The Missing 12

By John Cartwright

The game has changed considerably in many ways over the past decade or so. With the improvement in playing surfaces it is disappointing to see important aspects of the game now being rarely or never used. These playing aspects formed a special place in the game at all levels but they have gradually drifted away over time as speed and simplistic ball possession now dominates the game world-wide.

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  1. Take-overs: movement across the field with the ball to conjoin with a colleague moving across in the other direction to take-over possession from him.
  2. Wall Passes: Passes of this type, both at angled or forward situations, now rarely delivered with the outside of the foot and at different heights.
  3. Headed ‘knock-downs’ off crosses: This is due to the lack of forward players who are competent in the air. This lack of forward aerial ‘targets’ has increased ‘play-rounds’ in the attacking third when a cross would be more beneficial.
  4. ‘Dummy’ back-heels: A player moving across or forward with the ball and under pressure from an opponent, passes his foot over the top of the ball as if to drag it backwards but continues with his original run.
  5. Back-heels: The player on the ball runs with it and uses his heel to pass the ball to a colleague. This action often changes the direction of play and opens more attacking options.
  6. Forward Pass with outside of the foot: Too often in today’s game players fail to use the outside of either foot and prefer a pass using the instep. The use of the instep is a more obvious action — takes more time to perform — decreases movement capability for the player once the ball is passed. The use of the outside of the foot however, is less predictable for opponents to recognize – is quicker to perform – and allows the player to move quickly once used.
  7. Goalkeepers’ – half volley goal-kicks from the hands: ‘Rounded volley’ kicking by goal –keeper’s is now the norm throughout football. This type of delivery tends to be less accurate but produces more length. The actual kicking action tends to be more prone to poor contact on the ball causing the ball to be struck low on its surface and causing it to go high and often short.  The half-volley however, tends to be easier to connect with ball as the distance of the kicking foot to contact with ball is much shorter than the ‘rounded’ contact method of the full-volley.
  8. Cross-field runs with the ball: For penetrative gaps in an opponent’s defence to occur their defenders should be directed ACROSS rather than pushed BACK . In so doing opposing players are taken away from their defensive areas and these spaces can be filled by attacking players. By running AT opponents, defenders are pushed back into tighter defensive space making penetrative attacks less likely to succeed.
  9. Central Defenders skilled in attacking ability: Too often the label of playing ability for Central Defenders is set on their defensive qualities alone. The game provides numerous opportunities for players to exploit important attacking situations from these positions — but very few seem to seize the chances —- not able to or not allowed to?
  10. Creating the ‘Diamond’ pattern in attacking play: This attacking formation of 4 players should be a regular occurrence in the game—but it isn’t! Too often there is a lack of correct positioning, poor deliveries of the ball and slow support. This important feature in the game should be taught from early days in the development pathway ——but it isn’t—-why?
  11. The ‘Lay-down—collection’ Sliding Tackle: Even with hugely improved playing surfaces the Sliding Tackle that players used so often in the past that ‘collected’ the ball rather than just ‘knocking’ it away — often out of play, has almost disappeared from the game. ‘Ugly’ and crude defending methods, often causing serious injuries, have become more apparent than the skilled timing and playing ability used so frequently when defending in earlier days.
  12. The attacking ‘Aerial Target’: Crossing of the ball has become more about deliveries that are ‘hard and low’ and not ‘high and chipped’. This change in delivery preference has been due to two things –(a) the increase of Possession Football(Stats.) and this has caused (b) a lack of talented, attacking players with aerial qualities. The high cross or chipped cross into the opposition’s penalty area for a header at goal or for a ‘knock-down’ to a supporting colleague are few and far between. ‘Play-rounds’ in the attacking third have become the norm when a cross to a well-placed ‘target player’ instead would make an immediate and possible, successful impact on the game.

These are my 12 ‘moans’ about the game. It has become over-controlled by ‘stats.’ and no longer provides tactical variations, artful decision-making or the impact of individualism the game should contain.

66 thoughts on “The Missing 12

  1. Hi John, is that your thoughts on football world wide?
    I have watched Bielsa Leeds use wall passes on many occasions.
    Take overs I never see.

  2. Hi John,
    I stumbled across a You Tube compilation the other evening looking at Zidane’s ability to run with the ball exactly as you say across the pitch which causes havoc in the covering defensive positions.
    ‘Brazilian Ronaldo’ clips also show how runs across the field create spaces for others – it is easy to focus on these two outstanding players individual skills but on many clips if you take your eyes away from the player with the ball the background shows the vast open spaces just waiting to be exploited.
    Of course Messi is a modern exponent of attacking defences using diagonal dribbles to similar effects.
    Insightful post, as always.
    Regards
    Steve

    • Hi David. i watch foreign games and i don’t see many of the points i have made in the ‘blog’. There is a fundamental problem with the game at present both here and abroad —the effect possession football has on the game.
      Players hardly look for opportunities to stay on the ball but look to pass it — often with negative outcomes. Simplistic football has become the norm too often whilst precise decision-making and individual flair have withered away.

    • Hi Steve. The points i made were regular items in the game both here and abroad. Staying witht the ball is a primary feature of the Premier Skills Coaching Programs i produced. Young players must be given the chance to be special –to be different and NOT be set on a development pathway that produces ORDINARY !.
      The over-importance of ‘Stats’ on the game has wiped individualism from the game and replaced it with simplistics, Hence, the lack of the 12 points i make in the ‘blog’

      • I wholeheartedly agree. My reference to those three players was to help illustrate your point, especially, about runs across the field with the ball. I am familiar with and very much an advocate of the Premier Skills Practice Play Methodology

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  4. I agree that many of the skills listed in John’s article are less and less conspicuous in the game globally and not just here in Britain. I would, however, add the reminder of the recent comment made by Thomas Hitzlsperger, Head of Sport at VfB Stuttgart, that in his view, and also of many other German youth coaches, the best young players in Europe at the moment are English.
    I repeat this statement having just watched the German Super Cup match, Dortmund – Bayern Munich, won 2-0 by Dortmund.
    In the first half, Dortmund’s young English forward, Jadon Sancho, struggled to get into the game and not much that he attempted came off. At half time the commentators expressed the view that Dortmund coach, Lucien Favre, could quite possibly substitute Sancho during the break to add a little more verve to the Dortmund attack. But Favre sent out the same eleven for the second half, and within minutes his faith in the young Englishman had been vindicated when he ran strongly down the right flank, tricked his way past Bayern defenders, as he cut inside, before releasing a pass into the Bayern box for Alcacer to score Dortmund’s first goal. A little later Sancho scored the second goal himself, when he broke clear of the Bayern defence in a central position and hit a powerful shot which gave Neuer no chance.
    Favre is to be congratulated for keeping his faith in a young player and getting the benefit for it. I can’t help thinking that had this situation occurred in an English game, then Sancho would have been substituted at half time and an older, more experienced, but less talented, player put on in his place.
    The only way we are going to get the best out of the young players who are currently emerging, is to give them their chance in first team football and show them that we believe in them. The average age of players in the Bundesliga is way below that of those in the Premier League. But is it any wonder when we export our young talent to that League and import, at massive cost, international players from the rest of Europe and South America?
    I would, however, draw attention to a Spanish player who has just come into the Premier League and on the evidence of a friendly which i saw earlier today, could make a lot of people sit up and take notice when the League starts next week. He is Pablo Fornals who West Ham have signed from Villarreal during the close season. He played the first half in a friendly against Athletic Bilbao and on numerous occasions used the outside of his foot. He played in a number 10, support striker role and on first viewing looks top class. He played in the Spanish team which won the UEFA Under 21 Championship during the summer.
    I think one of the best players at using the outside of his foot that i have seen was Bobby Moore. His left foot was just for standing on and because he played for both West Ham and England on the left shoulder of his centre half in a covering position, when he intercepted the ball and came forward, the ball was on his left foot. Because his left foot was so weak Ron Greenwood got him to pass out from defence with the outside of his right. This became a devastating weapon because Moore was able to impart such swerve on the ball that it curled around opponents and into his front players, or else into space for them to run on to. Ron Greenwood got this idea from watching the great Real Madrid team, 1955-1960. They had a defender, Santamaria, who defended on the left side but predominantly with his right foot. Ron Greenwood noticed how he used the outside of his right foot to similarly great effect and imparted this knowledge with Bobby Moore. .
    Another player who shone in today’s friendly, in the first half before all the substitutions destroyed the pattern of the match, was Jack Wilshire. He has so much ability that if he can finally steer clear of injury then he can walk back into the England team.

