OPEN THE CURTAIN – By John Cartwright.
I’m becoming extremely bored watching a football being passed negatively around the back by teams trying to copy-cat foreign football at ALL levels of the game in this country. Why has this situation occurred? Well, I think there are several reasons; we’re ‘copy-catting’ Spanish, ‘Ticki-Tacki’ possession football — our back players aren’t as accomplished on the ‘finer arts’ of the game as our Iberian opponents — we lack confidence and skill when on the ball — there is a lack of game understanding that inhibits recognition of opportunities to make forward passes and penetrative runs with the ball. There is also another very important reason for this lack of playing quality in our game; we don’t understand the importance of creating (channels) from back players to forward players. Too often these routes forward are not available because they are blocked, not necessarily by the opposition, but by midfield players of the team in possession!
All of the points I have suggested reduce our ability to produce a more positive approach to ball possession ‘through the thirds’. However, it is the consistent blockage of forward channels that really irritates me. Our mid-field players, in their desire to ‘get into the game’, often position themselves incorrectly — they take up positions that block the ‘channels’ towards their forward players. This blocked, frontal positioning by mid-field players reduces their ability to see around them whilst at the same time, it tends to drag an opposing marker into a ‘channel’ with him/her.
The art of playing possession-styled football requires high playing ability and football intelligence. Intelligent movement off the ball produces numerous positive situations to select from. A midfield player should be particularly adept at ‘finding’ an ANGLED not a FRONTAL position when supporting a back colleague with the ball. In so doing a mid-field player not only ‘OPENS THE CURTAIN’ to reveal a ‘channel’ through to forward players, but also, he/she opens a series of situations that benefit both themselves and their team-mates.
This simple appreciation of off the ball movement creates ———
1. A forward ‘channel’ through which a pass can be made. 2. A forward ‘channel’ that a back player with ball can run through with it.
If an opposing marking player decides to stay in a ‘channel’ and not follow and mark the angled movement of his/her mid-field opponent, then he/she has allowed this mid-field player to be unmarked and so become free to receive the ball from his back colleague in an unpressured situation.
Front players must also display their football intelligence when a ‘channel’ has opened up; he/she must time their movement to receive a pass that may be played towards them or position themselves to support either an on-coming back or mid-field colleague in possession of the ball who is penetrating through the ‘channel’
Similarly, if a pass has been made down the ‘channel’ from back to a forward player, supporting mid-field players must ‘read’ this situation and be on the move to link-up quickly with him/her.
The creation and exploitation of the use of ‘channels’ must become a priority issue in coaching in this country. The ‘play-round’ at the back by teams must produce more positive, penetrative opportunities if possession football tactics are to function successfully.
We aren’t doing things properly. Time is moving on and coaching here is failing to provide answers to serious problems in the game. With respect to the issue relating to this ‘blog’ — we’re keeping the curtain closed, not open.
TECHNIQUE OR SKILL – THE ARGUMENT
Once Association Football became a game to be learned, the methods for acquiring the ability to play the game well became the centre of a heated discussion that has continued ever since. With the demise of Street Football and its casual approach to learning, organized Coaching methods were introduced to replace it. The learning of the game moved very quickly from realistic, unfettered involvment in the streets, to a more structured process designed along educational lines.
The definition of the words; technique and skill, is indeed difficult to describe and all forms of work and play can employ some aspect of either. My own definition of these terms in relation to Association Football revolves around the interference of others in the performance of an action. Therefore, I believe technique is an action performed without the interference of opposition, whilst skill is an action performed with the interference of opposition. The involvement of opposition affects the time and space decisions made by a player and correct judgement of these forms the basis of a successful completion of an action.
Conflicting arguments have produced a series of beliefs as to the way the games skills should be taught. (1) techniques through unopposed drill practices. (2) small-sided games with limited information provided. (3) a technique practiced, followed by the gradual inclusion of opposition. (4) a practice-play method suitable for the very young to senior levels that includes opposition in various forms along with area size adjustments from the beginning to provide players with realistic decisions on space and time throughout the whole of the development period—-and beyond.
You don’t play against opposition with technique, you play with skill! The game of Association Football is a competitive sport and therefore, it demands the need for a realistic, skill-centred approach to the teaching of the game. To practice a technique without the examination of challenge is to have spent wasted hours in producing a talent that does not satisfy the real needs of the game. The rebound surface is useful when practice partners are unavailable, but is best used with ‘opponents’ so that alongside contacts of the ball, space and time decisions can also be made. The infatuation with ball juggling for hours on end that supposedly improves a player’s touch, produces jugglers for the stage not talented footballers for the game.
The game of football has ‘exploded’ as a viewed as well as a played sport over the past half century. Money has poured in and with it has come numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs to cash-in. Coaching is one of the areas of the game that has experienced a host of commercial initiatives; some good, most not so good. The confused situation between technique and skill is obvious in the number of variations and methods on sale in coaching courses, books, videos and dvd’s.
I’m a strong believer in the ‘practice-play’ method of development. I should do, I produced it! The Practice-play development model incorporates the teaching of skills, tactics and understanding of the game in a realistic and progressive way — in a nutshell, Practice-Play is a modernized version of street football.
Playing the game is what we all love to do. Even when age becomes a debilitating influence on our performance we still like to think we can play, even for a brief amount of time. The playing of the game is the fun part of the game, therefore, the practising of the game should impose the same enjoyment and practice should emulate playing as much as possible. Within a playing atmosphere the different attributes between the technically gifted and those skilled for the game can be easily seen. The former has difficulty to readjust to quick-changing situations, whereas the skilled player is able to anticipate change and adapt more readily.
Until coaching produces players with more ‘natural’ ability the game will continue to suffer from a lack of individualistic quality it relies on to make it exciting to play and watch. There should be no compromise over the issue of technique v skill, football is a skilful game, so develop the skills it needs by practising the way its played!
