A Way to Play

By John Cartwright

It seems the FA International Committee, have ‘sidelined’ their Coaching Director’s DNA Philosophy of Performance formula. In a recent meeting it is said that England teams follow the ‘playing script’ of the incumbent Manager and that a coaching formula such as Ashworth’s, is not required.

Nevertheless, I believe we should recognise the importance of establishing a suitable game-style that incorporates the ‘best of British with added Continental trimmings’ and is playable throughout our domestic football and transferable into international levels.


We must begin to teach our players from their earliest days to be individualistic. Irrespective of position, players must be comfortable on the ball and have a deep understanding of the game’s options in both def/att. situations. Their playing quality must be exhibited by their ability to recognise playing opportunities to select and then perform either individually or combine with team-mates as part of the team ‘pattern’ during a game.

There is often ‘heated’ discussion on whether Direct Play or Possession football is the way ahead and we have lurched between various versions of both over many years to find a suitable playing style. The answer to this ongoing puzzle is simple; we need to use a combination of both that can be utilised according to the dictates of a game.

To play attractive football is something to be earned in a game, it is not something easily acquired and must be keenly fought to achieve against robust opponents…..the British style. Once earned, players must be able to act positively both in recognising individual opportunities or to combine effectively with team-mates…..Continental  ‘trimmings’.


The selection of an international squad should consist of players who are highly skilled and have football intelligence. They must be capable of activating a ‘flexible’ playing style as mentioned through regular domestic competition. A playing method founded on skills, enhanced on regular domestic qualities and defined tactical adaptations would improve playing standards over time and increase the confidence, know-how and ability of all involved…..coaches/players …. Fans.

It is the job of national Team Managers’ to pick players who can provide skills and awareness to bring a domestic game-style together for success at international levels. The vision of a playing ‘mixture’ of British/Continental – direct/possession is not an impossible dream to achieve……. we almost have the basics of such a playing style already but do not have the belief or knowledge to combine both aspects correctly in my opinion.

By ‘tallying’ together a ‘flexible’ game-style played by both our clubs and national teams —- as almost everyone else in world football does, our players would be more confident by playing in a familiar way….. international Managers would remain in their roles for longer than at present……..and we might win some silverware along the way!


31 thoughts on “A Way to Play

    • Hi Chris. ‘Sidelined’ is a more appropriate word. There seems some discord in the ranks about DNA usage. Daily Mail July 25 and 27

  1. Respectfully as an FA Level 2 Coach many like me analyse games, coach technique, and help to enhance skills. We also identify players who have potential to adapt and express their own individuality to create “game changing” moments.

    Whilst principles in DNA and Coaching Formulas help us identify what we can coach, we perhaps instead need to let individuals stamp their mark on games – THAT is what makes football special and THAT is what we perhaps lack … To me it’s about encouraging extravagance as well as structure if we want to be the best … Money and “structure” count for absolutely nothing if you have that potential to show World class skill but are not allowed your chance to shine on the pitch.

    Club teams also need to give young English players their chance to develop too, instead of obsession with multi-million pound signings …. Avoiding “winning at all costs” is a grassroots principle, with “development football” being key, yet after a certain age this seems to be ignored ?

  2. The FA have just redesigned all coaching courses to reflect the DNA so if this is true they scraped where does leave theier coaching badges?

  3. Since Sam Allardyce was appointed England Manager/Coach, I have read a number of times in the press that under his leadership England are guaranteed to play with more passion and commitment than was displayed in Euro 2016. It has also been said that he would never allow England to be beaten by a team like Iceland: his man-management qualities and leadership skills would never allow it.
    Our short memories have let us down again. We forget that Iceland beat Holland both home and away in qualifying, a team that had finished third and second in the previous two World Cups. We do not face the fact that Iceland in the Stade de Nice presented England with problems they could not solve and their victory that night came as no surprise to anyone who follows international football with any degree of closeness.
    England’s international history is littered with displays and results like the one which saw their elimination from the Euro. Whatever the FA want to say about their DNA, we need players who individually and collectively, play with more intelligence and inventiveness than they displayed in that match.

