Preparing to React

By John Cartwright

‘PREPARING TO REACT’. What on earth does that mean? Well, its’s the best way I can describe (explain) the brilliance of LIONEL MESSI.

MESSI, is playing and scoring goals in senior football as he did throughout his development years. From the streets in Argentina, to the greatest Stadiums in the World, he has produced performances of outstanding individual and team quality with seemingly incredible regularity.

How has he managed to reproduce the stunning ability to recognize and react to varied situations so successfully and consistently during his playing career?  I have watched MESSI, both on TV and in live action and I have come to the conclusion that his playing style reaffirms the saying— ‘Practice Makes Perfect’.


MESSI, has practiced/played the game in accordance with the game’s competitive, playing requirements. This constant PRACTICAL/REALISM has created situations that have become recognizable to him and he has learned how to respond to them accordingly.

His movements, possession and responses are founded on recognition of situations and he can actually prepare himself in advance to produce the necessary skills for successful outcomes.


I have always recommended the use of REALISTIC PRACTICE and have stated so often over the years that PRACTICE what you PLAY and PLAY what you PRACTICE, is the correct formula (Coaching method) for the development of players. Messi, in my opinion, is the finest example of this development model. I would also like to praise those who have been close to him throughout his playing life, for they have allowed him to develop a playing mindset that is unique in the game.

Had MESSI, come through a learning period where ‘Dogma’ and restraints are too freely applied he would have become just another constrained and frustrated player who had the ability but was unable to reproduce it.

7 thoughts on “Preparing to React

  1. Lionel Messi learned the game’s skills in the street, as did many other players, including British ones, of previous generations. Old cine film of Messi when he was ten years old and playing with friends, reveals him involved in movements and scoring goals similar to the way he now performs with Barcelona.
    Could we be about to benefit from this “street play” in England? It has been stated that about seventy five per cent of the players involved in the England under age teams which have been very successful during the last year or two, grew up in south London. The point here is that several years ago large housing estates have faced the rising crime situation in this part of the capital, by building play areas within easy reach of residents. They include cages where football is played and because of the tight area, greater demands are placed on a child’s ability to play with space at a premium. In France there have been similar facilities for several years in those Paris suburbs of social depravation and their World Cup winning squad contained a disproportionate number of players from these areas.
    But this is no substitute for top level coaching to develop game intelligence. I have noticed, and commented on this blog before, that Mbappe sometimes spoils his work by not lifting his eyes early enough to spot a team mate in a good position and makes a poor choice with his final pass or dribble. On the other hand, Messi is always aware of his surroundings and his awareness is as great as his technical skill.

  2. Hi Steve. Once again you have made interesting points that endorse the importance of small area, ‘chaos’ type learning. The point you make about Mbappe, does not necessarily exist as a result of playing in tight situations. I have always recognised small area situations as creating the need to be aware of spaces beyond opponents that could be entered. Likewise, decisions as to whether to pass or retain the ball can also be made.
    Messi, makes these decisions with incredible success. His passing, running with the ball and finishing decisions game after game verges on high levels of success. The reason(s) for this success should be something that everyone involved in teaching the game should be investigating and applying. Who knows, there could be more Messi’s out there !

  3. Hi all. I watched the Everton v Arsenal game and the Wolves v Watford game this weekend. I saw lots of fast and furious football with limited tactical quality and individualism. I saw boring simpilcity with little ability to thrill. These two games are just examples of the trend towards football that is emphasizing basics and not brilliance. Big names in today’s game produce performances that aspire to levels of ordinary unlike the greats of the past who, on mud-laded pitches, could produce skills that remain in the mind of followers of the game to this day.
    Development ‘dogma’ combined with the over-reliance on ‘stats’, has made our game a physically-athletic-simplistic-obvious game. Individualism is confirmed as being someone who has made x number of off-the-ball and y number of passes( mostly back or sideways).
    Those young players who are showing potential at this time have learned the game in the same way as those greats of the past — in small areas, in competitive small-sided games where lots of realism, touches of the ball, decision-making and use of skillful individual ability were possible for many hours per week. Good luck to them.

  4. Hi John….You have pointed out on previous occasions that the “greats of the past” developed their technical skills in the street but this did not give them game intelligence. We must bear this in mind with the talented young English players who are showing what they can do at the moment with skills acquired from small-sided games in cages which provide match play in tight areas.
    My mind goes back to Dortmund’s visit to Wembley a few months ago to play Tottenham in the Champions’ League. In the first half Dortmund’s coach had clearly organised the situation where Tottenham’s Alderweireld was isolated in 1 v 1 confrontations with Jadon Sancho. The young English winger continually had the beating of the Belgian but at half time Pochettino reorganised his defence with a shifting in position of Vertonghen with the result that Sancho’s threat was nullified. Sancho did move into the middle for a while but to no effect and he disappeared from the game. Nothing seemed to come from the coach to change the situation nor on the pitch itself where Dortmund suffered a 0-3 defeat.
    So it’s great that there are extremely promising young English players but added to the skill must be game intelligence and problem solving.

    • hi Steve. Seems you and I are the only ones to have an opinion on this ‘blog’.
      Your point about game understanding and problem solving is correct but this has to be learned by suitable introduction of the game itself throughout the development period as well as the provision of sufficient playing time at senior levels. I don’tbelieve either of these situations are being supplied to our young players — coaching has no satisfactory ‘pathway’ and at senior levels, playing experience is too often thwarted by the inclusion of foreign players.
      Due to what I have said, the young player who achieves senior statis does so because he displays individual qualities and has to find answers to other aspects of the game as he goes along —- hopefully!
      This situation has been a critical barrier in development for decades and it continues today — unfortunately for the player and for our game.

      • I see Messi, provided another goal in the game v Man Utd. He scores and makes goals. There is no other player that has been so productive in the game. That’s why he is the greatest player ever in my opinion.

  5. The need for realistic practice is so important from day 1 of the young player’s journey as you have emphasised so many times John. That added to coaching that importantly links sessions in order to gradually add to and improve the young player’s individuality and understanding. There are no quick fixes and the junior coach is vital in the modern era if we are to produce “natural players”

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