The Coaches’ Corner.

The Science of Football

Let’s roll something different. Football is always referred to as being scientific without further elaboration. This is either due to the assumption that everybody knows all aspects of the game, or lack of depth of the statements.

Basically, what and when one eats, where they sleep and how much of that sleep they get, their state of mind and emotional condition are just part of the bigger picture. The physical condition has always been the only parameter of concern to managers and coaches.

Furthermore, training and practise sessions have been progressing to an extent of making the whole process a widely studied subject with biological and medical facts.

The compilation of information and data and the utilisation thereof, is ever more important now than at any other time. The relevance of this exercise and the execution of the findings has made coaching not an everyday exercise for every Jack and Jill.

Given the statistics and data, one is expected to deduce, change and improve training methods. At this point, even the creation of drills and exercises, but again, within given guidelines as determined by own or expert research.

As an example, players usually train as a group and compared willy nilly to each other. The norm would be the urge to push everyone to the level of the others who are ‘better performing’ without looking at the reasons why certain performances are attained by these players.

To illustrate this point crudely, long distance runners will not spent time practising sprints, neither will sprinters run marathons all their training lives. The physical build, the roles athletes play, the conditions around and the need improving particular performance are some of the dictates of preparation or training.

In this digital era, thank God, there are instruments that will show the inputs and output of players as they perform. These can be utilised to record this performance from time to time and the filing of this information is so vital for reference. It becomes a barometer of performance and players will be encouraged if they see their progress on selected intervals, and when they do not perform, records will speak for themselves.

Many footballers and sports persons have died on the pitch, easily coming to mind being Cameroon’s Vivian Foe, who collapsed on the pitch during a Confederations Cup a few years back, only to die a few hours later. While incidents like this may be hard to detect at every occurrence, technology helped detect Nwankwo Kanu’s heart problem that needed delicate heart surgery. In the absence of these gadgets, Kanu may have not survived long in the game but after that successful operation, he went on to play over 10 years winning accolades.

A different look of the science of the game, is the mathematics part; the statistics. This is a bunch of numbers that will mean nothing to the less shrewd mentors of our game today. To many, it is just for academic purposes. To the astute, every bit is a gram of gold and can mean the difference between a win and a loss.

Data can be used to map out a training session. Usually, this can be about your own team, showing the strengths and weakness at a particular time of the match, in a certain area of the pitch under certain conditions or phases of play.

Not to be forgotten is the fact that the information is almost as available and as vital as the same data of the previous and future opponents, and for the same reasons. The analysis of the stats can then be used to formulate a training session and the strategies and tactics of the matches as they come.

It must be noted that one does not have to wait for data and situations to occur to map out a training session. There should be a 5 year plan divided into seasons and then semi-annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily programs. This will reflect the philosophy of the coach in general. The availability of collected data only means modification of training methods o the existing schedules.

Previous and next matches will have a lot of say on how the training should be conducted. This will include whether it is cup matches, tournaments or league matches. It will depend on the previous results, as in whether the match was won, drawn or lost and why.

While statistics for public consumption is nice to the ear, it may not be as useful to the coaches and managers, but good mentors will always find a way to utilise data as long as it is accurate. It becomes imperative that whoever collects and supplies information for technical purposes be schooled enough to know what to look for and enter this information as accurately as possible.

Good coaches will see and hear many things others cannot observe. This eye for details will be the difference between a coach and a fly-by-night. Fly by night coaches comes across disregarding planning and detailed approach to the game and playing mind-games with players. They enjoy a lot of success in the short-term.

When the wheels come off the wagon, they start to press panic buttons and the tumble from glory is a shameful hard fall. Some will control the situation by using the statistics as a psychological tool, and this can be vital if done correctly.

The best scenario is to utilise the data for improving training methods and performance as well as a psychological weapon. Here, a point coming to mind is when a team for the next home fixture did not afford a shot at goal in the previous match. A coach or manager will challenge his players against this, emphasising, say, the 20 shots his team fired in their own last match.

Either way, there is more science to the game that paper or cyber space can take. In this era, good coaching is about observing, finding and utilising this to better the group you work with. Knowing your team is a science on its own. Remembering how different your team is from the last group you coached gives you a head start. Dealing with the players according to their strengths in terms of talent and attitudes will get you unsolicited mileage in a surprising way.

As a good coach, get to know well the social aspects and interest of everyone. Get to their way of life with tact and draw a line between business and social life, because you will not endear yourself well if you come across as a dictator though with some players, it helps.

