to the drill performed by the first group rather than going into a ‘keep ball’ session which did not relate to the drill which had just been done.
    Incidentally, we saw a Jupiler League match, Jong PSV Eindhoven U23s v Helmond Sport (Seniors). The quality, especially that of Jong PSV, was excellent and their centre forward wearing number 9, Steven Bergwijn, looked a very exciting prospect indeed.

    • Hi Steve. We must break this obsession with constant speed in the playing of the game. Controlled ‘preparation play’ followed by incisive ‘penetrations’ throughout the four play-round zones must be taught, understood and used to better effect in football here. Acceleration in playing speed must occur when positive opportunities have been created and speed to exploit them is required.
      Our ‘fast at all times’ approach to the game is, in my opinion, a weakness not a strength. There is an attempt here to remedy ‘fast football’ with ‘possession football’, but there does not seem to be sufficient recognition of when to penetrate at speed when opportunities present themselves.
      What a player understands about the game at 21 must be carefully, constructively and gradually taught during the development years. This is not happening here and so we see speed as a camouflage for poor game understanding and limited ability.

  18. I want to thank John particularly and Roger and Sam for the impressive ‘Body of Work’ that is making up this blog. The individual parts are first class; and as a genuine collection of practical knowledge, of tips, coaching advice it is monumental.

    The devil is in the detail and John’s writing represents the ‘REAL’ deal.

    Therefore, I find it a major enigma that a National FA has not thus far used this philosophical and practical ideas as the basis for significant change.

  19. I was impressed with Chelsea’s U18 team in last Friday’s televised FA Youth Cup semi final 1st leg against Blackburn. They passed the ball well, kept good possession and defended intelligently when they had to. Apparently, every player in the Chelsea team is eligible to play for England. This is a refreshing change because many of the youth teams at Premier League clubs, in the 16 – 21 years age bracket, have players taken from the Academies of foreign clubs.
    Before the advent of the Premier League and the influx of foreign players, I think that half of those Chelsea players would be getting games in the first team by now. Under-performing first team players, which describes many of Chelsea’s players this season, would have lost their places to these promising youngsters in days gone by. I recall in the early sixties, when Tommy Docherty got the Manager’s job at Chelsea, he dropped most of the first team regulars and replaced them with talented young players. If I remember rightly, that’s how Venables, Hollins, Houseman and others got their chance which they seized with both hands.
    Although we often rightly criticise poor youth development in this country, when we do see evidence of good, well coached talent it is vitally important that this talent is given every opportunity to progress.
    I was also interested to learn that the Chelsea U18 coach is aged only 29 years having been a former Chelsea youth player himself but did not make the grade. Because the Chelsea team showed evidence of very good coaching, it is to be hoped that he too is allowed to make good progression through the club.

  20. I just want to echo the comments of Steve The Seagull concerning the Premier Skills Level 1 Course at Crawley last Saturday. Thanks to Steve and Dave Williams for putting on an excellent course and for allowing me to be of assistance.
    Whenever i have been on a Premier Skills Coaching Course, I have noticed that practically all attendees, almost without exception, have been wholly enthusiastic about the work. I think that it is important to repeat that it is not a magic formula and everyone who has done the course should take every opportunity to attend further courses at the same Level, so as to completely embed the work. Once you have paid for the initial course then you can attend as many further courses at that Level as you wish without charge.
    I think that a good point was made last Saturday, that as coaches we often fall back on practices which we are familiar with and feel most comfortable with. I think that patience and perseverence are vital when introducing the Premier Skills work and not overloading the players with too much information and detail in the early stages. There are weeks and months, maybe years, of work in Level 1 alone. I feel that the Game Practice is the centre point of the session and the Small Group Practice and Small Area Practice support this. Players of all ages always prefer the game as the best part of training, so if that is the central part of the session then I think the methodology will be embraced and liked by the majority of players.
    From my own experience, I think that the vital ages to introduce the Premier Skills Levels 1 and 2 work is in the 5 – 12 age group. I think that at the moment we are letting down this particular age range, so that when players progress into their teens and are introduced to tactical work, their technical skills and game intelligence are insufficiently developed to make the introduction of tactical work much more difficult than it should be.

  21. “I find it terrible when talents are rejected based on computer stats. Based on the criteria at Ajax now I would have been rejected. When I was 15, I couldn’t kick a ball 15 metres with my left and 20 with my right. My qualities, technique and vision, aren’t detectable by computer.”
    “Before I make a mistake, I make sure I don’t make that mistake.”
    Two quotes attributed to the late, great Johann Cruyff. He stands in the same exclusive group of all-time great coaches – Ron Greenwood, Pep Guardiola, Arrigo Sacchi, Rinus Michels, John Cartwright, Hennes Weisweiller. But Cruyff also belongs in the same bracket as the greatest players in the history of the game, alongside Messi, Pele, Maradonna, Best. This is where Cruyff was unique – he was a coach on the field, the general who commanded his troops, ran the game and controlled the tempo. In my experience, there has never been another player like him. He was Michels’s protégé and learnt everything from the great Dutch coach to help lay the foundations for others to take the Barcelona team, that we have seen for the last seven years, to a different level.
    I hope that the Wembley crowd on Tuesday will mark the great man’s passing with a memorable and fitting tribute.

  22. Johan Cruyff the player and Johan Cruyff the manager never compromised in his belief of playing the game beautifully always.

    His was not the pragmatic approach in matches. Okay, he was able to coach at the best in Holland with Ajax and then with Barcelona, and in both cases one could argue he had a head start on others, but his teams always tried to make the beautiful game even more beautiful…he always had players at the back who could all play.

    Nowadays, everywhere – even when it doesn’t matter too much – the result is always put before quality, or the holding onto a win by perhaps compromising during the match our values…Bravery only exists so far, yet with Cruyff it was always ‘Fortune Favouring the Brave’- Football was always the winner. How many of us coaching can hand on our hearts say that, with the attitude we project onto our teams?

  23. Should say: ‘How many of us coaching can hand on our hearts say that that is the attitude we project onto our teams?

  24. Hi Brazil94….Here is another quote from Cruyff which may surprise you:
    “Quality without results is pointless, results without quality is boring”.

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