Cheers to the ball artists and the young mavericks they inspire

"Did you see Manchester United's opening goal against Bournemouth yesterday?"

If I was running a youth training session tonight, this would be my first question. Given their love of social media, my teenagers would certainly have watched already the swift but mesmerizing dribble that took Marcus Rashford past two players before setting up Paul Pogba to score from close range in the game's fifth minute. It would be the perfect starting point for a unit based around footwork, feinting, and acceleration in 1 v 1 situations.

Yet Rashford's approach play -- liberated from the now thankfully fired Jose Mourinho-- left me feeling slightly down. This was nothing to do with the play itself, which bears watching multiple times. It was the very scarcity of the move. The commentators were rightfully in raptures, and the fans too. While all I could think was, "That was gorgeous, but when will we see its like again? Why can't players try taking their opponents on more often?"

It's nothing new for weary commentators to lament the lack of flair in modern soccer. Everyone agrees that we could use more moments like this, which only a small handful of players such as Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben have consistently executed over the past decade. There's a reason why Alphonso Davies  created so much excitement in MLS last season -- we all love to watch a player who delights us with improvisation and the unexpected. Yet we talk about the lack of such ball artists like we talk about the presumed extinction of the ivory-billed woodpecker. Regrettable, but what can you do about it?

Just as the destruction of its natural habitat has seen the demise of the ivory-billed woodpecker, so the destruction of soccer's natural culture has led to the demise of expressive players. First there are the coaches who encourage defenders to deliberately take out opponents who'll expose them as mediocre. Next come the referees besotted with the game's macho tenor, and who will not sufficiently punish foul play. Then we return to the coaches -- at all levels -- who yell at players who lose the ball after trying to take someone on. They took a risk, and the vast majority of coaches do not like risk.

Last season I was coaching a U-7 team against big, strong, but thoroughly overcoached opponents. They boasted two adults on the touchline screaming at them to pass the ball as soon as they received it. The players were very good and they beat us soundly. They were also absolutely terrified of the two noisy adults, and of making a mistake. When they did make an error, the coaches screamed at them even louder.

It's exactly at this age that kids should be running with the ball as much as possible. We don't even have to encourage them, because they do it naturally. Passing, covering back, counter-pressing and all the duties that come with them can wait for several more years. But the pressure to win that needlessly starts at such an early age means that when coaches see a ball artist, the first thing they often think about is the risk that he or she poses to the result. Even at an age when results do not and should not matter (in my view up until the age of 16, at the earliest).

Let's make a short list of the most celebrated players in the history of the game: Pele, Eusebio, Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona and Messi -- crowd-thrillers who were or still are massively successful because coaches built teams around their ability to leave long forgotten bit-players flailing in their slipstream. They are the few who didn't have the joy and beauty of their play coached out of them by tactically obsessed mentors. They were too good for that. Millions of lesser players, though, will have 'Safety first!' instructions screamed at them by choleric idiots on the touchline.

What's the worst thing that can happen when a player tries to dribble with the ball? In the best case, they beat their opponent and create space for themselves and turn a 3 v 3 situation, say, into a 3 v 2, while the crowd gets to its feet. They may draw a foul. Or they might lose the ball, in which case their pride should prompt them to try and atone for the loss and immediately fight to retrieve it. Without this risk, though, there would be no point in playing the game at all.

I understand why coaches wish to eliminate risk and encourage the short sideways or backward pass, or order their teams to hammer the ball long and high. I just don't want to watch it for 90 minutes. I want to see daring and devilry and fans on their feet shouting out their love for art, not hatred for the color of a shirt.

I want young mavericks like Rashford and Davies and Manchester City's Leroy Sane to still be playing this way in 2030, pioneers of a new, adventurous generation that was inspired by them to ignore the bellowing coach and go its own way, with the ball at its feet.

Did you see Manchester United's opening goal against Bournemouth yesterday? If not, I recommend that you do, and that you enjoy it several times in slow motion too. Happy New Year, and here's to more magical moments like it in 2019 and beyond.

41 comments about "Cheers to the ball artists and the young mavericks they inspire".
  1. Ahmet Guvener, December 31, 2018 at 5:15 p.m.

    Great article I hope a lot of coaches for U8 and below read this...

  2. Mike Lynch, December 31, 2018 at 5:27 p.m.

    Yes, yes, yes. Improvisation is not only the most valuable attacking principle, it is also the most necessary to play at the next level where defenses are more organized and spaces are smaller. Comfort on the ball also allows for many more solutions. A player lacking technical flair is easily spotted and outed at the next level. A player teaming with dribbling flair almost always has quality passing and receiving skills, but not the case the other way around. The norm in youth soccer here in USA is good passers but few dribblers which is why we have so few elite players. This is the same reason why so many 2nd generation players make up majority of elite level players; they played pick up more often than their peers and dribbled and dribbled without coaching. Then when they play the organized game, they have the ability to dribble and pass, not just pass. Thanks Ian for encouraging maximum improvisation!

