By John Cartwright
I have been involved in all areas of the game for many years; Playing professionally, Coaching at various levels, and Scouting for 18 years. During that time I have become very aware of an important aspect of the game; it is highly competitive and subject to the ‘winning of battles’– individual battles, group battles and team battles — to gain a winning result. My interest has focused on how teams re-arrange (vary) their playing styles during a game in accordance with either their domination of play (winning those battles) or being pressurized by the opposition (losing those battles).
The 3 Parts of football tactics I’m alluding to are (1) EARNING THE RIGHT TO PLAY attractive and positive football. (2) DELIVERING THAT RIGHT and playing attractive and positive football. (3) BEING ABLE TO CHANGE FROM 1 TO 2 and vice-versa according to how a game develops over the 90+ minutes.
PART 1. Your team must pressurize their opponents from the first whistle of the Referee. The opposition must be closed-down and harried when they are in possession of the ball and ‘turned’ as often as possible to defend passes in behind their defenders. In fact, this dynamic approach must force the opposition into defensive ‘mode’ — they must ‘dance to your tune and you must NOT dance to their tune’. By having a positive attacking attitude from the start you are causing the opposition to play defensively even though they may have possession of the ball and play should be contained in their half of the field as much as possible.
The obvious problem with forcing opponents deep into their half by pushing your team forward is the chance of opponents counter-attacking. This situation, must be recognized as always being a defensive threat to your team who must be aware of the threat and deal quickly with these attempts by the opposition to break out.
Pep. Guardiola’s teams attempt to regain possession within a 6 second period. He manages teams full of highly talented players who have the ability to begin games using Part 2 qualities yet his teams are expected to pressurize their opponents from the first whistle. This combination of ‘fight and finesse’ is possible only with highly talented and motivated players. For the vast majority of teams there has to be separate sections for domination to be achieved and then for football with more quality to be played.
PART 2. So what is part 2? Well, it is about use of the time and space that has been gained during the Part 1. period. There is no given length of time for each Part to be played, but when necessity or opportunity become available your team must be able to recognize them and develop the playing style that fits them.
Part 2. is the ‘present’ that Part 1. has created. The luxury of playing against a team that has been overwhelmed tactically by the constant pressurization on them. It allows your team to keep the ball and to open up their opponents with a free-flowing playing style in the space and time they have gained. Individualism, group and team factors can be attempted during this period of superiority, but in football as in life, ’nothing stays the same’ and your team must be prepared to fall back on Part 1. methods if or when the opposition begin to reapply themselves. Not recognizing this fundamental change in the opponents’ actions can cause serious problems in your team’s attempts to play attractive football when time and space is being denied to them. This situation must be reversed as soon as possible and a return to Part 1. Is essential in order to regain domination.
Part 3. As stated earlier, ‘delivering the right to play’ mode is something that Guardiola’s teams are capable of playing game after game. For the majority of others however, they must —- earn it – to play it – and change back and forth when necessary. The time for involving each Part depends on how quickly it takes for your team to dominate their opponents and how long it continues for, and then be prepared to re-earn the ‘right to play’ once that domination is quelled.
It must be understood that top quality football as displayed by Guardiola’s squads from Barcelona to Bayern Munich and now with Man. City, has required talented players to play it. The players have been guided by a brilliant football thinker and motivator. His teams have often displayed total domination in many games but on occasions when things have not always gone to plan they are prepared to ‘recharge their batteries’ and ‘earn the right to play’.
Overall, they have displayed the importance of individual ability and how that ability must ‘blend together’ through the ‘fight and finesse’ periods in games. Each club has been a credit to the game of Association Football and fully deserve the accolades they have received.