  5. Hi John, Steven H and Seagull; picking up on a few points made… in reference to the suggestion that the best young players in Europe are English why would this be so? Not a case of coaching John? And perhaps debatable? However, it remains a point that some decent young English players are emerging, but do they possess the in-skills of the best of the Latin people and Europeans; that individuality that Premier Skills promotes.

    What I like about Premier Skills is that is goes way-beyond the other ‘Official’ coaching schemes and incorporates the development of top-class individuality aligned with clever team play and variations such as the ‘Missing 12’ John is writing about.

    Of course the very best do use much of what is missing – at times – in their footballing arsenal; Guardiola’s GREAT Barcelona used much of the missing actions – collectively and individually; albeit not the heading aspects especially and John has spoken of this as Guardiola’s blindspot.

    I fondly remember the master of the back heel Socrates; Paulo Roberto Falcao etc and to create their-like then STAYING WITH THE BALL is in my view an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY in any sanctioned globally National FA Coaching scheme…unfortunately this is often and more regularly than not, from what I can tell, not occurring, particularly in those countries still influenced by the English FA.

    The re-creation of coaching aligned with street football is crucial; coaching that produces the extraordinary player who has individual flair and can efficiently combine with their teammates. And where do we find this the Premier Skills Program.

    • Hi all. I do believe that many of the young players that have emerged recently here have come from local club football initially and ‘street-type’ Practice-Play areas areas in south London. It would be interesting to find out more about there development.

      • Jadon Sancho, Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock had a street football type background.
        Joe Willocks words.
        I can remember Chris (brother) being there the first time I played football. We grew up in a place called Priory Court in east London and there’s a little concrete square with two goals. We used to put cones around the pitch and then all three of us would play, while my dad would go in goal for our knockout games. We used to practice every day and it’s because of my dad that we’ve become the players that we are today.

        He would always make us focus on our technique. He never really focused too much on running or the physical side of the game, it was always about dribbling around cones and using the ball. I think that’s where the close ball control has come from, because it’s something we’ve worked on since we were very young. As there were three of us all around the same age, it was easy for us to learn from each other and push each other, and that’s how we ended up getting scouted by Arsenal.

  6. It’s no secret that the streets and estates of London and other major cities around the UK have become very unsafe for young people to hang around in during the evenings, weekends and school holidays. This has led to the introduction of caged areas for playing ball games and they have the additional benefit of being close to densely populated areas. Children can access these cages within a short distance of their homes. The ball courts are often very tight and so the young players learn how to control and manipulate the ball in playing areas where space is at a premium.
    Many of the children are of mixed heritage and they form clubs of players of the predominant nationality and play matches against other similarly formed clubs. Often these matches are played on a purely friendly basis without the necessity for League registration.

    • Hi Steve. Perhaps you might remember a ‘blog’ I wrote about the need for Local Councils to designate small areas when planning for new properties to be built or where there is suitable space that is of no use for building etc. It is in these areas that a football life ‘kicks off’. The Premier Skills method of development would fit the spaces perfectly.

  7. Hi Brazil 94. You are correct. Coaching has become more about organisation than realistic practical methods. Coaches should not impose directives onto young players but should provide work that requires realistic situations according to the level of work being undertaken. Decision-making must be a priority throughout and coaches must be able to ‘steer’ players actions and not dictate coaching ‘ dogma’ to them.

  8. Nketiah is just the latest in an increasingly star-studded list of talented south Londoners. Like Jadon Sancho, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Joe Gomez, he grew up playing on the streets and in the concrete cages where technical skill rules. “It was good competition,” he says.

    “There were a lot of good players. A lot of the players in south London just play wherever they can. It’s a big part of growing up in south London and it was a big part of my childhood.

    “You want to do exciting things. Watching the exciting players growing up, you just want to replicate it. It starts from there and the aim is to continue doing that on the big stage.”

  9. Tried finding players doing take overs from games in the 60s but couldn’t find any so far. Could anyone recommend teams to search for?

  10. Hi all . How do you think I feel after being a ‘loner’ for over 50 years arguing about the importance of ‘Street-type’ football in the development of talented players.
    For decades we have had to accept unrealistic, over-organised ‘dogma’ and not common sense practical teaching and learning methods. What a waste!

  11. John your solace surely is that you will have found some who agree with you and coaching companions among the Europeans – other side of Dover – and people like Cruyff. It may really only have been in Britain/ England per se where you confronted the opppo. ?:?

  12. Hi Brazil94. I have great regard for those FEW who have recognised the importance of the ‘realistic Practice-Play method’ . But over the years there has been scant interest by football hierarchy to implement or show interest in using it in player development. We have had to see numerous ideas presented and employed in development that have failed to produce high quality players and a successful national playing style. We have copied rather than designing our own development and playing model and have followed ‘dogma’ rather than establish a suitable and historically proven development and playing ‘pathway’.
    And we have suffered the consequences !

  13. I have just spent ten days in the Bourgourne region of France. I saw five matches at different levels together with some training given to junior players. It was a good opportunity to compare the quality to similar levels in England.
    The best match, not surprisingly, was the Ligue 1 match between Dijon and St. Etienne (1-2). St. Etienne are usually up among the leaders in France’s top division whilst Dijon just scraped clear of relegation last season. When St. Etienne took a two goal lead in the first ten minutes it looked as though the visitors were in for a comfortable win but Dijon showed plenty of heart and got their game together in the second half. They would have been worth a draw but an equaliser would not come.
    There was a considerable contrast between the Ligue 2 matches – Estac Troyes v Le Havre (1-2) and Orleans v Clermont (0-1). In England we like to think that our Second Division, now known as the Championship, is superior to second tiers in most other European countries. On watching the match at Troyes it was difficult to disagree with that opinion. There was a lack of intensity that many coaches demand these days and it was walking pace football. But the match at Orleans produced all-important changes of pace into the game, rather than a constant high speed game, all too prevalent in England. There was quality on view and a methodical approach which is not often apparent in the English Championship. I certainly rated it a much better game than most games i have seen at that level in England. The variation in pace in this match came from the players who understood when and how to effect the change and it made for a better spectacle and more enjoyable match. It is something that English players must improve on.
    A match between Auxerre and Beziers was for the French League Cup and saw Beziers win on penalties after a 0-0 draw. Auxerre play in Ligue 2 but Beziers are in National 1, having been relegated from Ligue 2 last season. National 1, 2 and 3 are the French equivalent of our Conference League and the players become part-time if they stay with their clubs after relegation into this level. Auxerre are now a struggling club in Ligue 2 after their glory days of the late eighties and early nineties. They have been badly hit by the Bosman Rule, like so many other small town clubs on a tight budget. So many top French players of the past, like Cantona and Blanc, came through the Youth Development at Auxerre but now promising players are snapped up by wealthy clubs before they have played more than a handful of matches. That coaching legend of French football, Guy Roux, is now retired after taking Auxerre from the amateur leagues in France to winning French Ligue 1 and playing in the Champions’ League against Liverpool and losing over two legs by just one goal. Guy Roux was Manager/Coach at Auxerre from 1960 until 2005, surely a world record in top level football.
    An Under 17 match between Auxerre and Dijon (1-2) produced some interesting points but although i picked out one or two players i liked, the overall quality was fairly average. Both teams tried to play out from the back with defenders making themselves available to receive passes and play it accurately into midfield. But no defenders went forward to join in the attacking play in forward positions. The crossing was also poor, another similarity with much of what we see in England. There seems to be a lack of players who can bend or swerve the ball around defenders into the area and so if they can’t beat their immediate opponent in a 1 v 1 then a cross does not come in.
    I did not see enough coaching to really form an opinion. I saw a session at Auxerre with players of about 14 – 15 years old. It was skill work but not sufficiently demanding in terms if intensity or with realistic opposition. The coaching area was not arranged to make the players deal with problems of space and therefore to avoid contact with other players.
    It is always interesting to observe coaches and players of other countries playing and training, but the feeling at the moment is of a levelling down of standards rather than increasing them upwards.

