martedì 22 maggio 2012

How important is possession?

How important is possession? The question was already put on place by Jonathan Wilson. And  ZonalMarking too recently added an interesting relationship between average possession and shots per game. It's an interesting question about football pragmatism. Against ball possession philosophy was Charles Reep, whose ideas would become FA strict rules under Charles Hughes, FA technical director. And a long balls kind of football became the tactical philosophy of the English game. This idea flourished on the North too, where Egil Olsen, a lecturer at the Norwegian University of Sport and Physical Education, brought on Reep's approach. After he became the Norway national manager in 1990, he asked long and direct balls being played as soon as possible across rivals' defensive line. With this philosophy, from 1993 to 1996 Noway allowed just one goal from open play. Olsen lead Norway to USA 94 and through the second round of France 98. His method didn't work in England but his stint at Wimbledon was plagued by injuries and players' bad attitude. Despite the fact he was a true dribbling magician during his playing career, Olsen stuck to a scientific approach as manager. His decisions was made on statistics and analytical analysis.

His strategy was based on zone defence; aggressivity; an usually 4-5-1 formation. His strict zonal marking system developed average defenders as Rune Bratseth and Tore Pedersen.

Olsen idea was simple: make sure to have as many players as possible behind the ball, put pressure on the rivals, regain the ball and play fast counterattacks.

The two lines of defense and midfield have to play very close each other.


The defensive line is lined up high, in the way to keep the team short and compact. The midfielders had to run fast up top to support the lone forward. As Jonathan Wilson pointed out in his Inverting the Pyramid book, for Olsen was more important to pass the opposition longitudinally than to retain possession. Olsen wanted his team play long passes to the target man or to the wide midfielders. Off-the-ball running was his approach and the team also had to move to the flank defending where the ball is. Olsen was the inventor of the well know Flo Pass: it was the favourite tactic of the national side during his stint. This tactic involved one of the full-backs, usually Liverpool's Stig Inge Bjornebye, playing a long diagonal ball up to the Jostein Flo, which had the goal to knock the ball down to one of the upcoming midfielders. But Olsen aside, another big mind raised up during that time. The godfather of modern Rosenborg,  the team that have beaten Real Madrid in 1997-98, and AC Milan on their own pitch the season before, was Nils Arne Eggen. He introduced a 4-3-3 system inspired of Rinus Michels' total football. Eggen was always playing three strikers up top. His side was very unlike those of Olsen, mixing Dutch 4-3-3 formation and an English style pressing and long-ball game, playing on the ground behind gifted players such as Erik Mykland, Jahn Ivar “Mini” Jakobsen and Lars Bohinen in the midfield. This system was based on attacking football: every player knew exactly what to do with the ball. Eggen built a philosophy that produces players and results. The next one was Erik Hamren: he led Sweden to a comfortable automatic qualification to Euro 2012. He's a highly rated tactician in Scandinavian football, where he has a decent record at club level in his previous stints with Swedish side AIK, Orgryte IS, Danish side Aalborg and Norwegian side Rosenborg, collecting 6 titles. His skill is to make the best of what he has got. Hamren likes a 4-2-3-1 pattern with attacking full-backs. While Sweden team was known for a defensive style under previous head coach Lars Lagerback, the arrival of Hamren brought along a new style of play, no more focused on defensively oriented players like Magnus Svensson. The idea now is to attack and lead the game, not wait for a counterattack. Hamren wants Swedish to go forward and put pressure on the opponents when the ball is lost. The new generation of Norwegian managers counts on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer too. He built his Molde Fk around a classic 4-4-2 formation and his team have set the league alight. Solskjaer recently snubbed Aston Villa to stay on with Molde. But Norwegian football, Rosenborg above all, also had the chance to utilize the work of Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Faculty of Medicine, in Trondheim. NTNU has close links to Rosenborg and many of the players had degrees from NTNU or was students there. NTNU studied in many way physiological adaptations to football specific endurance training in professional players. They was the first to employ 4x4-min intervals running training uphill at 90-95% of maximal heart rate interspersed with 3 min jogging at 70% of maximal heart rate. And they was between the first to reveale that football specific training drills with the ball might be as effective as plain running. Many of their results are published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Rosenborg in the '90 posted a record for football clubs in VO2-Max results for the players. All thanks to NTNU training method. Also, they tried to find a way to improve max-strength training to give better explosiveness and strong muscles without increase muscle mass for the players. You can red about it here.

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