Read minds and do it well first time every time.

(Only by Keutsepilemang Ndebele for

The most overlooked training aspect of football.

Mostly due to ignorance and turning a blind eye to detail, many teams and top coaches take one thing for granted. I must admit that until I watched the lastEl Classico myself, I would not have noted this to write an article. It is something I had done with my teams, especially at amateur level.

Let us think this way for a while and see if we can make head way. I will draw contrasting examples to make a point, but this is applicable at high level, as it did in the Barcelona versus Real Madrid a few days back.

Say Barca, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Spurs are drawn amateur clubs in big Cup encounters. Does it matter who wins the toss and they get to kick-off the match? It does, and by how much?  A long way.

First and foremost, the questions of whether it is a home or away fixture comes in. This takes into account the home crowd; whether it will be a happy full house or it is an away encounter without any spectatorship.

Take it the big team is playing away. In this case, they may be the ones to kick off the match. The ball should be meant to go around and make every member of the team touch it as often as possible. This has two effects. It settles the nerves and ascertains the superiority of the team before the novices get excited of playing against the Wayne Rooneys and the Rafael van der Vaarts. Train this with your team.

The ball possession also sends the message to the terraces that the big boys are in town. The coach must therefore make his team understand this. Here I am assuming the big team has their first choice players in the park, which they should most of the time. Possession for extended periods at the beginning is key.

Reversing the order of things, the smaller team may be the one getting to kick-off. Being amateurs and their coach not following this on, they will be very nervous and trying to figure out how to get autographs of the accomplished pros. The big team will have to pounce like a hungry wild cat onto the prey and get the ball back lighting fast.

Your team may be the small amateur side playing in front of your home crowd. The responsibilities are the same. Make sure that the big team and their fans get the memo that you are here to stay, by simply keeping the ball, moving it around fast and accurately. This settles the nerves of everybody in the team. It will give you an earlier indication as to who is in it and who is not.

The other advantage of this is that it brings the crowd into it and the boys will love when the stadium breaks into song. From there on, it is the bigger team to question if they can cope. Some may even start looking at the stage to see where they are and what is happening.

Be warned about failing to win the kick-off. It is not necessary to dive into tackles and try to win possession in swift sweeping motion. It will be essential to be patient and steady. The normal tendency will be to lose shape and the discipline of the strategy when the experienced professionals move the ball around.

Your team will need win the vital first tackle and get the applause of the home crowd, and then keep that ball for extended periods of time. Less emphasis should be placed in rushing forward to score. Failure early on may sup all the confidence the players have and they may withdraw.

The other scenario when you are the top dog and playing at home and you have to kick-off, is to send the long ball into the small team’s box and chasing looking for the early mistake before the nerves settle. The message to the novice boys is, ‘Here comes trouble’. They quickly note that they are in the wrong league and are in danger. The same can be done even if the smaller boys kick-off and they send the ball back. Sprinting to the ball and crowding them will make them feel outnumbered and then they will be prone to make mistakes.

This brings the point of the El Classico. This happens even in the big league. Real Madrid were on the score sheet with less than half a minute on the clock. They could have doubled the matters minutes later. The problem with big clubs of equal egos, it goes beyond the tactics and Barcelona were back in the game after being let loose by Real.

Real had matters under control for the first 12 minutes and Barca had no answers to their movements, but they let themselves down by their sloppy attitude in scoring. Cristiano Ronaldo could have killed the game, not once and not twice.

The point is, the way Real started the match was not a dressing room issue. I can tell you they spent so much time working on their strategy which worked well, albeit temporarily. At least, fortunately for their preparation, they knew they were at home. It just came to who was going to kick-off.

That classic example also showed a point I would have missed. At high level, that kind of pressing must produce results quickly, because the pace cannot be sustained by men who are not on steroids. The energy demands are extreme and you need the positive results when fatigue takes its toll.

At lower levels of the game, the difference may be minimal, but if you have a good eye, you will not miss it. Take time to plan and practise kick-off, just as you do with corner-kicks and penalties. It may be the one thing that saves you a point, a Cup or a job one day.


Formations are a general arrangement of personnel on the field of play. The denotion is usually a 1). goalekeeper, 2). defenders, 3). midfielders, and 4). attackers. Commonly, less technically people will name a formation without mentioning a goalkeeper, eg 4-4-2. Coaches will prefer to say 1-4-4-2.

