Long Ball Does Not Mean Bad Football

In previous posts I have mentioned New Zealand football’s Whole of Football plan and the Boy’s participation in a regional age group competition and last time I touched on how individuality seems to be frowned up in young players but it seems it is also frowned upon when it comes to coaching. At the Boy’s regional tournament, it was interesting to note that the two best teams also had the two coaches who were willing to tell their teams to play in a different manner to the other teams competing.

The winners, in my opinion, won not because they necessarily had the best players but because they had a coach who understood the dynamics of the game. In every match that I watched them play, their coach changed his team’s formation to get the better of his opposing number. Whilst I applaud the tactical nous what impressed me the most is the way his players were able to implement the changes that he wanted.

However, it was the team who finished second who highlighted the suspicion with doing something different is viewed in New Zealand youth football. Almost every coach, including the Boy’s, commented, after being beaten by the eventual runners-up, that they would have won the game if the other team played football and next time football would be the winner. The problem with this attitude is that it has nothing to do with the game of football.

The team in question caused so much outrage because, instead of playing the ball out from the back, they pumped it up to one of their three forwards who more often than not held the ball up, which allowed their midfield to join them. This was derided by the other teams’ coaches as being nothing more than a long ball game but, after watching so many of Tony Pulis’ early games at the Britannia, let me assure it was not What it was, was a different way of playing football which changed the action zones from around the centre circle to the edge of the opposition penalty area, and when they got there, this team played some of the best football at the tournament. Yet most of the coaches at the tournament were unable to see this truth because football was being played in a manner which was an anathema to them.

The Whole of Football plan seems like it wants players to be able to play in more than one position, something I only half agree with and will discuss in later posts, but there has to also be an emphasis on being able to play in more than one style. If this program does eventually lead to Kiwi footballers breaking more regularly into the European leagues then they will have to be flexible from both a positional and tactical point of view. This is why coaches, like those of the two finalists in the aforementioned tournament, need to be applauded for bringing different ideas into the youth game instead of being pillared for not doing the same as every other youth coach in the country.

And if you want proof of what I am saying? Look at how Leicester played in the Premiership last season. Instead of regrouping once they regained possession they hit the opposition team whilst they are trying to reorganise themselves. Leicester may have had one of the lowest possession percentages and pass completion rates in the division last year but could you honestly say their matches weren’t exciting? And they won it too!


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