Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


Creating a stylish strike force the Italian way

David Clarke

I started my coaching session this week with an attacking drill inspired by the game between Palermo and Inter Milan last season in Italy. The two main men were Diego Milito and Fabrizio Miccoli – an M&M exhibition.

It creates situations that will keep a frontman’s mind active – switching between measured approach play and first-time shooting.

How to set it up

  • Create an area measuring 30 yards long by 20 yards wide. Use two goals,
    two goalkeepers, a striker, four servers and plenty of balls.

  • Position the four servers, one on each corner of the square,
    numbering them 1 to 4, anti-clockwise from the top left.

  • Place a cone in the centre – this is the starting point.

Getting started

  • Server 1 plays the ball into the centre where the striker
    controls with his first touch then shoots with his second.

  • The striker then turns and moves quickly to a pass from the
    opposite side of the area and repeats the task, as in the top picture.

  • He then returns to the centre for a pass from server 2, but this
    time the striker must dribble and go 1v1 with the goalkeeper. He
    then quickly turns for a pass from server 1, controls and shoots in the opposite goal, as in the middle picture.

  • In the final test the striker must shoot first time from passes by
    servers 3 and 4. No controlling touch is allowed as in the bottom picture.

  • At the end of the sequence, rotate all players.



The Brazilian attacker

David ClarkeAre you Jairzinho in disguise?

Brazil have a team that could win the next world cup not just because it’s on home soil but because they are beginning to put together a fabulous young team that will give Spain and Germany a run for their money.

They play a fast passing game 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 and at the top of the formation is a young striker called Lucas Moura – and finally it seems Brazil have a player to match the Brazil great Jairzinho.

Like Jairzinho, Lucas, aged 19, can play as a quick forward or winger and will hope to emulate his fellow countryman. Jairzinho was part of the legendary Brazil team that won the 1970 World Cup – he became one of only three players to have scored in every game his team played in the tournament.

Lucas has a low centre of gravity and runs with speed at defenders, dribbling past them or using skills to beat them. He has also been compared with Porto’s Hulk and AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato, but I like to think of him as Jairzinho.

He’s being chased by Inter Milan and Manchester United both of whom hope to prise him away from Sao Paulo but it’ll take a lot of Euros.

Lucas also wears Jairzinho’s number seven shirt for the national team.

Watch him in action in the clip below:

See also The English playmaker

See also The German defender



Skills school: thigh control like Maicon

David Clarke

There are times when a ball comes to a youth player and they look very awkward trying to control it because it’s too low to chest or head and just too high to control with the foot.

The thigh is a good area to use when controlling high balls, because anywhere lower on the leg makes it much harder to cushion the ball.

The technique

  • When the player sees the ball coming they should get into the line of flight.
  • They must keep their eyes on the ball.
  • Keep their head steady.
  • Relax as the ball approaches.
  • They should put their thigh in the path of the ball and retract as it arrives.
  • If they don’t retract, the ball may not drop down and will bounce away.
  • The contact surface they must use is above the knee up to about halfway up their thigh.
  • The inside of the thigh is also good for stopping balls flying straight at them.
  • The ball should drop to the ground and be easy to control.

Watch Inter Milan’s Maicon use his thigh twice to score an amazing goal



2-0 up and under the cosh – how to defend a lead

David Clarke

You’re 2-0 up against your closest rivals, so how do you see out the win?

This was a question which posed itself last Saturday morning in a match my Under-10s had against the team that shared top spot in the league with us. We were level pegging in the table but they had played a game more.

We knew therefore that a win would offer us a healthy advantage at the top. Sometimes we all get too carried away with scores and results but in this instance it was a big game against a team of a similarly high standard. The only real difference was in terms of tactic – we typically pass the ball whereas they kick it long.

These occasions can be intimidating affairs for the players involved but we have such a friendly atmosphere at our club that both groups were laughing before kick-off and thoroughly enjoying the occasion. The first five minutes were very tight; no-one gave an inch. We won a corner, giving us chance to put into action something we’d been practising in training. A quick exchange worked, the ball ended up on the head of our attacker, and we were 1-0 up. A few minutes later we got another corner – same routine, same result! 2-0.

What is it about a 2-0 scoreline though that makes the team in the lead sit back?

Because sit back we did! It was frustrating for me and the players’ parents too as we watched our well oiled machine begin to choke. What I really enjoy about my side though is that they can think for themselves – for a while they worked it out, pressing the opposition, holding the ball and concentrating on their passing game.

