Eric Batty1 Comment


Eric Batty1 Comment

Not many years ago "talent" was everything, and given reasonable fitness and the will to win, a talented player could be relied upon to win matches and pull in big crowds. Such players were called personalities, and what they had to offer really was personal. Their talent couldn't be described - they had it, but we couldn't get closer to it in words than ... instinct, intuition, zzfffttt.

Though talent was, and still is, precious it is now true that talent alone is not enough. If it were then Scotland with highly skilled players like Denis Law and Jim Baxter would have qualified for the final stages of the World Cup, and we can fairly say that the modern requirements are talent and method. Talent we must acquire at birth, but method can be taught, indeed it must be taught.

With these basic essentials we have the "modern" game, soccer as it is in 1966. It has taken something like a hundred years for the game to evolve from nine forwards and one full-back, and the modern defensive game (at its worst) now shows us nine full-backs and one forward. If we now take one more tactical step forward, we must begin to swing back towards 1863, towards the "wheel" which Willy Meisl has described as the tactics of the future.

In earlier articles I have already described the "wheel" as a system within which the players would be free to exercise their own judgement, to position themselves according to the direction in which they anticipated the play would move next. From instant to instant, players would position themselves, and then re-position according to the needs of the game, and without reference to the number they bore on their backs. There can be no doubt that this movement has already started, headed by FC Internazionale who are undoubtably the most tactically advanced team of their era. In their big left back, Giacinto Facchetti, Inter have a player who commands as much respect from opposing defences as does any left-winger in the game, and elsewhere attacking full-backs have become almost commonplace. Of course, these backs are not out and out attacking players, but when the opportunity presents itself, they are free to attempt a breakthrough in a manner which would have left pre-war managers breathless with indignation.

Basically the full-back is still a defender and perhaps for 90% of the game he thinks defensively. Only when the move is "on" will the full-back go – that is when his forward colleagues have created space for a teammate to go through (from behind) and the full-back is close enough to be able to burst through and take the opposition by surprise. When it is "on" full-backs move up to create an overlap; when it is "on" wing-halves go through to pick up a pass and shoot for goal, and when it is "on" wingers drop back moving round behind their full-back colleague on their own flank to prevent an opponent making an overlap! The key to it all is . . . when it is "on".

Now in our team of the future, all ten outfield players will position themselves without reference to numbers, and purely on the basis of what is "on" at each particular moment. The team will be multi-purpose able to build a catenaccio type defensive barrier across their own penalty area, and then suddenly break out and switch to an all-out ten-man attack, to score and then revert back to massive defence. This will be a multi-purpose team, and for this type of game we require ten multi-purpose players and a goalkeeper. In theory, there is no reason why even the goalkeeper should not move up to shoot and score . . . if it is "on" for him to do so, but in general terms the goalkeeping role will remain a separate art. For the rest it will be hard graft, up and down, snatching brief periods of rest (when it is on) - a closely knit collection of players who can do it all.

Producing the players for this kind of game presents coaches and managers with their greatest challenge yet. In recent years the game has been crying out for all-round inside-forwards - players who can make goals for others or score themselves according to the flow of the game - i.e., a multi - purpose inside-forward. There have been many such masters in the past, men like Doherty, Carter and Mannion, and more recently Di Stefano, Puskas and Kubala, but in 1966 the biggest stars are specialists; players who can fairly be described as strikers or schemers. Today we have Pelé, Eusebio and Greaves on the one hand, Suarez, Sekularac and Corso on the other, but nowhere can we find one man who combines the dual arts of making and taking goals.

We have failed thus far to produce the multi-purpose inside- forward, and we are on the threshold of a new era, in which we shall need not just two multipurpose players but ten! Clearly, our approach to coaching and training must be revised, and if we fail, we shall be left behind in the tactical revolution. Now we have reached the most interesting point for we must ask ourselves; "How can we produce a multi-purpose inside-forward?" Only after we have answered this basic question can we move on to tackle the wider question of producing multi-purpose players for all positions. To do this we must imagine ourselves vetting a young player to whom we have been recommended. Before we even start we must have a very clear picture of the player we seek - the perfect inside-forward, the finished product who can make goals and take them. He must have many things, beginning with skill with the ball and intelligence, an ability to "read" the game, the instinct which tells him exactly when (down to the last thousandth part of a second) to release the through pass, and a "nose" which carries him into a shooting position in anticipation of a pass, at just the right moment. Technically he must be able to win control of the ball at one touch with head or chest, thigh or instep; he must be able to pass and shoot with either foot, and more. He must be quick on the turn, very fast over 20 yards and have great depths of stamina. Morally he must have courage and determination, be willing to work hard on and off the ball, on and off the field, and he must be willing - even eager - to learn.

Now with all these things which make up the complete player in mind, let us watch closely the player we are vetting. How does he measure up now, and what is his potential? How will he develop over the next three, five, seven years? Size and shape are relatively unimportant at this stage - say anything from 10 to 15 years - does he have class, what is his potential? Look at the player, note the good things in his natural game and note also his failings. ln what respects does he fail to measure up to the player we seek, the multi-purpose inside-forward? There is a vital point here, for in the theory of modern coaching it is accepted that everything a young player lacks when we sign him he must be taught or otherwise acquire.

