Tony Carr – Masterclass

Report of Tony Carr's  outstanding session for the LFCA at the Arsenal Hub on the 26th of October 2016.

USING COMBINATION PLAY TO UNLOCK TIGHT DEFENCES – TONY CARR

Words by Steve Haslam- photos by David Cumberbatch

Tony Carr served West Ham United from 1973 until 2016, having left the club in September this year. All but one of those years, when he assisted Billy Bonds in coaching the First Team, was spent in coaching the Youth Section. During that time, Tony has written two books on coaching youth players and they have been studied copiously by numerous youth coaches at all levels and in all parts of the world.  

Before going on to the training area, Tony gave a  thorough introduction of his session to the attendee coaches. Tony made it clear that his great mentors had been the first two coaches he had worked under at West Ham – Ron Greenwood and John Lyall. It was from them that he learned the philosophy of the game and he has never deviated from the path they put him on. His job centred on young player development and was not results based. The only time that winning was important was when his Under 18 team played in the FA Youth Cup. The rest of the time, he was only judged on what players came through the system and made it into the First Team or, if they failed to make it in West Ham's First Team, whether they could bring in a transfer fee by being sold to another club.

t_carr2Tony said that it is so tough now for a young player to break into the First Team of a Premier League club, so it was important to at least make a profit from them by selling them on to another club. He gave the example of Manchester United's Marcus Rashford. A year ago the young striker was an unknown in United's Under 18s. Then he got into the First Team almost by default because they had so many injuries that they had no one else to put in. But since then Rashford has never looked back, scored goals against Arsenal in his first full League game, kept his place and even forced his way into the England team. Tony said that opportunity is the buzzword for young players. He gave another example: the young Chelsea striker, Tammy Abraham. Having gone on loan to Bristol City, he now has the opportunity to prove himself and he has already shown his goal scoring ability.

So then Tony went out on to the training area and put on his practical session.

The first practice involved the players forming a circle with one player in the middle of the circle with the ball. He had to pass the ball to any one on the outside of the circle and then immediately go to pressure that player as they received it. The player on the left of the receiver had to immediately step forward, taking up a support position. The player who had received the pass had to play a 1 – 2 with the supporting player, thereby beating the pressurising player and going on to pass to another player on the circle, pressurising him and the practice continued in this manner.

The important point which Tony stressed as the players improved in understanding and confidence, was that they had to play each pass with their first touch.

The problems which the players had in making the practice work in the early stages were lack of communication and lack of control. It was important that the runner going for the 1 – 2 pass must go on the defender's left side as he ran. Tony also pointed out that if the pressurising player attempted to read the pass by keeping to the side where the ball would be passed, then the player would just go past him, keeping the ball and going past him on the other side because there was no need to play a wall pass if the space was there .  It was noticeable that after three minutes the practice improved. Tony said that if the players struggle then make the area bigger. He also pointed out that if a player needs thinking time when he gets the ball then he takes too many touches. It had to be performed with one touch passes because to take more would prevent the one two movement succeeding in penetrating the opponents.

Tony now developed the practice by telling both the players on either side of the receiver to take up support position and the player receiving the pass played either, whichever seemed the most appropriate. Tony pointed out that when you teach very young players the first thing is to control the ball, then control and pass, and then, finally, control, pass and move: three things. But here we are just saying pass and move. So relative to pass and move is the pass. So when passing the ball it was important to give a ball that was playable, other wise the receiver would be unable to play the ball first time because he would be too busy, taking extra touches, to control the ball.  The goalkeepers joined in the practice because they have to be good with their feet.

The second practice  was performed in threes, with the players formed in a triangle, about 10 yards in distance from each other. So you had one player   at the point of the triangle and two at the base. The shape of the triangle on the pitch could be replicated by two centre backs and a midfield player or a striker and two midfield players. A player at the base of the triangle passed the ball to the player at the point and ran forward. The ball was laid back  by he player at the point to the other player at the base and he played  it forward to the runner who was running forward, beyond the player at the point. So it was a third man running practice. The practice was continuous, with the third man runner now becoming the point and the other two at the base of the triangle and the practice was repeated again. The pace of the pass was vitally important as was the timing of the run – not too early but not too late, going past the player  at the point just after the ball was played forward and so, in the game, onside. Tony coached additional points as the players developed in confidence and understanding. He coached the player at the point to be on the half turn and come off at a slight angle, thereby drawing out the imaginary defender and creating space for the runner to run into. The coaching of these  additional  points was all done in stages as the practice progressed.

t_carr3Tony then introduced a variation into the practice. The ball was now passed from one player at the base of the triangle to the player at the opposite base, i.e. as if a square pass from one midfield player to the other. The player who made the first pass immediately followed his pass to run round the back of the receiving player, the receiving player passed the ball forward to the player at the point who set it straight back and the ball was passed forward for the runner who was now running beyond the striker into space: a variation on the third man run. Tony coached the third man runner not to run away 'blind', but to shape himself so that he could see the ball as he ran.  

