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The German defender

David ClarkeZinedine Zidane was asked which player caught his eye at Euro 2012. Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Andrea Pirlo? Mesut Ozil? Iniesta? Ronaldo? No. The player he picked him out above any more offensive options was German centre back Mats Hummels.

“To me he is the only player to make a difference,” Zidane said.

It is rare that central defenders get the kind of plaudits like the one dished out by Zidane. But Hummels isn’t a typical defender, having been given the liberty to venture forward by coach Joachim Loew, an opportunity he has eagerly snapped up – but that hasn’t made him forget his responsibilities to the team.

“It is nice to go forwards and to be recognised for that, but I am prepared to be a wall if I need to be,” says Hummels.

Hummels was part of the class of 2009 in Germany that won the Under-21 European Championship in Sweden in rampaging style. The team included Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng, Sami Khedira and Ozil all in today’s national team.

“It’s good that we have grown up together,” says Hummels. “You know how they are on the field and off it. It feels more like a family.”

He has many admirers in Europe but is happy at his club Borussia Dortmund. “It’s a special feeling at Dortmund. We have the freedom to do whatever we want. I can be creative and that’s how I love to play. It’s a status I have worked long and hard for and I did not want to give it up,” Hummels said.

But it won’t be long before the big guns in England and Spain realise he could be the key to winning the Champions League.

Watch his passing, attacking and defending skills below, he’s a young man with a great future:



My top six penalty misses

David ClarkeIt’ll sson be Euro 2012 in Poland and the Ukraine and that usually heralds a whole load of penalties – here’s my six top penalty misses in all competitions.

John Terry, CHELSEA v Manchester Utd (Champions League Final 2008)

After a 1-1 draw on the night, Cristiano Ronaldo missed his spot-kick to put Chelsea within touching distance of the trophy, but his crucial slip sent the ball crashing against the outside of the post, leaving the England international on the floor and in tears.

Lionel Messi, BARCELONA v Chelsea (Champions League Semi-Final 20120)

Barcelona started the second half 2-1 up but Chelsea were down to 10 men. Messi had the chance to gain the psychological advantage but hit the bar and Chelsea went on win the game.

Denis Bergkamp, ARSENAL v Manchester Utd (FA Cup Semi-Final replay 1999)

Bergkamp could have won the game with a last minute penalty. The match was notable for a disallowed Arsenal goal, the sending-off of Manchester Utd’s Roy Keane for a second bookable offence, a last-minute penalty save by Peter Schmeichel, and finally and most memorably a winning goal by Ryan Giggs, intercepting a pass near the half way line, before taking the ball past five Arsenal defenders and scoring past goalkeeper David Seaman.

Ruud van Nistelrooy MANCHESTER UNITED v Arsenal (Premier League 2003/04)

With the scores level at 0-0, United were given a controversial penalty in injury-time after Patrick Vieira had earlier seen red for a kick-out at Van Nistelrooy, but the Dutch striker made it three consecutive misses from the spot after he rattled the underside of the crossbar.

Gareth Southgate, ENGLAND v Germany (Semi-Final Euro’ 96)

After Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle failed at Italia ’90, it fell to Southgate to end the hopes of the Three Lions on home soil six years later, as football ‘came home’ but then swiftly left for Germany on penalties.

Roberto Baggio, Brazil v ITALY (World Cup Final 1994)

The first World Cup final to be decided on penalties, it was a moment that would define Baggio’s career despite some of the great things he achieved for both club and country.



Fernando Torres and 1v1 situations

At the weekend Liverpool played away at Everton, hoping to change their recent poor run.

Key this has been the form of their striker Fernando Torres. His loss of form has been one of the reasons the team has struggled. The Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson decided Torres should go up against Everton’s Sylvain Distin at centre-back rather than attack Phil Jagielka.

This was a key battle in the game – if Torres won most of these he was likely to score or create lots of chances.

However Torres won just four of the 14 head to heads he had in front of goal mostly with Distin. Distin won 10 of the 14. Torres and indeed Liverpool didn’t score or create many chances.

One of the key reasons that he didn’t win many of them was the poor service into him, balls in the air rather than into his feet or body. It is much easier for a big centre back to win crosses into Torres than trying to stop him with the ball at his feet.

But the other key reason is that when commentators say he is out of form what they actually me is he is no longer winning the 1v1 situations he is famous for.

Watch the two video clips below. In the first he scores in the final of Uefa Euro 2008 to beat Germany 1-0. The second is a compilation – watch the number of times Torres is 1v1 and the number of times he scores after beating a defender 1v1.



The rise of the defensive midfielder

One of the things that stood out for me at the World Cup in South Africa is the importance of the modern defensive midfielder.The rise of the technically limited “reducer” has led to players like Nigel De Jong of Holland taking up prominent roles in elite teams.

The modern defensive midfielder first came to light through Claude Makélele. Jose Mourinho used him in the position and his role in Chelsea’s success can be seen as the jumping point from where other managers took up the idea.
In terms of tactics Makélelé’s role was to break up attacks through timely tackles or interceptions in the gap between midfield and attack. However he would also be required to effectively cover the full-backs when they pressed higher up the pitch to support the forwards. It it is very effective against modern teams that use quick counter attacks.

