I had a question this week on my AskDave advice line which wanted to know why his team could pass their way into the final third of the pitch but play broke down once they got there.
It reminded me of the story of Bixente Lizarazu – a World Cup winner with France in 1998 and European Championships winner two years later, he has also clinched numerous honours at club level with German giants Bayern Munich.
I was listening to him talking about his time at Bordeaux playing with Zinedine Zidane. That was where they first built up the understanding they were to use with such devastating effect at international level.
Why interplay works
I think you’ll be interested to hear what he had to say: “I played with Zidane, and Christophe Dugarry too! That’s where our triangular interplay first began, though that period didn’t last for long as Zizou went off to Juventus and Duga to AC Milan.
“But we’d worked on those moves so often that every time we lined up together for France the magic was still there. It was like I had a luminous presence by my side.
“I’d give them the ball and they’d give it back to me as carefully as if they were handing me a flower. And that isn’t easy!
“Sometimes you’ll pass to a player and you know that he’ll never give you the ball back. As a result you stop making as many runs and the team’s play stagnates.”
It is the final sentence I found most interesting. If an international player stops running off the ball because he feels he won’t get it back, how will a young player react to the same situation?
Not scoring goals
The coach in question had a team that had been losing heavily and not scoring many goals, and he hadn’t been able to understand why. I watched his team play and they did everything right – quick passing into the opposition half and good support.
But once they got into the final third whoever got the ball tried to jink and weave their way through alone. This was often despite having players over in good supporting positions. As the match wore on the team got hit on the break as players began to stop running – and Lizarazu’s words came back to me. They stopped running because they had passed the ball and knew they wouldn’t get it back. The problem was obvious to me but it wasn’t until I pointed it out to the coach that he got it.
Now he needs to run a few weeks of training working on passing and movement in the final third of the pitch. Simple one- or two-touch games will be hugely influential to his team because players will be forced to see what’s around them rather than insisting on going it alone. After all, it is a team game.