An article Michels wrote in a book with various topics by other coaches.
Pressing Football By Rinus Michels
In modern football the aim should be to coach in training the type of players we need to deal with the specific demands of the game today. My aim with this paper is that coaches learn or pick aspects of the type of Pressing football I think a team should play and improve what normally would be lesser players. To play the pressing game properly you need a squad of at least of 15 players with a wide range of technical skill, intelligence and above all top fitness levels. Which is why I write this to provide ideas. To play the game to its full you need at least 3-4 of the worlds best players, lesser teams will be counter attacked and this could lead to disaster. There is little time for individual skills coaching and the players of today are not as skilled as the players of the past therefore the emphasis is on developing improved group play. It is so difficult to create great football with mainly technical individuals if the opponent is fit, organised and can play intelligently as group.
The problem of modern football is twofold first a lack of space and second fitness and organized play are at an all time high This makes it harder for naturally talented individuals to win games on their own. Having a high degree of skill alone will not win matches in the modern climate. There is a kind of balance we cant spend our time just developing naturally talented players and we couldn't use them to the full if we did unless they are organized. I want to get people away from total football as this is not my expression and in the minds of the people it represents what football should be. For me it would be better to call my game "Pressing Football". This is what I wanted to create with my Ajax and Dutch National in 1974. Create a basic game where all ten outfield players push forwards even when we don't have the ball. When the opponents had the ball we cant press and attack so we press. his is why it will be clear that I call it pressing football. We are always pressing forwards.
One of the new factors of modern football change is that fitness has improved the standard of marking. In the 60's there was more space but in the 70's this has all changed and space has disappeared in comparison. Today opponents don't let you play, everyone has has so much energy that they can run and destroy for the entire 90 minutes. Now coaches can have teams be at a peak at the start of a league program where as previously in the last ten years coaches developed more even the best players and teams did not reach peak fitness until 2 months into the season. Today you need skill and the ability to act at speed while being organized. A lot players who would be skilled in the 60's from practicing mainly technique would not get into a first team in the 70's. Indeed the more space available int he 60's made it easier for players to look better as there was no need for so much speed.
When I took over Barcelona in 1977 I had a team that 5 years earlier would have had some of the best players in the world. I had to begin coaching them in a different way and removing those that could not accept or adapt to our new game. Even the most brilliants technical players struggled at first with the concept of game and some had to be dropped altogether from the first team. These tecnical only players had to learn a new attitude, a new way to express the technique but also had to have the fitness to do this for 90 minutes and deal with hard tackling.
If they did not courage to deal with tight marking then they made room for someone who did. The first requirement of earning the slightest bit of space in the pressing game is movement because defenders then have to move with you maintain that organization they had. Many teams are adopting a pattern of tight marking players who move forward and staying organized behind the ball if teams don't. West germany are very good at this. The first rule of coaching the pressing game then is when my play gains the ball every player must make movement away from his nearest marker. Have as many of the 10 outfield players as possible in a space to receive the ball when it is gained. The individual with technical quality must first the ability to find space. To do this we must have the defense invloved int he attack. We had the all four defending players attacking at different times in a game. This came through positioning and support play. These attacker from the back helped the attackers themselves by proving extra options for space to drop into, shooting options and passing options. They became dangers as midfielders and forwards themselves. Its this moving forwards as a group with the ball that lead my concept of pressing football. By the time I had finished with the Dutch team in 1974 I had come to a concept I had been refining this type of game and wanted to help prepare the Dutch teams playing this game in the future. Pressing football as I see it really started in 1974.
The basis of pressing football is attacking from the first minute. To attack you need to win the ball so we did everything we could to train for winning the ball. This drove our thinking on the game. We trained to win the ball in all three lines of our formation. Mostly when the opposition defenders had the ball we pushed forward. When we had the had the ball we imposed our style of play. Until then we did everything as possible defensively in the opponents half we could to win the ball. Yes you do play other good teams who can do this to you but you then win the ball before they can start an attack speed is vital here. We only dropped back and defended if we were really forced. In pressing we press so much I even want pressing of the goalkeeper. In this pressing we press the man closest to us. We adjust from the ball position and every man readjusts to the next closest man. Every opposing player must be marked in such a way that one ouf our players is near to make an interception to begin an attack right away with minimum movement to the ball while defending. Our defending rule was the closest player quick presses the man on the ball and the other players all mark the passing options around the ball. No passing options must be left in the opposing half where possible. If a player is beat he marks a backward pass option, and player in the next line presses from there our free defenders move forward. Goal keepers move to just outside the area to become a libero guard against free passes along with our fastest defenders.
Most of your time in coaching must be spent working on that moment you lose the ball and talking to players about these concepts. Explaining why this is a good way to play. We also work on communication as you can not play this game without the team prompting one another on what to do when the ball is lost and won. Communication organizes the play on the pitch. We also work on fitness to press the whole game, keep our lines the whole game and be fit enough to adapt our pressing to any system we play against. To work on this I started with every team playing 5v5 a GK plus 4 outfield players. When the concepts were successfully learnt we used 6v6 up to 7v7. The first concept I introduce is goal scoring I simply want to teams to press and organize for 10 minutes to score goals in small area. This is for basic fitness and basic pressing. No progress to 5v5 is made until the players know how to press as a four and a coaches prompting should decreases as number increase using this way. Once the ball possession must not be lost during an attack when must then learn to score goals without losing the ball the moment it is gained. The other team must learn 3 basic things 1 man for man pressing until they get the ball, 2 quick press from closest man to the ball and 3 goalkeeper moving forward in support. The coach must first look for those slow to react on the attack or defense. Players should play in such a way that requires the minimum of running possible.
