Thursday, February 08, 2007

Oh how I hate indecision and assumption in football!

Quite a long post, which I haven't seperated. I suggest you make yourself a nice cup of coffee, and sip while you read! Hmmm... coffee...

Over at A Seat at the A-League, John has written a nice post regarding some discussion on sport and football. While there's nothing in for me to add to this, there was a comment about Ronaldo that triggered a reminder for me - one of my pet hates...

Stupid bookings are easily my number 1 pet hate. Mickey-Mouse passes would come second, and tied, slightly ahead or slightly behind would be indecision and assumption.

Taken from A Seat at the A-League, is the following slab of text, which I've marked with numbers for my purposes.

(1) Malcolm also talked about how people who study a subject deeply and gain extensive practical experience develop an ability to tap into their unconscious to made very fast and accurate decisions. Here he used the example of Ronaldo who will take a striking opportunity instantaneously, without conscious thought, by drawing on all his experience and training. (2) And that if he did think about the shot then someone would have the time to take the ball from him. Or as we often see in the A-League, a player creates a fantastic opportunity, and then takes time to think about his shot and powers it straight to the goalkeeper or wide

Part 1: Assumption, and why it doesn't belong in football

While the way to deal with some situations is it to draw on experience and training, I'd be more inclined to apply the 'without conscious thought' to goalkeepers. While the aim of football is to score goals, the 'keeper is very much an antagonist, trying to stop any goals. Training is needed to ensure technical proficiency; experience is used to read the game to try to anticipate what will happen next. Sometimes the 'guess' is incorrect, and the keeper is wrong-footed. It's vital that the read the game is read sufficiently well to not be wrong-footed, and to not concede a goal. Sometimes a strike can be so good that reflexes are required, and this is when I consider a 'subconscious' event occurs - it's pure instinct. In fact, I'd regard a good keeper as someone who naturally has the instinct to go after the ball however it's been kicked/headed/hand-of-Godded, rather than someone who follows the textbook so closely they don't know what to do when there's a variation.

Ronaldo, on the other hand, is an opportunist. Sure, experience and training both play a vital role in making him the brilliant goal-scorer that he was, but most of his game is played consciously. He has the upper hand on his main opposition (the other team's keeper) because he has more of an idea of what's going to happen. He will spend most of his game time moving into the right positions, making space, 'anticipating' the play that should happen because it's been practised to death at training. What made Ronaldo such a good opportunist is that he knew where he had to be. Sometimes the play would work and a goal would be scored. But sometimes it didn't work - a misguided pass, a defender's interception, whatever. And his role in the team was to finish off those moves.

If you cast your minds back to the World Cup of 2002, in the final Ronaldo scored both goals. Try and remember the first one - it was a shot (from Rivaldo?) that Kahn should have held onto comfortably. Unfortunately Kahn spills it (his first error of the Championship and to do it in the final, I feel for him) and Ronaldo scores from it. Why? Because Ronaldo asked himself, “What if?”* What if Kahn doesn't get it? What if Kahn fumbles it? I should be there. And he was. Kahn fumbled the ball. Goal.

It's not that Ronaldo reacted to Kahn spilling the ball, it's that Ronaldo was already there. And as such I can't say it was 'subconscious.' Heck, even Ronaldo's presence in the area, putting pressure on Kahn to hold onto the ball, taking away time could've had an affect on Kahn. I doubt it considering Kahn's steely nature and experience, but you never know.

In short, Ronaldo did not assume that Kahn would hold onto the ball. No matter how good a keeper is, you can’t assume they’re going to be perfect 100% of the time. Especially if there is an opponent lurking, defenders should support their keeper as much as they expect the keeper to perform and as a result support them. And it’s not just at goal-scoring opportunities. The ball can be won at any time, even when the opponent has the ball at their feet. If the opponent doesn’t know what to do with the ball, or has only decided what to do after he has received it, it gives time and an opportunity for the ball to be won.

Alternately, if you have the ball, make sure you know what to do with it. Don’t be indecisive… which leads onto…

Part 2: Indecision and why it needs to go from football

The difference between most of our A-League players and top-notch players is essentially time. A good player will always have time to do what he wants with the ball. Not because his opponent gives him time, but because he makes the time for himself.

So a good player is very aware – he knows where his opponents are on the field, where his team-mates are, and of course where the ball is. When he doesn’t have the ball, the player should be creating space for himself, or creating space for team-mates by drawing out an opposing player from the area where the ball may be. When a team-mate has the ball, the player should position himself to receive the ball, and he should know what to do with the ball before he receives it. That is to say, when he does not have the ball, the player should have already considered his options in the event the next pass in the team is to him. This gives the player time, because he has to control the ball and can pass immediately or take on a player straight away because he knew what he was going to do. If it’s a pass, he can talk to his target player as the ball is being passed from the initial ball-possessor to our main player, perhaps while to ball is being controlled, and then before the pass is completed the target player knows what is going on, or at least to expect the ball.

The not so good player will receive the ball, control it, and once the ball is under his control will look up and assess the situation. Perhaps he’ll take one or two or three or four more touches on the ball before he decides to do something. With all these touches the opposition is getting closer, and taking away space from the player with the ball. Putting pressure on him to do something. If the pressure’s too great, perhaps the player with the ball misguides his pass, or touches the ball bit too far out of his reach.

Experience is an essential component of ensuring one knows what to do with the ball. Knowing how a defender will try to block you from approaching the goal can be turned into an advantage if you know he will jockey/guide you towards the line. You may figure that by pushing the ball to the outside of play and quickly stepping/rolling** it back in you could effectively throw the opposing defender and give yourself some time to pass the ball off. Speed is important in football – not just physically, but mentally too – which is why I love playing it so much.

And there are some players who I start to swoon over, not because they’re good looking, but because of a play. Whether it was an extraordinary control of the ball (eg. a cushioning and push in a different direction, all in one movement), a good turn (Nicky Carle has a bag of these), or the ultimate way to make-Cecilia-adore-you: the through-ball. Vision and precision. I’m in love.

Hahahaha – seriously, I love passes amongst a team, it’s what makes football enjoyable to watch – even if the game ends up as a scoreless draw. When a through-ball works it’s almost magical – you’ve beaten an opponent (or two), and found your team-mate, ideally put the ball in front of his run so he can maintain speed and if a goal’s scored you have an assist. If he misses you can yell at him! Well, if he skies it or passes it to the keeper, yell at him. A good save or narrow miss is little different. :)

Sorry about the length, but I hope it was mildly educational. For the weekend, best of luck to Newcastle (to win and meet us next week) and to the Victory (to stay injury-free).

Oh yeah, and may Greg Owens be pictured sipping coffee on TV again, and may he not cop any elbows, punches or kicks to his face a cute smile.


*Well, I’d like to think he did.

** You know, you put your foot on top of the ball and then roll it to where-ever you want. In Spanish it’s “Pisar la pelota.” I don’t know if there’s a term for it in English – step on the ball? How about an example (haven't done one of these in a while...):

Riquelme. He loves to step on the ball. He actually loves the ball. i.e. he's a ball hog - a bit to greedy for my liking, but a good example.

As I said, don't like Riquelme - not enough of a team player for my liking. He also played for Boca. Well, at least it wasn't River.

1 comment:

john said...

Nice post. I watch out for you on TV tomorrow.