    • Hi Steve. The recent England performance against Iceland, was a perfect example of inadequate tactical and individual quality in the squad. As I said in a previous ‘blog’ we lacked variation in our play and produced a ‘one style fits all situations approach’……..result…..failure!

  4. Hi all. After reading in this week’s Daily Mail about the recent confusion regarding the FA ‘s position regarding their Coaching/Playing methodology (DNA), it seems rather bizarre that they have promoted this development formula but seem to be less enthused about extending it into our national squads. Surely the whole idea of devlopment is towards top performance levels or what’s the point ? The situation does emphasise how progression through our international coaching ranks has not been seen as important and appointments at the top have been misplaced on most occasions.

  5. Hi John… The French team which has just won the UEFA Under 19 Championship, hammering Italy 4-0 in the Final, have both “tactical and individual quality” and frequently showed “variation in their play”. At Euro 2016, in the quarter final, the French senior team raced into a 4-0 lead by half time against England’s conquerors, Iceland, whilst also displaying these qualities.
    In the Under 19 Championship, England showed that they have some players of promise but little evidence of anyone who could be a game changer, with the possible exception of Lookman. The under age England teams must produce players with these special qualities, in the way France have done with players who have come through like Greisman, Pogba, Matuidi and Payet.
    Just before Euro 2016 started, the BBC screened a programme in which Thierry Henry went back to the French Coaching Academy at Clairfontaine to meet his old coaches and, I hoped, give an insight into the French coaching methods. Unfortunately we did not get this insight and the programme mainly consisted of old film clips of French successes in previous tournaments. But had we been given this insight then I think we would have seen how the French fully develop the individual and then bring the players together to play collectively as a team.

  6. Looking forward to allerdyce turning the national team into the ‘the new Iceland’ cos that is the best we can expect.
    English football still has further to fall .

  7. Hi all. I have been a strong believer in creating an English playing system that combines the best of our game and includes aspects from abroad that we are short of. Once visualised, a program can be built from junior through to senior levels that can bring success. Adaptations can be introduced as required and players would be able to play a game that is not boringly similar as at present, but exciting and unpredictable. Payers would be able to play with confidence built on a game-style familiarity having developed through a suitable program that transfers into competive match-play. ….KNOWS WHERE IT’S GOING AND IMPORTANTLY, KNOWS HOW TO GET THERE!!
    What do you believe we’re good at and what do you believe we need to introduce into our game from abroad. All aspects of the game can be considered; skills-tactics-fitness-psychology-dev. infrastructure(coaching/competitive games)-finance-etc.
    Unless we SEE a footballing future and PLAN accurately to achieve it, we will continue to stumble from failure to failure.
    Are we keep to jumping on a ‘Bus’ going in the wrong direction because we don’t know where we want to go to!
    I have my own vision, what do you ‘see’ as a playing future for this country?

  8. We still have the will to win in this country. Many of the foreign players who come into our League, comment on how the British players never give up. In many countries at least 50%, and often 75%, of the matches are a foregone conclusion and one team just goes through the motions of fulfilling the fixture. Most British players will still refuse to take this attitude and so the ‘battling’ qualities remain intact. You can see this attitude at all levels and in all age groups.
    I believe that the biggest crisis is in coaching and that which is given to the 5 – 12 year olds. As Roger Wilkinson said recently on this blog, these are the most important ages for coaching, but the ones which receive the poorest coaching. The indications are that the FA recognizes the problem but I don’t believe that the FA Youth Modules have provided the answer. I don’t see a better coaching scheme at the early age groups than that provided by Premier Skills and it urgently needs to be put in place as the National Coaching Scheme. If we can put something in place to compensate for the disappearance of ‘street football’, as Premier Skills Levels 1 and 2 do, then we shall be taking an enormous step forward. This should go hand-in-hand with caged play areas on all estates and childrens’ playgrounds in all parts of the country so that football, and all games for that matter, are played in tight areas of restricted space, so that from an early age children develop the ability to look for and create space.
    When the thorough and vital grounding has been achieved then young players will have far more in their ‘tool bag’ to play the game than they have at present. Then they can be introduced to tactics and different playing formations. Many team managers in grass roots junior football, because of their enthusiasm, try to introduce tactics far too early, having ignored the ‘individualism’ which Premier Skills constantly preaches. So we are getting young players totally ill-equipped to progress in the game, at all levels, because the early years were so badly neglected.

