Why the role of the Defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3 is so Important & the Comparison of Busquets & Song

Here is a diagram of the 4-3-3 (4-1-2-3) and its passing options. There are many teams that use this formation across the world. FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal just to name a few. Each team has a Defensive Midfielder which is vital for the team to function. In this case the Defensive Midfielder is the number 6.

The Role of the Defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3 (4-1-2-3) is vital. They are the catalyst of of the speed of the play either slow (retaining possession) or fast (to penetrate). Their awareness of pressure and to play out of tight spaces is vital to keep the ball to manipulate the play. Their range of passing needs to be excellent and their distance and angles of support are important. They need to have the ability to run with the ball to penetrate the play. They are the link between the back four and the 2 central (attacking) midfielders in front of them. To play the role effectively they need to technically efficient.

Here is a diagram of the defensive midfielders passing options in a 4-3-3:

Defensively the need to be able to read the game to break the opponent down. Forcing opposing players towards pressure are out of play is vital. There energy levels need to be managed effectively to produce this kind of pressure on opponents all game. The have to maintain their positioning and sacrifice themselves for the team. They need to be a leader and communicate throughout.

The physical attributes a Defensive Midfielder needs to have are:

1/ Very Athletic (quick over 5-20 yds)

2/ Strong –  Individual battles and To hold players off the ball to protect.

3/ Aerial ability – Powerful in the air

4/ Agile- To react to the game

Two of the best Defensive Midfielders: Sergio Busquets & Alex Song

Sergio Busquets is regarded as one of the spanish greats. His vision, technical ability, awareness is phenomenal however what Sergio does not have Alex Song Does. Alex Song is in my opinion has been very underrated for what he has done in the 3 years at Arsenal. His awareness, vision, technical ability is up their with the best.

To compare Busquets to Song technically Busquets would win however Song is not that far behind. What makes Alex Song stand out is his ability physically to dominate opponents. He is quick, agile, strong in the tackle, and can read the game. Busquets reads the game very well however he is not quick. Barcelona have lately struggled with pace at the back and in the Defensive Central Midfield Role against Madrid. Song could be that player. Song is good enough technically to be able to posses and penetrate the Barcelona style of play. Barcelona already have Xavi and Iniesta or fabregas to orchestrate the play and maybe they need that bit of physical dominance and speed to support the team defensively?

You cannot take away the brilliance of Busquets and his footballing mind though. He has been one of the main reasons behind Barcelona’s success. Maybe Song will be his cover when Busquets is injured but i believe Song has all the attributes to fill the position and maybe give Barca another option. Both players are versatile (and can play Central Defender) and can fit into Barcelona’s 4-3-3 style of play very easily. Alex song was a great purchase by Barcelona as i feel they need a little more pace when defending against teams like Madrid on the counter attack.

Thanks for reading, you can follow me on twitter: @JHarvCoach

Is it Leagues or Culture that Affect Players Development… or both?

Is it Leagues or Culture that Affect Players Development … or both?

I have worked both in England and the US watching players develop and become great players. However i have also seen too many players drop out of the game to quickly. I always think if there wasn’t too much of an emphasis on winning, would all players play. Being a coach myself i always want to be successful. But what is success?

Is success producing a top player who goes on to be a top professional player’s? success  watching kids play with a smile on their face and improving week in week out? or is it winning a league, trophy, medal etc?

Do not get me wrong it is great to win but it is how teams/coaches go about winning that can discourage a players development. I recently did an article on Performance over potential (Is Englands problem Player Identification) and it stated that potential can be over shadowed by performance. My questions are.. does setting up Leagues at youth level hurt long term development? Are there coaches out there that are playing the strong physically dominant players every minute of every game to win the game? Does the style of play get affected because teams/coaches think they have to win and in turn hinder a players development?

Each coach has their own philosophy and i believe that each person sees the game in a different way. This is fine however, do coaches see success as winning or developing players to play at the highest level they can?

In both the US and UK there is a winning mentality and a culture that is inpatient to development. There are many great coaches out there who (in my opinion) try to teach the right things and don’t sacrifice development over winning a game.

Landon Donovan is a great example of Player Development in the States.

“It’s amazing to me that people put so much emphasis on trying to be tactical and worry about winning when it doesn’t matter when you’re 12 years old,” Landon Donovan

Setting up a league sets up expectation. There becomes an expectation that a lot of parents want to finish top of the league. Emotions become part of the game because now there is added pressure. Pressure to perform to win the game and many youth players if its 6 yr olds to 15 yr olds cant handle.