Formations are determined by the quality of the material exposed to the coach. The players available will dictate what how the people will be distributed on the field of play. To a common man, the coach makes or chooses the formation.

Early formations include the 1-10, where all players followed the ball everywhere, and they developed to be attacking minded to the common 1-4-3-3, 1-4-4-2, 1-5-3-2 and 1-3-5-2. There has been a variation of the formations lately.

It is usual for coaches and sports writers who want to be fancy to break down say a 1-4-4-2 to a 1-4-1-3-1-1. Here, three midfielders are more offensive than the other, while the 2 strikers are playing in tandem, one in front of another, instead of playing square.

Funny enough, when you look at teams playing the 1-4-1-3-1-1 sometimes play teams applying a 1-5-3-2. What this translates to is 5 defenders against one attacker. To me this does make sense. Good coaches will be adaptive enough if the situation permits.

There is only two ways of dealing with formations. When you train and prepare for a game, your philosophy of the game will take into account the personnel you have. You shape your team based on these. The opponents will do the same. It will depend on your strength, believe and stubbornness to stick to your guns and let the opposition change their tactics, or you bend to adapt.

These choices become one of the most challenges of coaches and many fail here. Some coaches don’t even know the difference. What more about fans. Usually fans want their favourite pl,ayers in there even if they dont fit the arrangement. They know the numbers but do not understand what they mean.

We will try to observe the teams formations after the World Cup and see what we can learn from them. FIFA always have a technical report from their technical team about 3 to 4 months after the tournaments.


Laws of the Game.

These are set of Rules set by International Football Association Board, IFAB consisting of:

the English FA,

the Scottish FA,

the Welsh FA,

the Irish FA,

and of course FIFA.

Each of these Associations have a vote each and FIFA has four.

There are 17 rules of the game and the Referees refer to common sense, for those grey areas, as the 18th. For an idea, the 2009 booklet of the Laws of the Game has 140 pages.


A long description of the off-side rule will tell you a player needs 2 players between the player and the goal when the ball is last played, if he is to be on-side. It this game there was no ”second to last defender” as the Law book wants. There was one Pienaar against 2 Mexicans. If you replay the game observe this:

The goalkeeper comes out leaving Pienaar at goals. Then the ball touches a player and goes to Carlos Vela. Note that Vela and the corner kick taker are nearer the goal than all else except for Pienaar.

There is no offside from Corner Kicks until the ball touches the second player. A goal can be scored direct from a corner kick irrespective of anyone’s position. Once the ball touches a player – referee and assistant referee included, the right to score is lost, if the conditions above are not met.

Technology Use In Football – FIFA Position.

21 06 2010

(This is a statement from FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s Twitter page as available on

“At the 124th Annual General meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in Zurich on 6 March 2010, which, as is the case with every FIFA World Cup™ year, was chaired by myself on behalf of FIFA, the IFAB decided not to implement technology in football.

FIFA supports this decision, based on the following points:

The universality of the game: one of the main objectives of FIFA is to protect the universality of the game of association football. This means that the game must be played in the same way no matter where you are in the world. If you are coaching a group of teenagers in any small town around the world, they will be playing with the same rules as the professional players they see on TV.

The simplicity and universality of the game of association football is one of the reasons for its success. Men, women, children, amateurs and professionals all play the same game all over the world.

The human aspect: no matter which technology is applied, at the end of the day a decision will have to be taken by a human being. This being the case, why remove the responsibility from the referee to give it to someone else? It is often the case that, even after a slow-motion replay, ten different experts will have ten different opinions on what the decision should have been.

Fans love to debate any given incident in a game. It is part of the human nature of our sport.

FIFA’s goal is to improve the quality of refereeing, making referees more professional and better prepared, and to assist referees as much as possible. This is also the reason why refereeing experiments (such as with additional referees or the role of the fourth official) will continue to be analysed, to see how referees can be supported.

The financial aspect: the application of modern technologies can be very costly, and therefore not applicable on a global level. Many matches, even at the highest level, are not even televised. For example, we have close to 900 preliminary matches for the FIFA World Cup™, and the same rules need to be applied in all matches of the same competition. The rules need to be the same for all association football matches worldwide.

The experiments conducted by companies on technology in football are also expensive. The decision of the IFAB, after careful consideration and examination of studies conducted in recent years, to give a clear answer on technology in football is also positive in this regard as these companies will now not spend significant amounts of money on projects which in the end will not be implemented.

