FA Skills Coach looks at Barcelona's majestic style of football.
Andres Iniesta, according to Wayne Rooney, may currently be the best footballer player in the world. Quite a compliment considering Barcelona’s diminutive midfielder may have stood behind teammates Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi on the performance podium in the Champions League final.
Time has since past, leaving not the memories of individuals, but an imprint of Barcelona’s decoration of both domestic and European campaigns as something to behold. In the aftermath of their European glory Pep Guardiola’s side have bathed in plaudits. Superlatives exhausted. Every which way of describing the kaleidoscopic swirl of purple and blue; of interchanging players, unfolding team shapes and incisive penetrative passing has been used. Not least the Catalan’s fine appreciation of the study of geometry.
Barcelona’s arrangement of logical and fluid positioning fused with their measured passing ability: can appear, in the eye of the beholder, to be a spiritual pursuit; a heightened way of being in light of the dull conformity and ode to stifle adopted by many clubs desperate for success but crippled by fear. May’s finale of the grandest club game in the footballing calendar proved to be the Spanish giant’s geometric
Congested midfield arrangements, man markers and dual defending are both the antithesis and the ultimate tests for the technician who craves space. To conjure space when no space exists is the magic of the footballing architect. Expert operators in the mould of Xavi and Iniesta, are eulogised over for their never ending pockets of time and effortless composure; as if teleporting away from markers into areas of the field protected by a force-field that repels the opposition.
What the TV cameras quite often fail to show is the game that exists away from the ball and in the minds of the player. In the shadow of the action, space predators, silently do their work: assessing the landscape; calculating the future movement of the ball and players; adjusting and refining positions in relations to the path of play; always ready and waiting to receive a pass. Those that find space, create it; firstly in their head and secondly in their movements.Time and Space
Coaching children the game of football predominately revolves around the acquisition of technique. Ball manipulation - mastering a set of techniques and turns - is still vogue. Coaches persist for hours refining children’s execution of set movements, in the hope these techniques will transplant into a game.
Examples of children ‘step-overing’, scissoring and shimmying, unopposed, in wide open spaces are not hard to find. Proof, some may say, that such techniques do transfer from practice into the game. Gravely lacking is the game understanding of when, where
and why not
; crucially the skills that actually matter.
Undoubtedly refining technique
is important. Barcelona’s trident of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi haven’t been elevated to their plane of footballing expertise without a total mastery of body and ball. Adopting a ‘rage to master’; an unswerving motivation to developing their craft is integral for the development of young players in this aspect.
But the game is not played on your own.
Skills and trickery catch the eye of the uneducated fan; providing moments of great enjoyment. In contrast, the creation of a harmonious whole, in which each player contributes to the continuous movement and pattern of the team; are true attributes to be appreciated and developed.
A longer term vision of team play which adopts such fluid movement, spatial understanding, and precise passing will require more than just mere repetition of technique in their work. Thinking differently about how space can be created and how we view the geometry of the football pitch will set the agenda. How these principles can be introduced into practices at all levels is a worthy pursuit.
Will the expert youth coach of the future be the one who thinks less about what happens with the ball than what happens off it? Basic sessions on turning and control replaced with sessions on creating time
Johan Cruyff, famously said ‘Football is a game you play with your brain’.
Do we have the time to think about it and the space to fit it in?
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