I recently attended the Premier Skills Academy Coaches Course and the course tutor John Cartwright's introduction gave a simple and clear Playing Vision that should be used consistently throughout. The key to it being that Individualism, continuity, progression and patience/possession should be emphasised throughout.
John's argument is that the building of the foundations is often missed in the hastened move to competitive 'winning at all costs' attitudes. In his words, the roof is put on before the foundations have been laid correctly.
15+ Mixing the Game Styles Throughout this vision
13/14 Learning through the thirds Individualism, Continuity
11/12 Introduction to the senior game Progression and Patience in
9/10} Building the Possession should be advocated
6/8 } FoundationsExtracts from Football for the Brave
A national playing style 'template' would allow the building blocks for progress to be clearly set out. Important foundations could be prioritised and effected to provide the game with the strong supports it needs to eliminate mistakes and create and maintain success at club and international levels.
A pre-occupation with 'tidy practice' and over organisation has strangled realism, spontaneity and individualism amongst our coaches and players. The importance of decision-making on time and space in both practising and playing has been largely ignored by the coaching fraternity. Too much emphasis has been given to 'choreographed' and 'regimented' practice to produce technical ability. We have not understood that football is not played with technique but with skill. Skill demands decisions on time and space as they affect both the attacking and defending situations of the game. Our coaching methods have not produced ideas or methods for practices in which kids can develop skills realistically for easy transfer into competitive match-play.
Evidence of Missing Foundations?
It is evident when looking at the England national team that many of the squad are good footballers but are they complete footballers? Some examples I can think of:
England have a fine tradition of excellent shot stopping goalkeepers who are comfortable in the set position but since the introduction of the pass back rule can you name a goalkeeper that is as comfortable on the ball as Victor Valdes or Edwin van de Sar when the defenders in front use them to recycle play across the back line? Most passes back are met with a long clearance up the field rather than a touch to the other foot and short pass to switch the play.
Why people say Ashley Cole is one of the best left backs in the world is beyond me! Yes he looks good going forward, is fast in recovery and can hold up play & win possession back but get him on his right foot and his game disintegrates. In the 2010 World Cup go back and have a look at the amount of times (especially against Germany) where he was forced back inside on to his right foot and looked lost. On his right foot there is no patience or individualism and he passes the buck not the ball.
John Terry is a great example of where a player has been honed in the art of playing as a stopper rather than an all round skillful footballer. He rarely advances beyond the middle of the defensive third with the ball at his feet and when he does the pass will be forced or long. Look at Lucio and Gerard Pique for defenders who are as comfortable with the ball as they are at defending without it.
Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick all fall under the category of good footballers, but, again will they go down in history as 'great' footballers or 'legends'? Can you say that they are confident and comfortable in tight areas, under pressure and have the ability to retain possession of the ball in these situations? Whenever I watch England this is where we struggle big time and is a fundamental part of the modern game. Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas constantly scan before receiving, they know where they are in relation to team-mates, where the space is, shield the ball, keep the ball and then play to maintain possession constantly. I hope Jack Wilshere is going to be the norm rather than the exception as he has similar skills to the spanish trio shown above and looks comfortable in tight areas whilst maintaining possession very well.
Rooney is undoubtedly an excellent footballer but his game is affected by those around him at international level. The game against Algeria in last year's World Cup is the best example of how he can disappear in a game when not supported by a team that can maintain possession, be patient and be innovative. It is these kind of games where a team that can move the ball from back to front, maintain possession, recycle the ball by switching play whilst being patient to look for the moment to penetrate will be the team in which Rooney can shine. The use of long passes to break down a stubborn defence, overweighted passes from midfield to the forwards and lack of clever, imaginative and positive running with the ball will mean Rooney will resort to dropping back closer and closer to his own half simply to get involved in the game. In some respects the same happens to Messi when playing for Argentina but I believe he is more accomplished at running at the opposition to create chances for himself or others.
I am sure that this will come across as being negative about the English game. I always ask myself this. But really it is frustration rather than negativity. I think what these players would be like and what the team would be like if the foundations had been built (completely) before putting the roof on.