John Cartwright – Session Report


John Cartwright introduced his session by saying that in his opinion this was the first time that this aspect of the game has  been looked at in any great detail. The biggest problem now is the space between the goalkeeper and his defence and this space has become a negative factor for three main reasons:-
1. The ball has changed in that it used to be heavy and did not bend so much when in flight.
2. The players’ footwear has changed – you can ‘feel’ the ball now when you strike it.
3. The foam on the floor which the referee applies at the top level, when he gives a free kick; so now 10 yards really is 10 yards.

The result is that more balls are going into areas where the goalkeeper cannot get them. More and more the keeper is faced with the question – when the ball is played in, do I come out or do I stay?  John said that it was his belief that when defending a free kick we must look at it in a completely different way.

First of all, John set up a defensive strategy when facing a free kick being taken in a direct shooting position a little way outside the penalty area. He lined up three players on the goal line, one on each post and the other in the centre of the goal. The keeper was positioned in front of them in a situation where he could move around freely and not positioned on the goal line as they are at present. In front of him were four players along the 6 yard line spaced out roughly the width of the goal. The remaining three players were positioned just a little way short of the 18 yard line, not a wall but one was positioned just outside the near post in relation to where the free kick was coming from, a second player was central to the goal and the third player was in line with the far post.

John went on to the training pitch to perform his practical session when everyone had had the opportunity to acquire a theoretical understanding. John had to adapt his work a little from the attacking team’s point of view because there were insufficient numbers of players for two full teams. But the inventive nature of his innovation was soon clear as the players practised it. The players approached the work in an admirably competitive manner and the defending players soon enjoyed considerable success and increasing confidence when applying this approach.  It should be pointed out that John had decided before going on to the training pitch that the players should perform the work using their hands so as to avoid any clash of heads or collisions, but this also enabled the players to embed the work quickly and quickly gain an understanding of their respective roles and duties.

As the work progressed John instructed the servers to vary the types of service they put in. He had intentionally used right and left handed servers so that balls came in realistically from either side.

John then created a scenario of free kicks being taken from wide positions. First of all he illustrated how the present situation creates so many problems for the goalkeeper having to deal with balls being put into the space between him and his defensive line and the defenders running back to try and protect the goal are just as much a hindrance to the keeper as the opposition forwards who are running in to try and get a strike or header on goal. John worked on a variety of balls of different service types to create all the situations which teams find themselves in when defending free kicks.

So having clearly illustrated how the space between the defence and the keeper is the cause of so many problems when facing these free kicks from wide positions, John then produced his new set up. The three players were again positioned on the goal line, one on the near post, one central and the third player on the far post. The goalkeeper was again in a free position in front of them and the four players were spaced out as before, a little way in front of him. The remaining three were positioned similarly ahead of them as before.  The defending players very quickly found that the problems which they had faced before had now disappeared. With the new set up the defending players were filling up the spaces and nothing was being left for the keeper. He was now primarily a back-up player rather than the one who previously was the one  around whom everything centred. By filling up the spaces the defenders were now preventing any attacker from getting a run  at the ball. John pointed out that the player on the back post was particularly important because he should stop the problem of goals  being scored from there by an attacker who creeps in unnoticed.

John also coached the defenders individual technical aspects which arose as they progressed through the work. He picked up on marking situations with defenders having to get in the right positions – not behind the striker as the ball came in from wide which would allow the striker first touch, not in front of the striker which would not allow the defender to see him but to the side of him, touch tight, which enabled the defender to get across the front of the striker to clear before the striker could react. All the defenders were coached to get sideways on as they prepared to defend a ball coming from a wide position in order to see both their man who they were marking and the ball.  The forwards found in this new defensive set up that their runs were blocked off much more often.

The defenders as a whole found that they were much more comfortable defending free kicks with this set up because they now found themselves running forwards rather than backwards to deal with situations and they felt much more comfortable with that.

John stressed in his conclusion to the session that there are so many things in football that we should open our minds about  but in England we are so slow to take on board new ideas or to use our imagination and be creative in our thinking and problem solving.

Without doubt it had been a memorable session but the heart-breaking aspect was that there were so few members in attendance. Those who were there, though, realised that they were present at a unique and ground-breaking event. Where else in this country can you go and see coaching of that quality and that innovation? The answer to that is nowhere. You can go to our National  Coaching Centre in Middle England to view an event that will cost hundreds of pounds but you will not see coaching of that quality and creative imagination for an annual subscription of £25 which covers 8 sessions.

Everyone who was present must spread the word among their coaching/football following friends and acquaintances, to join the LFCA so that sessions such as John’s have the Arsenal Hub packed to the rafters which it deserves.

Report by :  Steve Haslam