  3. Toby Rappolt, December 31, 2018 at 6:07 p.m.

    I believe the reason why you Ian and the English television commentators are making such a big deal about what Marcus did is because he’s English. 

    If Marcus were Brazilian, it would be just another day in Brazil and not made such a big deal of by Brazilian commentators and fans. Because in Brazil it happens frequently. 

    The great English dribblers?
    Stanley Matthews 
    George Best
    Gareth Bale
    Anyone else?

    The great American dribblers?

    Your county’s culture like mine, American, snuff the dribblers at a very young age. Not only are the coaches and parents telling the child dribbler not to be a “ball hog”, but a dribbler’s own parents are telling them the same thing.  

    There’s been a recent cry out in my country for the “street” game. The problem is for a coach of youth like me is that if I create anything that looks like a “street” game at a team practice, everyone has a problem with it. Parents, other coaches, DOCs.  

    I learned from Anson Doreance a long time ago, protect the “take on artist”, as Anson calls them. 


  4. beautiful game replied, December 31, 2018 at 6:36 p.m.

    T.R. I would add Gaza to the list of great dribblers...good youth coaches should leave gifted players alone and coax them to use their technical ability for the good of the team. 

  5. Goal Goal replied, January 1, 2019 at 11:15 a.m.

    Toby you are right on.  Not only at the club level but at the youth national team level.  Was at an u16 national team camp in Florida a couple of years ago and probably the best ball handler in the group was pulled from a game and chastised for being a show boat.  He was not but he did not hesitate one on one play and created many opportunities but the coach wanted the ball moved up field quickly.  Thus when you get to international play we have a difficult time competing.

  6. frank schoon replied, January 1, 2019 at 3:35 p.m.

    Toby, the move(s) of Rashford, if he were Brazilian, would have just have been exciting to watch as a soccer lovers...A nice display of technical is appreciated no matter who does it. But it is true, you dont see  much of it in England. I do remember when England wing greats like  Stan Bowles, Rodney Marsh, Aston of Man Utd. who played on the opposite wing of George Best, Steve Heighway of Liverpool and ofcourse Stanley Matthews who set the template of how wingers should play. By the way, even the Great Bobby Charlton started out as a winger and later became the best centerhalf of all time and it was due to Charlton that Beckenbauer decided to leave midfield and play Sweeper

  7. Joseph Pratt, December 31, 2018 at 6:47 p.m.

    Ian: hear, hear!!
    Toby: you are so right. 

  8. Bob Ashpole, December 31, 2018 at 7:59 p.m.

    I don't think of it as being creative vs. uncreative. I think of it as 1v1 skills. The problem is that you won't find many youth coaches working on 1v1 skills. They are too busy running pattern passing drills.

    20 years ago I thought the problem was coaches complaining when youth forwards tried to beat 2 defenders. Guess things have gotten worse instead of better.

  9. Toby Rappolt, December 31, 2018 at 11:06 p.m.

    I agree with you bg, Gascoigne. So that’s two Englishmen. George Best is Northern Irish and Gareth Bale is Welsh.

    Any other Englishman?
    Ian? What’s your opinion Ian? 

    First, it’s not a technical talent. It’s the 9 year old brain talent that wants to hold the ball and run with it and at 9 they may not even good at it. But they want to do it. And they want to do it a lot. They will get better and quickly because of that brain.

    And second, I don’t need to coax them but I need to protect them. From all those adults that are telling them they are “selfish ball hogs”. Often it’s NOT for the good of the 9 year old team. 

    In the movie Being Zlatan, his teammates and coaches are complaining about him being selfish until he was in his late teens and early twenties. I have parents bitching at me about a 10 year old being selfish. 

    The best take on artists as children and teenagers, especially in this country and England, are very strong willed and they listen to no adult who is telling them to “he needs to pass more. Soccer is a team game.”.

    And I protect them and many American parents dislike me for that. I don’t care. 

    And that’s just one of the many reasons why we suck at this game bg. 

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, January 1, 2019 at 9:52 a.m.

    Good for you, Toby. I don't recall even once in the last 10 years either USC or USSF addressing 1v1 play in the coaching context. The focus is entirely on passing and zone defense in the context of 3v3 or larger groups. 

  11. R2 Dad replied, January 2, 2019 at 2:34 a.m.

    interesting take on the 1v1 winger (preferred now by the Nats) vs crafty midfielders (never been in favor w Nats):

    BTW Toby, the last B04 dribbler in our neck of the woods that had 1v1 talent (Jovan) got put out to pasture in midfield last I remember, playing for the Green/White/Black club across town. He was dangerous in the box a couple of years back but they've coached it out of him now. Only kid I ever wanted (but didn't) card for diving in the box when he was playing Upper House.

  12. frank schoon, January 1, 2019 at 10:13 a.m.

    Naturally,I suppport Ian's sentiments for I express my frustrations on the lack of Individuality just about everyday in my posts. As I watched the video, the first thing I felt or noticed was Rashford got into a flow and I think those who are really into moves and things like that should sense this as well.

