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New blog: Don't just hoof it!

Welcome to my new Total Football blog.

I'll be writing about a number of interesting, unusual, different topics. Not necessarily the current 'headline makers' but (hopefully) thought-provoking nevertheless.

I'll start off by using the topic from the title of this blog as the first discussion point...

Is it better to keep possession, and play through the thirds, using the short passing game? The question has been asked many times, but have we found a simple enough answer to explain it to the masses?

If we look at Swansea in the English Premier League, they have come through the lower leagues playing out from the back with short passing and are now seen as a credit to the top tier of English football.

For the idealists, the 'purists' this would be the way every club plays; but maybe the different styles in football are what make it so enthralling.

Take for example a fixture played between Blackburn Rovers and Swansea City on December 3, a fixture I analysed for Opta.

Launched

By the end of the first three or four minutes, Swansea had around 93% possession. Blackburn Rovers absolutely refused to play football, the first few free kicks they won in their own half were launched into the Swansea box, with Samba being sent forward (within the first fifteen minutes).

Over ninety minutes Swansea had 68.4% possession, even though they played with ten men for the last ten minutes.

Throughout the game Swansea played some beautiful football, but could not create enough opportunities with a proverbial bus in parked in front of them. Blackburn had 15 shots with 5 on target compared to Swansea with 10 shots and 4 on target.

The long punts into dangerous areas paid dividends for Blackburn Rovers as they were 3-2 up before an 80th minute red was given to a frustrated young genius in Joe Allen. Who had been trying his best to find a solution to the problem he had been presented with; a psychological error in judgement influenced by Blackburn's style of play?

In any case, the brutal, 'distasteful' tactics ultimately brought about the desired result. How can you argue that Blackburn were wrong, since they won?

More importantly, how do we argue this with the coaches and parents who bring it up in youth football?

An article in 'The Guardian' newspaper (http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2010 /may/12/the-question-important-possession) shows the importance of possession, and the statistics that support this notion, in the final section of the article.

It also beautifully sums up the Blackburn Rovers vs Swansea fixture with its final paragraph (what a group of players that is).

Maybe it needs someone to suggest a national game strategy of hoofing the ball from one end to another to cause uproar.

Well from that article we can see that in the 70's and 80's 'at the FA's Centre of Excellence at Lilleshall, direct football became the explicit tactical philosophy of the English game, and the emphasis came increasingly to focus on long diagonals and effort'.

Long ball strategy

For me it is frightening to think that, even now, rather than uproar, possibly an equal amount of people as those supporting the short passing and dribbling game, would back the long ball strategy.

Without the proper education, or an easy to understand explanation, a lot of people will take things at face value, and in the aforementioned English Premier League game they would have seen Blackburn Rovers comprehensively beat Swansea City 4-2.

How do we tell the kids in mini soccer that Swansea City was the better football team? Is it purely aesthetic or do we have a rational, purposeful, simple explanation.

Specific examples aside (which is usually where the opposing rationale comes from in this situation); current research has shown the importance of possession in football.

Penas et al (2010) summed up previous research and produced their own statistics showing that the teams that retain possession for longer periods are more successful (http://www.jssm.org/vol9/n2/18/v9n2-18pdf.pdf).

First touch

We see the best team in the world at the moment, FC Barcelona, playing in this way. If you look at the weight of their first touch, and the pace they can play at, it is incredible; especially in the tight spaces in midfield and in and around the penalty box.

The weight of pass and touch is amazingly well controlled and allows them to pass through the thirds with confidence.

As well as being very well organised as a team, individually they have great ball control and spatial awareness. The motor skills that aid this task are better developed at a young age, not when they become adults (brain development - http://www.arts.uwaterloo.ca/~raha/CogSci600_web/Readings-S05/wainwright4.pdf).

I will allow people to draw their own conclusions from this post, but I can not see how launching the ball from back to front will help develop this range of motor skills and create better footballers.

As for a simple answer ''complex problems do not have simple solutions''.

By Manraj Sucha


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