When it comes to marking then simply marking that player is not enough it must be done in such a way that cuts out the passing angle. We don’t want players winning the ball through slide tackles. This takes communication, stamina and quick decision making to ensure that each player reacts quickly. Wrong decisions are a very big risk and right decisions should be worked on constantly. Who and when to mark should to be the focus of this and the coach most call all points of weak positioning here to remove mistakes. Some players don’t have the right mentality to play this way out of a squad of 15-20 you always have 3 who won’t be right for the system no matter how good. Separate those who can’t or won’t adapt, but this will take time. Use 5v4+gk to teach players these concepts. The pressing players will have to move and adjust constantly. In time players run less because they know the principles of how and when to mark. It can be physically demanding to do this but more importantly it is mentally demanding because one wrong play out place gives up a free pass.
You are asking players to temporarily mark the closest player in their immediate space even if this is not their position it will enable players to run as little as possible as they are covering the shortest distance. One player must always press the man with the ball and the rest of the players must press passing options around him.
In playing pressing football we must be practical and playing for a good result. If we score first we still press the same we just do not press as forward as we did. We always want to contain opponents attacks in midfield and attack again. We must never let play enter our defensive third of the pitch. You find ding this that will catch the opponent off side often because your players are under orders not to fall back. When your are trying to get teams to play this style of play at bigger clubs like Ajax or Barcelona you have to make changes slowly as these clubs still want to win, it takes a long time to develop players for this style of play. My first 2 years at Barcelona were awful we did not have the players for it especially in midfield. In the third year we improved and did rather well. In midfield you must have two very well prepared players particularly physically.
In the physical you must prepare more than other teams to play the pressing game. You can’t play pressing football without that. To play like the Italians is easy as many clubs show you don’t have to be physically prepared to play football. Intelligent defensive cover waiting for the ball and the opponent to make a mistakeis very easy to organize. The pressing game is based on attacking and pushing forward to whole 90 minutes. Physical preparation is must you can’t play pressing football without it.
When our team is pressing for the ball the back four must push up to the hallway line and it must remain there even when the opposing goal keeper has the ball. We must aim to stop ainy attack he may make through good distribution. One of the considerations here is the ctions of the free defenders who must be trained when to push up and go for offside and when to drop back and cover. The free back must determine this as pressing football has great demands on this player. In old system our fullbacks must mark wingers. In pressing football the right back must be prepared to move into midfield and to join the attack he joins the midfield to provide a safe backwards outlet with support from behind.In the moment we lose the ball our RB must mark immediately the opponents free player in midfield. This is the point where bad technique becomes more apparent, if one of our players makes a bad pass while attacking it leaves us open to the quick counter attack.At Barcelona this was my biggest problem. It was not lack of intelligence but lack of skill to make the passes under the pressure of tight conditions. This was the biggest problem over three years at Barcelona. You need to work a lot on this starting with the goal keeper being able to make accurate passes up the pitch to the halfway line from the back. The aim was never to give the ball away in your own half. You could call this the construction phase of the game. To improve general passing quality I start all teams with small space passing games 5v3, 5v4 and then 5v5. Only build to 5v5 when fitness and ability has progressed in the previous games. If you want to see how this concept is executed properly watch my Dutch team in 1974 to see this passing and pressing.
In coaching the constant movement and the need to move into space I break this down in 5v5 games. I concentrate on creating space. Every player loves attack even the defenders. I train the defenders to first cut their opponent out of the game then they can come forward and join the attack but not before that. Our defenders work on movement off the ball just as our attackers do. It can be difficult to restrain defenders once you teach them to attack so do this gradually and work on attitude of responsibility for defensive duties before attacking. I work a lot on having a free midfielder hold and cover when a free fullback moves forward, his task becomes to cover the space in behind or cover the opponents winger. It is case of coaching players not to do too much and to be disciplined to do less when needed. I work small sided games only on specific situations that I want them have a clear picture of my concept.
Your aim should be to find balance because a lack of responsibility can lose matches. The more attacking the player in general the more they may not want to cover. It takes to develop this in players that don’t have the right attitude naturally. In a squad of 20 players only roughly half will have the right attitude to responsibility. You should work on situations as much as possible, you can work from past situations but the next game brings new situations for the attack. No two passes ever come the same so you should never work on what is the same on the ball situations all the time. There are new decisions to be made every game. You can only give them ideas that force them to think for themselves. You can’t play football without looking and thinking. I had to fight with Barcelona players to all the time on this issue. You have to work hard and constantly instruct them what to do. Spanish players don’t like to boos each other on the pitch, I had to constantly press them to shout at each other and organize a situation.
I am sure fans liked to watch the game of Holland in 1974. This is my idea of modern football as it should be. I will keep trying to reproduce pressing football as I believe it is the game of the future but I doubt I will see again a team who can play it so well.