  9. West Ham’s left back, Aaron Cresswell, has been injured in pre-season training and is expected to be out for several months. Immediately, West Ham are in the market looking for a new left back, with a view to either a permanent transfer or getting someone in on loan. A number of names have been bandied about in the press and a transfer seems imminent.
    At one time, the immediate reaction of the club would have been to look at their reserve team left back or a promising youngster in the Youth Team. But now the reaction is to spend money and so often they get a player who is no better than what they have already got. So the pathway for another young player becomes blocked again.
    Although I have said previously that our coaching and youth development must be improved, we must also make much better use of the talent we currently have. There is a complete lack of patience because that is what’s needed to bring on young players and that is particularly the case during their early games for the first team. The fans have an important role to play here because their demands for success must be tempered when young players are introduced to the senior team, especially in the case of injuries to first team regulars.

  10. “the English don’t think until they have the ball at their feet…we don’t think about the first man. We think of the third man, the one who has to run. If I get the ball, the third man can run immediately because he knows I will pass to the second man, and he will give it to him. If I delay, the third man has to delay his run and the moment is over. It is that special moment, that special pass.”
    This sums up the Dutch philosophy and how ‘cerebral’ their game has been compared to us British over the past four decades…
    Until we have a plethora of coaches who also preach an educated philosophy it does not matter how many talented starlets we can produce.

  11. Hi Michael….I recognise the quote from a section of David Winner’s superb book – ‘Brilliant Orange’ – where he is interviewing Arnold Muhren.
    It perhaps would have been more accurate to say that the English don’t LOOK until they have the ball at their feet. Many English players still don’t make a decision on what they are going to do with the ball until they have it at their feet under control, instead of ‘getting a picture’ before receiving it by constantly scanning the field when out of possession. They are then aware of their options before receiving the ball.
    As with many other football skills, young players should have this in their ‘locker’ by the time they are 12 years old, but the fact that in England so many haven’t, shows that we are still not instilling the basics in those vital early years. When the problem is not addressed until the young player is well into his/her teens, then we are not giving them a sufficiently fair chance for them to fulfil their potential.

  12. There is a ‘disease’ attacking the game in this country, it is called SIMPLISITY. Players who may have good individual qualities are denied the opportunity to display them due to our addiction with possession football. On the ball, our players are required to make simple decisions and look to pass the ball before persuing any other available opportunity.
    Simple football is made up of both aspects of the negative passing period we have entered; backwards and sideways…we’ve kept the ball, or the long, ‘hit and hope’ forward pass ….anywhere will do in a crisis! I see practises today that are so over-concerned with possession of the ball that seeing opporunities to run with it has become a lost art. An automatic pass ‘sensor’ has been installed in players that negates all other decisions bar simplistic passing options. Our game has conceived a boring, predictable playing style that satisfies the qualities of ‘workhorses’ and not that of ‘stallions’ —- see our DISASTEROUS performance v ICELAND to recognise THE LACK OF PLAYING VARIATIONS and the poverty of English football talent available. THE PROBLEM HAS ARISEN THROUGH POOR DEVELOPMENT METHODS FROM YOUTH TO SENIOR LEVELS And nobody will convince me otherwise, be it —– the PRESS – TV PUNDITS – PLAYERS – COACHES – FANS ………. or readers of this ‘blog’!!

