Resources for learning about soccer (football) tactics and strategy
March 27, 2009 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Resources for learning about soccer (football) tactics and strategy?

I'm an avid weekend footballer who wants to learn more about the subtleties of the game. When I read an article like this one, I find myself interested in the discussion of tactics and strategy and how one coach can shape the organization of players to work together more effectively than another can. Wikipedia has an article on this and I really like the way it works through specific examples, but I'm interested in learning more.

My google searching tends to turn up sites that are trying to sell something, or focus on drills and more individual skills. Youtube videos and commentary on games tend to focus on individual skills rather than how a team controls the game. Searching using "football" turns up American Football content (not that there's anything wrong with that ;-). I just ordered the hardback of Inverting the Pyramid, but what other resources are there?
posted by idb to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have resources to recommend, just strategies for finding it.
Try restricting your "football" search to, that will weed out American football pages. You are still going to get mostly commercial stuff (most of the web and google is designed to sell stuff). I recommend going to the local library. They can help you find books, and websites on the topic.
posted by Gor-ella at 7:18 AM on March 27, 2009

I don't have any recommendations for practical "teach yourself or your players better football tactics" kind of stuff, but Inverting the Pyramid is a great place to start to learn about the history of tactics. It's a bit dense, but worth the slog.

I've found reading about the history of football, and how the various types of (and rules for) football evolved (association, rugby, American), really useful for understanding how we end up with the styles of play you see today at the highest levels (Premiership, Serie A, La Liga). A good source for that is The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer.

Finally, and this is more fun than reading, but watch actual quality football, and try to be critically aware of what's happening: How deep are the backs sitting? Do the fullbacks make it to the byline and make crosses? Is only one of the fullbacks doing this? Is it because he's the only one with pace, or because the guy on the other side of the pitch is marking a winger or striker with pace and he's got to play a bit more conservatively? Stuff like that.

The leagues I mention above are reasonably easy to get access to in the US, and once you get a good grounding in how the football is played at that level, you'll be able to watch the MLS, for example, and see how the level of the quality of the individual players demands different tactical styles.
posted by dyobmit at 8:02 AM on March 27, 2009

I really appreciate the responses so far. The challenge I've had in watching games is that the camera tends to focus on the individuals and close in on the action, so that it's more challenging to keep track of the bigger picture, for example, what the defense is doing while the action is up front or how it prepares for a goal kick.
posted by idb at 8:12 AM on March 27, 2009

Found a couple of resources:

This one seems to contain some visual references to basic attacking/defensive play to complement your Wiki article. This one is for formations

The BBC offers a Virtual Replay function that pretty much allows to view a game from predetermined angles. Granted, I can only seem to find buildups to shots/goals and no direct manipulation of the camera but it could be useful.

I had also found this reference but you would need to subscribe to the service but it seems to have a lot of information regarding tactics/formations etc. The nice thing is they use the same virtual replay engine as the BBC's so you can see the tactics in motion.
posted by SRMorris at 9:30 AM on March 27, 2009

Had another thought: ever considered playing Football Manager (Worldwide Soccer Manager 2009 if your in the states)? Could be an interesting way of experimenting with tactics.
posted by SRMorris at 9:32 AM on March 27, 2009

idb: The challenge I've had in watching games is that the camera tends to focus on the individuals

If you have a widescreen TV you can see more of the field at one time. It's pretty much the best reason to own a widescreen TV I can think of. The Journal of Football History has the occasional article about the development of tactics and strategy.
posted by Kattullus at 10:32 AM on March 27, 2009

I would also suggest watching as many of the European league games on TV as you can. The more you watch, the more easily you will be able to follow the movements of the players. Listening to the commentary of the announcers can further help, and reading post-match analysis from various sports news outlets, along with coach and player interviews, can give you further insight. Sports writers love to write about the strategies and tactics employed.
posted by JenMarie at 10:33 AM on March 27, 2009

What team do you support? The big teams will have a variety of standalone discussion forums dedicated to them, join one of the more intelligent ones and you should find analysis and critique of the teams tactics after every game. This coupled with actually watching the matches being discussed will give you a great handle on football tactics and why they succeed or not. If you don't support a big team, then pick one to follow that has a well moderated and reasoned forum. This is a fantastic way to learn.