  14. Getting back to John’s original points… really coaches should have as their motto… ‘We want to create match-winners’, and by design match-winners are great(er) individuals… the Hazards, the Ronaldos and the Messis…all who can, when the deem it necessary, combine with their colleagues like the best of them… Imagine then, if WE set out to produce match-winner; individuals who entertain and make the difference.

  15. Hi Brazil94….I think that it is important to remember that not every player is going to be a great individual like Messi or Ronaldo. It has been said that a football team is like a good soup – it takes a number of ingredients to produce the final product.
    There has to be someone in the team who can win the ball consistently and keep supplying it to the game-changer. Aguero, Sterling, De Bruyne, David Silva and Bernardo Silva are great players for Manchester City but Pep Guardiola knows they always miss Fernandinho when he can’t take up his holding midfield position. Similarly, would Leicester City have won the League a few years ago without Kante performing that vital role?
    Players of this type rarely stand out alongside their more illustrious team mates but the rest of the team, and the fans, know that they never play as well when they are missing.

  16. Hi Steve…What’s to remember… you are stating the obvious and you miss the point for the sake of making a point!

    However, to pick up on your reference to the holder, let’s take Busquets, while he plays predominantly one, two, or three touch he has the ability to get out of tight situations as you are fully aware; and this individualism has been honed as a young player.

    You may though Bless you… be trying to keep the convo going ?! on this excellent of blogs.

  17. Hi Brazil94….I don’t know what point you have in mind that I am missing. I am merely drawing attention to players who haven’t the individualism and flair of Messi, Ronaldo and Maradona but provide vital functions for their teams.
    In the sixties and early seventies Ron Boyce was an invaluable cog in the West Ham team of that era. Look at old film of their matches and you will see that whenever a West Ham player was in possession but under pressure, then invariably the player on hand to get him out of trouble was Boyce. His support play was brilliant but he largely passed under the radar and it was a travesty that he never won an England cap. He was also great at intercepting opponents’ passes in midfield and so constantly turned defence into attack. No wonder his nickname was “Ticker” because he made West Ham tick.
    Regarding your reference to Sergio Busquets, he was actually a forward in his early days. He was 16 when he joined Barcelona, long after Pep Guardiola had left the club as a player. His father was Carles Busquets who was one of Cruyff’s sweeper-keepers in the “Dream Team” and so the Barcelona way ran in his blood.

  18. Steve, it’s patently obvious that you need to use the great Hungarian quote – ‘Players to play the piano and others to carry it”. The fact you mention Busquets being initially a forward suggests that he had a developed individual skill set before he moved into his midfield role… Work on the individuality and move them around into positions if need be, BUT follow John’s mantra of creating fundamentally the best individuals as are humanly possible.

  19. When Rio Ferdinand joined West Ham as a youngster he was a centre forward.
    As he went through the various age groups he moved back into midfield, full back and finally centre half. When he first appeared in West Ham’s first team as a centre half he several times moved out into midfield to support his forward passes and to supplement the attacks. His England debut against Cameroon at Wembley was notable for joining in attacks on several occasions and even getting into the Cameroon penalty area from which he nearly scored.
    Unfortunately, after leaving West Ham and playing for Leeds United and Manchester United, Ferdinand’s game did not develop along those lines and he became a simple but effective stopper. He always displayed class and tried to pass the ball to feet, but his development as an extra midfield player and attacker did not continue. It was a great pity because he could have become an English version of Franz Beckenbaur.

  20. Hi Guys, I was speaking with a stranger yesterday at a match – and we were talking about the recognised FA Coaching – and I mentioned Premier Skills as majorly important in taking the game forward in an innovative way where the focus is on the individual player and the decisions made. In saying this, watching the Liverpool – Arsenal match – I remember a recent blog and subsequent discussions John has prompted about crossing and the need for teams to have someone in their attacking armory to take advantage of this approach…Liverpool crossed and crossed often to no avail…albeit a little ironic that their first goal came from a corner rather than what we term open play… I was thinking back to the long ago days of John Toshack… but my point is that Roberto Firmino was special individually; some absolutely delighful skills: with improvisation, individuality and some of the missing 12 as this blogs title suggests… Dropping off into half positions and then going in allowed Liverpool to display the necessary skill adding to their magnificent intensity and made it for once a relatively balanced style once they got their noses in front. I can’t help thinking that after the opening few minutes they needed to be able to use ‘rolling’ subs – that is getting someone on for a short period to exploit the crossing spaces that Arsenal allowed… and then revert to the normal line up… You may say ‘Rolling subs!!!!’ but one day it may happen. The answer is the production of excellent all round strikers – wheres these days, it seems being top class on the deck and in the air… is like snow flakes in the summer.

  21. There is no need for “rolling subs”, just more work on crossing the ball.
    The standard of crossing is very poor. Many people seem to think that you have to beat your opponent before putting over a cross. The ball can be curled round the defender as he approaches to challenge, tempting the keeper off his line before swinging away for an attacking runner with the keeper stranded. West Ham used to spend hours in training doing this and it led to numerous goals. Ron Greenwood, during his spell as England manager, put on a session at the Surrey Football Coaches Association, coaching the near post cross and run, and said that the cross “should tease the keeper”.
    Many crosses come in and there is no-one attacking the near post. The ball is kicked in with the laces of the boot, as if shooting, instead of wrapping the foot round the ball. The runner into the box often arrives too early, instead of waiting for the crosser’s head to go down to strike the cross. As the crosser’s leg is swung back to strike the cross the attacker should start his run, thereby arriving in the attacking space at the same moment as the ball.
    It’s all about practice.

  22. The reason for the crop of promising young players who are currently forcing themselves into the first team squads of Premier League clubs or, alternatively, into foreign leagues if the opportunities prove too limited here, in my opinion is because they have been experiencing the game in street-type play in rather cramped and tight areas which the cages provide.
    For too long we have coached players in areas which have allowed too much room and don’t force the young player into twisting, turning and manoeuvring the ball with space at a premium. I still see a lot of organised coaching work done in areas in which the players have an unrealistic amount of room. Or, in grass roots football, often the technique is practised to get the mechanics right using plenty of space, but then a game is also played in plenty of space and so the young player does not practice the skill under realistic pressure. Adding more players or reducing the playing area will solve that problem.
    Playing with the outside of the foot has become almost a forgotten skill. Also many young players want to hit shots from unrealistic distances. I think this is because ‘Goal of the Month’ type awards usually go to a player who unleashes a 35 yard thunderbolt and youngsters dream of emulating their heroes with a rocket shot which flies into the net from long distance. It therefore becomes a rarity for a player to look to ‘play himself in’ around the penalty area from a one-two, starting with a pass with the outside of his foot, disguising his intentions, as he threatens the defence, running at them at speed with the ball at his feet.

