Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Greedy players limit the final third

David Clarke

By David Clarke

When a player like Bixente Lizarazu talks, you listen. After all, he can lay claim to one of the most impressive CVs of any French footballer – a World Cup winner with France in 1998 and European Championships winner two years later, he has also clinched numerous honours at club level with German giants Bayern Munich.

I was listening to him talking about his time at Bordeaux playing with Zinedine Zidane. That was where they first built up the understanding they were to use with such devastating effect at international level.

I think you’ll be interested to hear what he had to say:

“I played with Zidane, and Christophe Dugarry too! That’s where our triangular interplay first began, though that period didn’t last for long as Zizou went off to Juventus and Duga to AC Milan. “But we’d worked on those moves so often that every time we lined up together for France the magic was still there. It was like I had a luminous presence by my side.

“I’d give them the ball and they’d give it back to me as carefully as if they were handing me a flower. And that isn’t easy!

“Sometimes you’ll pass to a player and you know that he’ll never give you the ball back. As a result you stop making as many runs and the team’s play stagnates.”

It is the final sentence I found most interesting. If an international player stops running off the ball because he feels he won’t get it back, how will a young player react to the same situation?

Last weekend a coach friend of mine asked me to come and watch his team play in a friendly. They’ve been losing heavily and not scoring many goals, and he hadn’t been able to understand why. I watched his team play and they did everything right – quick passing into the opposition half and good support.

But once they got into the final third whoever got the ball tried to jink and weave their way through alone. This was often despite having players over in good supporting positions. As the match wore on the team got hit on the break as players began to stop running – and Lizarazu’s words came back to me.

They stopped running because they had passed the ball and knew they wouldn’t get it back. The problem was obvious to me but it wasn’t until I pointed it out to the coach that he got it.

Now he needs to run a few weeks of training working on passing and movement in the final third of the pitch. Simple one- or two-touch games will be hugely influential to his team because players will be forced to see what’s around them rather than insisting on going it alone.

After all, it is a team game.

Watch the highlights of the 1998 World Cup Final between France and Brazil to see some fantastic play in the final third with Lizarazu, Dugarry and Zidane:


Zidane 360 spin

One skill leads to another…

David Clarke

Technique can be simple. Anyone can do Lionel Messi’s drag back which is nothing more than pushing the ball out in front of you before dragging it back and turning to face the way you came. You’ve left your opponent behind.

But the skill is to do it at speed.

If youth players can perfect just one skill they can do at speed they will become much better players.

That takes practice and repetition.

And I reckon if a young player can make one skill work they’ll want to learn another…
Here’s how young players can do it:

Robben volleys Manchester Utd out of Europe

Zinedine Zidane’s volley to win the 2002 Champions League for Real Madrid against Bayer Leverkusen is one of the outstanding examples of the skill – I was reminded of it when I saw Arjen Robben’s volley for Bayern Munich in this season’s Champions League quarter final against Manchester United. It looks easy but is a difficult skill for young players that must be constantly practiced to make it easy to do in matches when the pressure is on.

You can use the technique I have illustrated here to get your players volleying the ball. The element of surprise is vital to stop the defenders reacting to the shot. If you watch the Robben clip below you can see how the Manchester United defenders have no time to react to the Bayern Munich attacker’s shot.


  • Tell your players to keep their eyes focused on the ball and get into the line of flight.
  • Get them to use their arms for balance, imagine a strike zone in front of them and 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.
  • Watch both the goals here and see how Zidane and Robben perform the art of the volley to score important goals then vote which one you think is best on my Dug-Out Forum here

Why playmakers like Zidane need support

Zinedine Zidane was one of the best playmakers I have ever had the good fortune to see, but he would have been nothing without the world’s best support players.

I am constantly having to remind my young players that they cannot just give great passes they need to pass and then support the pass. If you beat a couple of players and then pass the ball into the box, if no one is in there the brilliant move has no end product – it has no teeth.

So support is vital, support on the ball and support off it.

Watch these clips of Zidane the playmaker – but take note of how often one or even two players are in support. They know what he can do so they get into the positions to finish the moves off.

Tell your players they must always support your playmakers it will add an end product to the great moves they make.