  13. I recently saw a player with a Rymans North League club, display skill, trickery and quick feet. Apparently, he had recently been in the academies of leading London Premier League clubs. Rymans North is four steps below the Football League and i wondered why, with his undoubted skill, he was no longer in the full-time professional game or, at least, with a non-league club closer to that level. There was another player on the same team, who had talent but there was never any end-product – no strikes on goal, crosses or setting up passes for his team mates to shoot at goal. So i could understand if he had not made it in the pro game. But the other player was influential in almost everything he did. This was a pre-season friendly with many of the players, like this one, trialists. It made me wonder if his individualistic qualities had not been appreciated, even at the higher rungs of the English game at which he had previously been part of.

  14. I agree that we have always had traditional strengths in English football which the foreigners have envied. However some of those strengths have been allowed to deteriorate in my opinion. I am thinking about heading and tackling. It has been mentioned on this blog before that many English players, even at the top level, go to ground far too easily when making a tackle. It always used to be stressed that you defend and make tackles staying on your feet. There is too much lunging in these days and this results in dangerous tackles and also poor defensive play when the player in possession evades the challenger and breaks clear, with the defender left on his back, beaten and out of the game.
    We seem to have neglected the coaching of tackling to young players and also heading. This was always a strong point of the English game but good headers of the ball, especially in attack, now seem few and far between. Andy Carroll is one of the few who seems to relish attacking the high cross and who consequently gives opposing centre halves a hard time whenever they have to defend against him. There seems to be a lack of movement in the box in many matches and strikers don’t make runs across the near post as they used to, which, even if they do not get the ball, pulls defenders out of position and creates space for other attackers making runs into the box.
    I also think that we do not see midfield players in the English game breaking into spaces ahead of the strikers as they should do. They seem to be always in support of the strikers and not enough times getting into areas ahead of them. If they do then they make their runs too early and get caught offside or else, having made their run too early, find themselves standing waiting for the pass, instead of running into the space as the ball arrives. In the past, midfield players like Martin Peters, Colin Bell, Terry McDermott and Gerry Francis regularly got into goal scoring positions and scored bundles of goals. At Euro 2016 Aaron Ramsey made a great forward run into space to set up Wales’ second goal against Belgium and it was a great pity that he was suspended for the semi final. But we saw very little of those kind of well timed forward runs from the England midfield players.

  15. After Liverpool went 4-1 ahead against Arsenal on Sunday, the Gunners’ substitute, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, immediately brought his team back into the game by cutting inside on a jinking run, leaving defendes in his wake and reducing the deficit to two goals again which ultimately became one. Then last night at Stamford Bridge, an ordinary game between two ordinary teams, Chelsea and West Ham, was lifted out of its mediocrity by the individualism and inventiveness of Eden Hazard. Chelsea fans will be hoping that his poor form of last season will quickly be banished from memory if they are to mount a serious challenge for the League Title, but neutral observers will be just as keen to see more of such skillful play.
    But at least it is gratifying that one of these ‘game-changers’ is English. Oxlade-Chamberlain made his debut at a young age for Arsenal but has never held down a regular place. That has also been the case with his place in the England team but he has not been helped by untimely injuries. Let’s hope that he can now stay free from injury and that Sam Allardyce puts his faith in the Arsenal man’s skill and talent. Allardyce had similarly talented individuals at Bolton and used them, contrary to the image which has been bulit up around him. Let’s hope that ‘Big Sam’ has the courage to project this kind of young talent at international level.