THIS 'COPY-CAT' FOOTBALL NATION
Prior to 1950 England, 'sailed an independent course in the waters of world football'. We played 'friendly' international matches but did not enter into major international competitions until 1950..
The World Cup of that year was played in Brazil and was won by an exciting Argentine team; we lost 1-0 to the USA and failed to qualify- for the latter stages of the Tournament. It was from this point, in my opinion, that confusion and mis-interpretation of how we should play entered our game. Our football pride was further damaged in 1953 when the fabulous Hungarian national team 'destroyed' us, first at Wembley and then in a return game in Budapest. We had 'lived' in our own football world for too long and were now suffering the consequences. Although we had some outstanding, self-made players we were miles behind the leading nations when it came to producing performances that utilised this talent collectively.
The 'search' for a playing style began. We have played 'copy-cat' to numerous nations that have succeeded in international tournaments over the years; Brazilian -`master-classes', Dutch -`total football', German — 'organisation', French — 'free spirit' and Spanish -‘Ticki-Tacki' football have all been introduced into our game in some fashion over the years. To add to the confusion, in the late 1980's the FA introduced their version of a game-style 'Direct Play'. The result over time of these multiple attempts to copy the cultured football of others whilst immersed in the principles and practice of Direct Play's 'long ball' method has made our game a bloody, confused mess!
Let me say here, we need a playing formula that promotes a suitable combination of force with finesse, for force, intelligently used, can provide the opportunities for the game's skilful aspects can to be displayed. At present it seems we have hit a 'brick wall' when it comes to finding a way forward that suits our national culture, our beliefs about the game and how to achieve lasting success. Old habits are hard to dismiss, none more so than when it comes to our thinking, teaching, playing and watching of the game of football.
We need to visualise a true picture of how we should play the game and then set about bringing that picture into reality. The wholesale introduction of `copy-cat' playing methods should be dismissed with only small variations introduced into the system as deemed necessary or desirable over time. We must accept a basic principle about playing the game of football; — players must have the skills to play it!
Limited playing ability lessens standards of performance and we are not producing skilful players with all the 'tools of the trade' to do the job properly! Our latest attempt to copy another country's football is that of Spain and their possession-based game-style. Our attempt to copy it however, fails miserably due to our woeful inability to produce the skills and intelligence that their game-style contains. It seems we have not realised two important things with regards to Spanish football; firstly, they have spent a considerable number of years perfecting the way they play and in developing the players to play it; secondly, Spanish football has recently had to modify and vary their game-style to offset the effects of difficult defensive tactics used against them. They have been able to make these variations quickly and successfully because they have talented players who are able to make those changes!
`Nothing stays the same', so the saying goes and whilst the successful nations of the football world juggle' and make adjustments to the way they play the game, we 'muddle' with our game and rely on copying the latest successful method of someone else……….which we have neither the know-how to teach or ability to use. 'DAFT AINT IT'!
FREE-KICKS AGAINST. IS IT TIME FOR TACTICAL CHANGE ?
Ever since I can remember, and that's a long time, the basic tactical set-up for free-kicks against — both from central and wide positions — has been more or less the same with the creation of space between the GK and his defenders being given priority status. This space is created in order to provide a better sight of the ball for GK's and to keep attacking players from positioning themselves too close to the goal. There have been `tweakings' with the 'wall' in the use of the number of players used and its construction, but that's about it with regards to defending against free-kicks.
But there have been significant changes regarding free-kicks against over the past few years and more so last season — footballs are now produced that are more prone to dip and swerve; lightweight footwear allows more 'feel' on the ball; and just last season we saw Referees use foam to mark the distance between the ball and the nearest defending player(s) the 'cheating' in the past by defenders to close this space down has ended.
With all of these new, positive changes to equipment and Refereeing, defensive structures have not shown similar positive changes to offset them and the goal has become more vulnerable. Direct, frontal free-kicks (18-36 metres) from goal have become more `stomach-churning' for players, coaches and supporters as more often the ball flies over or around a 'wall' into the half of the goal vacated by the GK who is left stranded 'protecting' the other half ! Similarly, at free-kicks against from wide positions, the space Left by defenders for the reasons already mentioned, have become equally difficult to defend. Both in-swinging and out-swinging free-kicks placed accurately and with pace into this space causing immense problems for defending players GK's in particular. Free-kicks from the bye-line to 10 metres in wide positions are marked as at a corner kick, but at free-kicks given further from the bye-line so the space between the GK and his defenders is increased. This space has become a significant target for attackers to deliver the ball into and defenders are generally forced to run back towards their own goal into this space with opponents providing pressure on them. A mixture of defensive problems arises: — fear of turning the ball into their own goal —allowing attackers to get to the ball in front of them collisions between the Gk and his own defenders or opposing players GK decisions on whether to come out or stay on his/her goal-line — and after all this, the ball defeating everyone and lodging itself in the far corner of the goal!
It is becoming more a case of poor delivery technique by attacking teams than the efficiency of present defensive tactics that sees free-kicks not producing even more goals than they already are. Defensive space at free-kicks has become an important tactical issue that nobody seems to discuss or have ideas on changes. These defensive spaces have become less of a tactical plus and more of a physically dangerous and mistake-ridden zone.
What I'm suggesting will probably produce fierce argument and disagreement by many inside and outside of the game — change always does! I do not intend to explain in detail how I believe new defensive marking against free-kicks mentioned should be set up A have my opinion and everyone should 'experiment' themselves with defensive positioning. Overall I believe that the goal itself and the route to it must be 'blocked off' as much as possible…..
1. The creation of the space between GK and his defenders from free-kicks up to a certain range should be abolished.
2. Place players in selected positions in selected roles against selected opponents.
3. All players between the ball and the goal … blocking the goal and space in front of it and an area up to the penalty spot.