    What I mean by this flow, Rashford's 'pyrotechnical display' was accented by the fact,and it was so obvious,there was a total disconnect from having to worry about losing the ball or any other risk taking type ofconsequences. Rashford's mind at that moment was like he played in a pickup game. This is the flow you get when playing pickup soccer and you just want to let go. I don't know how else to describe it but those who are into dribbling ,beating opponents, like was, will understand what I'm talking about. 

    Lot of it has to do with the mental part or rather 80% is mental. This is why when I coached, I tell my players the first time you get the ball, "put it between the opponent's legs'...and if it works the confidence level shoots up a mile high and the opponent sense certain is all has to do with psychology...If he fails in his attempt ,I'll tell him to try it again whenever you can. Or ,if he has the ball and an opponent is on back , I’ll tell him, “ RELAX!,take your time, don't worry about him, stick your arm out and put your hand on his chest, put your foot on top of the ball and just smile at him”.  This is such a key moment to be under pressure and to just  place his foot on top of the ball and just smile at the opponent , because after that the player’s confidence rises and it will improve his game. The only thing I tell my player if his attempt in anyway fails is to chase the opponent down. I want my players to feel risk-free, and strongly confident with the ball. The psychology of this is so important for the player's game to raise a level. You’d be surprised what they could do than, after. Next post...

  13. frank schoon, January 1, 2019 at 10:36 a.m.

    The problem with today's coaches, is that they lack a good technical foundation when they played, or if they played. I grew up playing "street soccer" 20-30 hours a week and my club ball by Ajax of Amsterdam was perhaps 4hours. In other words kids learned MOSTLY to play without coaches telling them what to do or how to train. We learned in a mixed setting of players of different ages and therefore we learned from better players which also means you can't slack off in your game. What is most important about what we learned is ,ONE, we learned while playing , TWO, when to use a move as related to the situation at hand, taking the into account the tactical and technical options...
    But what happens today, Coaches tell players to work on one on one moves...THAT'S NOT HOW IT IS DONE!!!  In our pickup days we saw a move occur but at the same we notice when it happened in relation the situation at the moment. In other words we get two for the price of one. 
    So during small sided game, I will show them when a certain move is called for in relation to the situation at hand, for example, how the opponent is positioned, where is back support, the condition of the field, the space allowed and most important the result of what this move can bring about.
    The generation I grew up with playing street soccer,pickup, can sense what should happen next, through the shear repetition of experienced so many of these playing situations. You could read what a player was going to do just by how stood by the ball and where his options were. Kids were so much smarter in those days for they learned in a natural manner, unlike today, where licensed coach is telling what to do , where to play...etc....

  14. frank schoon, January 1, 2019 at 11:50 a.m.

    In the past 50years the growth of soccer has been mostly on the coaching side of the equation instead of the other side "player development". Today, It is imperative to have licensed coaches,in addition the time it takes to get a coaching license has dramatically increased. Perhaps in the near future, it will take a 4year college course to receive a C-license .Now the next question is has player development dramatically, or concommitantly increased, NO!!!
    Technical skills has gone down. Do you see the connection, here?... More emphasis on coaching, less player development as compared in my pickup days as a youth, less coaching better player development. This is why Johan Cruyff, who played a few trolley car stops further down from where I lived, blames the lack of good player development on licensed coaches.
    You don't need to be genius to figure out why? Cruyff preferred to just have players work with the youth, for he didn't believe in coaching of the youth but rather 'guiding them";besides coaching and developing players is an oxymoron.  For example, Cruyff, dribbled , dribbled, and went by 8 or 9 players at a time. Today, your standard licensed coacj would go "nuts" for this is not how you suppose tp play soccer. Coaches, see things in terms of teams not individuals, as compared to pickup soccer, where the individual rules. The Ajax coaches moved Cruyff up a year to play on an older side causing him to only beat 2 or 3 opponents before losing the ball. What I'm saying here is that coaches didn't want Cruyff to lose the greatest asset he had which was beating opponent through his dribbling skills. They didn't say anything to him, but created conditions whereupon he had to learn for himself how to survive while still using the dribbling skills he loved. That's proper guiding. Another example, in my first youth game at Ajax , I beat 5 players and lost the ball, for I had no concept of who else was was all about me... My coach Jany vander Veen, Cruyff's youth coach, told my father that I dribbled too much. I didn't know that for Vander Veen never mentioned anything to me during the game. Realize vander Veen, knew by telling  me I dribble too much wouldn't not have helped for my mind- set was in terms of individualistic achievements and not looking for nice off the ball options at this young age. If he told me I dribbled too much , I would then begin to doubt before taking an action should I or I shouldn't take this man on. The moment you sow those doubts into a player than you ruin what he is good at. This is how a guide a player...Next  Post


  15. frank schoon, January 1, 2019 at 12:33 p.m.