  23. Frank Lampard is to be congratulated for giving young Academy graduates, Mount, Abraham and Tomori regular games in Chelsea’s first team this season.They are rewarding him with some fine performances.
    Of course, Chelsea have been largely forced into this situation by the transfer ban which they have to serve. Had it not been for that punishment, it is unlikely that Lampard would even have got the Chelsea job. A top flight coach from Europe would have come in with a ‘wish list’ of high quality, but high cost, recruits. I never heard of any leading coach putting out feelers for the job, knowing that he would have to work with the squad that he was presented with.
    I have noticed that Ademola Lookman has spent most of his time on the substitutes’ bench so far this season at RB Leipzig, after his permanent transfer from Everton. New coach, Julian Hagelsman, does not seem to be too keen whereas under previous management at the club, when Lookman was on loan, his appearances were much more frequent and he became a firm favourite with the Leipzig fans. It was a similar situation at Everton. Ronald Koeman gave him his debut and provided him with a fairly regular amount of first team game time. But Lookman found opportunities much harder to come by when Marco Silva took charge.
    Coaches/managers must show faith and belief in their young players if their potential is to be fully developed.

  24. Although it is very pleasing to see the recent emergence of talented young players in the English game, it has to be said that some of the football which Kosovo played against England last week at the St. Mary’s Stadium was breathtaking. That such a small nation, with a population of about one and a half million, can continue to develop players of such quality, speaks volumes for their development system and environment in which their young players learn the game. In addition, this was in the absence of several key players.
    Admittedly, some of the defending on both sides was appalling, but the movement, close control and one touch play of the Kosovans was a joy to behold. It was a reminder of all the outstanding players which that part of the world, formerly Yugoslavia, has been producing for generations. They seem to have a natural affinity for the game, both technically and athletically.
    I hope they qualify from the group but, like England, they must tighten up considerably in defence, to make an impression at Euro 2020.

  25. Neymar is not always everybody’s cup of tea, with his diving and play acting antics, but when he scored the winner for PSG on Sunday, against Lyon, he showed why he is one of the world’s greatest players.
    He was surrounded by three defenders when he received the ball just inside the Lyon penalty area, with two more close at hand. He received it with his left foot, turned like a squirming eel with two touches of his right, evading the snapping feet of his opponents and scored with a low left foot shot into the far corner of the Lyon net.
    There were five minutes left of a dour match in which Lyon, although the home team, were playing for a 0 – 0 draw.
    It was another example of how a truly great player confirms his brilliance by playing, not in inches of space, but in millimetres.

  26. Hi Brazil94….I would not include Neymar in that group you mention. As I said, he is not everybody’s cup of tea and I don’t think we have seen the best of him yet. However, he is a game-changer and though we have seen some English talent
    emerge during the last few years, we still need to show that we can produce a player who can take a game by the scruff of the neck and win it by his own individualism and brilliance.
    That’s what Neymar did against Lyon.

  27. I definitely don’t include him in the group I mention; my point is how you can in your words state: “It was another example of how a truly great player confirms his brilliance”.

    You’d surely – well I would – expect more….But have standards dropped!! Or do you think I’m being hyper-critical?

    However, where you are correct is that the British Media continue over-state the ability of the emerging young players – John C I feel will have an opinion about this.

  28. Hi Brazil94….The goal that Neymar scored against Lyon in a Ligue 1 match was like a shining light in a sea of mediocrity.
    It neither elevated him onto a list of the all time greats nor placed anyone in any particular order.
    Yes, we all “expect more” but to be a great player in 2019 is somewhat more demanding, in many ways, than it was, say, in 1959. The skill displayed by Neymar was of the highest order due to the minimal amount of space in which he performed it.

  29. Steve; surely it’s easy for you to agree; however, you wrote: “It was another example of how a truly great player confirms his brilliance”, and I’m saying he doesn’t do enough to be called in your words truly great. That’s all…I’m not denying the momentary brilliance in any way…But MOMENTARILY ONLY …perhaps thank god he only needed to produce one moment to be the game changer!

  30. I thought that Dinamo Zagreb defended brilliantly against Manchester City in the Champions’ League group fixture earlier this week. They plugged all the gaps and retreated to the edge of their penalty area to present a seemingly impenetrable wall in the face of almost constant City attacks.
    But I was so impressed by the way that the home team never resorted to hopeful high crosses in desperation to score. They explored every possible avenue through and around the visitors’ defence with slick passing and constant movement and got their reward with two second half goals.
    I believe that the breakthrough was a tribute to Guardiola’s coaching. Over the years I have seen on countless occasions, English teams launch an aerial bombardment on foreign opposition defences. But Dinamo showed they were well prepared for that type of onslaught and so City did not go down the road of so many English teams before them, where high crosses are pumped into the box time after time. They kept persevering with the ball on the floor, maintaining their belief that this approach, combined with the darting runs of their forwards, would ultimately result in a breakthrough.
    It did in the second half and provided clear evidence of the extent to which City’s players have bought into Guardiola’s philosophy and work on the training ground.

  31. Steve, if they didn’t Guardiola would ‘get rid,’ and being totally supported in this from behind the scenes. The players know this; as well as receiving a king’s ransom in the process to follow orders.; and learn – hence no sympathy for Joe Hart. Who went after he was unable to adapt.

    Over and above that, Guardiola’s entire starting eleven were not born in Britain and while residing in Manchester hardly traditionally ‘English’ in their football mentality!

  32. Hi Brazil94…..The English players at Manchester City have benefited and improved from Guardiola’s coaching just as much as those of other nationalities.Sterling, Stones and Walker are evidence of this. Foden could become a Premier League star during the next twelve months and Guardiola believes he can become one of Europe’s outstanding players. Sancho would have made the City first team but was not prepared to wait and who can say he was wrong, when he is already a regular in the Dortmund first team. He is the first to acknowledge the development he made under the City boss.
    We must be careful when criticising our “football mentality”. The best performance I have witnessed from an English team against European opposition was in 1965 when West Ham beat TSV Munich 1860 2-0 in the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final, which is regarded by all who saw it as one of the all time classics. All ten outfield West Ham players had graduated from the club’s youth teams.
    Two years later, Celtic became the first British team to win the European Cup and their ten outfield players had all been born within a 30 mile radius of their ground.
    With England’s World Cup victory sandwiched between those two Finals, no one was questioning our “football mentality” then.

  33. After the poor display against Czech Republic, England were much improved against Bulgaria, especially in defence. The back four played better as a unit and it looked as though some good work had been done in training between the two matches. Individually and collectively England produced a better performance, but the opposition was very poor and the hold ups in play following the racism incidents seemed to affect the home team even more than England.
    It still remains difficult to judge just how much progress England are making between Tournament Finals when they are placed alongside such mediocre opposition in the qualifying groups. In Russia, the luck of the draw meant that their opponents were little better in England’s path to the semi final. Still, it would be unfair not to credit England with improvement when they produce it and to acknowledge the work done by the coaching staff when it becomes evident.

