Report of the April Masterclass

Report of the LFCA Masterclass on 19/4/17


We were grateful to our Chairman for stepping in when our previous presenter had to drop out at the last moment and it is a measure of his ability that his second session of the season was equally as good as his first one. Here is the report of the session.

Tony Carr was the Youth Coach at West Ham United for over 40 years and he introduced the session by saying that he still sees a lot of youth football and it is noticeable how so much of it at the present time consists safe passing. That is, teams keeping the ball but showing an unwillingness, or inability, to play penetrative forward passes to break forward, midfield or defensive lines of opponents to cut them open.

Tony started with a practice which has been made famous by FC Barcelona where it is referred to as a Rondo. Basically it is a pig in the middle set-up, but Barca have perfected it to such a degree that it has become synonymous with their playing style. Nine players formed a circle and passed the ball between themselves. Two players inside the circle had to try and intercept the ball and if they were successful the player who made the pass, or passed outside the circle, together with the player on his left, swapped places with the two defenders. Tony put a one-touch condition on the practice and it proved very demanding. What Tony wanted to see was as many passes as possible played between the defenders to reach a player on the opposite side of the circle. He explained to the players that when they managed to play the ball accurately between the opponents then this put both defenders out of the game. In a match situation, this would break the line of that part of the opposing team and would have the effect of turning round defenders because the ball has gone in behind them. This is just what defenders do not like.

Tony coached the players around the  circle to prepare themselves to receive the ball with the correct body shape, on the half turn and look for occasions when they could allow the ball to run across them without touching it and then play it away with their back foot.

It was at this point that Tony addressed the LFCA members watching the session and strongly recommended , if they get the chance, to watch a warm-up session on You-Tube performed by Bayern Munich before a match, in which they are playing a Rondo. Having looked at this exercise I can confirm that it is one of the most fantastic exhibitions of technical skill you are ever likely to see. Bayern make over 60 consecutive passes without the two defenders making an interception or winning a tackle and no defect in skill performance as the ball is passed faultlessly, one-touch, among the players. Whenever the  opportunity arises, the ball splits  the defenders as it goes between them. A staggering exhibition of skill.

Back to the session and Tony now set up a directional practice. The playing area was divided up into thirds. The two end thirds each contained three red players. In the middle third were four green players and one red. The red player in the middle zone  was coached as though he was a number 10 and he was attempting to get into the space between the opposition midfield and defence. The number 10 started the practice off by passing the ball to one of his defenders in the end zone. Two of the green players in the middle zone went to close the reds down: effectively a 3 v 2 situation in favour of the reds. The number 10 was now getting into the space between the two greens who had gone forward to press and the other two greens who had remained in the middle zone. Tony instructed the number 10 to look for space and try and show in the space between the two greens who had gone forward to press. When he received a pass from a team mate in the end zone he had to play into a red player in the opposite end who were now pressed by the two greens who had remained in the middle zone. The other two greens now got themselves  into the middle zone and number 10 was now moving in the space in front of them but behind the other two greens. The practice proceeded as before. Tony paid particular attention to the number 10. He coached him in spinning away from a defender to lose him when it got very tight. A red player could step forward into the middle zone to give support if the number 10 required it.

Tony stressed to the players that the first thing he was looking for them to do was to break the lines by passing forward. Many of the players were looking around them after they had received the ball; they must look before they had a touch so that they had a picture in their head before receiving the ball.

Tony progressed into the next practice and now there was a goal at each end with keepers. It was 4 v 4 with a floater playing for the team in possession, plus keepers, and each team had an extra player on each touchline who was available to bounce passes off for 1-2s etc. Tony told the 4 outfield players on each side to line up in a diamond shape, 1-2-1, as starting positions. The keepers had to receive the ball with their feet and play it out with their feet. So it was a directional game, with goals, and so the work had developed into game situations with breaking lines the key factor.

Tony emphasised that he was planting ideas in the players' minds in the same way that you plant seeds in a garden. It takes a few months for those seeds to grow into plants. Tony coached the players to support a player receiving a forward pass on angles, instead of running  straight at him. By supporting to the left or right, spaces opened up and they could see the situation beyond the forward who they were supporting.

To finish the session, Tony set up two situations where the players had to imagine they had arrived in this position. The first was where a pass  was made from the right and the number 10 dummied over the ball, as it came to him, and immediately made a spin run  in behind the defence (represented by a line of cones). The ball went through to the striker who played it in first time  into the space behind the defence for the number 10 to time his run onto and shoot at goal with no more than a two touch finish.

The second situation involved a third man run down the left. The left back passed forward to the left winger, a first time lay off into the left midfield and a first time pass into the space behind the defence for the left back, who is the third man runner. Again the timing of the run is vital with cones representing the defence's offside line. Tony emphasised to the players that the ball set back is the trigger for forward movement.

A two-touch game was set up as the final part of the session but there was insufficient time to develop understanding and execution any further. On leaving the training area, Tony gave a summary of the work which he had put on and took questions from members. Tony stressed to everyone that you must be prepared to do the work constantly before it begins to show in match play. The players will not get it in one session. But the vital elements, like receiving the ball on the half turn and getting pictures before you receive the ball, will eventually come and as a result players will improve enormously.

It had been a superb session which was invaluable to all the members present.

Report by Steve Haslam and photos by David Cumberbatch