    When coaches get a license ,especially when they move up in the ranks, psychologically, they have this mindset of 'this is how it should be done;and as a result they begin to exert more control,advice into player development.This is the problem when coaches bring in their own 2cents worth. An example is just recently, SA's interviewed a coach who stated "we need to train everyone to be a midfielder"... And of course we have a cadre of coaches who think, "hmm, interesting ,lets try that for a change". No doubt ,this coach is well meaning, but he is just an example of how the institution of "coaching' youth has greatly influenced the player development in a negative direction. 
    The greatest technicians of the game came out of the "street soccer, pickup" era. The players developed without coaching interference and certainly not by some coach who thinks this is how you should do it. The pickup soccer era was the most NATURAL PROCESS of developing players and it was so successful but the institution of licensed coaches has thrown a monkey wrench into the most natural process ever devised. And this is why we are having discussions now in SA  50 years after, about how to improve players individuality for there is such a lack of it today in soccer.
    The licensing of coaching has produced  robotic, programmed coaches who follow a certain mating dance ritual like 'pinguins at the South Pole. I amuse myself on game day to see how all these coaches perform their pre-game warmup drills. They all follow the exact drill patterns, use of accoutrements, soccer implements, and best of all their soccer jargon.. It is like at the coaching school they were secretely 'chipped' like the "Stepford Wives". Their is totally any lack of individual thinking on the coaching part for they follow a set routine. 
    This same coach as mentioned was impressed by how at Bayern  allowed the centerback to play up a position up further in order for him to learn how to come up like the old "Beckenbaue' sweeper.
    Do you know the difference between a Beckenbauer sweeper and a centerback...9 meters. Nothing new here but it only points out that the USSF Coaching school needs to teach a coaching course that deals with the historic tactical changes and complexities thereof with in the game, for everything that is done in soccer has been done, there is nothing new.. This way we won't keep reinventing the wheel each time.

  16. stewart hayes, January 1, 2019 at 9:10 p.m.

    Quick feet exercises, pre-planned feints, tricky moves, 30 second to 3 minute 1v1 training etc. are not the answer.  We're are not producing take on artists but we keep doing the same thing in training?  I am saying that the training that most coaches do will never produce take on artists or great attacking dribblers, in fact it is counter productive.     

  17. frank schoon replied, January 1, 2019 at 9:38 p.m.

    Exactly, Stewart... the moves need to be  learned under natural circumstances  like during pickup games....
    Until the USSF begins to realize this fact we’ll continue developing programmed robots.  The moves learned and executed needs to done in real situations for he has to be able to counter any movemen of his direct opponent which can’t be learned pre-planned motions. This is the reason why good one on one players are unpredictable

  18. Bob Ashpole replied, January 2, 2019 at 12:20 a.m.

    Pardon me, but why do you guys think agility drills are counter productive?

    I didn't teach "moves" and believed in drilling the techniques (ball mastery exercises) and then give players problems to solve by putting together their choices of techniques. I only learned the "names" for "moves" so I could understand what other youth coaches were talking about. I know this way works because it is how I trained myself and I was a winger, winning 1v1 battles both ways.

    As for your comment about counterproductive 1v1 training, I have never seen or heard of anyone running extended 1v1 games. Do some coaches really run 3 minute 1v1 games? 

  19. frank schoon replied, January 2, 2019 at 9:36 a.m.

    Bob, that is a good question about the productivity of "agility runs". My personal opinion is that I won't waste my time on this garbage, for, to me, it is just another of the so many fad or trends in attempt to improve the soccer player. We're close to the same age, but I remember as you will how soccer players would get in shape by running a lot of laps, long distance running. Then somebody in the 70's got the idea of doing sprint work for he realized soccer players don't run long distances but run quick sprints in games, called 'tempo training'. Later in the 80's somebody got the idea doing of lots of stretching exercises, so now everybody did stretching. I remembered  when Juventus with Platini came to DC in 80's . Fans were spellbound as the whole team layed on the field on there yoga pads doing the stretch routines. Youth coaches went nuts, taking notes on these routines....obviously that trend like the so many others fell by the wayside in disuse. And the next trend was the 'cooling down' period where the teams run up and down the width of the field after the game. Wow, it looked all so professional but like the other trends it disappeared.
    So now we come to the 'Agility drills'. SEE NEXT POST.

  20. frank schoon replied, January 2, 2019 at 10:09 a.m.