The extended use of technology: the question has already been raised: if the IFAB had approved goal-line technology, what would prevent the approval of technology for other aspects of the game? Every decision in every area of the pitch would soon be questioned.

The nature of the game: association football is a dynamic game that cannot be stopped in order to review a decision. If play were to be stopped to take a decision, it would break up the rhythm of the game and possibly deny a team the opportunity to score a goal. It would also not make sense to stop play every two minutes to review a decision, as this would go against the natural dynamism of the game.”

What do you make of it?

In the Laws Of The Game, FIFA permits the following changes due to mutual consent of parties concerned, usually for friendlies, youth or women football;

1. The size of the field of Play.

2. The Size, Weight and Material of The Ball.

3. The Width between the Goal Posts and Height of the Cross Bar from the Ground.

4. The Duration of Periods of Play

5. Substitutions.

Law 1: The Field of Play.

This describes the that the field of play must be rectangular marked with lines and measuring 90-120 m in length and 45-90 m width. You would expect FIFA to give maximum measurements for standard international matches for spaces so teams can express themselves. They insist on 100-110 x 64-75 m. All lines are part of the area which they represent. e.g a any penalty area line is a part of the penalty area.

There is a lengthy description of the field surfaces, markings, goal area, penalty area, flag posts, corner arcs and the like.

Law 2: The Ball.

This describe what qualities an official ball should have. It should be spherical and made of suitable material. The weight, circumference and pressure are given here. More importantly, is that if a ball is defective and cannot be played anymore during a match, it is replaced by a new one as a drop ball from where the old one was when it became unplayable.

Law 3: The Number Of Players.

This lists the requirements of 11 players per team of which one must be a goalkeeper, the 3 allowed substitutes except for special arrangements and the procedures to make these. It explains that anyone can be a goalkeeper as long as the referee is informed. Players will get cautioned if they frequently request to swap as this wastes time. You will remember how it is said China changed the whole team at half time due to likeness of their faces.

In the South Africa FIFA World Cup, the Korea DPR  coach was asked to provide a list of 20 players and 3 goalkeepers like every one else. He listed an extra striker as a goalkeeper. FIFA found out and told him he can only play as a goalkeeper.

Law 4: The Player’s Equipment.

The law requires players to wear items not dangerous to themselves and others. It specifies the requirement to use shin guards besides the basic coloured uniforms. Goalkeepers and match official clothing should be different.

Any tournament is preceded with a pre match meeting, in which teams bring their kit samples, including the goalkeeper kit.

Law 5: The Referee.

This dwells on the authority of the middle man: his duties and powers. Most of the time, his “opinion” goes no matter what you think. His authority extends when he enters up to the time he leaves the pitch. This guy can send his assistants and even you off.

Law 6: The Assistant Referee.

Quite a straight forward list of duties we all know.

Law 7: Periods of Play.

This describes the game being played in 2 equal halves and a 10-15 minute half time. The referee adds optional time depending on stoppages, in his OPINION.

Law 8: Start and Restart of Play.

This is a whole lot of issues about how to Kick-off and Drop Balls. What is important is that the ball has to move forward at any dead ball situation and that the second player must touch the ball before it can be played by the first again. This can be a referee or Assistant. A goal can be scored from kick-off.

Law 9: Ball In and Out Of Play.

This is also obvious. Note that the ball is out of the field of play only if the WHOLE OF THE BALL has crossed the line.

Law 10: Method of Scoring.

The WHOLE OF THE BALL must cross the goal-line in between the 2 posts but below the cross bar in the air or on the ground. What can be the decisions is a punctured ball rolls over the goal line?

Law 11: Offside.

By far the most controversial in implementation and interpretation. It first emphasises the innocence of the player in an offside position. It is not an offence to be offside.


H e is penalised at the point the ball touches or is played to him by a team-mate and the referee, IN HIS OPINION, is;

interfering with play, interfering with an opponent or is gaining advantage being in that position. There is no offside from goal kick, throw-in or corner kick.

Law 12: Fouls and Misconducts.

This explains when a direct kick, a penalty and indirect kick are awarded and the results of committing these offences. There are 7 offences that lead to a direct kick if the referee considers them careless, reckless or use of excessive force. He will award a direct free kick for holding an opponent, spitting at an opponent or deliberately handling the ball. A direct free kick in the penalty area is a penalty kick.

This section explains what punishment the perpetrator gets, like which offences get you a yellow card or a sending off.

Law 13: Free Kicks.

