Spain – Barca Style is Not Just about the Pass

What do you think of when you think of Barcelona or Spain?  I assume it is passing.  Movement of the ball in small boxes – combination play in tiny areas and domination of possession.  All of that is true and beautiful to watch.  Gary Williamson, an instructor in the National Youth License course and technical director of North Texas Youth Soccer Association (and an incredible teacher), demonstrated their system without saying a word:  he used his hands to demonstrate how a cobra attacks (sway, sway, sway, sway, strike).

While the Spaniards and their training schools excel at teaching passing and movement, to reduce their philosophy to just passing and movement is a disservice to the wonderful ball players and teachers in their system.  To me, what they excel at his ball mastery.  Here is quote from the book Arsenal: The Making of a Modern Superclub: ”Their (Barcelona) Academy coach Carlos Rexach reveals … ‘Above all what we are after is a boy who is good with the ball and then we hope he becomes strong physically. Other academies tend to look for athletes they can turn into footballers. Most coaches, when they see a kid who dribbles a lot they tell him to stop and pass the ball.  Here (Barcelona) they do the opposite. We tell them to continue so that they get even better at dribbling.  It’s only when the kid develops that we start teaching them the passing game.’”  (Page 68).  How about that!

It makes sense, though.  Think of players you know who excel at ball control, trapping the ball and passing.  Are they also you best dribblers?  In my opinion, dribbling is a great way to learn to catch and pass.  Dribbling is a great way to learn “mastery over the ball.”  So, then, according to my theory Barcelona players or Spanish national team players should be great dribblers too.  Well, they have a stat for that.

I have been largely unsuccessful at finding a database of dribbling stats for European players, but you can find things here and there.  If you go to the site, you can find a wide range of statistics.  I share this with you as a gift – it took me hours to find a site that had dribbling statistics, etc., for all players.   Anyway, just google dribbles/game and Messi or Iniesta or Villa or Silva or even Xavi.  Here is what I found:

Successful Dribbles/Game

  • Messi 4.8
  • Joaquin 2.9 (Malaga)
  • Iniesta 2.2
  • Iker Munian 1.8
  • David Silva 1.1
  • Fernando Torres 1.1
  • Cessc Fabregas 1.0
  • Xavi (less than 1)

Cristiano Ronaldo, by contrast, averages a little more than 1.5/game.   Now, these stats are based on the 2011/2012 league games, not international games.  Interestingly, of the top 50, 11 are Germans!  Here they are:

  • Mario Gotze (6) 3.5
  •  Andrea Schurrle (9) 3.1
  • Marco Reus (10) 2.9
  • Sidney Sam (13) 2.9
  • Aaron Hunt (17) 2.6
  • Daniel Caliguiri (19) 2.6
  • Ashkan Dejegah (20) 2.6
  • Julian Draxler (23) 2.5
  • Ilkay Mundragon (33)  2.3
  • Marko Marin (39) 2.1
  • Lars Stindl (49) 2

You do have to consider the position they play when looking at this, but it is interesting considering all leagues in Europe are represented in the stats.  And, if you are following signings this time around, the top of the list above is a who’s who of of European players.  Eden Hazard, by the way, comes in at (30) with 2.3/game.

Great site on the stats.  Have fun with it.