It may sound simple but possession football is difficult to implement and get success.
Possession in football, as the name suggests, is a team keeping hold of the ball for as long as possible to create goal scoring opportunities and prevent the opposition from a posing a threat to a team’s goal.
It all sounds simple, but the tactic of holding on to the ball is tougher than it sounds when 22 players are running after the ball, with both managers applying various tactics to take control of the game and the crowd adding to the pressure.
So, what is possession football, how and when can it be used? We answer those questions here.
How do you do it?
Possession football, as mentioned earlier, is a tactic used to keep the ball and pass it around to your teammates to stop the opposition from getting hold of the ball.
The key to possession football is positioning. Positioning, in simple terms, is the space that a player occupies on the pitch to ensure that he receives and gives the ball to a teammate and also blocks runs and movement of the opposition player.
For a team to be successful using possession football, players must be open for short and quick passes from teammates, including in tight spaces, and also pass the ball and move without the ball to occupy another empty pocket of space on the pitch. This will catch the opposition out as they will not be able to track quick runs off the ball.
The key players in possession football are the central midfielders as they will have to pick the ball up from the defence, pass it between themselves or further upfield while ensuring that they don’t lose the ball. They will also have to move upfield and help the forwards, doing so in a swift manner.
In possession football, teams will have to move up the field to squeeze the space and not allow the opposition to get on the ball.
The team as a whole must also press the opposition when they don’t have the ball and give them little space to operate in the attacking front.
When can it be used?
Possession football can be used for the entire match, but most teams will not be able to operate using this tactic for the entire 90 minutes as it needs great levels of concentration and stamina.
As the passing is quick and slick, there is zero scope for an error as the opposition could race up the field and attack, hence it is tough to enforce possession for the 90 minutes by most teams. But it can be used when a team is trying to score and take control of the game, and then they can slow the tempo down and build slowly from the back to frustrate the opposition.
What skills are required?
A player operating in a formation which employs possession football needs to have good short passing skills with both feet, ability to get out of tight spaces with shimmies and a drop of the shoulder to go past a man, and a calm head.
Players who have excelled in this tactic are some of the best and smartest footballers to have played the game and it requires a different level of composure and patience, as well as skill, to make the tactic work.
The masters of possession football
The Dutch teams have always employed possession football, especially Ajax, while the Dutch national team with Johan Cruyff in the 70s and 80s were masters of possession football. Cruyff took this philosophy to Barcelona when he became the manager of the club, and the team used it till a few years ago under Pep Guardiola, where the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and co. humbled opponents and won countless trophies.
Dutch manager Louis van Gaal has had great success using possession football, but it didn’t go according to plan at Manchester United, where the football player was deemed “slow and with no substance”, which shows that it can go wrong with even the best players on the pitch.
Guardiola, at Bayern Munich and Manchester City, has employed the tactic with great success. Xavi and former Manchester United player Paul Scholes, are the two modern greats of possession football, single-handedly controlling the tempo of the game and helping their team to trophies.