Free-kicks can either be direct or indirect. A direct free-kick means a ball can be kicked directly by one player into goals. An indirect free-kick, the ball must touch a second player – friend, foe or referee/assistant referee. At this moment, the referee keeps his hand up until the ball touches the 2nd player, then he brings his hand down.

Law 14: Penalty Kick.

A goal MAY be scored direct from a penalty kick. So this is actually one of the options available. What else do you think do here?

Law 15: Throw-In.

This states that you can not score direct by throwing. The basic principle here is that, both hands must be on the ball, the ball must come over the head and both feet must be on the ground.

Law 16: Goal kick.

This is straight forward.

Law 17: Corner Kick.

This spells the reason for this to be awarded. It can be taken anywhere inside the arc. Remember the lines form the corner kick spot.


9 comments on “The Coaches’ Corner.

  1. You wrote a very good article which made some very interesting reading. I really wish you could make such articles accessible to our budding coaches.I was quite impressed but do more and share these well researched articles with many coaches. Be warned ,coaches do not have a culture of reading,so help us develop it.

    Thanks man

    • Alban, I fully agree with you about the need for us coaches and especially those upcoming, that we should develop a culture of reading. The column was supposed to attract comments and contribution from every body as a forum of technical information dispenser. Due to lack of interest, there has not been any further articles of the same fibre. I encourage all to come up with topics of discussion, opinions and anything we can share. May I say you are one legend I have never met, and wish to do so sometime. Thank you.

  2. Tse, can we please debate on the current status core with regards to match fixing allegations currently rocking the heart and soul of the Zimbabwean football. I have a number of burning questions especially with regards to a footballer’s brief on match day. To what extent does a player has to follow the technical team’s instructions? Where does a young footballer, a fringe player for that matter draw the line in terms of playing to instructions?
    I agree that this has to be nipped in the but, however, am a bit disturbed that the approchis now a blanket format which instead of rehabilitating the game, it is going to move it to the death bed. I hope that the powers that be will look at the times that have changed. Today a technically gifted footballer pays homage to their club and then country. The future of a national team in world football is at risk. Personally I do not see it surviving in the next 50 years until something drastically is done to reverse ir. My point is that it is attractive especially for an African footballer to stay in their club and chase personal honours that for him to travel thousands of miles to an international camp. If players, any players for that matter lose their carreers due to the Asiagate, the attraction of playing for the national team for an up and coming player will diminish. We will start seeing a lot of footballers refusing to represent their country due to the risks attached to playing for the team. Was it not the responsibility of the same association to protect the players in camp against scrupulous agents, let alone betting syndicates? Is the the current ZIFA board not equally guilty? Will it not be a hounourable and nobble move for them to recuse themselves from office and let these investigations be done without their influence? Insterad of failing the game this way, they will allow it a fresh start. Just look at Egypt.

    • Thanks for the detailed comment. As a coach, I do not with my respect and love for the game, I would give specicific instruction to a players to play bad. I think any coach would not do it. The world is not to give an instruction altogether. I would usually do it in high pressure matches or matches of no use, just to tell players to go and play whatever they want. The point would be to release the pressure and let them express themselves. I cannot imagine a coach saying, ‘Let the ball in so we can make money…’ I think it happens but eishhh.

      In the actual match under normal circumstances, there are players who will follow instructions but others just cannot. Those who do, are a jewel for the coach and the tactical aspects of the match revolve around them. They are a rare breed. For those who cannot, it becomes a sweet/sour benefit if they are gifted to unroll some magic and produce results out of the ‘scope of work’. In team selection, the balance between the two is essential. Fringe players will do all in their power to impress the coach by following the instructions. The experience and arrogant type are a big problem. I know yours has reference to match-fixing but I really have never given it a thought what I would say and how the players would behave if I did. The problem would be me living with myself after the did.

      There is more truth is the natural death of national team football, as much as the Test Cricket is ceding way to the 20Twenty version. I uninformed theory why Cameroon and Nigeria among other Africa heavyweights are not at the AFCON is the result of what you are talking about. There is less in playing for Zimbabwe than playing for Mamelodi Sundowns or Manchester United. A player will not break a leg for the country and risk a club career.

      As for the details of the whole ASIAGATE, I wish to get more from the informed circles. Sometimes the issues are just too sensitive but I think Ben Moyo and Ndumiso Gumede did an incredulous job in their exhaustive investigations. I wish other people would come up with their opinions and we compare notes.

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