  34. After Manchester United had shown improved form in holding Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, their former midfield player, Darren Fletcher, said in an interview that this was due to them getting the ball forward quicker, early passes for runners into the channels and looking to turn the Liverpool defenders round by switching the play with long diagonal balls.
    A few weeks ago another ex-player now in the media, West Ham’s centre half for many years, Tony Gale, expressed the opinion during the Germany-Argentina international, that the reason for the Germans racing into a two goal lead and dominating the first half, was because they were moving the ball much quicker than their opponents and creating numerous goal scoring opportunities.
    In both these examples we have northern European teams returning to an approach which characterised their play, and served them well, for many years.
    Perhaps the copy-cat mentality of recent years is about to disappear. At both club and national team level, countries must never forget what they are good at and brought them success in the past. A coach should try to mix game styles when possible but he must always be aware of what his players can, or cannot, do, and shape the play around these considerations.

  35. The Rugby World Cup has recently been taking up many of the sports pages in the national press.
    I have never followed this game but I feel that football can learn a few things from the oval ball game. I have been impressed at times by the speed at which, in some games, the ball is moved. Of course, the ball can’t go forward but despite this, when it is passed square or backwards then space is made to release players to run forward into it and maintain the speed of the attack.. There is quick movement of both players and ball and that is how I believe football should be played. I don’t know if there is a rugby equivalent of third man running, but there certainly are overlaps.
    On this point, I would like to mention that I was impressed with Stockport County a few days ago, in their Conference Premier game at Bromley. Before the match they were 17th in the table against Bromley’s first position and played on the counter attack. They gave their table-topping opponents plenty of problems by releasing runners with early passes and deserved their 2-2 draw.
    The over emphasis on possession football has resulted in too many teams forgetting the benefits of quick play and Stockport reaped their reward.

  36. Strikers always seem to have commanded the biggest transfer fees in the game for many years. This comes to mind when considering “cross-field running” among the Missing 12 which John highlights in the blog.
    Strikers have always been expected to be the top goalscorers but where are the prolific scorers who play from midfield? If defenders are not being moved across the field, and therefore out of position, then there is less space for midfield runners to exploit in well timed sprints forward into the spaces created. No one timed his runs better through this space than Martin Peters, for both West Ham and England, but since Frank Lampard at Chelsea, have we really had our quota of goals from the midfielders?
    The point with Peters was that so often the space he utilised was set up by the off the ball running of his striker Geoff Hurst. But everyone who watched football in that era will recall that Hurst scored even more frequently than Peters and so his unselfish approach was no detriment to his own goalscoring achievements.
    As John explains, today we see defences being able to stay compact because of the vertical running, towards the opposition goal, of the forwards, allowing the defenders to remain in position.But there is no better sight of a player from midfield breaking forward into the space created by intelligent movement, with the defence powerless to prevent a goal.

  37. Judging by the extended TV highlights, Maidenhead United gave a good performance against Rotherham United last Saturday, in the FA Cup 1st round, finally losing 1-3 after leading 1-0 for a large part of the match.
    Maidenhead play in the Conference League, Premier Division, their opponents in Football League 1. But the part timers released quick passes into space behind Rotherham’s defence, where their front players timed their runs well to exploit their pace and anticipation. There was no “kick and rush” tactics and no negative back and square possession passing. Good, incisive attacks can be made by minimal passes, direct play if you like, but good movement and combination play can reduce the need for excessive passing if performed well.
    Maidenhead are managed by Alan Devonshire, a West Ham player for many years under Ron Greenwood and John Lyall. Under their tutelage he learnt how to apply good habits and principles into his managing and coaching and it all showed last Saturday.

  38. I recently heard the former Arsenal and England right back, Lee Dixon, comment on television that a full back had two important covering responsibilities: to get round on the cover of the centre back should an opposing forward threaten to break through, but to also be in the correct position, should the ball be passed to his direct opponent out wide, therefore positioned so as to be able to close him down as the ball arrives at the wide player’s feet, denying him the time to lift his head and pick out a dangerous pass or run with the ball.
    I have thought for some time that whilst full backs have greatly increased attacking responsibilities, their defensive work has been neglected and defensive skills and good positioning given insufficient attention. Many full backs play very tight to their wide opponent when the opposition have possession, regardless of the position of the ball.This is particularly noticeable with teams that want to play with a high defensive line and are constantly looking to spring the offside trap.
    I think that this is a dangerous tactic. I saw a game recently where the left back regularly adjusted his position by making a triangle shape between himself and the opposing right winger and their attacking midfield player, who was attempting to break through the centre of their defence whenever possible. The left back constantly adjusted his position so that he was ideally positioned to get round on the cover should this player break through the centre of his defence, but also close enough to his winger to pressurise the ball immediately should the opponents decide to switch the play.

  39. Following the comments on present day full back play, it was heartening to see the performance of Djibril Sidibe for Everton at Leicester City on Sunday.
    Urgently in need of points, Everton fielded a back five, with Sidibe in the so-called right wing back position. He got forward down the right flank whenever possible and it was his run and pin point cross which enabled Richarlison to put them ahead. But Sidibe was outstanding in defensive situations, covering the inexperienced Mason Holgate when he was drawn forward by quickly closing the door which had been left open.
    Nothing escaped Sidibe’s notice and his reading of the game was immaculate. There can be no under-stating the benefit that such experience and know-how can have on the younger players in the Everton team. We are used to seeing full backs “bombing on” as they support their attacks from wide positions. But keeping their team defensively tight and well balanced is just as important and, in spite of the emergence of talented English forwards in the last few years, we have seen the National Team concede goals which will make dreams of a successful Euro 2020 a forlorn hope.

  40. West Ham United and their manager, Manuel Pellegrini, badly needed the three points which they obtained with a one-nil win at Southampton yesterday. It was a much improved team performance and one of the reasons for this, it seemed to me, was the combination up front of Sebastien Haller and Michail Antonio.
    Playing two strikers, as in a 4-4-2 formation, appears to have lost its popularity. At one time it was the standard formation for most teams in the English leagues. But if you have two strikers who complement each other well, as Haller and Antonio did yesterday, then it can still be very effective. In recent matches which I have seen, either ‘live’ or on TV, Haller has looked an isolated and unhappy figure. But against Southampton he was able to concentrate on his prime function of target man, the focal point of the attack, whilst Antonio made runs beyond him, and he was put clear with well struck passes from midfield following Haller’s lay offs. Antonio made runs into the space behind the Southampton defence, not too early but just after the pass was made after Haller had set the ball back.
    These were third man running movements which have been an essential part of West Ham’s armoury since Ron Greenwood introduced the concept in the early sixties. Of course, you don’t have to play the 4-4-2 formation to release third man running among the players, but the key to West Ham’s improvement at Southampton seemed to be in fitting Haller and Antonio into positions where they could be most effective and third man running was the net result of reverting to this team shape.
    It would be in the best tradition of the club if West Ham, in the next few weeks, could pull away from the Premier League relegation zone by using third man running as the essential ingredient for the improvement.

  41. I was most impressed with Brighton’s performance against Crystal Palace in the televised match last night. Their new coach, Graham Potter, looks to be doing some good work. Brighton have a positive game style, where they move the ball around quickly and well, playing it forward whenever possible.
    Brighton, up until now, have fallen into that category of teams who seem destined to have a season long struggle to retain their place in the Premier League. But the quality of their football at Selhurst Park, which deserved much more than a 1-1 draw, showed they could have a very promising future.
    It has been clear for a long time that the average British fan has no love of the slow, deliberate build up in play, even if the pass count for a move reaches double figures. Brighton pass the ball with smoothness and accuracy, but the pass they seek is the one which goes forward. The result is fast, attacking football and the Brighton players display both skill and imagination.
    Having coached and learnt his trade abroad, Potter is another example of someone who is succeeding in coaching, having emerged from a relatively ordinary playing background.It is also good to see a young English coach establishing himself and i hope that when a ‘big’ job comes up, club owners will recognise that they don’t necessarily have to import someone from overseas. But first I think that Potter should take his work at Brighton to a conclusion , because he looks to be laying the foundations for something really exciting on the south coast.