3. A single player used as a 'wall' at frontal free-kicks only.
3. Have the GK positioned forward of the goal-line to allow as much free movement as possible.
I fully appreciate that opposing players would be able to take up positions closer to the goal and that there is always the chance of ricochets, blocking off etc. — as there are now. Careful thought regarding 'blocking the goal' and defensive positioning in the penalty area would drastically reduce defensive gaps against direct shots and floated aerial deliveries. It would also allow defenders to 'attack' the ball if necessary from both wide or frontal free-kicks rather than find themselves having to 'scramble' back towards their own goal as is too often the case with present defensive methods.
These changes are worth a try. Nobody it seems has come up with anything else and goals from free-kicks are becoming more frequent. Anyone with a group of players might experiment with defensive positioning against different attacking options to see if a better defensive 'guard' can be conceived.
To help assess distances from goal it is often possible to see at most grounds, public parks or stadiums, that the grass is often cut in 6 metre lengths across the field. The penalty area has three cuts to cover the 18 metres and the cuts continue up-field in 6 metre lengths. The new re-positioning of defenders at free-kicks against from frontal and wide positions I believe should apply up to a distance of36 metres (6 cuts approx.) from the goal. Free-kicks, frontal and wide beyond 36 metres from goal should have some space between the Gk and his defenders, but not so far out as at present (12 metres I believe would be a sufficient distance from goal). This would reduce the mad scramble back by defenders and allow more opportunities for them to come forward to attack the ball. This extra distance of free-kick deliveries against also gives GK's more time to deal with deliveries from this range.
Would it work? Unless time is spent experimenting with changes to the present methods we will not find out. There will be a great deal of discussion and disagreement with what I have said, but unless we show more bravery towards making changes and trying new ideas we will remain in the 'backyard' of world football. My book, FOOTBALL FOR THE BRAVE, was not meant to 'fly the flag' for physical bravery in the game, we have plenty of that anyway, but to promote the importance of mental bravery by coaches and players to develop new ideas or search to improve on existing methods of playing the game….. I hope this 'Bllog' will reach those brave enough to confront and challenge the ever changing game of Association Football.
Perhaps you could reply to this 'Blog' if you have experimented as mentioned and comment on the reaction of your players — positive and negative as well as your own thoughts and opinions —- also pos/neg.
Best regards and good experimenting John
THE SKILLS GAP
The British Government, have increased Apprenticeship schemes to offset the serious skills shortage we are experiencing in the country’s manufacturing industries.
In years gone by apprenticeships were common-place throughout all types of work; they provided a ‘hands-on’ approach to skill learning and allowed young apprentices an opportunity to learn a trade from the ‘ground upwards’. The apprenticeship period became less favoured as more ‘up-market’ teaching and learning methods took its place. Probably, the lack of a prolonged period of ‘on-the-job’ experience is at the root of the problem. Perhaps our education system, from junior through to upper senior levels, does not provide the type of learning programs for students that encourages individualism and skills.
Relating the Skills Gap to football, I have been almost a lone activist for decades trying to make everyone interested in the game here more aware of the Skills Gap we have. Although football had an apprenticeship period in the past, the true learning of the game (football apprenticeship) took place throughout the development years when playing in the street and school playgrounds. The competitive, small-sided game played in small areas for thousands of hours each year by youngsters produced the immediate skills required for the game. THE GAME OF FOOTBALL IS A COMPETITIVE GAME and therefore the ‘tools for the job’ — the skills to play it, should, in my opinion, be taught accordingly. I am not suggesting that competitive practises should be physical ‘scraps’ but players must, from the very start of their football education, be familiarized with the realistic aspects of the game with the use of competitive practises combined with a suitable playing infrastructure.
From improved playing surfaces to medical care, the game has seen big advances. I have seen them all. During my life I have experienced ‘street football’ and watched its demise as streets became parking lots; ‘structured coaching’ methods that have replaced it have failed to provide a satisfactory teaching formula. Unfortunately, the chaos-type learning of the ‘practice whilst playing’ aspect of the street game has never been understood by those who have been too ready to inject a more ‘academic’ approach into development as the modern alternative. Practice time that once meant thousands of hours involved doing realistic football skills and making immediate football decisions has gone and replaced, in the main, with a teaching culture that has placed more emphasis on practice organization and group(team) structure than developing individual skills and their use in the game.
In my opinion, the Skills Gap, cannot be resolved unless more time is given to the ‘DOING’ of a job rather than to the listening or watching it being done by others. Failure can be a great learning experience but the fear of failure is endemic in the game here as players with limited ability are asked to perform beyond it. This inability creates a lack of confidence in players that produces playing decisions based on safety-first and mediocrity overall. Team-play is the collective extension of individualism. If skills are correctly taught in conjunction with a gradual inclusion of group, and later, team requirements, the use of individual skills in the game would be fully appreciated by all involved. A great example of individualism that combines when required to do so is that displayed by Barcelona FC. Throughout their team they have high quality individuals who are able to use their own imagination, creativity and individual skills in all parts of the field for the good of the team, or just as well, this individualism is able to combine with team-mates to produce successful end products. Their belief in individual skills even relates to the playing quality of their goal-keepers —- they can receive and pass the ball better than most of our back players!!
The fight to restore more individualism into our game must not be dismissed, for team-play needs the unusual within it to satisfy and gel the total qualities of the game. Our support and nurture of junior football must take on a more involved and positive approach; our coach education methods must show much more importance to the teaching of skills allied to a more suitable, competitive playing infrastructure in which to display them; the playing levels of our Academy system must be set to provide levels of excellence and not just provide games for numbers of available players; quality young players must be given more opportunities to play at higher levels irrespective of age; playing results must take back-stage to playing quality through the junior years.