I am a huge believer that a coach creates the environment on the sidelines (for the good or the bad). Coaches are a example for the parents. If coaches become so engraved in winning then parents do. If a coach creates a teaching environment than parents will see what the coach is trying to work on.

Another question i ask is do players play with freedom and express themselves. Do they want to take the risks that they would do in the park playing with their friends etc… Or does the game mean so much to coaches and parents that the players become robotic. Soccer/Football in my opinion is about making good decisions in the right areas of the field. However too much command style coaching can lead to predictable robotic players because coaches are thinking of getting that win.

Parents can also affect a players development…

Parents who allow and trust the coach’s to coach to improve their child’s game allow the development process to happen slowly. Parents who get caught up in the winning and coach from the sidelines want an immediate result are hurting their child. At my club we have a parent contract that all parents have to sign. No coaching on the sidelines is a huge one for us. This is vital to allow a player to concentrate on the game and play with no fear or distraction. I believe Parent education is just as important as player education. Constant communication with parents about what you as coaches are working on is huge as it allows parents now to see the game differently. If coaches and parents do not interact than it becomes a guessing game for the parents. Why is Jonny passing the ball back to the GK? Why is he playing Defender now? Why is coach bringing him off? etc.

Here is a link below to Positive Parenting by US Youth Soccer:


I believe there are so many factors to hurt player development and creating a league could be one. However as mentioned before its is the coach that creates a learning environment. Coaches have a responsibility to teach players the enjoyment of the game and not games to become pressured environments that youth players cannot handle.

Do we need to implement leagues?

It is great to be competitive however in my opinion leagues should be catered to certain age groups. Young players cannot sometimes handle the pressure. When should winning matter and leagues be in place. I would love to here some feedback if leagues should be in place? If they should should they be catered to level of teams players? What age groups should league start?

Here is a powerpoint from the Dutch FA (KNVB) on player development. They create leagues but what is the culture of their nation. Holland amazes me as the population is only 16 mill people and they produce top international players on a regular basis.

dutch vision on development

Do their coaches create a learning environment instead of a winning at all costs one? Do the parents create a learning environment instead of a winning one? Do they play the physically dominant players to win games?

The FA and USSF are working hard on player development and also coach development. Consistent education to players, coaches and parents has to happen. A culture has to change. To have change people need to allow change and have a open mind to it. If parents, coaches, players become impatient then a nation that could fulfill its potential will always be trying to run before it can walk.

The views are my own, i would love some feedback…

Thanks for reading, Jamie

Is England’s Problem – Talent Identification?

Is Englands Problem – Talent Identification?

Recently I watched a video by Rasmus Ankersen about Talent Identification and some of the reasons why top athletes become top athletes in there sport.

When watching it i kept on thinking has england been looking for the wrong players? and have countries like spain been looking at something different. There are so many factors that create top international players however the top athletes have the same kind of characteristics that make them who they are. Rasmus Ankensen reserched into many top sports around the world and why these countries produce the top athletes and came out with 3 things that determine how real talent can reach its full potential. He also went into how it is very easy for coaches to miss the next superstar?

The question i kept on asking myself is how many xavi’s, iniesta’s, pedros, etc have been missed?

Ankersen goes into how performance can quite easily overlook potential. This meaning a strong quick boy who has hit puberty at the age of 13/14 who is more affective in games can stand out by scoring goals and being dominant. While a small player who is a “late developer” but has great vision, sees a pass, can dribble, can get out of tight spaces but physically cannot keep up – gets overlooked.  example: Shawn Wright Philips getting Released by Nottingham forest for being “too small”.

Barcelona’s academy La Masia state that the main characteristics in players is that they are very technical and cognitively sound and are not interested in physical attributes in players at younger ages.

“The main thing that the scouts look for is that the children make decisions differently from everybody else. By this I mean their speed of thought. It is a quickness of mind we look for. Already at 12 or 13 they understand that football is played within a particular style.” P.Guardiola, Ex FC Barcelona Coach

Ankersen also goes onto mention that sometimes players that are super talented early that are both physically dominant and skillful technically and cognitively are called “shouting talent” example Wayne Rooney.

Here are the three main things Ankersen came up with:

1/Great Talent is not necesserily right talent:

Arkersen mentioned that sports clubs use diverse ways to analyze and evaluate player performance. He mentioned that some players in certain tests (physical or cognitive) may not shine but may shine in other areas of the game that they are not getting tested on. The first thing that came to mind was a try out for youth players at clubs and what clubs are testing players on. Are clubs testing on pure speed? Are they testing on physical strength? Are they getting evaluated in non-pressure exercises? What are the coaches looking for in players?