  42. Martin Peters, who passed away at the weekend, provoked the remark from Sir Alf Ramsey that “he was ten years ahead of his time”.
    That was quite an accurate prediction, because in the decade following England’s World Cup success we had the emergence of Holland, built in the image of the brilliant Ajax club team, as a real international force. Peters was a multi purpose player, able to perform at a high level in practically every position on the field. During his time at West Ham, he played in every shirt number, including goal, when shirt numbers related to the specific job for that number. Wearing usually the number 11 shirt for England, and often for his club,he lined up at outside left for the kick off but then moved around the field where ever his brilliant reading of the game took him. It would have been fascinating to see him playing in the same team as Johann Cruyff and how they would have combined in a “team of all talents”.
    Martin Peters possessed superb technical skill and this was exhibited one day at West Ham’s training ground at Chadwell Heath. At the end of the session Peters remained behind to put some extra time into polishing up his range of skills. A West Ham director had been present that morning during the training session, and seeing Peters on his own, with another player acting as a server, he said “if you can hit a shot against the crossbar on the volley from outside the penalty area from a cross, in three attempts, then I’ll give you £500.”
    Peters positioned himself on the edge of the ‘D’ on the outside of the area. Three high crosses came into him and three times he smacked the ball against the crossbar, bang, bang, bang, with perfect volleying technique – dropping his shoulder towards the ground as he fell away on that side, the kicking foot raised high to strike the ball perfectly as it came through the air.
    West Ham spent hours on honing techniques such as volleying and no one perfected it better than Martin Peters.

  43. What John has cleverly illustrated here is the detail of linkage variations that are part of an exciting game style and more importantly that the junior coach must include in their development programme .John has always emphasised in the Premier Skills work the necessity for the coach to observe, assess and deliver the skill and tactical variations that constantly pop up in the modern game.This is based on preparing young players with the skill and understanding to do so.
    Yet another great article for the thinking coach.

  44. It is no surprise that Manuel Pellegrini has been sacked as manager of West Ham.
    The final straw came in yesterday’s 1-2 home defeat against Leicester City. It was not that West Ham played particularly badly, because on occasions they produced moments of skill. But there is no clear identity to West Ham’s play and no game style. This is a team which for large parts of its history produced players with the technical skill and game understanding that often played other more illustrious opponents off the park.
    Pellegrini had success in La Liga in Spain as well as at Manchester City in the Premier League. But he did not have the knowledge or experience to reproduce the type of football which would bring stability and then relative success at West Ham. Unless the people behind the scenes who wield the power at West Ham recognise this fact, then the same mistake will happen again, if the names being bandied about as Pellegrini’s successor are anything to go by.
    Player recruitment at West Ham has resulted in a number of expensive acquisitions from both South America and Europe. I can only conclude that Pellegrini was attempting to build a jig-saw team, that is good individuals who would fit together naturally into a cohesive unit. This has failed and the result is a collection of individuals who are all playing their “own game”.
    When West Ham are playing well and effectively, they play early passes into players breaking forward into spaces which have been created by good movement. This only comes from many hours of hard work done in training which at West Ham used to be the norm. At the moment West Ham have many players who do not have these “habits” and, instead, dwelling on the ball and passing square and backwards comes into the players’ thinking as the first consideration.
    It will be a long process to revert back to these old methods but unless they do then I can’t see much of a future. The process could be speeded up though if greater willingness was shown in establishing young players more quickly into the first team instead of loaning them out to lower division clubs for excessive periods, after they have already displayed promise in West Ham’s first team.
    I am aware that relegation would bring considerable financial difficulties to West Ham with the demands of playing at the ground in Stratford. An interim British manager until the end of this season, such Pulis, Moyes or Alardyce to hopefully prevent this happening could be the answer, but after that a long term vision for West Ham in its true traditions should be the priority.

  45. We seem to be hearing a lot recently about the heavy workload placed on our players.
    It’s a fact, however, that during the Christmas and New Year holidays there has always been a full fixture list every few days. Most people are off work and in Britain it is traditional to play at that time of year, even though that is not the case in most other countries. I also think that foreign fans like this tradition as well because, certainly in London, it is noticeable how many foreign visitors take the opportunity to watch a game in the capital at this time of year, and not just at Premier League grounds either.
    I think that there could be psychological factors at work when we hear managers and coaches complain about tired and over-worked players. In the past it was commonplace to hear players exclaim that they would be delighted to play every day of the week if possible. You heard this from players with teams that were winning and playing well. The next game could not come soon enough and players in this country always preferred playing to training.
    I think that the training issue could be the key point here. I have often heard players from the George Graham era at Arsenal, especially defenders, remark that in their day the training during the week was harder than the match on Saturday. The defenders in training had to play four or five against eight or more attackers which resulted in the great defensive strength of that team. Lee Dixon has said that when you have done that for between one and two hours in training from Monday to Friday then so often the match was a comparative rest!
    It is also instructive to look at the vast improvement in pitch conditions at this time of year compared to what it used to be. Today’s pitches are as immaculate as bowling greens all the year round. At this time of year in the past, they would either be ankle deep in mud or frozen solid. I recall the Christmas in 1963 when West Ham played Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day at Upton Park which was a sea of mud. Blackburn won 8-2 and straight after the match both teams travelled up together on the train to play at Ewood Park the next day. Ron Greenwood made just one change to the West Ham team, (Eddie Bovington for Martin Peters), and West Ham won 3-1!
    Peters lost his place to Bovington in the West Ham team for the rest of the season, including the Cup Final against Preston, but he was back stronger than ever the following season and became a great player.
    Psychology plays such a big part in football and no more so than when we hear talk about tired players.

  46. The campaign to ban heading from the game in junior age groups is gaining momentum due to the increasingly strong evidence that it may lead to the onset of dementia in later life. I understand that it has been banned in the USA for some time until players reach the age of 13. They are now proposing to raise the age limit to 16 and Scotland have followed their lead by excluding heading from under 13 football and below.
    It is a fact that heading was a strong point in the British game for many years but we seem to have lost our way in this regard in recent years, at least in the case of forwards who would score prolifically from headers. On Sunday centre half Virgil Van Dyke set Liverpool on their way to victory over Manchester United when he came forward for a corner and scored with a powerful header. But there is no forward with the aerial qualities of John Toshack, Joe Jordan or Geoff Hurst in our football at the moment and so it is often left to big central defenders to come forward at set pieces and attack the ball with powerful headers.
    Here in England I feel that we could benefit considerably from a heading ban in the younger age groups, not only in the aspect of serious long term damage to the brain but also from a technical viewpoint. I see the real chance of an improvement in skill levels if young defenders are forced to deal with crosses and passes made in the air by intercepting the ball with the chest, thigh or foot, rather than using the head to thrust forward and powerfully head the ball clear.
    We have always marvelled at the superb technique of South American defenders, in particular, who prefer to take the high cross on their chests, bring the ball down to their feet and play it away skilfully to a team mate looking for a pass.
    Our young defenders have been brought up on the orders of headed clearances with the emphasis on power and height. There is obviously a time for those priorities but on other occasions, the ability to instantly control the ball and either stride forward with it into midfield or pass accurately to a colleague, would be a much greater benefit to a counter attack.