    I don't believe in these agility drills, although it is very popular currently, you'll see advertising stating increase the speed of the player and other BS. I'll give you an anecdote about van Hanegem and Helmut Haller the great german player. The German coach stated that Helmut Haller needed to be faster, quicker, so they worked on his speed and agility. You know what happened ,as a result, Haller became less productive as a player. They stopped and all of sudden Haller became his old productive self again. The same thing happened to van Hanegem, they likewise tried to make him quicker ,faster, and as a result it made him worse as a player. 
    The make up of a player includes many facets. You can't take one facet ,agility,and try to improve without taking into account the others facets that get effected by this. You need to look at this HOLISTICLY. What happens is that you intervere with the overall RHYTHM of the player that has become his constitution and how he's formed over the years, that's the problem. Because he was a  slow player, Quikness with van Hanegem was thinking 2 or 3 moves ahead of time and this manner he made the adjustments . Quikness was between his ears, his ball handling skills and through his position and movement ahead of time and most importantle the way van Hanegem shield the ball you could never get the ball from him. His lack of speed formed all these special qualities which made him one of greatest midfielder in the world.
    These agility drills are so unnatural to me for I certainly don't move or run that way, it's not me at all ,it just doesn't fit my overal constitution. And furthermore ,all this trends are employed like one size fits all.
    As far as I'm concerned , if you want to make a player ,quicker of faster ,perhaps let him play with older age players for in this manner where he's faced to use all of his facets naturally, thus more holistically.

  21. Bob Ashpole replied, January 2, 2019 at 10:01 p.m.

    Some years ago I wanted to broaden my coaching knowledge so I started reading the best books available on areas that I felt weakest. One of those was the physical aspect, what is misleadingly called here "strength & conditioning". While quality varies, a really good strength & conditioning coach is an expert at coaching movements, which is what all athlete development is about at its most basic level. The National Strength and Conditioning Assn (NSCA) and "Human Kinetics" publications I found an excellent source of information. 

    The ideal behind the typical popular stretches are that they do double duty as dynamic stretches and as practice of running technique. It is accepted by sports scientists that warmups specific to the event improve event performance. So idealy by the end of a warmup players are playing a realistic game at 100% intensity.

    My understanding is that early in the development cycle it is inefficient use of training time to use periodization. Before adolescence, playing the game generally suffices for training of the physical aspect. SAQ training focuses on techique, not running drills to improve performance. After peak height velocity (which of course commonly varies among individuals by as much as 4 years chronologically), then specific endurance and strength training starts. By that point in development, training plans should be individualized and periodization begins.

    I believe all that is consistent with your general views and about youth coaches wasting training time on agility drills.

    On warmups, USSF for several years now has said that warmups are unnecessary for young children because they are already flexible. USSF is wrong. Increased flexibility is only one of several purposes for an adult warmup. Even skipping unnecessary stretches, warmups will improve performance as I mentioned above.

    On ball mastery drills. For pre-teens at some point in development a coach should be teaching players how to train on their own. That is the point of Dennis Mueller's Daily Workout Handout and why at least some coaches teach players how to do the exercises during warmups. Yes it does take away valuable time from playing games, but the coaching point is not to train individual ball skills, but to teach players how to do a daily routine. Like teaching someone how to fish instead of giving him a fish.

    One parting thought, technique and SAQ training is most efficient when done perfectly for a few repetitions while players are fresh. If continued the law of diminishing returns quickly steps in, and, as said about the long duration 1v1 games, it becomes counterproductive. 

  22. stewart hayes, January 2, 2019 at 9:51 a.m.

    Yes some coaches do run long 1v1 sessions.  They are good for endurance, mentality and shielding practice.  I mean when teaching attacking dribbling the possessioin should be limited in time to about 5 seconds.  I think many coaches have done 1v1 for 30 sec+ to a cone or goals with the idea that this is good for attacking dribbling skills.  You have certainly seen two goals 20 yards apart guarded by goalkeepers and players doing 1v1 for 30 seconds or so.  This is good for forwards receiving the ball with back to goal but attacking dribbling, I don't think so.    

    I did not say agility drills were unimportant but now that you mention it my opinion is that for a professional athlete wanting to gain the extra 1% I would say they are important.  For the youth up to U16 I would say time would be better spent doing functional training or small sided games.  This because the agility gains are negligible for athletes who have played soccer 10 years or more and the time training, monitoring the athletes and injury risk high.  Learning 'moves' is counterproductive when they are not efficient in the real game. 

    Study Messi, Pele, Best and observe the economy and speed of their dribbles.  Messi while dribbling at speed touches the ball about once every 4 yards while beating players and scoring goals.  One does not learn to do that by dribbling cones.  I believe you can only teach that by encouraging players to do 20-40 yard FULL ON SPRINT dribbles against opposition.  Our training targets must change if we are to develop these kinds of take on artists.  Hundreds of touiches in small spaces at moderate speeds IS counterproductive to that aim.     

    I have changed my thoughts over the years.  Even ball mastery exercises while logical are counterproductive, they take time away from what could be some really great games.  Players do these exercises on auto pilot without thinking.  Why not make the rule during a game that anytime a player loses the ball due to a poor touch it is a goal for the other team?  Or perhaps 3 poor touches by a team is a goal for the opponent.  This puts the onus on the players to concentrate while playing and I believe they will learn ball mastery much faster this way.  Coaches know what to tell players to repeatedly have poor touches ... 'go find a wall and practice on your own!'  We are not going to waste practice time on things you should learn to do yourself!

  23. frank schoon replied, January 2, 2019 at 10:23 a.m.

