“Position and a 1/2”

Continuing from a previous blog on “Player identity”.

The ideas in this post will take the “player identity” model to a higher level and give you some ideas to work on with your players.

It is very important to stay one step ahead of your talents and to make sure you are pushing them to stay with a “growth” mindset and improving each day.

From time to time, players can think they have cracked it……..

So you will require a stream of ideas and also to provide a greater awareness of the “bigger picture”.

“As a defender, you must not only do your job in a game, you must also do 1/2 of the job for the defenders either side of you”

The above insight on coaching was something that I picked up while working at Liverpool FC. I was listening to a story about the famous boot room coaches of years gone by. The above was something that was used in those famous times of success – I believe by Ronnie Moran.

It is a great insight into defending and is 100% correct and something that I regularly use to open the players minds.

However, I have also changed the idea of this concept into both a defending and attacking aspect to challenge players to develop.

So the term “Position & a 1/2” was born from this idea.

“The game is always evolving and so are the demands on players to be multi skilled. Players are regularly rotating their position to disrupt compact defences and therefore, need a wide variety of attributes in order to be successful”

As an example, I am going to use the role of a full back and select three players of a very high level, with different physical attributes and from different cultures/nationalities.

– Phillip Lahm

– Dani Alves

– Branislav Ivanovic

All three of these guys are right defenders (full backs) and have played for the biggest clubs in Europe, won a high number of trophies and played in the biggest games.

However, they are all completely different and have different playing personalities.

FC Bayern Muenchen v 1. FC Koeln - Bundesliga

Lahm is a right defender that has a second position as a central midfielder. He can switch position via rotation or game to game within a manager’s team selection. He can change his mindset for each role and is equally skilled as a footballing full back or a controlling midfielder who begins the team’s build up play.


Alves is a right defender that has the qualities to attack like a winger – both in rotation of position and elite techniques to outplay 1v1 to create or score goals. He demonstrates excellent athletic ability to cover high distances in a game and often at high intensity.


Ivanovic is a right defender that is outstanding in 1v1 defensive situations. He doesn’t have the same quality of passing as Lahm or attacking qualities as Alves. He is bigger and stronger than both and therefore, his second position is naturally as a central defender. In this position, he uses his strength, excellent heading ability and reading of the game to dominate his opponents.

Therefore – I like to ask players the following key questions in regards to their personal development.

What is your best position? — The position that you believe that you play in the best.

What is your position and a 1/2? — The position that you find yourself in as a second choice or within games via the teams rotation.

What does your second position demand from you?

What do you need to add to your game?

What are you obsessive about developing each day in order to improve?

So – if you have a budding Ivanovic, Lahm or Alves,

Firstly, they need to have the qualities to become a top right defender. But, they also need an option of playing in a second position as a starter, as this will give them more opportunities to play and a greater influence on the coaches team selection

The player will also need to understand that via rotation in the game, they need qualities to arrive in a second position and have the attributes to succeed.

In his time at Barcelona, Dani Alves provided forward (overlapping) runs in order to create space for Lionel Messi. In doing this, he become an extra “attacker” for the team.

So Alves needs to defend like a top full back – then have the physical capabilities to constantly run up and down the pitch (at medium to high speed) to join the teams attack – and finally once in the final 3rd , he must have the quality to outplay 1v1 or combine with his team mates to cross or shoot at goal. He cannot be a defender in attack!, In these moments, he must be able to move and play like an attacker.

That is an exhausting list and something that is assessed by millions of people each time he plays.

At all levels of the game – people are constantly looking and making judgments on players. So to be a top player, your daily training “diet” must prepare and develop you for the demands of the game………

And these demands are very specific and personal to each player!.

There is a fantastic insight on player confidence and self belief from the Dutch coach, Martin Jol.

“A players confidence and self belief does not come from the coaches or managers, it comes from the knowledge that during a game, you are comfortable in any situation or position that you find yourself in”

These are important words for player development and they elude to my thoughts on player identity and players understanding the situations they will find themselves in during a game (the half positions).

Moving minds

Moving the mind of your players and constantly pushing them to think about the “what ifs” is a key part of maintaining focus and motivation for improvement.

“For young players, fear on a football pitch = The moment you are put under pressure to execute a weakness”

So I like to ask the players questions in order to provoke self assessment and action.

What is your biggest fear on a football pitch?.

In the last five minutes of a game, the ball is crossed to the far post and you have a chance to head and score – do you score or not? (are your heading techniques elite?).

In the 1st minute of your debut, the ball is switched to Eden Hazard and he begins to run at you 1v1, will you be able to stop him? (are your 1v1 defending techniques elite?).

In the last minute of your debut, a ball arrives on your weak foot, 20 metres from goal,  do you score or miss? (how comfortable are you at striking the ball with both feet?).

This type of questioning is used to constantly probe and keep the players in a “growth” mindset of always needing to improve further.

On your debut – you do not want to be “HOPING” that things will be ok. Imagine yourself playing inside a stadium of 40,000 fans, with millions watching on tv and this being the moment you have waited for and dreamed about your whole life.

You have to PREPARE in the days, weeks, months and years before that moment.

Its my opinion, that a coach must be the person who raises constant awareness of these aspects and the level required. Not in a harsh way, but in a way that inspires development.

The questions change for each position and for each person. But, questioning, and making players think about improvement is very important.

For strikers – What type of goals do you score? Understand this and practice these techniques and situations each day – along with the types of chances you miss?

For wide players – What type of opponent do you have success playing against? What type of players do you not have success playing against? How is your crossing? What type of crossing is your strength? What types do you need to improve? Do you cross to a top level with both feet? How is your movement off the ball? What type of goals do you score?…….

Therefore, the skill of building relationships and communicating 1 to 1 is hugely important for youth coaches. It is something that must become a more prominent aspect  of coach education, if we are to develop more elite players.

“1 to 1 Conversations on identity and mindset are often more influential to the process of improving players than coaching inside the pitch”


Always praise the effort and application of a player that is showing a willingness to improve their game.

You must help to “remove the fluff” and adjust the training with careful advice – in order to stimulate the player to continue.

Improving anything in life is easier when following a process. A key is to break things down and take small steps each day to improve.

Catch up soon!

 “60 Training games for elite player development”  is now available. 



  1. Excellent article Michael! I could read an entire book on your thoughts on player ID/personality – what it is, how to identify it, nurture it, facilitate it, etc.

    Also using real world players as examples throughout this article was a great way to put ‘handles’ on the concept of ‘Position and a 1/2’, and act as a catalyst for further exploration.

    Thank you and keep up the great work!

    PS I’d happily but the first couple of any book you choose to right on this topic!


  2. Hi Michael , Fantastic insight on ways to stimulate play “growth mindset” in developing players .

    As you now , I too educate junior and youth players in Australia who are aspiring at a higher level and many are now being identified for talented player programs . It is simple paramount that as a coach , mentor and one who nurtures their growth , that we keep several steps ahead and be able to constantly stimulate their challenges with new “what ifs” football problems .

    Well done Michael , quality arrival .

    God bless , coach Timothy Dakis , Melbourne Australia 🇦🇺.


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