Our football Skills Gap is here for all to see as ‘fightball’ not football makes bigger advances on the game with each ‘money-grabbing’ year. We must show more courage and invention in the way we approach the teaching and playing of the game or we will continue to fail. Let’s close our skills gap and produce here a game for the world to recognize and applaud; one that incorporates our world-renowned British fortitude but includes the finesse we have as a nation that, unfortunately, we too often tend to conceal in favour of brute strength and ignorance.
PASSING THE BALL
We all enthuse over the playing quality of Barcelona FC and of the ability of the individuals within the team. Throughout they have produced or purchased players who possess high individual skills and have moulded individualism with the team-play requirements of the club. The skill(s) of passing the ball provides the ‘cement’ for team possession; the ability to move the ball accurately, purposefully and effectively between players provides the core for success.
When I watch our coaches working it is passing that is usually the topic that takes priority in their coaching schedules. Whether in the form of technique practices or against opponents, a great deal of time is spent practising passing of the ball; why then, is it recognized as a weak part in our game? The information given to players needs investigating, for it is coaching that provides the work for our players.
We are ‘hung-up’ in this country with an over-emphasis on speed; from game-style to individual skill performance, speed is the all-important feature that dominates our concept of the game. In combination with speed we also admire physical ruggedness whilst ‘softer’ creativity and guile is often disparaged. Quick and strong are the ‘colours’ we use on our ‘football canvas’ when we practice and play the game.
This over-indulgence in ‘force and not feel’ is demonstrated quite distinctly when we attempt to pass the ball to each other both in practice and playing situations; we don’t ‘feel’ the ball to a team-mate, we ‘hit’ the ball at him/her! The concept of ‘controlled possession’ comes second to ‘accuracy without accountability’ (the ball went in the general direction it was played). Beyond accuracy, there is little consideration of the other important ingredients that constitute passing the ball with careful quality.
If one watches the truly best players in world football, one will appreciate the subtle differences between their quality passing of the ball and our version of it. This difference in passing quality becomes painfully obvious when players are involved in tight situations; players with class are able to deliver the ball over short distances with a soft and caring touch that allows the recipient the chance to control the ball easily and use it effectively; here ball delivery speeds up as situations tighten and usually possession is lost when a receiving player is unable to control the ‘missile’ that has been ‘fired’ at him/her.
We have very little time for gentility in our game; touch and feel when passing are largely unused whether the ball is delivered over long or short distances. Words obtaining to a boxing ring and not a football field have infiltrated coaching; ‘hit him/her with the ball’ – ‘stick it up to him/her’ – ‘hit his/her feet’, force pervades our coaching scene and quality goes out the window. Words that express a ‘love’ for the game are absent from our coaching vocabulary, this is particularly noticeable when passing the ball is the subject of attention. We don’t use words like – feel the pass – roll the ball to him/her – float it up to him/her – clip it over the top etc.
When it comes to the question of determining real accuracy we are too easily satisfied. Passing accuracy is vital if good ball possession is to be achieved. We allow passes to be played that are not suitable for most situations; not only are most too heavily weighted as already mentioned, but most are made with no consideration regarding the placement of the ball that denies an opponent an opportunity to tackle for it. Passing the ball to the screening side of a receiving player is a skill that is in very short supply in the game here. As long as the ball goes in the general direction required seems to be the standard set for our game. Defenders don’t have to be particularly good at defending because the ball is mostly delivered to players who they mark so poorly that winning the ball from them is easy.
Barcelona, have ‘raised the football bar’ in so many aspects of the game, but it is their quality to pass the ball with care and quality in all areas of the field in all situations, be they tight and short or longer, that forms the ‘bedrock’ for their success. Their fans applaud the stringing of passes together whereas we lose patience both on the field as do the fans off it. Not until the art of passing the ball with care is fully understood by all will we be able to produce a suitable game-style to play, the coaches to teach it, the players to play it and fans who enjoy watching it.
John Cartwright… Dec 2011
The glory days of Street Football in the UK ran, more or less, from the early 1900’s through to the late 1950’s. Small pockets may have survived in some of the more economically deprived areas of the country beyond the 50’s but generally, as economic prosperity increased, Street Football ‘died’.
A similar situation occurred in some Western European countries, although the demise of the street game has not happened so swiftly in some parts where economic progress has only moved forward slowly. In these deprived areas of Europe and in other parts of the football world, the street game is still played and enjoyed by millions on open spaces, beaches as well as in streets because of the simplicity to organize and play it.
It only struck me recently when talking to some coaches in the UK about Street Football, that most of our coaches under the age of 60 would hardly have played it. By 1958 Street Football had virtually disappeared and men who are now 60 or younger and born in 1948 would have only reached the age of 9-10 by the late 50’s, by then Street Football was in steep decline.
The Street Football period had a crucial impact on the game of Association Football – it provided players for the game and this has never really been fully understood or appreciated by the coaching fraternity that has followed it. There is a saying in the game, ‘POVERTY PRODUCES PLAYERS’ and in many respects it does. The street games of the past, as well as those still played today in under-developed nations, is the ‘stage’ that impoverished players use to display and develop their natural talent. Although the Street Football game is flawed in some aspects regarding game understanding, in my opinion it stands supreme as a method of learning whilst playing. Since its demise, there has only been one satisfactory replacement for it, —- the Practice-Play coaching methods designed and used by a coaching company called; PREMIER SKILLS COACHING LTD. who have produced a modernized coaching adaptation of it.
As I mentioned earlier, the street game is easy to organize; a group of players (1v1) or more; a small, flat area; a ball (any size); anything as a goal or goals, and the game is under way. —- But what are the features of Street Football, both positive and negative, that made it such an influence on the game of Association Football here and throughout the world?
Well, to discover those qualities you’ve really got to play it, so we will here, — in words from start to finish.
A small group of boys (not girls in those days) one of whom has managed to acquire a ball (of any size and ‘bounceability’) decide to have a game of football (no TV ; DVD; I-Pods; Computers etc or Money in those days) small games like these were then the leisure activities for most boys—young and old. Games were played at any time that was suitable and when enough boys wanted to play.