2/What you see is not what you get:

He also went onto how an athletes performance (without the correct training) gets compared to an athletes performance with the correct training. He goes on to saying that too many times an athlete that doesn’t perform to the level of an athlete that has had the correct training gets overlooked on their results then instead of knowing the training history.  For example a player that goes on trial at a club may have the potential to be a world star but does not perform to the level of players who have been coached the correct way. They get judged to early and never get another chance. Do coaches really do their homework on players they are not sure about?

3/Never Overrate Certificates & Never Underrate Character:

Arkersen goes onto mention that an athletes character and mindset is way more important than results on a piece of paper or a medal/certificate. For example players that are performing to a high level scoring goals at a younger age and having success but do not have the mental strength to take their game to the next level, will quickly go down the pecking order. Arkensen goes onto mention that a performance environment should not be designed for comfort but for hard work. This can also relate to too many young players been spoiled. Meaning that a younger players getting offered crazy contracts worth lots of money too early. Does there attitude and hunger for the game get affected? Do the clubs create this player demeanor? Will it keep on happening.

Barcelona are an excellent example of creating players that are humble,

“These guys might have been chosen to be part of Barca but it is humility that earns you respect. We don’t want them to go around talking about huge amounts of money. You can be humbled if your surrounding are, but it’s tough. But take Iniesta – he is not arrogant, he more or less goes unnoticed.” 

Carlos folguera – FC Barcelona Academy Director.

Here is a video on the LA MASIA – FC Barcelona

However i understand that England is trying to do the right thing to produce good players. My recent Q&A with John Peacock suggests that the FA are stepping in the right direction. There are shining examples of excellent academies that are producing top level players such as Southampton Academy. Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are three players that were produced and played on the champions league and International Stage.

Here is a video with Alex Oxlade Chamberlaine of how Southampton FC were patient enough to allow him to fulfill his potential.

Theses are great examples but again i ask myself why isn’t England as a nation producing players of this nature on a regular basis? Is it the premier League World market? or aren’t we just producing top level players to play at this level? If players are good enough why cant they force their way into the top level teams.

To see more on Rasmus Ankersen visit: www.thegoldmineeffect.com

The Future of the game and how England need to adapt…

Here is a great slide show on the future of Football/Soccer and where it has come in the world game. This was produced after the 2008 Euros to analyze the english game and where it has to go to become a world force again.

Future_of_the_Game by Dick Bate, English FA

It shows clearly that the game needs to adapt to the modern game. The 2012 Euros was a perfect example of how far behind we still are in the game tactically and technically. In the quarter final versus Italy, England were completely out played. England played flat 4-4-2 (defensively turned into a 4-4-1-1) and got completely overran in midfield. Andrea Pirlo was the complete play maker for italy, accept for the final versus Spain. Spain got their tactics right as Xavi was tight to Pirlo when Italy had the ball, which didn’t allow him time to dictate. For England this was not the case due to the lack of tactical know how and old fashion 4-4-2 style. Italy played the modern 4-4-2 diamond and had joy versus Germany’s strict 4-3-3. Their tactics were excellent. They forced them inside to their numbers in midfield to allow Pirlo again to dictate. However in the Final Spain (playing 4-3-3) Dictated the game due to the high pressing game.

Here are possession stats over 120 mins (extra time)  – Eng Vs Italy

Here is a video of Roy Hodgson before Euro 2012 talking about the pros and cons of 4-4-2 and and his not so positive opinion on the 4-3-3.

Roy Hodson on the 4-4-2 and 4-3-3

How Roy Hodgson & England will adapt its style due to the experience of the Euro 2012:

England in their latest friendly against Italy played 4-2-3-1 (4-3-3). This for me is only a positive. Here are reasons why 4-3-3 is being used across the world and why it is so affective

• For a zonal back 4 defence, one mobile central striker can be more of a problem to handle than two.

• “Early” and “high” width can be established on gaining possession.

• Movement, inter-change and positioning “between” opponents causes marking difficulties for zonal defences.

• If opponents mark on a man for man basis then more “individual” working space is available.

• Three MF often outnumber opponents for attacking build ups and defensive responsibilities.

• The shape of the three MF players can be changed / inverted to provide marking problems for opponents.