    Stewart , one thing I disagree upon is Messi and his economy dribbling. What is unique about Messi because he has short legs ,is the ability to touch the ball more in a short distance that other player need another step to be able to do what he does. And therefore he has the ability to change direction very quickly that other players can't do or have difficulty for the reason that Messi is able to give the ball more touches with a short distance that other players can't. If Messi touches the ball once every 4yards then he would lose the ball on the dribble. There is no way he is going to outrun a player with his short legs in this a long distance of 4 yards. What he does well is he able within 4yards to be able to give more touches on the ball and thereby can change directions quickly

  24. stewart hayes replied, January 2, 2019 at 11:11 a.m.

    Sure Messi is shorter and has greater stride frequency.  But I have studied film of him dribbling with a video editor counting his touches and measuring the distance he covers.  This is not hard to do as many fields are cut by 6 yard mowers.  You can confirm this yourself by the three rows that are needed to cut the penalty box.  I am not just guessing on this.  Of course he has tremendous quickess and touches in tight spaces but I am referring to his attacking runs that cover greater distances where he is running about 7-9 yards per second with the ball averaging about one touch every 4.4 yds.  Of course this is logical.  The faster you go with the ball the fewer touches are needed.  Too many touches will slow you down.  What are coaches to do?  Encourage players to turn on the after burners when dribbling.  Don't hold back.  Work on the first touch being perfect because dribbling is really nothing more than a string of perfect 1st touches.  Dribble with the fewest touches needed, economy!  There is much more, but that is the start.  Dribbling going insanely fast.  In time players will perfect it.  At least they may be able to blow past 1-2 players.  Six or seven in a row, well beating 1or 2 consistently is how dreams become reality.     

  25. frank schoon replied, January 2, 2019 at 12:08 p.m.

    Stewart, Messi, should never try to dribble the ball and touch it every 4yards for he would lose it. The reason why is that he's not a fast running player or known for his running speed and therefore if he touches the ball once in 4yards that means all that extra space used or rather the time it takes for him to touch the ball again is extra time given to his opponent who is not only faster but have longer legs to get to the ball. Messi's strenght is in small space, that's what he's good at and that where lies in small. Tonnie Bruins Slot, Cruyff's assistant at Barcelona raved about that ability of Messi for he is so hard to catch because takes far less to switch and turn due to his short legs and stature.

  26. frank schoon replied, January 2, 2019 at 12:17 p.m.

    Furthermore Messi, savior is the ability is not in running after the ball like in 4yards. Messi dribbles the ball very close nearby for he can switch at any moment which is not possible running 4yards. Again his strength is being right on top of the ball where he can not only shield the balland quickly change directions or stop especially when play in close quarters ,in small areas with many players around. 

  27. Bob Ashpole replied, January 2, 2019 at 11:34 p.m.

    Stewart, I don't doubt what you say, but I really wonder about those coaches who think holding onto the ball for 3 minutes is good training of any kind for matches. What about the senior game do they think that they teaching?

    I have never thought holding onto a ball for even 10 seconds in a match was a smart idea, much less 3 minutes.

  28. stewart hayes, January 2, 2019 at 1:12 p.m.

    I guess you want the last word Frank.  I just analyzed another Messi run.  He beat 3 players including the gk but his shot landsed on the roof of the net.  He dribbled 48yds in 5.6sec, running 
    17.5mph/28.2kph average, using 9 touches total(maybe one less it was hard to see cause a defender was in the way) / 5.3yd/t.  I am not saying he only touches the ball every 5.3 yards but on this run over the entire distance this was his average.  Do the math yourself.  In tight quarters of course he a master as well.  Hell, he does everything well.  If we are going to coach our players we have to know what Messi does in order to set proper training targets.   

  29. frank schoon replied, January 2, 2019 at 2:12 p.m.

    Stewart , it is not about speed with Messi, that is not what he is build for or used for.  A tall player is slower is smaller in spaces because has a longer strjde, that's why a player like Ruud Gullit should never received the ball to his feet becuase of his size ,instead he receives on the run. Small player like Messi is employed not for fast long runs but short spaces where and is able to control through heavy traffic, which means he has to be right on top of the ball, close in tight ,with quick turns.
    He is quick but not in long distances. He is so good in receiving the ball in tight confined spaces and able to maneuver quickly out of it which a taller player woud  have difficulty.

  30. Bob Ashpole replied, January 3, 2019 at 12:39 p.m.

    Stewart I was impressed with everything you have been saying right up until you said we have to examine Messi's performance "in order to set proper training targets for our players". I would have accepted a lot of reasons for studying how Messi and other greats play, but that was not one of them.

  31. frank schoon replied, January 3, 2019 at 1:02 p.m.

    Amen Bob. Throw that monkey wrench in there!

  32. stewart hayes replied, January 4, 2019 at 10:49 p.m.

    Bob, I don't get it.  I am not sure what you mean by monkey wrench.   Isn't it better to try to instil the simplicity of Messi's technique by changing training targets than having everyone practice Coerver feints? 

