What role doees dribbling have in the modern soccer game? Watching the US Women play New Zealand today in the Olympics reminded me of how we can teach and coach dribbling right out of the game. Every licensing course I attend the instructors lament the lack of creative, playmaking ball masters, while at the same time we seem to assembly line produce one touch passers. And now, since Spain and Barcelona’s success, everyone assumes it is the style of game that is the most successful. In fact, if you ask most people to describe the Spanish or Barcelona style of play, the one word that you would hear most is passing or Tika-Taka. I can think of a few more (movement, pressure).
At whoscored.com, you can sort stats for teams and individuals in offensive and defensive categories. One of the categories is “dribbles per game.” The date is collected by Opta Sports. They define their dribble state as follows:
This is an attempt by a player to beat an opponent in possession of the ball. A successful dribble means the player beats the defender while retaining possession, unsuccessful ones are where the dribbler is tackled, Opta also log attempted dribbles where the player overruns the ball.
So, at the professional level, what teams succeed at this category? Surprisingly, of the top 10 teams, 9 of them compete in the Bundesliga, Only Barcelona, number 9, is ranked in the top 20. The Bundesliga not only made of 9 of the first 10, but only one other team made it in the Top Twenty. Here is the list:
R Team Tournament Shots pg Shots OT pg Dribbles pg 1 Hamburger SV Bundesliga 13.2 4.8 16.6 2 Hoffenheim Bundesliga 13.4 4.3 16.6 3 Werder Bremen Bundesliga 14.9 4.6 16.4 4 Bayern Munich Bundesliga 15.7 6.3 15.7 5 Schalke 04 Bundesliga 13.7 5.6 13.9 6 Mainz 05 Bundesliga 12.6 4.4 13.9 7 Borussia Dortmund Bundesliga 16.6 6.3 13.4 8 Bayer Leverkusen Bundesliga 12.9 5.5 13.4 9 Barcelona La Liga 16.5 7.6 13.2 10 Freiburg Bundesliga 12.1 4.3 12.9 11 Hertha Berlin Bundesliga 11.1 3.8 12 12 Hannover 96 Bundesliga 12.2 4.1 11.9 13 Nurnberg Bundesliga 12.6 4.1 11.9 14 Augsburg Bundesliga 11.3 3.9 11.9 15 VfB Stuttgart Bundesliga 13.9 5.7 11.8 16 Kaiserslautern Bundesliga 12.6 4.1 11.7 17 Borussia M.Gladbach Bundesliga 13 5 11.3 18 Wolfsburg Bundesliga 12.4 4.8 11 19 FC Cologne Bundesliga 8.9 3.3 10.6 20 Lecce Serie A 11.3 3.6 10.3
When I first saw this, my first thought, cynic that I am, is that they must be keeping better stats in Germany. Or maybe they are more consistent with their record keeping. But, assuming the statistics accurately reflect what is going on in the game, it seems apparent that their are more one on one dribble challenges occurring in Germany. Notice the one team that makes it in the Top 10 – pass-happy Barcelona.
The German trend is also reflected in the individual stats. Like the team stats, I sorted these according to the dribbles/game column:
R Name Team Pos Apps G A SpG KP Drb 1 Gökhan Töre Hamburger SV M(R) 16(6) – 6 1 1.9 5.3 2 Lionel Messi Barcelona AM(R),FW 36(1) 50 16 5.5 2.5 4.8 3 Ryan Babel Hoffenheim AM(CLR),FW 28(3) 4 2 2.1 1.2 4.2 4 Franck Ribéry Bayern Munich AM(L) 27(5) 12 12 2.2 2.1 4 5 Jefferson Montero Betis AM(LR) 26(6) 1 3 1.9 0.9 3.6 6 Juan Guillerm… Lecce D(R),M(R) 32(1) 3 2 1.8 1.2 3.4 7 Raffael Hertha Berlin AM(C),FW 30(1) 6 8 2.2 1.6 3.3 8 Andre Schürrle Bayer Leverkusen AM(CLR),FW 30(1) 7 4 2.2 1.4 3.1 9 Marco Reus Borussia M.Gl… AM(CR),FW 32 18 9 3.2 2.3 2.9 10 Joaquín Malaga AM(CR) 19(4) 2 3 1.2 2.1 2.9 11 Roberto Firmino Hoffenheim AM(CL) 26(4) 7 1 2.1 1.5 2.9 12 Jonathan Biab… Parma M(CLR),FW 27(11) 6 4 1 1.1 2.8 13 Claudio Pizarro Werder Bremen AM(C),FW 28(1) 18 8 2.9 1.8 2.7 14 Jefferson Farfán Schalke 04 AM(CR),FW 19(4) 4 8 1 2.7 2.6 15 Daniel Caligiuri Freiburg AM(CLR) 18(7) 6 4 1.5 0.9 2.6 16 Ashkan Dejagah Wolfsburg AM(CLR),FW 24(2) 3 7 1.6 1.3 2.6 17 David Hoilett Blackburn AM(CLR) 34 7 5 1.9 1.3 2.6 18 Stevan Jovetic Fiorentina AM(CL),FW 27 14 3 4.5 1.4 2.6 19 Julian Draxler Schalke 04 AM(L) 21(9) 2 3 1.1 1.2 2.5 20 Ezequiel Lavezzi Napoli AM(CL),FW 25(5) 9 5 2 2 2.5
While not all the players on the list are Germans, many of the non-Germans play in the Bundesliga. Interestingly, Leonel Messi is ranked second. Combined with Iniesta (not far out of the Top 20) and Xavi, they make up the heart of the Barcelona squad. I have stated on here before — it is not pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, shoot for Barca or Spain. Rather, it is pass, pass, pass (lots of off the ball movements), penetrating dribble, pass, carrying dribble, shoot.
