It shouldn’t matter who scores the goals. The important thing is what got us to the goal. The American view toward soccer, and what makes a good player, puts too much emphasis on the goal scorer. Who can finish around goal? Who has got the big shot? Who can put it in the back of the net? Everybody wants to be the goal scorer. All the players have this attitude. They think they won’t make the team if they don’t score. This creates an “atmosphere of me,” causing everyone to forget what is more important: the build up to a shot. If there’s a shaky build up then few good chances for quality shots will occur. All players should be able to finish. All players should have big shots. You need a firm line drive hit with the instep and a subtler bending passing shot hit with the inside of the foot. This should be a prerequisite for being on a team. A big problem American soccer faces is there are usually one or two goal scorers the team leans on. And the guys who are supposed to be creating aren’t that good at creating in the first place. So you have a crazy mix of guys trying to get the ball down field, to a couple players who are given the responsibility to score, and everything looks forced and predictable. Other teams see exactly what’s happening. On the other hand, if everyone can score then it doesn’t matter who scores. At this point, you have to strip the ego of the players and they have to realize that the action of swinging the foot and putting the ball in the net is not that important. What’s important is the way they got to the shot. To a player, goals should be the most boring thing in the world. You’re just kicking the ball. How you get there is what’s important. Enjoy the possession. Good possession leads to more shots and more goals. It doesn’t lead to boring soccer. It leads to more goals. There is a line of thinking that criticizes “over possessing” the ball. If you’re over possessing the ball this is a good thing. It’s definitely a good thing; versus, if you’re under possessing the ball you’re likely losing the game, sitting around wondering why the other team was so much better than you. It means, for one, that you can over possess the ball. If you can’t over possess the ball you’re in big trouble. It means, for two, that if you can over possess the ball then you can turn it up a gear and attack, playing “free flowing” soccer like Brazil 1970, satisfying the critics of your “boring over possession.” The critics of over possession are just that – critics. They need anything to complain about. If you’re not possessing the ball they’ll say you lack the skill to possess the ball; they’ll compare you to a good team that possesses the ball, saying you need to be more like them. When you play possession soccer they’ll say you lack the ability to attack with a “purpose,” or with “free flowing soccer.” No matter what, they’re not satisfied. What they don’t seem to realize is that over possessing the ball leads to more attacking soccer. It’s a little like trying to be the best guitar player around. Do you think Eddie Van Halen would have a hard time covering any other artist in the world? I doubt it. I think he can hear any song, any solo, and recreate it with ease. Who are the musicians having a hard time covering every song they hear? They’re the ones trying to be like Van Halen, but they’re not quite there. As an individual player you should have all the skills, including tricks whether it seems pertinent to the field of play or not. You need to have all the dribbling moves down (of which there are a minimum of thirty), whether you use them or not. As a team you have to be able to fast break, and you have to be able to over possess the ball. So many teams enter a World Cup – of all places – not being masters of possession. If there’s one place you don’t want to show up to unprepared it’s probably the World Cup. There tend to be a lot of other teams that are pretty focused. These teams showing up without a firm grasp of possession are wasting everyone’s time. This is why no one wakes up at 5 AM to watch Kazakhstan versus New Zealand. They can’t possess the ball! Are you kidding? You’ve given up and said, “I’m the punching bag, pound away.” Why did you even show up? How do they expect to even come close to getting out of their group? But it’s not just possessing the ball, which these type of teams lack. It’s the body language they have in possession, in dribbling, and even before they start the game. They don’t own it. They don’t own the idea that they’re the best players out there. In order to own this idea you have to want the other team to be as good as you think you are, so you can beat the best. In terms of possession, you have to want a challenge from the other team. Therefore, you have to enjoy possession; enjoy the idea of “pointless” passes (which actually aren’t pointless at all and they, in fact, create more attacking passes); enjoy the idea that you’ve already prepared for the moment of getting on the field with the experience of over possessing the ball in practice, in friendly games and in competitive games. You have to know exactly what the result of over possession is. It’s a part of the game that doesn’t show up on the scoreboard but it resonates with anyone watching the game as to who the better team was (win or lose). This is why Spain has been so good of late. There’s a system they adhere to. They possess the ball knowing that good results will come over the long run, even if they win or lose, or even if they’re down a goal.
I would love to have a debate with anyone on whether or not Italy has a creative, fluid style of play. I believe, against much opposition, that they do. Most people think of Italy as boring defensive minded players and teams. “Boring masters of defense. They suck the life out of the game. They destroy everything decent with what could be a beautiful game and they squash it with dull, unimpressive, uninspired, boring, tragically uncreative play.” I see the opposite. They possess the ball with style and when they do – sure they have lapses at times and they can be boring to watch – they put their thumbprint on the game with a finer quality than most other teams. They and the French have style in life, and in the game. When they play well – the French and the Italians – you, as the viewer, enjoy watching the game more than you would with other teams playing well. This part of the debate I would lose because you can’t explain this feeling. How do some players from Italy, playing at their best, look better than other players from Sweden, playing at their best? It’s personal opinion. However, as with art and style and architecture and life, there are some places that generate more appealing “things” than others. How do you explain this aesthetic aspect of “stuff” out there? Sometimes you can’t. It comes from years of generation after generation engraining what they believe into the next generation. And some do certain things better than others. Why do West Africans have a better flair for dance than people of Paraguay, Peru and Bolivia? It’s my opinion that this is so and I think most people would agree with this. If you don’t (with all due respect) you’re from another planet called “I don’t know what I’m talking about.” If I believe that I’ve watched as much Paraguayan, Peruvian and Bolivian dance as I have with West African dance then I’m an idiot. Let’s just say West African culture has set the standard for high quality dance. If you want to defeat them in a dance competition, good luck Peru. Why did the ancient Japanese make the highest quality swords? Well, they did, and they passed this skill of attaining perfection with engineering onto the next generations, which led to quality advances in automobiles, computers, electronics, robotics and the Fuji film empire.