    I posit that longer attacking dribbling sessions where players go 1v2 or 1v3 for more than 3-5 seconds are not the best way to teach attacking dribbles.  So our training targets should mirror Messi's explosiveness.  Make it happen in a few seconds or give it up and move the ball.  I think we let players loiter too much on the ball. 

    Messi will often start from a dead start and then do a 180 if the opponent hangs with him. He  will then dump the ball off or do a double feint and continue with the ball, again heading straight for the goal.  So he tests players without risking loss of possession.  All dribblers can learn to do this.   Too many times players are so committed to a space that they immediately lose the ball.   We can ask our players to test the opponent without putting possession at risk. 
    This is a better training target than a win or lose strategy. 

    Messi is very good at attacking the heart of the defense and not going wide and getting bogged down or just settling for a cross from wide.  I have hardly ever seen him do that.  Our training targets should mirror this 'take at the heart of the defense' attitude not go down the flank because it is easier.  Beat the wide player and immediately head for the near post.  We don't want to have to beat players twice.  

    Messi delights at taking players with him and then uses their movement to set them up whether he is going toward the near post or across the goal.  So that is what I mean to say.  Coaches can learn from Messi and they can change their training targets to help their players become more effective dribblers.   

    Get players working on the most important skill when dribbling which is, reading, unbalancing the opponent and acting before he can react.  The only decision the player has to make is whether to 'test' left, right, through the legs or dump the ball to someone else.  There is much more to learn from watching the master Messi but this is a good start.  The great dribblers did not learn by practing on their own.  They learned by taking players on, again and again.  That is the message we need to instill in our players, solo ball work is not how to perfect attacking dribbling.   

  33. Bob Ashpole replied, January 4, 2019 at 11:33 p.m.

    I am just confused by your word usage: "training targets", "attacking dribbles", and "skill" in the context of individual tactics used to beat opponents on the dribble.

    Perhaps it is easier for me to summarize my view. I think it is a mistake to plan a player's training based on how someone else trains. I think it is a mistake to expect youth to play like a senior player. I happen to think that the original Coerver method was great, but a lot of coaches misunderstand it. The idea of training movements in steps by breaking them down is a fundamental of coaching. Vince Lombardi, who I consider the father of modern coaching did it. But that is not how you teach tactics and decision making. It is how you teach motor skills. I don't believe in teaching "moves" by rote. I believe in showing players how to manipulate the ball and letting them create their own moves to solve problems. 

    I didn't learn to "wrongfoot" players from watching Messi play. I learned as a child playing touch football and tag in the neighbor hood, long before I played high school football, and also playing soccer during recess in grade school. As a coach I found it quick and easy to explain wrongfooting the opponent, but players have to learn by doing. Too much instruction just gets in the way.

    My view of player management is that you give them the attitude, the knowledge, the skills, the system (to make it easier to combine with others), the game plan and the freedom they need to adapt to circumstances and solve the problems that they will encounter in matches. Telling them in development where and how to dribble in matches is not my idea of equiping players to win. Game plans to win matches are not a development tool until you get to U23 or perhaps elite U18. Game plans to foster development are something else.

    I realize that coaches dictating and controlling play is a very conventional idea these days, but I am a creature of a time when players made the decisions on the field and coaching from the sidelines was prohibited. I like it that way.   

  34. frank schoon replied, January 5, 2019 at 12:12 p.m.

    Stewart, read my post above made January 1, 2019 at 12:33 p.m. in which I refer to 'monkey wrench'. The gist of my post(s) above refers to how coaches once they acquire higher level license begin to bring their own ideas on how players should develop which actually do more harm than good. This is why the whole discussion (article) centers about why after 50years were finally realizing the lack of individualism of the kids on the ball. I referred to the Montoya interview how he stated that "player should be trained like midfielders", and as you go back to the posts I wrote in the Montoya interview criticizing on trying to influence how soccer players should be developed; for there is a natural process  to be found in how "street soccer/pickup  developed where so many great individualists developed throughout the history of the game. Throughout these 50years coaches have tried to influence player development which resulted in a negative aspect of  player development .....I called these attempts 'throwing in the monkey wrench".
    Likewise your statement  "examine Messi's performance "in order to set proper training targets for our players". like Montaya, you as well have your own ideas of developing players, I find as a throwing a monkey wrench into the system. NEXT POST

  35. frank schoon replied, January 5, 2019 at 12:46 p.m.