The third practice involved more players but still started from a triangle situation. But now, when the ball was laid off from the striker, i.e. the player at the point, another player further forward dropped into his line of vision, received the next pass and spun on the ball and played it into the path of the striker, who had run forward, to shoot at goal. The midfield player on the far side of the triangle had also run forward in case of rebounds and a loose ball,   so  now we had a game type scenario and opponents were introduced.  The situation was that the extra forward who had been introduced was really a  second striker and so Tony coached them on getting the distances between them right because this was really important. They had to maintain distances – not too far apart, but not too near. Little variations  were added, like the ball being passed between the two midfield players before going forward and then the far striker used the other striker to play a one-two after he had spun and they were close together.

An interesting situation arose, because  understandably the players became a little confused at the amount of information and variation they had to take on board in order for Tony to illustrate all the points he wanted to provide for the watching coaches. So he put in two defenders to mark the two  strikers so that the attacking players could "see a bit of reality". Immediately you could see the understanding of the players improved because they could now relate it to the game. They understood how their movements shifted the defenders  and created the space  that Tony wanted for the third man movement. Tony stressed that the work he was doing would take up many weeks of training time and he was speeding through it to give the attendee coaches a full programme of coaching the topic.

Tony then progressed onto the fourth practice. He had the playing area in two halves. Two whites played against two reds in one half. A white player was  on the edge on one side of the area and a red on the opposite side. A white player was on the base line and he started by playing to a white player and they had to try and get into the other half, using the white player on the side line if necessary. The reds could use the red player on the opposite side line. If the opposite half was reached and played into the target player there, then the practice proceeded by attempting work their way back again. A white and red player were also on opposite side lines of that area as well. So each pair was attempting to work to a target man and then work back the other way. It was a practice to encourage movement.

Finally, Tony progressed into the fifth and final practice. He now used the full training area and a game was set up using both goals at either end. The pitch as split  in to three thirds.  The teams were 5 v 5 plus goalkeepers. It was 2 v1 in the defensive third, 2 v 2 in the middle third, and 1 v 2 in the attacking third, i.e. 2 – 2 – 1 formations with the overloads in defence. Starting with the keeper, the ball had to be rolled out to one of his defenders. Each of the two defenders had to touch the ball, under pressure from the forward, before it was passed into the middle third. Here it was 2  v 2  but a forward could drop in, after the ball had gone in, to create the overload. Again, each player must touch the ball before it was played into the attacking third, and so they were attempting to create space to get a player into that  attacking third and a strike at goal. Tony was making  many coaching points: he coached players to let the ball run across their bodies, a no-touch turn, by opening their bodies and seeing all the pitch and where players were in the vicinity of the ball and beyond. He wanted to bring a defender towards the ball in midfield, create space in behind and then spin into it. Finally the game became free with cones separating the three thirds taken out and Tony said to the players "show me what you can do." It was clear from the play which they produced that the players had taken an enormous amount from the session because in this free play they produced aspects of play that mirrored what they had done in the session.

t_carr4After the session we went back into the café area where Tony underlined the coaching points he had been making during the session and took questions from the members in attendance. He stressed that when you are coaching a group of players and introducing new work then you must persevere with the work  and the penny will drop eventually. Tony mentioned that he had recently bumped into Rio Ferdinand at a function and the former West Ham player, who Tony had  brought all the way through the Youth Section, reminded him that he had coached him third man running until he could practically do it in his sleep! But the habits and awareness of third man running had stayed with Ferdinand throughout  his illustrious career. As Tony said, the habit was developed, the hard part is recognising the situation and decision making. Opponents often said to Tony – "we know what you're going to do, but we don't know when you're going to do it."

The trigger for the third man movement is the set – when the player with his back to goal lays the ball off and that is the trigger for the runner to go. The key also is to do it all one touch. Tony said that you must put all the bits together in an unopposed drill. The key is to play fast in tight areas – vital in the Premier League – so the practice must reflect that. With Rio Ferdinand, whenever Tony put on a practice Ferdinand had the intelligence and skill to always do the practice well.

Tony told everyone present how, in the old days at West Ham, in the days of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall, how everyone was constantly told to "get a picture" as they played. The mantra was for you to always have a picture of where everyone was on the field at any time during the game so that if the ball  came to you then you immediately knew who was best placed to receive it or where the nearest danger was coming from.

Tony also was full of praise for Frank Lampard, another player who was developed through the Youth Academy at West Ham. He worked tremendously hard to become a really good player. His great mentor was his father, Frank Lampard Snr, who played at West Ham for his whole career, and really drove his son to become a successful player.

Finally, Tony told a little story which is invaluable to all coaches, irrespective of the level at which they coach. One day, when John Lyall was the West Ham manager,  Tony complained to him that the players he had in his youth squad at that time were no good, there was just nothing there that could have any future. But John Lyall was unmoved, offered no sympathy and  looked at Tony and said – "that's your job, go and do something about it, make it better."

Tony had delivered both a brilliant session and produced words of wisdom, the result of coaching at a club, West Ham, that from 1961 until 1989, had been coached by two of the best coaches there have ever been in English football, Ron Greenwood and John Lyall. “

Click HERE to download Tony Carr Session Plan