The playing area would be close-by for games to be played often and without too much preparation necessary. The playing surface was normally of concrete or some other hard substance. Oh, and was it clear of bricks, glass or other bits of debris thrown there by the gang from the next street? If our patch had been raided, a player’s mother nearest the scene would supply the broom to sweep the area clear The size of the playing area would be arranged according to the number of players available at the time. (and increased or decreased as players came or left) The size of the playing area was important for if it was too big the game became more of a stamina exercise and not a football one! And what about the goals? Well, anything that was close at hand. (Bricks; Tin Cans; Coats etc.)
If player numbers was short sometimes only one goal was required or a target to hit was all that was needed. As the numbers of players increased, two ‘goals’ were usually set out. Floodlights, if you were lucky, were conveniently placed street lights that provided enough light for games during the dark winter evenings. Oh, and don’t forget everybody wore their normal clothes, so there was little distinction between one team and the other.– But, don’t let little issues like that stop the game, —- all is now ready for the action to begin.
There was always a keen anticipation and an excitement to play a ‘competitive’ match even though it was only against your street chums. The boys who made up the players for these games were of a variety of ages and sizes — (8years olds could quite easily be competing against 18 year olds). Now came the part that was satisfying to those who were regarded as good players, but was somewhat embarrassing for those with lesser footballing ability or were the ‘babies’ in the group — team selection!
The ‘cruelty’ of selection methods for these games rarely stopped the lesser performer from wanting to take part. The two ‘captains’ (usually the best two players) tossed up to see who would have first pick of the ‘talent’ available. The winner of the toss took his pick and then the other captain made his selection. This selection process then changed so that the second captain had another pick, this alternating of selection was continued until all the players filled both teams. Selection of players was made in this way in order to make the teams as equal in ability as possible. However, the worst two players, or the youngest two players were always left until last (and were usually made to play in goal with only short periods allowed as an outfield member of their team—nobody wanted to be the last player selected and to move up the selection ladder, ‘goalies’, when given playing time outfield, would play as hard in the game as possible to improve his position in the selection process and not be a ‘goalie’ the next time a game was played.
Well, the playing area was ok, the two teams were selected and the game was ready to start. No Referee! Who needs a Ref. All decisions were made quickly by the players themselves – to argue over a decision took time away from playing and playing was more important than arguing over some technicality. Disputes, if they occurred, were dispensed with without the loss of playing time. —- Kick-off, well the team who had won the toss for selection kicked off. —- The game was up and running. — How long would it continue? Well, as long as there was sufficient light to see; no rain; and enough players who hadn’t been called away for meals, bed, or repairs to shoes, clothing or themselves,— a game rolled on and on.
Street Football ‘culled’ the weak from the strong. Playing for long periods, day after day, week after week, year after year, developed a physical fitness amongst the players that stood most in good stead throughout their lives. But in conjunction with the fitness aspects what actual football content did these games produce?
With areas to play in usually limited by availability or reduced to achieve a ‘pitch’ size that was conducive to the number of players involved, SPACE AND TIME awareness became the essential issue of performance in street games. If a person has no appreciation of space and time he or she has a major problem to survive in life let alone play a sport. Therefore, the ability to recognize and adapt to varying situations and circumstances is fundamental in both life and sport. The games in these small, cramped areas developed the ‘razor-sharp’ football intellect required for the quick selection of the necessary skills to use and the speed with which to accomplish them.
Coaching methods introduced by academics into football have continually disregarded the importance of space and time decision making in the teaching of the game. This vital mistake has produced players with techniques and not the realistic skills and understanding for competitive play. Present coaching methods, little changed for over half a century, have concentrated on teaching unopposed techniques as is seen in drill practices. These do not satisfy the need for decision making on space and time that players must have in situations when on or off the ball in competitive situations. It is essential to have active ‘interference’ in practices in order to simulate the realistic needs of the competitive game from day one. Coaching must supply this type and quality of work to players in gradual stages, and in so doing, develop realistic ability and game understanding for the game in players from junior through to senior levels.
The small areas and small playing numbers associated with street games increased the amount of touches of the ball and decisions to be made by the players. Awareness, as already mentioned, is the foundation of decisions in both on and off the ball situations. The successful completion of a skilful action or subtle move depends on; seeing — deciding – acting. The sooner coaching practices begin to follow this formula in a suitable ability-adjusted, competitive fashion, the quicker coaching will provide a higher quality of talent for the game in the future.
Probably one of the most attractive features of Street Football was the opportunity it gave to play in a ‘failure free’ atmosphere. There were no parents or coaches screaming from the sidelines and players could try out new skills or moves in a continuous ‘trial and error’ format. Because of its ‘loose’ demands on positioning in games, players could be attackers or defenders as the game developed. This ‘free spirit’ approach can be viewed in both positive and negative terms for, on one hand it allowed players to be involved in attacking and defending, but generally a deeper understanding of positional play and game understanding was often missing.
Some interesting aspects concerning street games shows the subtle influence they had on player development. For example, players always displayed good balance even when running fast, twisting and turning or landing after jumping for the ball; why, because if they fell on the hard surfaces on which these games were played severe injuries were possible. Similarly, when tackling, players stayed on their feet and didn’t go to ground for the same reason.
Scoring a goal was always the ultimate achievement, but every effort on goal was made so that the ball did not travel too far through the goal because the scorer would have to run to retrieve it! Shaping to pass the ball softly into goal became a vital part of the scoring skill in the street. It was a similar feature when passing the ball. The ball was usually small and was difficult to control so passes to team-mates were softly weighted to them. It was also important in areas where games were played near high walls or other forms of fencing that the ball was kept low as much as possible to save the inconvenience of having to clamber over these obstacles to rescue it.