So…what role is the dribble in the modern game? Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, the future of England, is a dribbler. So is Jack Wilshire. Both are flexible and can play lots of positions. Better yet, what are we doing in youth soccer to encourage this?
This is where we get to Overhead Slams. I grew up playing tennis. I played competitively in my youth and had the benefit of some instruction. When you are taught the overhead slam in tennis, you are not taught it the way we all love to hit it — slamming it straight down, watching the ball careening high into the air. Rather, you are taught to hit it deep. Hitting overhead slams deep requires more skill, timing, and practice than just slamming it straight down. It also makes life difficult for your opponent. The idea is that if you learn the harder approach, you can always slam. The same is true for passing.
If you can dribble real well, you usually can control the ball too. Kids that excel at dribbling usually do well at juggling and receiving the ball. And, if you want to teach passing, you have to teach reception before you can pass. In the book The Spanish Soccer Coaching Bible, Vol. 1, Laureano Ruiz (2002), Mr. Ruiz talks about “contiuning to dribble” in his chapter “Reaching a Higher Level, 14-16 years old.” He states:
“Although I am constantly telling the players that soccer is all about passing, at this age they are encouraged to make individual runs,practice dribbling, feints and dummies. Remember, only the most outstanding players are able to influence a match by performing individual skills or moves. . . I know some soccer coaches will be asking: ‘Can soccer be played without dribbling?’ I do not think it can. When the opposition has closed down all the space, when it is impossible to play triangles, when the opposing team is pressuring intensely, then the best solutions are dribbling feints and dummies. These should also be used near the goal in classic one on one confrontations.” Page 180-181.
Those instructions above are for 14-16 year olds. If you spend the time to learn to dribble, passing comes much easier as effective passing requires not just proper weight, angle, and vision, but it also requires ball control.
As I have quoted here multiple times, here again is a 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). In other words, they teach ball mastery and encourage dribbling first, passing second. Do we?
As Ruiz states, the advantage to dribbling is that it puts the defense under pressure. I think teams can sometimes move the ball around too fast. Quick ball movement player to player may not force a defense to adjust. By contrast, a player with the ball and some space who challenges the defense, requires the defense to react to her. This reaction can cause a domino effect throughout the defense. To add even more advantage, if the dribbler is able to beat a defender with the dribble, then she has eliminated a player and created space for her and her teammates.
Out motto for our teams is “take him on.” This is a quote from Peter Kirkley, who has been with the Wallsend program in England, a top youth academy, for 40 years. He noted that the junior club was not formed to create professional players but to “give local lads and lasses a game of football, help them grow and love the sport.” The club emphasizes punctuality, politeness, and discipline. And, what they teach has been referred to as the Wallsend Way — love of the ball.
“I was involved in Newcastle’s youth set-up for years, and I don’t think any kid they signed at eight has ever made it through to 16, never mind the first team. I go to academy matches and all I hear from the coaches is ‘pass, pass, pass’. I long to hear someone say: ‘go on son, take him on.’”
So…are Germans the most advanced dribblers now? What part of Tiki-Taka is dribbling? And, if you learn to dribble, you can then learn to pass (or slam you tennis ball straight down!).