When watching a football match, the average viewer will not fully understand the concept of just how the players on each team orchestrate swift attacks, and counter attacks against their opposition. The vital part of a football match, and what can truly epitomise the beautiful game, is the ability to pass and move.
Passing is often one of the most underrated and undervalued traits in football. If you are an amateur footballer playing at a lower level, most of the advice that the coaches will give to you will be the same: “Long ball upfield so the forward can run onto it”. Once the opposition team actually has a defence that can run at a more than decent pace, this thought process does become somewhat nullified.
This is where as a player, you must realise that the way in which you outplay and outsmart the opposition is by passing and moving. Simple. Or not so, as the case can quite often be. It is one thing to be able to pass along the floor to a player on your team and have it reach their feet. What many amateur players struggle with, and it is the most noticeable gap between an amateur player, and a professional player, is passing the ball, and moving swiftly into space, to not only open yourself up to a return ball, but to also possibly drag defenders from the other team into your space, allowing another member of your team to move into a space previously occupied by one of their defenders. It is this level of understanding and being able to apply it that will win you football matches. Many an amateur footballer I have played with, have possessed the ability to pass the ball on the floor no problem (others not so much), but then at the same time do not possess the ability, or as some would put it, the footballing knowledge to then move into space, and be able to read the game as a game of movement rather than just following the ball around, and trying kick it without really thinking.
For a midfielder, time is really the key when you are on the ball. As a midfielder in the middle of the park, you are going to be often closed down, in order to stop you from being able to distribute the ball to an attacking player, which needless to say, means you will have a very short amount of time to make a decision of what to do. This is where as a midfielder who controls and dictates the tempo of the play, you can be smart. Before the ball reaches your feet, you must be constantly looking ahead of you, assessing where your teammates are, prior to you receiving the ball, so that when the ball does reach your feet, you are already one step ahead of the defender on their team, because you will have a clear idea in your head of what your options are, and before the defender can adjust to get into position to close you down, you will already have picked out a pass, or made a run to further benefit your team. It is this footballing knowledge and awareness that will separate you from the other players on the pitch, and give you the confidence to play to the best of your ability. I know from personal experience that when I am playing in the middle of midfield, in more of an attacking midfield role, that I have to adopt this way of thinking if I am to be better than the other players. In the matches that I can remember playing from when I was younger, it would always feel like I was one step ahead of the defender, and that it was them that was playing catch up to me, because I had the awareness of my surroundings when I was not on the ball. Often, when players are off the ball, they drift in and out of their positions staring at the ball, hoping it will land at their feet. Not only is this lazy, but it will also give a simple advantage to the other team. Off the ball, you can anticipate where the ball will go, and more importantly, you can make runs into areas of space, that allow your team to have other options.
Obviously, it is not only the midfielder that bares the responsibility of passing and distributing the ball at a certain tempo to help their teammates. The defence, more specifically the full backs, are pivotal in linking up with the midfield to allow a rhythm of passing to ensue, and to put the opposition on the back foot. When the ball is with the central defenders, ideally they will either play it into a space in the midfield, or they will set it up to one of the full backs. From a full back position, they can press forward, and instead of the usual chipped pass that floats slowly into the path of the other team, which is all too common even in professional games, they can look into the middle of the park, and play central. It is far to common for the full backs to also just send the ball down the wing in hope of a winger running onto it and then making a run from there. This is infuriating to watch, as playing a much more narrow passing style will benefit the team much more. If the full back can pick out a player in the midfield, then the playmaker as it were, can move forward, and will find it easier to not only play the ball through the middle in a narrow passing style, as previously mentioned, but the midfielder will also find it easier to spot and pass the ball to wide men, if it necessary to play out wide.
Overall, in my opinion, passing really is what makes up the beautiful game, and one of the main reasons as to why English players are just not as skilled as a Spaniard or a German for example, is because of the complete ignorance to the passing and movement aspect of football by English coaches.