The use of kerbs and walls in and around an area provided the players with natural rebound surfaces to use as required during games. An ability to play ‘wall passes’ off these surfaces created a skill in the players of the period that has sadly diminished in the game today. The use of the outside of either foot combined with a refined judgment on timing, passing weight and angle of return to receive the ball in space, was an important part of the street game.
Another important skill that is now mostly used by the foreign ‘mercenaries’ playing here is the art of screening the ball. An often used individual skill used at all levels of our game, it increased the certainty of both individual and team ball possession. Today, too often the ball is passed, one –touch, often with little regard to need or accuracy by players who have been developed in the structured methods of organized coaching.
Well, the game is played and the score, like the duration of the game, could become rather extended. In order to keep the score to a realistic level it would be reduced down. If one team was much superior than the other there would be a player ‘transfer’ to re-establish equality between them.
Suddenly, a cry would ring out as the light begins to fade, “ John, time for bed, school tomorrow.” And so, tired but satisfied, it was off to bed with dreams of showing my street-acquired skills in big games in world-famous stadiums.—it almost, almost happened!
BUSQUETS – ‘THE SILENT SENTINEL’
BY JOHN CARTWRIGHT
LIONEL MESSI, has just received, for the third consecutive year, FIFA’s Player of the Year Award – and he thoroughly deserves every one of them. Along with MESSI, in the Barcelona team, there are several other players, such as XAVI, INIESTA, ALVES etc. who are also star players and equally deserve praise for their outstanding playing qualities. Also, on the sideline, PEP. GUARDIOLA, has received the FIFA, coach of the Year Award. Once again, nobody should be surprised considering the success he has had over the past few years; he has developed and nurtured a brilliant football team that is a joy to watch.
The brilliance of FC Barcelona, is not down to one or two players, it is about the combination of all their individually skilful players that has been so awe-inspiring –and so different! Many ex star players considered the present Barcelona displays as the best football they have ever seen; even better than the Brazilian World Cup winners of the past! The present Barcelona style of play has brought hope back to the game. Their football has ignored the ‘kick and rush’ methods that have gained such a foothold on the game here as well as in many other countries and shown that there is another and more attractive and effective way to play.
A player who is central to Barcelona’s success but who receives far less notice or accolades is SERGIO BUSQUETS. For me, this player demonstrates a unique playing ability; he is a true ‘Total Footballer’. From his central role in the team’s formation, he provides both attacking and defensive qualities that allows the system to function so smoothly. His playing discipline and complete understanding of his role, provides the hub for the team’s impressive, offensive positional interchanges – whilst others leave gaps on their forward ‘excursions’, it is BUSQUETS, who covers the space(s) they have vacated. But it is not just defensively that he is so important, his ability to link play and make the occasional break forward himself reflects a tremendous all-round playing talent.
BUSQUETS, the tall, multi-talented, mid-field sentinel, has become the epitome of Barcelona’s playing method; one minute he may be duelling for a ball in the air in his own penalty area and then in a few moments, be making a crucial tackle or a defence-splitting pass in mid-field. But his ability does not stop here, for he has individual playing qualities that provide goals for others as well as for himself whenever an opportunity to move into more advanced attacking positions arises.
Too often players like BUSQUETS, are denied the recognition that their talent, discipline and playing intellect deserves. There are obvious qualities of all the players in the Barcelona squad, but one has to ask, would it all function so well without the brilliance of the ‘silent sentinel’, SERGIO BUSQUETS, at the heart of it?
One is left to wonder why it is that we cannot in this country produce a player like him and what coaching is needed to replicate his ability.
FINISH POSITIVELY AND ACCURATELY FROM ALL HEIGHTS AND DISTANCES
No better use of the lottery analogy can be found than in the context of finishing in football; if one doesn’t buy a Lottery ticket one will not win ; accordingly, if one doesn’t take the chance(s) that present themselves in football – you wont score goals! However, there is a clear distinction between the ‘gamble’ of buying a winning Lottery ticket and the more predictable and recognizable opportunities from which goals can be scored.
There are thousands of football coaching manuals detailing the techniques involved in kicking and heading of the ball and how these can be suitably adapted to scoring goals. All of these books describe the ‘how’ to do something, which of course is vitally important if a skilful and successful outcome is to be achieved, but behind every undertaking there must be a real desire on behalf of the performer to make it happen.
Goal-scoring, above everything else, is about ‘wanting to score’. It is the very catalyst of the game and therefore it tends to be the most difficult part of the game to master.
Goal-scorers are not all physically alike; the physical shape is not necessarily important; a smaller player tends to need more speed to overcome a height disadvantage; the taller player can add the alternative of Heading as an option in attacking play. In all cases however, scoring is about getting into goal-scoring positions, being prepared to score and having the skills to score.
‘A faint heart never won a football match’. The bravery of the prolific goal-scorer is unquestionable. To score goals on a regular basis he/she must enter areas where knocks and physical contact will most certainly occur. Irrespective of the possibility of injury this player must ‘hunt’ for every chance that offers itself, but remain unaffected by missing a chance to score. A top go goal-scorers courage is reflected by his natural instinct to try again to do the most difficult thing in the game — score!.
Goal-scoring then has a great deal to do with attitude of mind. Some players get their thrills in being recognized as providers of chances for others to convert; the mean goal-scorer however, has his/her attention on ‘putting the ball in the net’; the truly great player however, has the combined qualities of being both ‘provider and finisher’.
