Sunday, 7 June 2015

Is Passing & Receiving the best 'Skill' to learn?

One club I was at had a skills video with 21 variations that the players should learn. Most clubs now have a skills coach. Futsal has rocketed in popularity encouraging skills and providing a platform to perform them. Then another club I was at was completely obsessed with ‘tricks’ and in particular in 1v1 scenarios. The largest part of professional youth development has therefore moved into this philosophy of 1v1 domination and the ability to take people on. "We only want players that have got the 'wow' factor".

Being a master of the football is an obvious requirement in order to be able to be a world class player. But are we overlooking some of the more regular and major parts of the game? Like, receiving, passing and then moving. I see many players now losing possession because they are trying the ‘trick’ before they even have control of the football. I’ve also long been frustrated seeing players released as young pro’s and scholars because they don’t seem to be able to function in a real game environment. I’m an advocate of really young players learning technical skills which later become natural. But reality is at some point you need to master what the game requires. A balanced group of players and attributes dependant where you play. What I call technically appropriate.

I had this discussion recently with a former colleague who also happened to play for Fulham and Newcastle United and he told me. “A trick can be a way of getting out of trouble but it should never get you ‘IN’ trouble”. I’ve also had many discussions with senior coaches who decide on contracts for young potential pro’s and have said how frustrated they are at the players lack of simple passing and receiving with detail as a skill.

I decided to then look at the Champions League Final in a different way. We have on stage arguably the world’s best player and with him Europe’s best team. To reach the final Juventus must also be pretty handy and ran away with their own Serie A title. So this makes for perfect analysis.

I am a firm believer that players in development need to watch the best players. Watch what they do. The awareness, the passing range, the movement, the skills, what works and what didn’t. Certain stats are easy to obtain. Also, stats only tell part of a story. For example, the obvious one is the team with higher possession percentage do not always role out winners. Also, sideways and backwards passing is low risk compared to forward pressured passing which has higher risk. But we know Barcelona had 61% possession, had 18 attempts and completed 89% of their 570 passes. Whilst Juventus completed 83% of their 343 passes. (Data from But I want to know deeper detail for development purposes.

Receive & Pass in 1or2 touches – Only successful
Short passes < 30 yards & on the ground
Longer pass >30 yards or lofted pass
Cross – Any but does not include corners/set piece
Tackle – Includes fouls. Actual contact. ‘stopping a player’
Header – Any
Long Ball or Clearance – No target. Includes Goal kick
1v1 Beat opponent – Must be success
Step over, flip-flop, lollipop, etc – Achieved purpose


Of the 16 1v1’s ten of them were Lionel Messi & four were Neymar.

So, in conclusion I look at this data and think about clubs who have a recruitment policy for just players who are able dominate in 1v1 scenarios. It seems that for the best team in Europe they are weighted heavily toward passing and doing so quickly. I think about players in my mind that were released that were not ‘1v1’ players but were fantastic in the passing areas shown. Whilst they also were great in the miscellaneous area like heading, tackling, clearing. But didn’t do step overs and got released.

So as we chase the holy grail of the World Cup and scratch our heads watching other countries succeed in tournaments and admiring their development structures. I wonder that when we do, we should actually admire what they do on a consistent basis and not just the flash moment of Messi genius.

 Tony McCool

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