But by the midway point in second period, the skill of the other team in spraying passes and sticking to a tactic at which they were well versed meant I needed to change things, or they’d quickly be back in the game. So I dropped a player from midfield into defence and locked it up tight. I knew this would relinquish possession in midfield but against a long ball team most of those central players were being bypassed anyway.

I also pulled a player back from the frontline and sat him in front of the defence – it was like Fort Knox. We could repel any invaders that took us on. I wouldn’t normally have gone so defensive, but we’d played a pressing game and our stamina levels were flagging. Pulling players back actually made the other team’s tactic less effective, and on a day where league points mattered more than the spectacle, a defensive ploy seemed the right thing to do.

I wouldn’t play this way every week because youth football is about so much more, but it ensured we held on to win the game.

Watch the highlights of Inter Milan winning the 2010 Champions League 2-0 against Bayern Munich

Soccer defence drills and games



Let your defenders play like Lucio

DCWhen you are working with your defenders spend some time on ball control and playing the ball away with purpose.

If they are under pressure it is better to kick the ball into the nearest touch to give them some time to regroup. Simply hacking the ball up the pitch can be the wrong option because they don’t know where or how far the ball will go. This creates potential problems for the team.

Explain to your defenders the need to look for a pass to relieve the pressure to link with the rest of the team. They should be allowed to show off their skills with the ball as well as your midfielders and attackers.

The emergency hoof away from goal should only be used when all other options are blocked or impossible to perform.

Watch this compilation of Lucio at Inter Milan and how he puts the ball out or wins the ball and turns attack into defence. He doesn’t aimlessly boot it up the pitch, giving the ball back to his opponents.

Defensive drills and games



Never write your strikers off… just ask Matri at Juventus

dave clarkeA friend of mine was thrilled this week. His son had scored the winner in an U14s match against a team at the top of the league. It gave the team a huge boost because they hadn’t scored a lot of goals recently.

But even more important to my friends son was that he had actually played. The team normally has the manager’s son playing up front, and although he is a good player no one else got to play in that position – my friends son was limited to bit part substitute roles.

The fact that without his son up front the team still played well and his “reserve” striker had scored the winning goal hopefully made its mark on the manager. Players must be allowed to play games or you cannot see how much they have developed from week to week.

It reminded me of the recent Juventus v Inter Milan game. “It’s hard to score goals without any attackers,” Said Juventus manager Gigi Del Neri in January when they won just two of seven league games after losing top scorer Fabio Quagliarella to injury.

He went out and bought Alessandro Matri from Cagliari on the last day of the transfer window which didn’t impress everyone.

Former Juventus great Franco Causio was not impressed: “Matri? He won’t make the difference.”

But just like my friends son he has. He scored the winner against hated rivals Inter.

“Matri is already a legend,” said the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa. Gazzetta dello Sport is even more enthusiastic. “Do you realise what you have done,” it declares. “That was not a goal. That was a howl of liberation, a declaration of love, an act of desire, a black-and-white orgasm.”

You’ll never know how good a player is until you see them playing in your team each week. Don’t have bench warmers in your team.

Watch Matri’s goal below:

 Soccer Skills and Drills



Creative play and finishing moves

dave clarkeThere will not be much New Year optimism around for the coaches of some clubs. While you and I look forward to the tussles ahead and the development of our young players coaches like Chris Hughton once of Newcastle United and Rafa Benitez at Inter Milan will likely be looking for new jobs.

In the run up to Christmas Benítez was described by Italian newspaper La Stampa as a man, “walking with a pistol at his temple”. I’m glad I don’t work under those conditions!

Everything a professional coach does is linked to a winning team. Lose and you’re out is basically the message for the top coaches around the world. How different then is this message to the one we preach for young teams and their coaches “winning doesn’t matter”. Everything I am focused on is the development of each young individual that comes my way.

And that should be at the heart of everything we do – playing the game the right way, and that goes hand in hand with winning. Jose Mourinho is seen as a winning coach, but his Real Madrid team got played off the pitch by a team that just passed the ball around them – Barcelona.

The message here is: play the right way and you’ll be a winner.

When I watch these professional games there are two things that stand out in winning teams – creative play and finishing moves.In an attacking sense creative play is vital to give attackers goalscoring chances. And finishing into the net makes the move complete.

Watch the two goals scored by Real Madrid in their match against Valencia. Both goals are excellent examples of playing the game the right way. The first one is a wonderful turn and finish and the second a great move and finish.




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