Neil Banfield Session Report

1 v 1 Defending – the Neil Banfield session.

Neil Banfield, Arsenal’s 1st Team Coach, put on an extremely interesting session which highlighted the techniques and tactical understanding required to defend effectively and intelligently at all levels of the game.

Neil started the players in a warm up activity which brought out the movement and feet adjustment necessary in defending. There were no footballs involved but the players moved about the area, changing direction continuously and in jockeying movement. They moved in and out of spaces around each other, working at swivelling off the back foot and keeping their head still. So the basic feet and body movements required for defending were introduced immediately. Then the players were split into pairs with a ball for each pair. The player with the ball moved in and out to the right and left and his partner jockeyed, constantly swivelling on the back foot in a half turned stance, getting the foot movement right. The player on the ball did not attempt to beat his partner, it was purely jockeying practice. Then they swapped roles. Neil stressed that the jockeying player had to get his back foot in line with the ball to send the dribbler where he, the defender, wanted him to go. “Keep your head still and just watch the ball” Neil called out on many occasions. Some of the players struggled to get their feet positioning correct. Neil kept repeating that their front foot should be on the outside and not in line with the ball. That was the job of their back foot and served to guide the ball carrier where the defender wanted him to go.

The players now worked in 3s. The ball was served to a forward player who came off at an angle to receive. As he turned with the ball the defender came to challenge and as the forward turned he had to also turn. The defender delayed his tackle, jockeying as already practiced and guiding him across the pitch. The defender had to show patience in exercising delay. Also, throw in a ‘dummy’ tackle, (faking to make a tackle and then stepping out), to confuse the attacker. The attacker had to try and pass the ball into the line of players from where the defender had come from and Neil emphasised the important thing for the defender was to stop the forward pass. That was his principle objective, even if he never actually made a tackle. Neil said that he did not believe in having a policy of showing an opponent either inside or outside. He said that the important thing was to stop the forward ball by correct foot and body positioning and movement, and the covering defender would pick up from that where he should cover.

Neil was keen that the defenders should be aggressive, using their arms and bodies in their jockeying and challenging. But he was in no way encouraging foul play, demanding fair challenges at all time. He cited the example of former Arsenal player, Alex Song, who was excellent in 1 v. 1 defending situations in using his body well but always within the laws of the game.

Neil now worked on 1 v. 1 defending towards the goals with a keeper in each one. Balls were served forward to an attacker who took on a defender in an attempt to get in a shot with the defender applying all the technical skills which he had learnt to prevent him scoring. The defenders were now coached to use the ball constructively if they won it by finding the next player in the line of attackers with an accurate pass. If the ball had been saved by the keeper then the defender had to combine with him by immediately running into space to receive a throw and then distribute accurately to the next attacker in the line. The pace of the work was now significantly faster and Neil emphasised to the defenders that as they approached to close down the attacker that they must slow him down as they got up to the ball. Neil also told the defenders and keepers to get into the mentality of communicating and when a group was resting as another group attacked then he wanted to hear calling to each other to get into good positions to defend and where the main points of attacking danger were.

Neil made it clear that the work he had done was the basic foundations of good defending but if these foundations were not strong then the defence, i.e. team, will crumble.

After the work on the training pitch had finished Neil answered questions from members in the classroom which led to some very interesting discussion. Neil made the point that full backs were not stopping crosses going into the box any more, which has always been an essential requirement of their job. A full back from his playing days who had been particularly effective at this was Kenny Sansom but it now seemed to be a lost art.

Neil concluded that defending is an art and we have to work harder at it. Everyone who saw the session will have left with plenty of ideas to take back to their clubs, which can only help in raising the presently low standards of defending in this country.

Report by Steve Haslam