  16. I was very disappointed in Phil Neville’s reaction, in his role of pundit on Match of the Day, to the two penalties awarded in the Stoke City v. Man City match. His reasoning appeared to be that because grappling, holding and shirt pulling have been prevalent in penalty area situations, especially at corners, for a number of years, that for referees to start coming down on it now will lead to them awarding about 10 penalties in every match played.
    Well, if that’s what it takes to stamp out the malaise then award ten penalties, in fact make that 110 if there are that number of similar fouls. Also disappointing to hear on the same programme, was the opinion aired about the leniency shown towards Arsenal midfielder, Coquelin, in their match at Leicester. Having already received a yellow card for a foul earlier in the match, Coquelin then committed a similar foul but this time no card was produced. Had a second yellow been produced, as it should have, then of course the referee would have had to dismiss the player for having received two yellow cards. Danny Murphy, the other pundit, expressed satsifaction that the referee had this time kept his card in his pocket and just awarded a free kick, because Murphy did not think that the foul tackles merited a sending off.
    With this kind of thinking you cannot improve playing standards. The defending is geneally poor because players making tackles go to ground too readily and lunge in at the player in possession. If their poor technique led to their dismissal from the field on a regular basis, then perhaps greater atttention would be paid to failings in this technique and an improvement in the standard of defending.
    When England play in the International Tournaments, the players often complain that they are penalised for fouls which would be accepted in the League at home. It is often a failure in technical standards which cause these situations and unless such failings are addressed at source, then our shortcomings will continue to be exposed at international level.

    • Hi Steve i totally, totally agree with your comments. It’s about time that Ref’s. began to control the ridiculous situations inside the penalty area. Giving penalties against would soon stop all of the nonsense going on.

  17. Great post Steve. I would hope that UEFA develop a Europe wide referee directive to clamp down on all of this nonsense. Harmonization across all the leagues and in the Champions League/Europa League would help resurrect the sport….

  18. One stat that would be interesting would be a count on the tackles v interceptions in various leagues… I suspect that there would certainly be more interceptions in la Liga/Bundesliga and Serie A just by the very nature of football in those countries compared with the Premier league.. and also further down the leagues where battles would be the norm..,. the lower the standard, the less intelligent and less tactical; the more tackles… more lunging etc etc…

    Picking up on Steve… the Premier league has I think copied the foreigners re holding at corners…it does of course need sorting across the board but with a lot of things such as standing over the ball at a free kick these don’t need directives just bloody good referees…

  19. I agree with Brazil94 when he says that if referees were strong then there would be no need for directives.
    Since referees were issued with a foam spray to mark clearly where the minimum distance is that a defending player can stand at the taking of a free kick and also a mark made to show where the attacking team must place the ball for the free kick, then the problems of encroachment and stealing yards have been largely eradicated. However, what has also happened is that the attacking team have lost the dangerous weapon of a quick free kick, due to the time required by the referee to make the various markings. Many teams used to signal the taking of a quick free kick by the kicker quickly placing his hand flat on top of the ball and his head raised, scanning the field in front of him and so everyone knew that the ball would be coming in quickly, with no long run up to the ball. In the 1966 World Cup Final, Bobby Moore did just that after England were awarded a free kick which put Geoff Hurst on the alert and he knew exactly where Moore was going to flight the ball, with the West German defenders left standing around like spectators, totally unprepared and disorganised, as Hurst made his run into space at the near post to score with a header.
    Had the foam spray been in operation 50 years ago, then in all probability that goal would not have been scored, with the referee having to delay proceedings whilst he made the necessary ground markings. That goal, of course, was England’s first, the equaliser, and so perhaps the absence of a foam spray helped change the course of football history!

  20. Foam spray is a tool and shouldn’t interfere with the rules and the spirit of the game.

    It always amuses me when the attacking team has a clear idea of the correct distances the defending team should take up when they have a set piece; however, once they are defending befuddlement and bemusement takes place…as the saying goes ‘you can’t have it both ways.’ Yet they are allowed too, by these professional referees!

  21. It has been reported in the press that the FA are searching among the best teenage foreign talent in English Academies in the hope that they will one day be eligible for the England team. A player is eligible if he has lived in this country for a minimum of five years. An example has been given of Domingos Quina, a 16 year old Portuguese, who arrived in England as a 13 year old in 2013 and first signed for Chelsea and later moved to West Ham, and so will be available for England selection in 2018.
    It has been stated that there are a number of examples of this naturalisation process in other countries and examples have been given of Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose in Germany. However, in my opinion, Podolski and Klose represent completely different issues. It is true that both were born in Poland but Podolski and his family moved to Germany when he was aged 8 years whilst Klose was only 2 when he moved. So virtually the whole of their football development took place in Germany and so it is correct that Germany should have first call on their international call-up.
    In the case of Quina, the vital early years development, 5 – 12 years, were all spent in his native Portugal. We are not paying enough attention to those vitally important early years development in this country and so the FA have no right to cut corners by ‘stealing’ foreign talent, whose vital early years development have already been completed in their countries of birth. The Chelsea and West Ham Academies may well have developed Quina’s game quite considerably in the last three years, but an enormous amount of work must have been done on him before that in Portugal. In my opinion that makes him Portugal’s player.