Other than that I recommend the Guardian football podcast and the Times "The Game" podcast. Neither are solely about tactics, but you will gain a great understanding of all aspects of the modern game.
posted by fire&wings at 10:44 AM on March 27, 2009

Thanks again for the great responses.

I'm an expatriate Liverpool fan (legitimately since I was born there even if I never lived there for long). Without one of the more expensive cable options, finding matches on TV in the US (at least where I live), is hard to do and don't even get me started on the quality of the commentary.
posted by idb at 11:41 AM on March 27, 2009

The Guardian also offers Interactive Chalkboards (example) that may help you as well. I'd second Football Weekly Guardian podcast, but I have to say, I find the Game podcast a little annoying... Maybe that's just Guillem Balague. ESPN also offers a semi-weekly podcast.
posted by trox at 11:41 AM on March 27, 2009

UEFA Champions League just finished the group stages and is moving into the elimination bracket, with some of the best teams from european country leagues, I would watch as many games as you can to see top notch examples of teams controlling the pitch.

A few sites track football match torrents, I've had good luck finding champions league matches here.

I've enjoyed the insight into the game I have learned by reading about great players in the less spectacular positions, for example defensive midfielders like Claude Makelele and Patrick Viera.
posted by zentrification at 12:58 PM on March 27, 2009

Without one of the more expensive cable options, finding matches on TV in the US (at least where I live), is hard to do

Hmm, in the Bay Area, Fox Soccer Channel only adds $4.99/mo to my Comcast bill, but I'm sure that varies widely. ESPN2 and ESPN classic show UEFA Champions League matches, and one or both channels often come with the more basic digital cable. There are also many pubs that show games, but I'm not sure that would be the best venue to actually pay really close attention to the match. Good fun, nonetheless. But maybe not available where you are.

True, the commentary may not always be great, but I usually hear some interesting things from them, either points I hadn't thought of regarding the game itself, the ref calls, or some background/history of a player, manager, club, or rivalry. Mileage varies, as always.
posted by JenMarie at 1:08 PM on March 27, 2009

Just a few notes re: football on TV:

In NYC, adding Fox Soccer Channel to my Time Warner Cable account I think actually made my bill cheaper, somehow, via some strange "Upgrade to Digital Cable Package!" cable company math.

The US version of Setanta generally has the EPL matches I'm more interested in, but it's not available yet on TWC. For those, I use their "Setanta Broadband" deal which allows me to watch via a tiny window in a web browser at really terrible quality. But, it's cheaper (and warmer in the winter!) than cab rides and pints on Saturday/Sunday mornings.

Seconding the upcoming ESPN versions of the Champions League. True, they do wrap it up in their goofy commentary, but the matches at this point should be tasty enough to put up with the onion bags and such.

And as I mentioned above, you might have a pub/bar in your area that shows matches on some kind of regular schedule. I use the message boards to keep up with Arsenal related matters such as what network is showing what, and what bar is open when, so I'll assume the Liverpool board likely does something similar.
posted by dyobmit at 2:17 PM on March 27, 2009

One thing that all American coverage misses is half-time and post-match analysis. They've got to fill that time with the ads they couldn't show during the match.

See if you can get hold of Match of the Day (mumblemumbletorrent). The analysis assumes a level of tactical knowledge -- formations, rough positional roles -- but it probably isn't as inaccessible as American sport to the less initiated, especially the NFL.
posted by holgate at 3:08 PM on March 27, 2009

Actually, seeing these mentions of torrents and tv coverage, the programme you are looking for, if you can have it taped, torrented or watched in a pub, is Andy Gray's "The Last Word." Usually on Sky Sports 1 on a Sunday at 6pm. It's a half hour tactical analysis of the weekend's football, snippet here.
posted by fire&wings at 6:18 PM on March 27, 2009

Once again, thank you to everyone who responded. Very helpful answers from everyone.
posted by idb at 5:42 AM on March 28, 2009

A late update to my own question, but Jonathon Wilson (author of Inverting the Pyramid) is now writing for the Guardian, with precisely the kind of stuff I was hoping to find.
posted by idb at 9:09 AM on April 22, 2009

A couple of extra resources I found too. ZonalMarking and David Pleat's Guardian pieces.
posted by idb at 12:04 PM on March 16, 2010

ZonalMarking is tactical catnip. Glorious stuff there.
posted by holgate at 3:40 PM on March 16, 2010

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