Positioning is the secret of goal-scoring success. Before a goal is scored the scorer must ‘find’ the positions from which to score. Like all aspects of the game, practice teaches the scorer how, where and when to get into goal-scoring positions and what to do to finish; unless the desire to score is also a prominent feature, goal-scoring becomes irregular and not prolific. On arriving at the right time into a goal-scoring position a player must quickly assess –the flight, speed and angle of the approaching ball and the time and space in which to do his work. Goals can be scored in an assortment of ways –rebounds- deflections- knock-downs – defensive blunders etc. and the true finisher must prepare him/herself to take any chance when it happens. Goals scored before millions of viewers may look simple but are the product of hours of practice and the ‘signals’ received during practice. Realistic practises that create realistic goal-scoring situations must be part and parcel of coaching at all levels –for all players.
‘How’ to take a chance or take a ‘positional gamble’ often requires split second decisions to be made and players must be prepared to ‘manufacture’ the necessary body shape to assist in quickly producing the football skills and adaptations of them to be successful. Mental bravery is an outstanding feature in all top sports performers; fear of failure must not sit heavily on the shoulders of those who want to score goals and criticism must not deter players from seeking out the next goal-scoring opportunity .
Too often in today’s game here we produce the ‘patient predator’ rather than the ‘football thoroughbred’. Patience, not overall playing quality is the total sum of so many of our front players; their contribution tends to be a ‘waiting game’ positioned ‘on the shoulder’ of an opposing defender, looking for the chance to break into the space behind. This lack of involvement and an over-reliance on good service from colleagues is tolerated as long as goals are forthcoming, but when not, both individual and team performances suffer.
I believe that ‘goal-scorers’ should be as complete in their playing ability as possible. The area in which they compete is the most demanding and requires the highest playing qualities — not just ‘runners and fighters’. Accordingly, team linkage in attacking play would improve and goals would be shared around the team more equally. The scoring of goals must not be seen as the responsibility of the few, the desire and opportunity to ‘hit the net’ should be open to all out-field players.
But no matter who scores and how it happens, the elation makes up for all the hard work, criticism and disappointments. Our game needs far more ‘total players’ able to play the ‘total game’ and enjoy that special feeling of scoring a goal or two or three!
Although some of this was written a while ago it has been offered as a description of the role of the holding midfield player with the ability to do pretty much everything else who therefore becomes the complete footballer.
DEFENDING – THE FOUNDATION OF COMPETITIVE SUCCESS
By Chairman John Cartwright
Quote: “Winning does not really matter as long as you win.” Vinnie Jones
Coach (A) “ We played some really great football today.”
Coach (B) “Oh, how did you get on?”
Coach (A) “We lost 3-4.”
Coach (B) “Oh you lost!”
Let’s not beat about the bush and be honest; competitive football at all levels is about winning! It may not mean so much at junior levels to lose but it still should hurt.
The attempt to take the issues of winning and losing from the playing equation has proved unsuccessful for both the sport and for the youngsters playing it—how can you tell players not to want to win?
Don’t think I am one of those people who regard winning as the pinnacle of performance, no, in my opinion winning should occur through quality play. The problem we face in this country is the amount of competition without a quality teaching and learning structure to support it. Winning here is more about exiting successfully from a fierce battle than overcoming the opposition with a combination of skill, athleticism and game understanding.
As described in the conversation between the two coaches, it means little to play well and lose. We all should want to play attractive, free-flowing football but to be able to play it and win requires quality coaching throughout the whole development process or all that you get is honest effort as the result.
Winning creates confidence, losing brings anxiety. You lose football matches if the opposition score more goals than you do. Therefore, you must make sure they don’t score goals against you; in a nutshell, you’ve got to defend well.
I don’t intend to cover all aspects of defending but simply address some areas concerning defending that I feel are in need of attention.
As the title states, ‘defending is the foundation of competitive success’. In all competitive sports it is necessary to overcome the opposition, achieve attacking initiative and finish positively. Good defending leading to repossession of the ball is the start of attacking play—unless the ball is regained from the opposition you can’t begin to attack and score to win!
Solidity, when defending is an absolute necessity; gaps that occur in a team creates the likelihood of goals against! From the front of a team to the goalkeeper, all players must possess defensive qualities, know the defensive structure of their team and their role in it. The ‘temperamental star’ player who switches off once he is required to defend is often more of a liability than an asset; there is no reason why playing quality should not include a responsible defensive attitude as well.
All successful teams are capable of defending from the front. This initial ‘first defensive barrier’ is formed by players usually more associated with attacking situations, not defending. However, if these forward players apply themselves properly to their defensive duties they can create a formidable ‘barrier’ to the opposition a considerable distance from their own goal. In so doing, by regaining the ball close to the opponents goal they may have an opportunity to score, otherwise, they are able to supply their own team-mates in deeper playing roles with visual information and time to make decisions on marking and covering positions.
‘Guiding’ opposing attacking players into less dangerous areas often begins at the front of the defending team and supported by colleagues in deeper positions. The question of which way to direct opposing attackers– inside or wide, is a heated subject, each has a plus or minus; my own preference is wide unless reasons dictate otherwise for at worst by forcing an opposing attack wide meant my defenders were usually only required to deal with a cross and not several other options that become available to attackers should they come inside.
Defensive marking at crossing situations is something that playing on the half-turn is all about. So often the position that defenders take up is incorrect for it does not allow the marking defender the ability to see both the ball and his opponent at the same time. Good defenders must always be first to the ball, coming second can mean a goal against and a game lost.
Defending from free-kicks, both from wide positions around the penalty area or from more frontal, direct positions need to be examined. The quality of the new type of ball and the ability of players to make it swerve, in my opinion makes defensive marking strategies that are still remnants of the past, a problem that needs further examination and improvement.
Tackling has also been an important aspect of the game that has been disregarded. Possibly the better playing surfaces have allowed players to ‘go to ground’ too easily and too often. The real ‘sliding tackle’ has been lost in favour of the ‘jump tackle’ that is often not required or dangerous when used.
Dealing with counter –attacking play is really a lesson in team discipline and organisation. The counter attack will usually create a problem if on losing the ball the defending team has become unbalanced with gaps allowed to occur in their defensive ‘shield’ due to an insufficient number of players positioned incorrectly — too many forward, too few in deeper supporting positions to contain a fast attack by their opponents.