    Stewart , I find that too many coaches with higher level license that deal with soccer to simplistically ,as if it is done or simply follow the numbers. I gave a good exampe to Bob, in my post above, January 2, 2019 at 10:09 a.m., dealing with the aspect of 'agiltiy' on how these German and Dutch high level professional coaches simply thought that improving the player is to increase or work on his speed, and as a result missed the boat. It is not that simple but again these coaches threw in the 'monkey wrench". 
    You know one of the major factors why players as a whole since the 70's display less technique or the game have gotten more physical and less technical. It is all due to High level licensed coaches who ,again, tend to overlook things as disconnected, as how it appears, not holistically, but just follow the numbers. When Rinus Michels became famous with 'Total Soccer',naturally all the coaches were interested in learning about Michel's Total Soccer. They copied his training methods. THAT'S WHERE  IT ALL WENT WRONG!! IN SOCCER. The coaches studied Michel's training methods, and noticed the salient aspect  was lots of running, tempo training and other physical aspects, NO emphasis on TECHNIQUE.(Beginning to see the picture of where future soccer was heading).
    What these coaches totally overlooked is that the reason WHY Michels didn't emphasize technique was, as he himself stated" Why should I work on technique when I all my players like Cruyff,for example , have great skills, and therefore I chose what they could improve on is conditioning and other physical aspects". What happens is that these idiots at the coaching federations began to de-emphasize skill training and more the physical aspects to their coaches. NEXT POST

  36. frank schoon replied, January 5, 2019 at 1:32 p.m.

    Stewart,like those coaches emphasizing Michels , you likewise use Messi. Messi is Messi. It Reminds me when Cruyff played so many coaches tried to copy and teach youth  how Cruyff played and dribbled. There are too many other factors, holistically, there are not taken into account which is a part of Messi/Cruyff that can't be duplicated. Every player is different, mentally, physically, intelligence, ball savviness, there are too many other factors. Also there are many different styles of dribblers who don't fit in what you trying to package. 
    Beckenbauer considers the greatest dribblers to be Garrincha. He stated he would never want to face Garrincha one on one. Beckenbauer went on to describe how Garrincha trained by placing bottles chairs and rocks all over the field ,then tops his training off by playing against 4 or 5 young players to try and get the ball from him. 
    You mentioned Messi, Best ,Pele( who isn't impressed by Messi),they all have their own style dribbling. Cruyff for example, his style of dribbling is how he shields the ball on the dribble, likewise Pele, or like Best, Cruyff,Pele all had this build-in radar of when to avoid the tackle that's about to be set in...there are so many other aspects that can't be taught and therefore, it is too simplistic to assume copy and follow  and set a benchmark for other players to follow. And this is why we don't see mini Cruyffs, Pele's ,Maradona's...etc... Everybody is different

  37. stewart hayes, January 2, 2019 at 3:56 p.m.

    You are right that Messi is built for small spaces.  He is not an olympic sprinter.  Still, running with the ball 48yds from a jogging start in 5.6 seonds and beating three players is very fast.  Messi may not be built for speed but he runs away from defenders with the ball at his feet so we will have to disagree about how fast he is.     

    I had a PE teacher in high school measure me twice when I ran 5.8sec 50yd dash to prove he had not made an error.  Messi would have beaten me handily with the ball.         

  38. frank schoon replied, January 2, 2019 at 4:57 p.m.

    Stewart, Messi is Good and Quick in small spaces in Traffic that is totally different than trying to outrun  an opponent down the flank full speed which is not his strength and would not be successful due to his short legs. He beats 3people which is done in a small space,in an compact area where a 50yard dash is not applicable. I will guarantee you he won't beat 3defenders running full speed down the flank ,that is totally different,he's not build for that .
    Your assertion "The faster you go with the ball the fewer touches are needed" entails the fact that you have less control of the ball unable to turn, change direction, speed by virtue that the ball is not near you at any moment. But Messi because he is one of the very few players in the world to be able to dribble the ball employing more touches in an short space than other players is able to control, turn ,stop ,change directions at any moment, that's the difference. And this is why he can beat 3 opponent which has nothing to do with outrunning them in speed.

  39. frank schoon replied, January 2, 2019 at 5:15 p.m.

    Stewart , I'm not disagreeing with you that he is not fast, but you should never use him to strictly beat players on speed. Messi should be employed in the opponents third but not let him run from box to box , he wouldn't last. Short players are always better in small spaces, in turns, in quick starts, and changing directions. 
    Cruyff when he coached the Barcelona 'dream team' he picked up Romario. Romario was one slowest on the team in the 50yard dash but there was no one quicker in the first 2steps. And this is why Cruyff told him to just hang around the opponent's penalty area ,nothing else. Romario couldn't believe what cruyff told him  for he was yelled at by his previous coach at PSV for being lazy and not running enough. And by Barcelona he was told "you run too much" by Cruyff.....

  40. James Madison, January 5, 2019 at 11:56 p.m.

    It's good to read you still involved, Toby.  That having been said, did anyone notice that Rashford's series included Mathews's time-tested move?  What set Rashford's effort apart is that he took a series of standard moves and strung them together creatively to devastate the two defenders between him and his killer pass to Pogba.  And that having been said, does anyone else remember the effort Dettmar Cramer made in the 1970s to introduce creativity to 

  41. James Madison, January 11, 2019 at 7:23 p.m.

    And Ian could also have added Georgie Best (I saw his beat-multiple-players-in-the-penalty-box goal live and in person) and Zinedan Zidane.

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