  22. England struggled to beat Slovakia’s ten men in their opening 2018 World Cup Qualifier to herald the dawn of a ‘new era’, that is Sam Allardyce’s England. But it was the same old England in my opinion, with all the usual shortcomings. They huff and puff and run hard but show so little imagination and invention. It was only when Dele Alli came on in the second half that we had someone who found space in the final third and linked up effectively with the forwards. I cannot understand what the policy is with Wayne Rooney. When he was younger, his game was based on explosive qualities, especially in and around the penalty area, but those qualities have all but disappeared over the years. But I cannot understand why he is not used in the spaces between the opposition back line and the midfield and supporting Harry Kane. He must use his skill to more effect, rather than in a purely hard working role in the congested midfield area. In interview Allardyce seemed to suggest that Rooney is free to go where he pleases but the evidence to me is that in this instance the player does not know best and more discipline and clearer instructions are required. Alli staked his claim to be on the field from the start and Ross Barkley was not even in the squad which, with his potential, is a mistake in my opinion.
    Later in the evening, Germany provided a stark contrast when they played some superb football in beating Norway 3-0. The movement of Muller, Draxler and others set the standard that English players must aspire to, but we are light years behind them. The way in which they arrive in space at just the right moment is something that our players are clearly not capable of at the present time. It must be a nightmare trying to mark a player like Muller because his movement is so good.
    Of course, it is far too early to make any judgements on Allardyce’s management after just one match and he can only use the players which the clubs provide. There has been evidence in the opening matches of the season that Stones and Sterling are already showing progress from Guardiola’s coaching at Man City, which will also benefit England. If Alli and Barkley can also make some steady progress and if Marcus Rashford can get more game time at Man Utd, then there is reason for a little guarded optimism. But we have clearly a very long way to go, especially when a comparison is made with Germany.

  23. “With this skill, which seems so, so simple yet which so few strikers possess, he allowed John Terry and Rio Ferdinand to push up in line which, in turn, pushes Gerrard and Frank Lampard to squeeze up to support the front line. So Crouch’s skill allows the entire England team to play close to each other – lines squeezing up tightly to one another.” From Pep Guardiola a decade ago… Just to show that he is not and never has beem a ‘tiki taka’ puritan

  24. Hi Michael….I am not sure in what context this quote from Pep Guardiola was made, but as you intimate, he develops a game style depending on the strengths of his playing squad. Consequently, Bayern Munich were never a carbon copy of Barcelona and he never intended them to be. He is now developing a game style that is consistent with the players’ qualities at Man City.
    The reference to Peter Crouch highlights that player’s ability to hold up the ball and look after it until, when playing for England several years ago, Gerrard and Lampard were able to support him. This also allowed Terry and Ferdinand to push the back line up because they knew that possession would be retained, rather than being lost within seconds when the ball goes to other forwards less adept in hold up play. The inability to hold the ball at the front means that the defence is always under pressure and makes them reluctant to push up, because they know that the ball will be coming back towards the England goal very soon.
    It seems that England strikers are now categorised as either being good at exploiting the space behind opposing defences to reach passes with their pace and anticipation or else good in their hold up play and retaining possession. We need to develop players who can do both. Harry Kane received quite severe criticism following Euro 2016 due to his inability to link up with other players and look after the ball when played into his feet. This weakness in his game had been apparent for some time, however, but had received little attention whilst he scored regularly in Tottenham and England matches. But when his goals dried up the weakness became highlighted.
    It is another case of not fully developing the all round qualities required of our players.

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