This post is my response to an observation made by one of our readers, CarlosT from the Sounder At Heart blog. In his comment to our possession article, he shared the video below and stated:
“It seems to me that while this style of play is associated with hugely talented teams like Argentina and Brazil, the technical skills required are actually not that advanced. The vast majority of individual actions in this move are trap, pass, and run, all very basic stuff. There are a couple nice fakes and a couple nice passes in the air, but for the most part it’s guys passing the ball like they learned to in their first week.”
If you can’t see the video, click here.
He is 100% correct – technical quality is not a big component to executing this. Being capable of playing this way is overwhelmingly the result of:
- Players having a high Soccer IQ and
- Implementation of style by the coach.
You see, what is required is the player’s capacity to understand proper spacing in relation to the ball, his opponents, and his teammates. They need to know how to maximize the use of the field. Only with this understanding can he make the appropriate movements and runs off the ball. Every player on the team must be in sync with this, because without proper spacing, possession quickly falls to pieces!
But there’s more. Every single player, especially the playmakers, must simultaneously be looking forward and evaluating whether they can hurt the opposition if they were to receive the ball. If the answer is yes, that is when a direct attack is triggered and it becomes an avalanche with other players going forward in concert.
In general everyone must have good vision and good decision making. Without it you’re toast!
This moves into the the second part of Carlos’ comment:
“In an odd way, the normal way that a lot of lower talent teams choose to play, booting the ball up the field and hoping that something happens, seems a lot more technically challenging than the way that the “big” teams play. Let me know what you think.”
Yep! Playing balls in the air, and being consistently accurate is orders of magnitude more difficult – not only for the passer, but for the guy receiving.
One of the possible reasons why the “lower level” teams play like this is as discussed above – lower Soccer IQ. But there’s other possibilities …
Being able to hold possession is also a function of what the other team does defensively. If the guys on the team playing defense have a high Soccer IQ and their coach has implemented a synchronized high pressure defense, it will be extremely difficult to hold possession. This is what one usually sees with the “big teams” – they’ll pressure the inferior ones. This is where technique starts to have some more importance (a player must have a good first touch to get out of trouble).
Technique finally comes more into play in the final third when you’re directly attacking the goal. Here, the defense is naturally more compact so you must have impeccable technique along with lightning fast decision-making to play combinations in highly congested spaces. This is where a less talented team falls apart as well.
Lastly, this style and its efficacy is ultimately a reflection of the coach. He is responsible not only for selecting capable players, but implementation of the required structure and roles for each position. If he does not have a high Soccer IQ, you can pretty much bet he won’t be able to make this happen.
Summary of Requirements
- Players with elite Soccer IQs
- Coach capable of selecting the right kind of players
- Coach capable of implementation
- Elite technique only becomes important when under high pressure
What does everyone think?
Thanks for the great post, Gary. This has helped me resolve the paradox of why this kind of play, which seems so simple, is avoided by lower skilled teams. In the case of MLS, first touch is a skill that is painfully lacking in the vast majority of players and I’m sure that’s a big reason long stretches of a lot of MLS games descend into booting the ball back and forth in the air.
Unfortunately, I don’t get the sense that skills like that are seen as priorities when developing players in this country.
Gary Kleiban says
No prob Carlos. As I’m sure you know there’s all kinds of other details, but I think this at least gives a high level overview.
In Southern California, I can count on one hand the number of coaches who are capable.
Joel Snyder says
I am new to your site and I am sure you mentioned it along the line, but it sticks out, when you talk about the coach’s ability to implement, one main area that gets left out of the drills is proper communication… I notice as players develop their own IQ, PROPER communication (2-way) from teammates can save trouble – “turn, now-go, back, etc..” youth players want to simply call out for the ball because they want a shot at a possession vs. being a good option. Lastly, the TEAM needs to provide multiple options around each ball, so that within the vision of the one possessing the ball they can easily make a choice to advance, hold, or play back. This creates a level of trust by the players in the system of possession play vs just a coach playing by “remote control”.
Gary Kleiban says
Hey Joel. Thanks for the comment!
100% on the money here. The most critical piece for a team to function properly is real time communication between the players. This is something that we emphasize over and over and over again to our guys – “Help each other”. Every single training session we run incorporates communication.
Unfortunately it’s usually one of the last things a player develops, if ever. Players usually need confidence to speak up. And that comes not only with their game, but also with intrinsic or learned leadership qualities.
Speaking at the youth level, it does take some time to get your team to that point. Not just for the simple “man-on, turn, time, etc …”, but all the other possible things. I’m talking years …
This is the ideal situation. Your players are now the “real-time” coaches – as it should be. A coach can then focus on the bigger picture during a game and make necessary adjustments.
Your “remote control” comment deserves much attention, as it can be both good and bad. Watch for an upcoming article on that …
” a synchronized high pressure defense, it will be extremely difficult to hold possession. ”
If you look at the no 1 possession team in the world; Barcelona this is not true. If a team tries to play a high pressure defense against them they will be punished because they leave spaces behind them for Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and co to use. But if you play a low defense you give Barcelona too much time and sooner or later they will score, probably later if you also have defenders with patience. Jose Mourinho did both when Inter Milan outmanoeuvred Barcelona and he couldn’t care less about possession, because you don’t win games on possession.
Having said that possession football is beautiful to watch but it’s not always the right thing to do.
Gary Kleiban says
Hi Wayne and thanks for commenting!
I took a big interest in what you wrote and responded in a post:
p.s. Keep it up on your blog. We need more coaches doing this!
Steven Anthony says
Great piece, and on the money.
I’m relatively new into the coaching sense, leaving the pitch for the sidelines, but I have always had a knack for playing positive, possession based football, and am currently implementing this with one of my sides. I do have some questions however, that maybe you could help a budding youngster out with.
Last week we ran our first training session, and based on most of the videos i’ve seen out there, I decided to play a 2-3 touch scrimmage for an hour to get my guys into good chemistry and rhythm. Whilst they all did well, all of them being 19 or older, the one thing I had a little trouble on was adapting to the speed at which my younger players were playing at. The older players held the ball well and dictated much better at a slower, yet highly effective pace, whilst the youngsters insisted on going 100mph.
What would you suggest to be the best way to get my younger guys to slow down and play with a little more patience the way my older guys do?
Also, would you have access to any links out there that show possession drills and things of the like?
Thanks and keep up the good work!