Twisting and turning
In 2006, I was fortunate to be listening to Andre Merelle speak at a coaches training event. Merelle was the head of the French FA’s famous Clairefontaine academy.
“Clairefontaine has produced many top internationals for the French national team including Thierry Henry”
At this event, Merelle made a comment that has stuck with me to this day.
He commented “Watch the best players in the world, the ones you love to see play, and you will see how well they turn. The best players, all have this quality of turning better than the players who are just a level below them.”
That evening, I searched the internet and watched clips of all the players I admired – I looked for players of different shape and size. I also looked for players from different nationalities and leagues to confirm this comment.
He was right, its a quality that all the “top” talents have and separates the match winners from the players taking part in the game.
Then – from the very next session, I was busy dedicating more time to this aspect of the game than I ever had before.
Its become an obsession and something that I always look for in young players
– the agility and smoothness of turning when dribbling or receiving a pass –
I like to coach this at every opportunity
“75% of 1v1s in the premier league are when an opponent is directly behind the player receiving the ball”
If the above statistic is correct – The ability to receive under high pressure and maintain possession is a hugely important skill to master.
So – two questions for development coaches are
(1) How often do we work on this situation in our training sessions?
(2) How can we break this skill/technique down for our players? (In a way that they learn, improve and have fun during the process).
If we look at videos of the best players in the Premier League at twisting and turning away from pressure (Hazard, Dembele, Silva, Coutinho etc…) we are given some clear hints on the key components needed to be successful in these moments of the game.
Creating space to receive – teaching players how to create space – using double movements, disguised movements or to “push and move” away from the opponent.
Body position on receiving – teaching players to constantly adjust their body position in order to “see both goals” on the pitch as much as possible.
Scanning – teaching players how to “scan” and grab a picture of what is around them before receiving a pass. This is directly linked to your body positioning in order to give yourself the biggest picture of what is around you.
Front foot and back foot receiving – teaching players the term “front” foot to receive the ball on the foot furthest from the opponent and the term “back” foot to receive the ball across your body and into a direction away from the opponent. This is again linked to your – movement, body position and scanning – before receiving a pass.
Using arms and legs to protect – teaching players how to use their arms and legs to give themselves space on the pitch and hold off the direct opponents. The correct use of your body is not directly linked to strength – more the use of your body.
After all, the opponent cannot run through you to get the ball and any unfair contact will lead to a foul being awarded.
Using both feet – teaching the importance of turning with both feet and being able to receive a pass with both feet is essential.
Using different areas of the foot and disguised touches – teaching players how to cut and chop the ball with the inside and outside of both feet and also to drag the ball using the sole of the foot.
In addition, learning how to take a “delayed” or “late” touch with disguise or even learning how to let the ball run across your body without the need to touch the ball.
2nd touch “off the path” – teaching players to take their second touch in a different direction to their first touch will enable them to wrong foot the opponent.
Luis Suarez is a master of this technique – he regularly uses a quick second touch in a new direction, against the movement of his direct opponent and therefore, creates the space he needs to beat the defender.
Now – we need to transfer these components into various types of training.
This will enable our players to build confidence and for each player to understand their own bodies and what is the “best” fit for them personally (this is very important!).
Unopposed or semi unopposed work on cutting the ball with the inside and outside of the foot will give a player the confidence in their techniques.
Now develop this into 1v1 situations with “live” pressure against different types of opponents in order to fine tune.
The players will quickly learn what is needed to be successful against different opponents (size, speed, level of pressure) and to understand the value of space and scanning before receiving the ball.
“The secret of all teams or groups of players is the difference in playing personalities. Each group will have small or big players, fast or slow players, good dribblers, passers, defenders etc.
This is true for an u9 local team or a senior professional team.
Using Real Madrid as the elite example – Ronaldo is completely different to Kross, Modric, Ramos, Marcelo, Bale etc.
Giving your the players the experience of playing against different types of opponent is essential to their development.
As a coach – this is a beautiful advantage that every group of players gives you in the process of player development.
(3) Small sided games
Finally – take this work into small game scenarios where the players will need to “read” the moment of the game and make decisions at high speed.
Games are unpredictable and making this adjustment from unopposed – opposed – game scenario is the important last step.
Often, it’s not the skill/technique but – the application and decision making that needs adjusting for a player to use their attributes to good effect.
Lastly – Its important for young players to know –
The best players are constantly working with the ball and fine turning their movements – both in isolation and during the group training sessions.
The best players are obsessive and want to grow their strengths each day.