There cannot be possession with a purpose without first mastering possession for possession’s sake. A team first has to be able to deliver possession for possession’s sake anytime, under any circumstance. It has to be driven into their heads so much that they’d rather walk the Sahara desert than step on a soccer field again. This should be done at practice and in games as much as possible. It takes a fanatical commitment, focusing on detail and repetition, similar to a mix between Vice Lombardi and Dwight Schrute.
American’s have embraced possession with a purpose so quickly because Americans like to skip ahead right to the goal scoring. They are assuming that they have mastered, or conquered, possession for possession’s sake, when they haven’t. We’re not even close. Each game of the 2014 World Cup the United States was outplayed. They had some moments, but they were just that: moments. In order to be a serious contender you have to have a series of moments, or a continuous moment. Spain, Germany, Holland, Argentina and others continue to have moments that keep going, not just one or two. The U.S. has a couple good moments and they think everything is going in the right direction, and, hence, they want to skip ahead to possession with a purpose. They haven’t even conquered over possession yet. There’s ninety minutes in the game. That’s a long time. If you just trade punches with a team, and go toe-to-toe for the duration of the game, you’re going to be giving the ball up back and forth all game long. You’re going to keep giving the other team opportunities to score and out play you with possession (should they choose to possess the ball versus trading punches). You don’t want to go toe-to-toe with Mike Tyson unless you know you’re Joe Frazier or Roy Jones Jr. (not the same weight class, I know) or De la Hoya (not the same weight class, I know) – i.e. do you have the complete skill set to take on a world champ? You don’t want to go toe-to-toe with George Foreman. I mean, it’s fine, go for it, but if you trade punches with these guys you also need to be a skilled boxer as well, so you can have something to fall back on. All these teams, Spain, Brazil, Germany, etc., are not just toe-to-toe fighters; they have the complete boxing skillset. The game of soccer, like basketball, is simple in the respect of offense: fast breaks and half court possession. Your first instinct should be to look for the fast break. If this is not on, then turn to the half court possession game. The field in soccer is much bigger than a basketball court, though according to Glenn Beck, as with climate change, the debate is still raging. The half court possession game can be broken down into sections, but it should be thought of as any place on the field. In half court possession the intent should be to play the ball across the field, going back and forth, connecting with each wing or outside defender positioned near the sideline. (You can pass up and back to accomplish this as well.) As you go across the field with possession you are looking for opportunities to create danger in your opponent’s defensive areas. Simple. You have to conquer this first. As you begin to master this, which takes time and patience, the players will naturally begin to “possess with a purpose.” Or as I like to call it, “create danger in the opponent’s defense.”
Just pushing forward for the sake of getting forward is so wrong and it defeats the purpose of going forward in the first place. It rushes everything. It takes the game out of playing the game. The whole point of stepping on the field is to possess the ball and score, in the simplest terms. There are so many other things, obviously, but possessing the ball is something we as Americans are lacking. We lack in possession like the 85’ SNL cast lacked a good…plan. We don’t appreciate the possession of the ball. There’s a lack of understanding we have for it. This is part of our culture. We rush things. We need things now. Basketball has points on the board immediately. In football you go forward with every ounce of energy you have. With soccer, possession done correctly can seem very boring to some. Scoring a goal is the ending to a cool piece of music. The good part of the song is everything building up to the crescendo. It’s all the stuff in the middle. The ending is just the end. It’s the beginning and middle that got you there. Enjoy those parts. The action of the goal itself should be thought of as boring. Once you (the player) think of a goal this way you’ll end up scoring more. It’s merely a swing of the leg, or a head ball. The whole build up is the important part. Without the build up you don’t have a swing of the leg or a head ball to cap it off. Many people say goal scorers have ice in their veins. There’s a lot of pressure to score. Eliminate the big moment of scoring. See it as one small action in the cog of the wheel (the wheel being the build up in possession), and you’ll be less stressed to score. And, mentally, this is where you want to be.
What team would you place a bet on to win? A team that is only good at fast breaks, or a team that is only good at possession? I would hope you’d take the possession team. Because a team that only fast breaks will have a very hard time mastering possession, however, a team that is only good at possession can very easily learn the fast break. Why? It takes more skill to be a possession team. You must have precise passing. You have to be able to pass to a players’ right or left foot; or you have to pass to a space, leading the player, with a soft, medium or hard pass. You have to think quickly, combining with players, creating chemistry with teammates. If you take these guys and tell them to fast break it should come naturally; after all, they need a break from possession. And, after all, that’s what possession is good for: it waits, and waits, and waits for that moment to attack with a precise guided pass (essentially a fast break moment). These possession-oriented players will use their skill appropriately, guiding players with correct passes into space, creating the best fast break options.
The fast break oriented players, on the other hand, probably aren’t that skillful to begin with, as they usually just kick the ball forward and chase it like wild animals. To get them to use precision and thinking in a half court offense would be asking a whole lot.
It’s similar to the saying from Anson Dorrance: “You can turn a dribbler into a passer, but you can’t turn a passer into a dribbler.” You can turn a possession player into a faster breaker, but you can’t turn a fast breaker into a possession player.