Clearly we must not seek a ready-made player with the combined skills of Suarez and Greaves, for a "Suar-aves" at 12 or 13 does not exist. He must be developed by his coach, and we must look only for potential! The decision whether or not to encourage a player rests upon his potential and his failings, for whatever he lacks, we (the coach) must give him. If the player has only one very good foot and a swinger, this can be overcome. If he has a nose for the goalchance but no inclination or no ability to work in midfield this might be overcome if he is intelligent and willing. If he is slow he can be speeded up; if he lacks stamina this can be developed, and if he fears bodily contact this too may be overcome "if" his ambition to become a fine player is greater than his fear. The art of coaching is to develop players to the limit of their potential, to take them as far towards the ideal of the multi-purpose player as their personal limitations will allow. Realising this, the good coach will decline any players whose weaknesses and failings are too great, or alternatively he will accept right from the start that this particular player will never become the complete, multipurpose player. Potentially, the player may be a superb specialist, but what the game needs is all-rounders of high calibre, and many clubs are prepared to pay up to £250,000 for such a man, simply because they have neither the time, nor the patience, nor the understanding to develop their own players.

Assume that we now have a group of young players, all handpicked, all talented and all 'potentially’ the complete all-rounder. First we must understand that all players are individuals and they must be treated as individuals in training. If we have two or more with a technical weakness, i.e. players with only one good foot, we can get them to work together, concentrating on their weakness. Collectively they can take part in group exercises with the ball designed to improve the ability to control the ball with chest and thigh to volley (with either foot); to head the ball accurately and to "fight" for it! To time their approach and their jump. All these things can be practised collectively but care must be taken that a player does not waste time doing something which he already does well "naturally". Study the players in match play, note their technical skill in training. All this is widely accepted, though many British (and foreign) coaches still insist on training in (large) groups. Often a group of two players can be too large! Now, however, we come to the vital stage which is the development of the aspects of the game which do not form part of the player's "natural" game. Treating every player as an individual, care must be taken to explain why it is necessary for a "natural" goalscorer to play in midfield or a "natural" schemer to play as a striker. They must understand that the aim is to make them a "complete" player - the multi-purpose star of the future. Then watching them carefully in match play, they must be asked to play an unnatural game, playing a role to which they are unsuited. Of course they will meet new problems- for this is the object of the exercise----and the good coach will be watching closely, spotting the player's problems and later by discussion, by re-creating (in practice) the game situations in which the players fail, finally overcome them.

Thus we might find that a "natural" goalscorer at 12 years would spend three seasons playing alternately in three different positions, three different roles. Last week he was at right-half, next week he will be at inside his forward (scheming) and the following match he will be told to play his natural game, i.e. scoring goals. Slowly, over a period, with the aid of a good coach, the player will improve and finally, when the boy can be told "play your own game" and then go out and play like a "complete" forward, he will be ready for promotion.

Of course the player must not be kept back in a club's Under 16 or Under-18 team while he is changing positions and roles. He must be brought on through the various team grades just as rapidly as he would if he were left alone to play his natural game. Here we must understand quite clearly that we cannot expect that our junior teams will be able to obtain good results, that is to win their championship and develop a multi-purpose team. You cannot serve two masters and it must be regretted that many clubs seek prestige from their junior teams, instead of using them to develop their players' talents! What matters in the long run, is how the club's first team are doing. The public wants to know "are they winning or losing" ... "are they challenging for the title or struggling to avoid relegation?" The public will not pay good money to see a struggling team because that club has a successful Youth XI, and neither will they refrain from watching a successful First Division team because their Youth sides are faring badly! The results achieved by a club's junior sides are irrelevant What matters is whether or not the club's most promising youngsters are being developed in the right way; is the club seeking to develop talented players of all round ability or is each junior team playing to the same tactics as the 1st XI with a striker at inside-left and a schemer at inside-right? Allowing youngsters to play "naturally" is to ask for specialists, and a club which does this will have a steady stream of first team players-strikers, schemers, runners, cloggers, kick-anywhere defenders and shot-saving goalkeepers, coming up from their junior teams, but this is not enough.

The game today cries out for complete players, all-rounders who can restore football to its former position as a spectacle, an entertainment and an art. Until we develop such players the stranglehold of defence will remain, but fortunately the new revolution in tactics can already be seen. Still in its infancy it is true--but coming just the same -and when it arrives the most successful teams will be those who have planned for it and worked for it. Many clubs are standing still, fielding specialists in their league side, and developing more specialists to replace the present stars when they pass the age of no return, but meanwhile the game goes on. Like everything in nature, football is constantly moving, tactics are constantly being adjusted and adapted, and soon the new revolution will take place. When it comes will· we be ready? I doubt it, for since the 'twenties when the British game was the undisputed leader of world soccer, our role has changed. In 1955-58, 4-2-4 was born and we adopted it grudgingly between 1960 and 1965. In 1960 4-3-3 was produced and five years later England experimented with it! Already 4-3-3 is tending to be out of date, and in the 1966 World Cup the predominant tactics will be 1-4-2-3 or 1-3-3-3 with the accent on depth in defence and counter-attack. The British game has lagged behind for years, and this has been clear since the 'forties. Now we've a lot of leeway to make up, and meanwhile leadership has passed to Italy and Helenio Herrera, who I hope and pray will lead us soon to the multipurpose "wheel".

This article originally appeared in the February 1966 edition of World Soccer Magazine.  You can subscribe for a ridiculously low sum by clicking here.