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.

47 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.

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