  47. A very interesting book has recently been published : “Jimmy Hogan – The Greatest Football Coach Ever” by Ashley Hyne.
    Jimmy Hogan was a very influential coach from the north of England who helped spread the game’s popularity overseas from the early years of the 20th century until his death in 1974.
    A number of books have been written about him in recent years but this is a more critical view of a famous coach. Ashley Hyne does not dispute the selfless hard work over many years which Hogan put in around Europe, especially in Hungary, but he does question some of the successes which have been attributed to Hogan in other publications.
    The subject which I found most interesting was that which related to the great Hungarian team of 1953/54 which thrashed England 6-3 at Wembley and then by 7-1 a few months later in Budapest. The position switching and off the ball movement which so mesmerised the England players in those matches, Hyne believes, was as mystifying to Hogan as it was to all those connected to the England team that day. He scoffs at the idea, promoted in some sections of the English press following the match at Wembley, that England’s humiliation had been plotted by an Englishman.
    What really interested me in Ashley Hyne’s study of these matches between England and Hungary was what he had to say about a contribution made fifteen years after the Wembley match in a special editorial article in an annual of the time: “International Football Book No. 10” published in 1968.
    This article was printed with no byline but i have always known that it was written by Eric Batty. His name was printed on the title page of the book as a Contributing Editor. Eric and I were good friends for many years until he passed away in 1994.
    The article was a study of the methods and secrets of that great Hungarian team and the fact that a current English team, in that 1960s era, had a coach who had seen and understood what the Hungarians had been doing all those years before and was making those methods work with his own team.
    This coach was Ron Greenwood and the team was West Ham of that decade, following his appointment as their manager in 1961.
    In the article Eric explained that Hungary had worked on the “Third Man Theory”, what we now refer to as “Third Man Running”. He pinpoints exactly how the methodology works and Ashley Hyne also quotes it: “Update this idea to the West Ham team of (1968). Left back John Charles passes up to left winger John Sissons, Sissons moves inside with the ball (screened from the full back) towards Geoff Hurst, taking the full back with him. Once inside, Sissons plays the ball to Ron Boyce at inside right. Boyce puts the ball over the heads of the defenders to the left wing – where there is no Sissons, but Charles. Charles is the ‘third man’, the ‘one put in from behind’, not occasionally or accidentally, but as a matter of training or habit.”
    Eric went on in the article to draw attention to vital pieces of play which England’s three West Ham players, Moore, Hurst and Peters provided in the 1966 World Cup success, further evidence of the dynamic effect of the third man.
    Eric Batty himself was an exceptional coach. He was manager/coach of a club in south east London, Penhill Standard FC, which progressed from junior football into senior amateur football in the London-Spartan League. I worked alongside Eric, and other fine coaches, at this club for thirty five years.
    In 1969 Eric had a book published called “Soccer Coaching The Modern Way”, which explains coaching practices for numerous third man movements.

  48. Hi Brazil94…..Third man running is widely known through most good levels of football but there are not as many examples of it as there ought to be.
    Eric Batty used to say that this was because at most clubs insufficient training time was devoted to it. It was the cornerstone of the Penhill Standard coaching delivery and thus became a habit with the majority of players.
    In the present Premier League, Norwich City produce as much third man movement as anyone and they are in bottom position! Their centre forward Pukki is key because he lays off quality balls which are then played forward to a third man runner. This is where we are possibly falling short in the English game: we produce strongly built strikers who can compete and score goals in the penalty area hurly burly, but lack the finesse and touch to provide the midfield support with passes that can be immediately put forward for a runner going into space in the opponents’ defence.

  49. To commemorate Jimmy Greaves’s 80th birthday, BT Sport screened a film detailing his life and career. I thought the best bit was an interview with Glenn Hoddle when the former Tottenham and England midfield player described the effect Greaves had on him when he had been a young apprentice at Spurs and often watched him play in training matches with other first team players in a tight little gym in which they practised at that time, often in games of 13 or 14 a side. No matter how little space the crowded area provided, the young Hoddle was struck by the way in which the goal-scoring maestro was never rushed in his play. He noticed how Greaves’s head appeared to be on a swivel, looking this way and that when he was not in possession, so that when he got the ball he knew exactly where he was on the pitch and where team mates and opposition were in his vicinity. This “knowing where you are” was his secret in scoring numerous goals during his playing career, so often in crowded penalty areas where he would slip effortlessly into space on so many occasions and effortlessly pass the ball into the net.
    About fifty years ago I recall being present at a West Ham training session at Chadwell Heath. It was towards the end of Greaves’s playing career at the top level, which he finished off at the east London club. They were playing a training game similar to the ones which Hoddle watched in his early days at Tottenham. Greaves received the ball in the penalty area with his back to goal, surrounded by defenders converging on him. Without stopping or controlling the ball, Greaves hooked the ball over his shoulder with his first touch and through the tiniest of gaps between defenders into the goal. There was a stunned silence and then applause broke out all over the pitch for this breathtaking example of vision from a goal-scoring genius.

  50. Liverpool paid the price for having an inadequate back-up keeper when they were eliminated from the Champions’ League by Atletico Madrid. Adrian’s weaknesses had been apparent when he was at West Ham and so it was very surprising when Jurgen Klopp entered the transfer market to take him to Anfield. Had Alison not been injured for the Round of 16 second leg clash, then it is most unlikely that Liverpool would not have safely negotiated what was admittedly a tricky fixture against awkward opponents. That’s a harsh statement to make, but I think that most Liverpool fans would have returned home with that thought in their minds.
    The second leg provided fast attacking football from Liverpool, but the defensive discipline displayed by Atletico had to be admired. The best piece of play, I felt, was the work of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain when he laid on Liverpool’s first goal for Wijnaldum. This highlighted a piece of play which I believe we see all too little of in the game these days and that is the blind side run. When Chamberlain produced his masterpiece the score on the night was goalless, with Atletico leading 1-0 from the first leg. With two to three minutes of the first half remaining Liverpool were in possession out wide on the right, not far away from the Atletico penalty box. Chamberlain had spotted space behind the left side of the Atletico defence. He started to make a run off the back of an opposition defender but this player was checking his shoulder and dropped to pick up Chamberlain’s run. The Liverpool midfield player broke off his run and dropped back into the crowd where he had run from. The Atletico defender switched his attention back onto the area around the ball. Chamberlain spotted this and now he saw his chance. He made a second sprint forward, across the back of the defender, who was momentarily concentrating on the ball. The pass was released at just the right moment, as Chamberlain arrived in space. He crossed immediately, before anyone could intervene, and Wijnaldum put away the chance without fuss.
    This should have been the breakthrough that would help Liverpool through to the quarter finals. But nothing is predictable in football.
    I saw Chamberlain make these blind-side runs when he was at Arsenal and we need to see more of them in the English game. It is up to the coaches to work on this great technical skill with the players, which will benefit not only the clubs but also the England team with higher performance players.

  51. With football, and sport in general, having come to a standstill due to the Corona Virus crisis, it has been interesting to see that the TV companies have delved into their archives to screen some matches from the past.
    The opportunity to have another look at past Champions’ League matches featuring Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and AC Milan has been great, but I think the opportunity exists to be even more imaginative and go back further in time. There must be tens of thousands of football fans who have never seen the full ninety minutes of the iconic 1960 European Cup Final, Real Madrid 7 Eintract Frankfurt 3, the 1958 World Cup Final, Brazil 5 Sweden 2, the 1965 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final, West Ham 2 TSV Munich 0, and practically any match which Brazil and France played during the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
    All these matches, and many more of a similar vintage, are in circulation as either DVDs or videos. The belief seems to exist within the TV industry, however, that to appeal to a younger audience you can’t go back too far into the sands of time. I would disagree because you learn from the past, in football as in anything else. The pace of matches in previous eras may appear much slower, pedestrian even, but the skill level and playing intelligence is of the highest order.
    Past masters of the game should not be forgotten by those who saw them and gain new admirers from those who were born too late.

