Strong midfielders defend then attack

Teams play better when a strong midfielder is winning the ball off the attackers and creating opportunities for a counter attack. It’s a great way to turn the tables on opponents.

I did a terrible thing this season. I dismantled my all-conquering under 11s team and scattered them to the four corners of the football globe. I put my son into a team that was struggling and told him to use all that he had learned in the seven years I had coached him, all the goals he had scored and give them to a new team.

He had to become the player the whole team revolved around. There was a lot for him to learn through having to fight for every ball and every tackle. But he has taken a lot of satisfaction out of it.

It’s a position I think every team needs. The central midfielder that wins the ball and distributes it left, right and plays through balls to the attackers. It’s a very hard roll to play, but if you can get one of your players to do it your team will benefit.

Think Roy Keane, Claude Makelele, Steven Gerrard, Michael Bradley, Gennaro Gattuso. These guys can do that.

It’s a difficult position to coach. Give it to the wrong player and he’s giving away free kicks all over the pitch. Give it to the right player and coach him into holding his position and you’re on to a winner.

Tell your player to play in the hole in front of the central defenders. Get him to close down any player running at the defence and stop them in their tracks.

You’ve seen games where the opposition kicks off and runs right through your team to score. This player stops that.

He targets the man with the ball and makes sure he gets it. And when he does get the ball, he’s off running, passing, opening up the opposition defence. The rest of the team have to be ready to support his role and be open for the pass.

Key coaching tip: The midfield general must be equipped with sliding and block tackles, be able to make a through pass to the attackers, and be the fittest player in the team.

Publisher’s note: Get more midfield drills like these in Dave Clarke’s weekly tips and drills e-letter Soccer Coach Weekly