• Three MF players offers defensive numbers and compactness in central MF areas and reduces pass routes to opponents central forwards in the defending half and around the penalty area.

• Two of the three MF have the freedom to attack leaving “security” behind.

• A zonal back 4 covers the width of the field more economically and quickly, and defenders are generally in closer proximity to each other to provide support if necessary.

It is clear to see that 4-3-3 and now 4-4-2 diamond is being used more on the international stage and in club football. For me England and Roy Hodgson adapting in their first friendly back is a step in the right direction.

Understanding that football at International level is a results driven business however if you want to adapt with other nations with the same thinking then it seems 4-3-3 is the style and way forward to be successful. The Spanish national team obviously have excellent technical players that have been using 4-3-3 for years, and recently have used the silent number 9 but thats another subject…

If anyone is interested in a 4-3-3 playbook by Dick Bate. Please contact me on Twitter @JHarvCoach



An Interview with Daniel Coyle author of “The Talent Code”

By Anna Edgerton

BERKELEY, Calif. (5-20-10) – The number one question for any coach is how to cultivatethe best players possible without killing the love of the game. How do you design a practice that develops talent, simulates real game situations, and gets everyone involved? To find out I asked Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, who argues that it is actually possible to “grow” talent. For those soccer coaches whose players were probably not kicking in the womb, this is excellent news.

(Daniel Coyle.)
For Coyle, Futsal is the “perfectly designed game” to develop soccer talent. Many of us Futsal aficionados could have told you that already, but in The Talent Code, Coyle presents both scientific and empirical research to confirm our enthusiasm for soccer’s smaller sister. In this book he explores the idea of “deep practice” and the effect that constant repetition has on the neurological development of an athlete or artist. Without getting too deep into the science side of the story, it turns out that through constant repetition one can actually grow a kind of insulation called myelin around connections in the brain to make them fire faster.
When I suggested to Coyle that repetition in practice also develops muscle memory, he claimed that physically there’s no such thing. “Muscles are actually really dumb,” he pointed out. “Muscles are like the wooden part of the puppet. The action is with the strings.” These “strings” are the connections in the brain, and the faster information travels through them, the better you perform. More of the right kind of practice means more myelin to transmit neurological signals even faster.

For a soccer coach, this is where Futsal comes in. According to Coyle, there are many qualities of Futsal that make it the perfect tool for deep practice—and developing that all-important myelin. Because it is played on a smaller scale, with fewer players and a ball that has 30% less bounce, it naturally provides players with “perfect feedback and lots of quality reps.” Although the fundamentals are the same, the significant differences between Futsal and outdoor soccer make it the ideal setting for maximum learning with minimal coaching.
To illustrate this point, Coyle cited the example of board sports—skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding—because there is no coach to explain how to get it right. People learn these sports by repetition, by figuring out what works and what doesn’t, so that “the sportteaches you what to do.” This makes the learning process much more meaningful, because every mistake becomes a teaching moment and every success builds “a pokerhand of possibilities” to use in the future. Add to this the intensity and competition of Futsal, and you have the perfect training tool for building a better soccer player.
For example, consider the depth of soccer talent and range of ball-handling creativity that comes out of Brazil. It’s no coincidence that almost all Brazilian youth play Futsal for years before they ever touch an outdoor ball. For one, there is less space required for a Futsal court than for a soccer field, and organizing a game is “cheaper, faster and easier.” According to Coyle, it’s “the perfect confluence of circumstance and culture” in Brazil that makes Futsal the norm for young players, resulting in some of the best professionals in the world. In the first chapter of his book Coyle says, “since the 1950s Brazilian players have trained in a particular way, with a particular tool that improves ball-handling skill faster than anywhere else in the world.” That tool is, of course, Futsal.

(Kids playing Futsal in Brazil.)

Although this sport
 is rapidly gaining popularity in its own right on an international scale, like all things soccer, it is slower to catch on in the United States where coaches are used to sculpting players with drills and conditioning. However, Coyle argues that “the sport sells itself.” After investigating the Brazilian scene, he brought a few Futsal balls back the United States and “just threw them into the high school pick up games. The kids loved it.” Because it’s basically condensed play, which is the best kind of deep practice, anyone who enjoys soccer will be a lot more enthusiastic about playing Futsal than running suicides down eternal lines of cones. Not to mention, Futsal will grow your brain. Talk about the perfect sport!
For more information on Futsal as “deep practice” and The Talent Code, see Daniel Coyle’s website at: thetalentcode.com