  52. There could be very serious repercussions for clubs below the Premier League with the present suspension of League and Cup matches as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. All the clubs which rely on match day revenue to survive are already finding their cash reserves running very low.
    If a number of clubs go out of business then this will have far reaching effects on the game in this country. Only a few of the youth and schoolboy players who progress through the Academies of Premier League clubs, actually sign as a professional at those clubs when they reach 16, 17 or 18. Many of those who are released, join clubs in lower divisions of the EFL or the semi pro clubs in the Conference (National League). Harry Kane came through Tottenham’s Academy but went out on loan to a whole variety of clubs like Millwall and Leyton Orient before establishing himself with Tottenham and eventually England.
    Progressing from the opposite direction, Michail Antonio started in non-league with Tooting & Mitcham before being spotted by Nottingham Forest and then achieving his dream of playing in the Premier League when he was signed by West Ham.
    If we lose a substantial number of clubs at this level, as is feared, then young players who hope to progress, as Kane and Antonio did, will find these stepping stones have disappeared. Even fewer talented English players will appear in the Premier League, their pathways blocked by foreign imports who will be signed in even larger numbers.
    I am not in favour of lower league clubs being attached to the bigger Premier League clubs and operating merely as “feeders”. I believe that all clubs deserve their independence and harbouring the hope of one day achieving their dreams. But the big clubs could help by treating the cups, both the FA Cup and League Cup, with respect. We hear enough of too many matches but it’s the constant interference from FIFA and UEFA, introducing more half-baked international competitions in what should be the close season. In July and August the big clubs go off to Australia, Malaysia, USA etc. to play in so-called Tournaments, but which are money making ventures, aimed at selling even more shirts. Sometimes I wonder how much training, i.e. coaching, has been done in those pre-season weeks.
    If we lose a substantial number of smaller clubs during the next few months then I think it won’t be long before the giants of the Premier League realise that they are the losers too.

  53. I can recommend two recently published books ” The Names Heard Long Ago” by Jonathan Wilson and “Magical Magyars” by David Bailey.
    Both books concern the emergence of the great Hungarian team just after World War 2 which famously humiliated England 6 – 3 at Wembley in late 1953 and then by a 7 – 1 scoreline in Budapest seven months later. The only defeat this great team suffered during those years was against West Germany in 1954. The bitter disappointment of this solitary defeat was that it occurred in the Final of that year’s World Cup in Switzerland. So possibly the greatest team in the history of football never laid hands, as it surely deserved, on the game’s ultimate prize.
    One of the coaches involved in the emergence of Hungarian football in that era was Bela Guttmann. He was a globe-trotting coach who took charge of teams in many different parts of the world, stretching far into old age. One of his most successful club sides was Benfica. Until he took over, they were an unknown team but under his command they reached the final of the European Cup three years in succession, from 1961 – 1963. In the Finals of the first two they beat Barcelona 3-2 and Real Madrid 5-3 and then suffered a narrow defeat, 1-2, against AC Milan at Wembley.
    Having had the opportunity to look at video tapes of those matches, which are still available, it is noticeable that Benfica produced a style of football that was ahead of its time. The ball is moved around quickly and the players switch positions constantly, passing and moving into space as they do. This is also the brand of football exhibited by Hungary at Wembley in 1953, which is also still available on video. As is only to be expected, the picture quality is grainy and faded but there is no doubting the vastly superior movement, of players and the ball, compared to the England team. England had players with skill and ability but the Hungarians were thinking ahead of them all the time as they played.England’s players wanted to get the ball and then decide what to do with it: Hungary always knew in advance and always had options.
    A few years after the football lesson handed out at Wembley, the Hungarian coaching manual, “Soccer” by Arpad Csanadi, was translated into English and was readily available in this country. There were many exercises in the book involving players moving after passing the ball. Frequently this would involve moving from one position to another and so there was constant interchanging of position. Often these exercises would be for the purpose of practising a particular skill, passing, dribbling, heading, receiving etc, but always bringing in this element of place changing.
    It was years before the more enlightened coaches in our game really influenced the rest and the days of Hungarian supremacy were by then long since over. After the Uprising and Revolution of 1956 Hungary has achieved virtually nothing in the game but the influence of their great team from 1945 – 1954 will never be forgotten.

  54. With no football currently being played due to Covid-19, ITV showed a re-run of the 1987 FA Cup Final: Coventry City 3 Tottenham Hotspur 2.
    This was a game full of incident where the result was in doubt until the last kick of extra time. But it was two goals, one for each side, which interested me the most and both had the same essential ingredient.
    Tottenham took the lead within the first few minutes. Chris Waddle received the ball out wide on the right, confronted by two Coventry defenders and checked back away from the Coventry goal as if setting himself to put the ball into the Coventry box with his left foot. But quick a a flash, he chopped the ball with the inside of his left foot to wrong foot the Coventry defenders and made himself just enough space to cross the ball to the near post with his right foot where Clive Allen was running in to score with a header. Allen timed his run perfectly, but the quality of Waddle’s cross was key.He curled the ball around the defenders so that he did not have to attempt to beat them and the quality on the cross meant they had no chance of cutting it out.
    In the second half and losing 1-2, Coventry equalised with a similar goal. Again the ball came from the right wing. Coventry’s Dave Bennett curled his cross around Tottenham left back, Mitchell Thomas, and Keith Houchen met it with a full length diving header.
    Both goals came from crosses which were curled around defenders. England’s Stanley Matthews and the Brazilian Garrincha took the ball up to the full back, threw a feint and went round him before delivering the cross. As defences became stronger there was more than one defender waiting for the skilful wide man. The ability to bend the ball around a defender who is closing down, requires a lot of practice and there seem to be fewer players now who have that in their locker. Also, not only does the ball put the opposing full back out of the game as it curls round him, but it also goes into the near post and then swings away as the keeper commits to it.

  55. When Arsenal won the League and Cup ‘Double’ in 1970/71 (1st Division Championship and FA Cup) this was only the second time in the 20th century that this had been achieved, their north London neighbours, Tottenham, having won both ‘pots’ ten years previously.
    The Tottenham team contained legendary names like Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, John White, Bobby Smith and Cliff Jones. But Arsenal did not receive the same universal acclaim and there is a general view that they were a rather functional, if not boring, team, happy to win games by a single goal.
    I was recently looking on You Tube at highlights of Arsenal in that period and I was surprised at the quality of some of their play. They knocked the ball around in fine style at times, looking for early passes to split defences and release runners going into spaces. They clearly worked on third man running and scored a number of goals from those kind of movements. They also showed, contrary to popular opinion, that playing out from the back was not an unknown tactic in England fifty years ago. How could it have been when they had Bob Wilson in goal and he was always looking to start a counter attack with a quick throw to someone darting into space, when the opposition’s attack had broken down and they had players out of position.
    One goal that Arsenal scored from a Wilson throw came when he collected a high cross from Arsenal’s right side and immediately looked to the left and threw the ball out to George Armstrong, dropping deep down Arsenal’s left wing. Armstrong came inside with the ball, bringing an opponent with him. This opened up space for left back Bob McNab to run into and Armstrong slipped a square pass to Peter Storey whose first time pass out to the left wing put McNab away as the third man runner. A one two and then a pass which set up Ray Kennedy for a goal.
    In another match a combination of first time passes ended with midfield player, Eddie Kelly, getting clear through the middle and another Arsenal goal from third man running.
    Don Howe was the Arsenal coach at this time and had clearly worked hard on the training pitch to produce this attacking play, as well as building a cast iron defence. I think that perhaps not enough credit was given to this team outside of their own patch of north London.

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