The Intelligent Pass

Information In The Pass Selection

It's coming towards the end of a game in the AUL Complex Dublin and the goalkeeper from a grassroots club by the name of OLV rolls a ball out in front of a defender with a centre forward nearby.  The pass is made in such a way that it invites the forward closing down to commit but leaves the defender two options in his favour (Option one: Use the momentum advantage to drive past the forward or option two: pass to a team mate nearby first time), the defender choses the option to sprint onto the ball and use the momentum advantage to breeze past the forward who was committed to closing down by the distance and weight of the initial pass whilst having to attempt to screen and deny early passing options.  Had the keeper simply played to feet then the forward player could have forced decision making by angling his approach runs, in effect the selection of pass by the keeper gave the defender control of the next decision to be made.  Weeks earlier I'd witnessed a game in a football pitch at Aylesbury Football Club Tallaght where a goalkeeper similarly passed out in front of a defender, but on that occasions because the ball wasn't played to feet the defender did not run onto the ball, instead the forward got onto the ball and hammered home a goal.  All of this reminded me of a Pep Guardiola interview in which he described the brilliance of Sergio Busquets, brilliance that not everyone can see or care to notice.  Guardiola described a pass and the type of pass selected by footballers as a very effective way to gauge the game intelligence and processing capability of a footballer.  Passing to feet requires little processing or awareness, passing to spaces, or selecting a weight of pass that invites the player receiving into an early decision is often the difference between average and World Class passers of a football.  Liverpool legend Xavi Alonso recently spoke about similar processing qualities when describing the intelligent passer.

Know Your Players To Know Your Pass

Something not often spoken about from a coaching perspective is players ability to tailor a pass based on the player he is passing to.  You'll often see a game of football where a player might play a ball into space, but the intended target for the pass doesn't make it because he is not quick enough.  The coach in those instances often will 'say great ball right idea', but was it really a great ball and right idea? the intelligent footballer is able to process passes based on the ability of teammates, a subject I've yet to see discussed in the World of Football online.  Xabi Alonso described the tailored pass in a recent interview where he said "It's crucial to know who you are passing to, some players want the pass to feet, but other players want the pass into spaces.  Sometimes you need to pass to their preferred foot because you need to give them some advantage.  If you pass them the ball to their left or right foot depending on their position it can be a huge difference, so as a footballer you need to read and process that.  (Continued below)

Adapt To Those Around You

Xabi Alonso - "I remember one week I was playing for Real Madrid and in front of me I had Angel Di Maria, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale.  Players like these prefer the ball to be played into spaces.  Three days later I was training with Andres Iniesta, Xavi, David Silva and Corzola, playing and training with those players was more about combinations and smaller passes.  So for me you need to learn and adapt to who you are playing with. (Continued Below)

Processing The Game

Xabi Alonso - "The game is about trying to anticipate what is going to happen and processing what you have to do as early as possible.  On the ball this will give you some time because most times if you are still making a decision when the ball has arrived to your feet it is already too late. 

The Message

Correct decisions are not always the obvious selection on a pitch. Often the ability of teammates will decide what the correct passing technique or selection of pass is.  Great technical passing ability is great, but great passing ability combined with an ability to quickly process surroundings and select the correct weight of pass, then deliver that pass into the right area whilst aiding decision making for the next man receiving the ball, that is World Class, that is intelligent passing.