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Sharpen up the Barcelona way
If you want your players to start pre-season training like Barcelona, you should try using Spanish-style rondo games to sharpen their general touch and all-round fitness levels
“Everything that goes on in a match, except shooting, you can do in a rondo. The competitive aspect, fighting to make space, what to do when in possession and what to do when you haven’t got the ball, how to play ‘one touch’ soccer, how to counteract the tight marking and how to win the ball back”
– Soccer legend Johan Cruyff, who introduced rondo to Barcelona
Barcelona do their regular one-touch keep-away workout before every match and every training session. It is a simple type of game that they call ‘rondo’, meaning ‘round’ because the attackers form a circle around the defender who must try to win the ball. In reality, it’s simply an advanced and more dynamic version of piggy in the middle.
Rondo makes for a simple session that works on every aspect of a player’s game. All the necessary parts of a good session are to be found in rondo: technique, tactics, physical and psychological. It works especially well for pre-season training because players are immediately concentrating on the game – none of them wants to make an error and go in the middle, forcing them into good decision-making and meaning the focus of the session is strong.
Everything you want from pre-season training is to be found in rondo. It reduces those in possession to only one or two touches (or half a touch), and requires them to think about the space around them quickly. When the ball is won, either the single player who lost the ball replaces the ball winner in the middle (as in piggy in the middle) or you bring in a rule that the ball is to be won three times and then a new partnership comes into the middle.
Xavi loves rondo
“It’s the best exercise there is,” says former Barcelona midfielder Xavi. “You learn responsibility and not to lose the ball. If you lose the ball, you go in the middle. Pum-pum-pum-pum, always one touch. If you go in the middle, it’s humiliating because the rest applaud and laugh at you.”
The techniques worked on by rondo are passing, receiving and control, which make for the perfect start to your team’s pre-season workout. There’s also the tactical element of where the defender is and where a player needs to pass the ball; the physical movement that fluctuates much like match pace; and the social side of the game where players are constantly talking and communicating between each other. So all in all, rondo is a winner.
Players love it and laugh and joke the whole time as they try to avoid going in the middle – but once they’ve made a mistake and have to take a turn, they work extra hard to get out again. But that’s the beauty of the game. Let’s not underestimate the importance of the defenders learning to intercept or press players into making mistakes. It is hard work for them, but watching Barcelona using rondo games you can see how hard they try to win the ball and how that translates into the way they play on match day.
Promoting partnerships in your rondo games is also an option available to help develop the pressing aspect – even the best can use this to their benefit, as Lionel Messi once begged former coach Pep Guardiola to team him up with Sergio Busquets because he was so good at pressing!