I’d like to take just a few minutes of your time to explain how to play football.
To play football, you need to utilize as best you can, the other 10 people wearing the same colour as you are. You can do this in a number of ways, but ultimately, they all boil down to helping them to use their strengths, and protecting them from their weaknesses.
This would mean not threading defense splitting passes through for your 6ft 6in striker to not sprint onto. If in fact you do have a 6ft 6in striker, it should be obvious that they are a little taller than everyone else in a roughly 1km radius, and thus by hitting balls to his head, you might gain a significant advantage. Of course the opposite is also true. If you have a small whippet of a winger who has been burning up the full back since the sun rose this morning, feel free to now try your defense splitting through balls.
This all seems rather obvious as I sit and type this at my kitchen table and you read this on your smart phone, but it is surprising how difficult some players seem to find it.
Let’s crank things up a notch and talk about passing. The art of passing the ball is very very simple. In fact, passing the ball quickly and efficiently is largely what defines the best teams in the world, at least today anyway. Barcelona are currently the best team in the world, from pretty much whatever angle you come at the question. Let me tell you what they do;
Their goalkeeper holds the ball. It is a matter of seconds before one of his full backs comes running to the edge of his area where he will roll the ball out to him. Start the clock. That full back will have around about 5 seconds to pick his next short pass, and it will be a short pass. Now 5 seconds in a football game is an extremely long time, more than enough time for one of the best midfielders in the world to find a little pocket of space to run into. It is in this pocket that he will receive the ball. As the term suggests, a pocket is termed such because it provides an element of protection for the midfielder, and that protection comes in the form of space. Space can also be understood as ‘distance from an opposing player’, which one of the world’s best midfielders now has, in abundance. I would say he now has about 3-4 seconds to make his pass, which, funnily enough, is again more than enough time for one of his fellow world-class midfielders to find a similar pocket and repeat the process.
Technically, this process is water tight enough to go on indefinitely, with the only limiting factor being the team’s own boredom and ambition.
It isn’t hard to imagine what can happen when this process breaks down. If we start from the goalkeeper again, he has two main choices; kick the ball as high and as far as he can, or roll it out to a full back. Kicking the ball high and far gives your world-class midfielder far more time then he needs to locate himself underneath it, but unfortunately that same amount of time applies to just about everyone else on the pitch, resulting in chaos or ‘head tennis’. So let’s say a poor goalkeeper rolls the ball out to a poor full back. Now assuming he doesn’t panic immediately at his own incompetence and decide to kick the ball long and high himself, he will now look for a poor midfielder to pass to. These poor midfielders will most likely be running into each other, or worse, not moving at all. So he is perfectly free to pass to a midfielder, but this midfielder will then have, at best, 1-2 seconds on the ball. This will not give his poor team mates anywhere near the length of time to find an appropriate amount of space, and they will eventually be tackled and concede possession.