However, it has been condemned by pundits for promoting players with a big physical presence over skilful ones.

This is something that is very evident in youth teams – players that are big and physical they are more likely to play. It is these teams that spark the debate over the role of defensive midfielders in the modern game and cause worries over the development of young players.

There are exceptions – look at Jack Rodwell in the Everton team, a player with the physical capacity to play at the heart of a Premiership midfield or defence he also has sublime technical skill and has the talent to develop into a true box-to-box midfielder in the mould of Roy Keane or Patrick Vieira in their prime.

In a world where teams like Spain, Germany, Barcelona or Arsenal have the ability to turn defense into swift attack the deep defensive midfielder is a must. In youth teams they will not face that kind of swift attack the “reducer” is less effective, especially if they are keeping a more skilful player out of the team.

Remember the way De Jong stopped Xabi Alonso in the World Cup Final in South Africa? Watch it below…



England-Germany: the first two goals were classic schoolboy errors

The final third of the pitch should the hardest part for a team to work in because it will be defended with tigerish effort. Even in youth games the attackers, outnumbered by defenders will have to work hard to create goals – unless England are defending it, in which case they make it as easy for the opposition to score.

This was the case in the World Cup 2010 round of 16 game between England and Germany. But it is worth examining the goals because they hightlight errors made by defenders in youth soccer.

German attacker Miroslav Klose’s goal was one you often see on in youth matches – a big punt up field from the goal kick, over the stationary centre-half’s head and bang, 1-0. Matthew upson was outmanouvered and outfought for the ball.

The second was not much better, the England right back Glenn Johnson was forced to cover the central defenders position because again they had gone missing. This left a vacant right-back spot which attacker Lukas Podolski exploited, he even had time to take a touch before sending the ball past David James in England’s goal.

Two classic examples of how to create goals – the long ball and dragging defenders out of position.

Click here to watch the goals



Great coaches understand the beauty of soccer

When Bobby Robson died we lost a fabulous coach, an inspirational coach. I share his love for a sport which I live and breathe – I want to pass on that understanding of what a wonderful game it is to my players so they fall in love with it like I did.

Before he died he spoke about what was important to him.

“Pele called it the beautiful, didn’t he? It’s a perfect game. It’s a game of athleticism, a game of power and competition and strength – anybody who thinks football is just a game of deftness of touch without those other things wouldn’t win. You need courage, you need steel in your make up. But it’s the deftness too, the control – Waddle, Barnes, Pele, Di Stefano, Puskas, Denis Law, George Best – the spontaneous things that players like that can do, that’s what’s beautiful.”

“And then it’s the national game. Every weekend two million people play it in this country, not watch it, play it.”

And that’s where we come in. We are coaching those players and we are the ones who sell the perfect game every week to our players. That responsibility rests on our shoulders, we make the game beautiful to them, so they enjoy it and remember for the rest of their lives how much fun they have and why they will always follow the beautiful game.

Remember the World Cup Italia 1990, when Bobby Robson so nearly won it for us…

 Soccer Skills and Drills



The best and the worst (so far)

We’re almost at the half way point of Euro 2008 and as my good friend Sian would say, I’m loving it. Time then for a quick half-way-stage pub-list.

Match of the tournament (so far)

Got to be Turkey 3 Czech Republic 2 for sheer drama, and for Petr Cech dropping a clanger right on the toe of Turkish player Nihat to score the equaliser.

Other candidates include Croatia 2 Germany 1 for the Croats spirit, Slaven Bilic entertaining us all from the touchline, and for the guilty schadenfreude of any German defeat (with apologies to our German readers).

Team of the tournament (so far)

The Netherlands – might have been tempted to protect their early leads against the mighty Italy and France, but where’s the fun in that?

Players of the tournament (so far)

In no particular order:

Deco, Portugal – he has it all – he can pass anywhere, he has great vision, he can tackle, he can dribble, he can score, and he runs the games he plays in. However, it will be interesting to see how he and Portugal cope with tougher midfield opponents against Germany in the quarter-final.

Andrea Pirlo, Italy – has many of the same attributes as Deco. If he had a better striker to aim for than Luca Toni, Italy might not have made such heavy weather of their first two games.

David Villa, Spain – you get the feeling he won’t miss if he gets half a chance. Along with the god-like genius of Fernando Torres, the best strike partnership in the world at the moment.

Wayne Rooney – only joking, couldn’t resist.

Most irritating player (so far)

Cristiano Ronaldo – just because.

Referee of the tournament (so far)

Howard Webb, for taking a stand against outright cheating and awarding a penalty to Austria for holding in the penalty area in their match against Poland. At last someone has the guts to uphold the laws of the game.

Worst prediction of the tournament

Dwyer Scullion, predicting that Italy couldn’t win the tournament with their style of play. Since then, they’ve had countless shots and headers on target and if they had a more potent striker than Toni, they might well have scored more goals than the Dutch by now.

Feel free to agree, contradict, ridicule etc. I’ll have another stab at this completely futile exercise after the final.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching




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