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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:


Giroud – the real deal in a striking role

David ClarkeDuring Euro 2012 the false or fake striker was a huge talking point for the top teams throughout the world and how tactics work around not having a traditional striker – but slipping under the radar at the same time was a proper striker who could take the Premier League in England by storm.

Olivier Giroud won a French League title with Montpelier in May then got drafted into the French squad for the Euros. But his rise has been far from spectacular he has learnt his trade – he started off at the boys’ team Olympique Club de Froges then Grenoble’s youth academy. It was here that he was spotted by Tours in France’s Ligue 2 and then to Montpelier. Now he plays for Arsenal in England.

“I can play as a lone forward, in partnership with a second forward, or in front of a No10,” he said. “I’ll adapt my game to different situations. That’s my job. I’ve worked hard to add some explosive power to the first few metres when I make a run with or without the ball.”

Giroud scored 21 league goals in his team’s league winning season. He is a striker who relies on stature and physical presence and with his aerial ability he should scare a lot of defences in the Premier League, but he is also a thinker and very quick with the ball at his feet.

I’m looking forward to seeing how he will adapt to playing outside of France, but most of all it will be refreshing to see a skilful centre forward giving defences a hard time in England.

Watch him in this video and see the range of skills he possesses…

Five fantastic volleys

My top five cup volleys

Marco van Basten: Holland v USSR Euro 1988 final

David Platt: England v Belgium World Cup 1990

Zinedine Zidane: Real Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen 2002 Champions League final

Joe Cole: England v Sweden World Cup 2006

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Sweden v France Euro 2012

Volley like Zlatan Ibrahimovic

David ClarkeIbrahimovic did not have a great Euro 2012 but in Sweden’s final game against France the Milan forward scored a stunning volley. From16 yards in the 54th minute Ibrahimovic arced into the air and his falling volley flew off his laces and into the net as he swept his right foot through the ball to connect with Seb Larsson’s deep cross.

Lots of your players will have seen the goal since, and all will be keen to do something similar. But it isn’t easy. It requires great technique just like Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick against Manchester City last season.

Here’s my guide to helping players pull off the perfect volley

  • Tell your players to keep their eyes focused on the ball and to get into the line of flight
  • Get them to use their arms for balance
  • Tell them to imagine a strike zone in front of them and to keep their head still
  • They should plant their non-kicking foot on the ground, and leading with the knee, bring the kicking leg through
  • The leg should be slightly bent, with the toes pointing down and the ankle held firm
  •  They should strike the centre or top half of the ball with the instep and keep their head over the ball to keep the volley down
  • As with most aspects of the game, practice makes perfect, so regularly build volleying technique into your training sessions as it is a skill that can be effective in any area of the pitch, and by any player.

Here’s a great game to get your players volleying:

How to set it up

  • Arrange your players into two teams.
  • They should stand 10 yards from three cones, which are placed side by side, two yards between each.
  • You and a helper act as servers stood a further three yards back behind the cones.

Getting started

  • You and your helper continually throw balls to your allocated team. Each player, in turn, must try to volley the ball towards any of the three cones, knocking the ball off the top.
  • The first team to knock all three balls off is the winner.
  • As the players become more proficient at the skill, get them to experiment with half volleys and chest volleys.
  • The same set-up can be adapted for headers.

Why this works

This fun warm-up game develops volleying ability. It’s a tough art to, but the ability to bring the ball down is crucial in helping a team move back into a passing game. This warm-up also encourages players to keep their eyes on the ball, directing it downwards towards the floor.

Best goal of the Euros so far?

Sometimes simple is best – try 2v2

David ClarkeI often set up a number of simple 2v2 games for my players to give them plenty touches of the ball and force them to think tactically and make decisions about when to drop when to tackle when to intercept or when to dribble or pass. There’s a whole lot of coaching going on in this one.

What I look for: quick defenders who move the ball quickly when they win it; good defensive positions – individual and pairs; awareness of space.

Key points

  1. Speed – keep passes and touches to a minimum and be ready to spring into action.
  2.  Move directly towards the goal/target.
  3.  Sometimes, the fast break is not possible. It is important in these circumstances for defenders to keep possession and wait for the chance to play a forward pass.


How to set it up

Play 2v2 in a 20 yards by 10 yards area, split in two halves.

How to play it

  • Each team lines up on its goal line.
  • Play a 2v2 with the defending team restricted to its half.
  • To score a point, an attacker must dribble the ball across the defenders’ goal line.
  • If the defenders win the ball, they can launch an immediate counter attack.
  • The attackers then have to get back to defend as quickly as possible.
  • Once either team scores a point, or the ball goes out of play, possession is handed back to the original attacking team.
  • Play for, say 2 minutes, then swap team roles.

How to develop it

  • This time, if the defenders win the ball, only one can enter the opposition’s half.
  • The defender in possession can either dribble towards the goal line or pass to their partner, who breaks quickly into the other half.
  • If the counter attack isn’t possible, the only way a player can release their team mate into the opponent’s half is by crossing back into their own half with the ball.

Olé, Olé, Olé

David ClarkeBy David Clarke

Spain can keep hold of the ball with passing and movement almost at will – and it is something youth teams can strive to emulate. But it’s not just Spain that are showing how player technique and fast passing can result in huge success for the team. Fast passing is a key element of Euro 2012.

But it’s not just a case of telling players to pass they need to practice until they have the technique, touch and composure to make it work.

Try this session to help create a good passing team.

Key factors:

  1. In order to be composed on the ball, players need to have a good first touch and passing ability.
  2.  When keeping the ball, communication is vital and helps make up the mind of the player in possession.
  3.  Passing the ball is not enough. Players need to follow this up by moving off to receive again or to create space for the player on the ball.


How to set it up

  • Use a 40 yards long by 30 yards wide area for the session.
  • Use a pitch 60 yards by 40 yards for the development.

How to play it

  • Split the group into two teams.
  • You pass to the black team and call the name of a white player to run into the other half to win the ball.
  • If the white player wins the ball, play transfers to the white team’s half and the black player who gave the ball away tries to win the ball back.
  • If a team makes five passes another opponent runs in to help his team mate.
  • If another five passes are completed, another opponent runs in to help and so the exercise continues.
  • The winning team is the one which forces the opposition to commit the most players into their half during 15 minutes.

How to develop it

  • Play a small-sided game with four neutral players playing outside the pitch as full backs and wide players.
  • Outside players are limited to two touches and cannot pass to each other (use cones to block the channels). T
  • he team in possession tries to build an attack and score by using the outside players.
  • This game ensures the team in possession is spreading out and using the whole of the wide pitch.