Creativity Through Structure

In my experience, top-level coaches leave nothing to chance. Allowing the players to make up something on their own in training or in games means that my vision for my team won't be executed to an acceptable standard during matches. Many of us are familiar with the phrase "scoring goals is the hardest thing in football." I see no reason why any coach at any level should leave chance creation and goal scoring purely up to individual brilliance and improvisation.

This video is of an attacking pattern the team has been working on. In keeping in line with my belief of using possession to disorganize the opponent, the pattern begins with a switch of play. This increases the likelihood we can create a good scoring opportunity, perhaps through a numbers up scenario, or by isolating one of our better dribbles 1v1 with an opponent. Because, in my experience, it's easier to create these scenarios out wide rather than centrally, the pattern concludes with a cross and finish. Of course the type of run, the timing of the run, and the distribution of players in and around the penalty area is choreographed as well.

A common criticism lobbed at this type of tactical choreography is that it produces 'robots', and robs players of their creativity. I have several arguments against this.

First, and in my opinion the most important, is that soccer is inherently a team sport. Players MUST be able to participate as part of a collective unit, and by coordinating them in training, we should be able to see improvements in team play during games. This goes for every phase of play: attacking, defending, transitions, and set pieces.

With regards to creativity and attacking play, rehearsing set patterns, if done properly, actually facilitates creative play. In this pattern for example, I never once coached the forward at the near post to lay the ball off to the center mid, or instructed the winger to take the ball all the way to the end line before crossing. Both were instinctive reactions occurring while the player on the ball was under pressure. However, even in the brief amount of time we've worked on this pattern, the players were aware of the positions of their teammates on the field, and this decreased the amount of information they had to process. Instead, they could focus on finding a solution to the unique problem the game threw at them.

Do you think Messi playing phenomenal cross-field balls to Alba and Neymar at the far post is something the players made up on the fly? Based upon the frequency and precision that it occurs during games, I sincerely doubt it.