Heading is also another vitally important aspect of the game that has been overlooked here. Being dominant in the air whether in defensive or attacking situations provides a team with defensive strength and offensive variations. Teaching Heading should be a priority and introduced at the right time and with the right methods to our youngsters. Like Tackling, Heading is rarely coached and practiced – lack of players with high levels of ability in these skills is a huge problem for us now and will continue to be in the future.
I have dealt with just some of the things associated with defending – there are many more but time and space need me to end here but I hope that this brief entry into defensive play will be of interest and use to you.
Best regards – win with style. Pele, did call it, ‘The Beautiful Game’.
By Chairman John Cartwright
The use of Play-rounds in football—there are four—has only been a more visible part of the game here in recent years. A more consistently used attacking tactic has been the overuse of quickly delivered, forward passes. Ball possession has not been as an important tactical ‘weapon’ and fast territorial gain employing a fiercer playing concept has been more descriptive of the so-called ‘British Style’. Opportunities to create ‘gaps’ in opposing teams’ defensive systems using a patient, ‘keep-ball’ playing method has largely been ignored. The urge to play the ball forward irrespective of necessity has meant retaining old fashioned ‘pugilistic’ playing methods whilst discounting the importance of having individual skill in all positions.
Since the ‘importation’ of foreign players and Managers to fill the skill void in our game, there has been a noticeable but not necessarily improved use of Play-rounds and more emphasis by some clubs’ towards better ball possession tactics. However, this move towards a ‘keep-ball’ style of play and the use of Play-rounds has foundered on a lack of penetration when opportunities occur. As a team’s attack develops, space becomes available in their own rear areas. This space is usually overloaded by more of their own defensive players than opposing players and a ‘comfort zone’ within these less congested areas has become available for back or deeper positioned players to resort to a backwards and sideways playing style. Pass-pass- pass without penetration in rear and mid-field Play-round areas has become a feature in the game. When, or if the game develops into the forward Play-round area, the lack of playing quality in this more congested area too often results in unnecessary ball loss.
What seems to have been forgotten in the misunderstood use of ‘keep-ball’ tactics is (a) Why are we keeping the ball? ; (b) What are we looking for? Well, simply, the answer to (a) is; we control the game when in possession of the ball and (b) is; we look to create and exploit openings against opponents when they occur. There is misuse of ball possession tactics by players who seek to play easy options when penetrative alternatives are possible from Play-round situations. This problem can be seen both here as well as in football abroad. Playing negatively IN Play-rounds and not positively FROM Play-rounds has become an obvious ‘camouflage’ of those individuals in the game with skill deficiencies. The use of an easy option in a game is fine if it is the only option available to a player, but should more positive option(s) be disregarded because a player lacks skill and awareness, then the game becomes open to the impatient and misunderstood wails of the ‘get it forward’ brigade on the terraces.
We should be determined to ‘advertise’ the massive importance of possession football and of the correct use of Play-rounds in the game. Accordingly, there should be introduced ball possession and Play-rounds in gradual stages through the coaching and playing ‘journey’ . Improved qualities in both tactical and skilful aspects of the game must remain a priority thus allowing each to assist the other to give the game the ‘total’ look it requires. It is vital that we force our game away from old fashioned playing beliefs and steer it towards a more entertaining and effective playing style and this should be our football ‘goal’.
BALL POSSESSION ‘MANIA’ !
BY JOHN CARTWRIGHT
Over the past few years, Spanish football has sent a clear message around the world – keep the ball! Their games’ lesson concerning the importance of ball possession has made a huge impact on all football personnel.
From Pundits, Press, and Public alike, the need for better ball retention in the game has become increasingly discussed. However, what we see too often in games’ that attempt to emulate a ‘keep-ball’ style of play is a mediocre copy attempted by inadequately skilled players. It must be understood that the Spanish playing style, and Barcelona’s in particular, is the culmination of many years of dedicated practice. Their players have been schooled in the skills and tactical requirements of possession football, but even with the long history of developing a game-style based high playing standards they are experiencing problems when opposed by more defensive-minded teams’.
The challenge for teams’ playing a game based on ball retention is obvious – penetration must not be neglected! The pass-pass-pass ‘mania’ we see more frequently has become a disturbing feature as it often fails to exploit penetrative opportunities against defensive ‘shields’ through the field of play.
Back players, who are usually the weakest in terms of individual skill, are finding they are in possession of the ball far more often but lack creativity and ability to play positively from rear areas. Their increased time on the ball is too often used in a negative fashion with passes going back and forth across the back when more positive forward play is possible. This over-reliance on negative keep-ball is a ‘disease’ that is not exclusive to back players, for sideways and backwards passing has also become an overused part of the game in more advanced playing areas.
I am a passionate believer of possession football, but unless the reason for possession is understood by coaches and players this type of game-style can quickly become boring to watch and a ‘camouflage’ for poor playing quality. Periods of ball possession must be integrated with penetration opportunities with either passes or, equally important, with players able to breach gaps in opposing defences by running the ball through them.
In conjunction with the decline of individual runs with the ball, there is also a lack of variation in passing both in lengths and angles. Even the great Barcelona team are in need of an ‘injection’ of variations to their game-style to overcome the problem of ‘bus parking’!
One has always to be aware of the importance of ball possession allied to penetration opportunities that this type of game-style creates. The importance of space awareness is of paramount importance in the development of young players and it is necessary to introduce this aspect of the game and the decisions and skills that players require from the very beginning of our coaching programmes.
It is vitally important that young players are developed with the ability to play a positive brand of possession football that includes ball retention with penetration as a required sequel. The present possession ‘mania’ that is infecting our game must be seen for what it is – a negative ‘camouflage’ for poor playing standards!!