Belgian Football Development


Belgian FA -Youth Development Philosophy

PDF file looking at the philosophy of Belgian Youth Football.

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Session: Coach Strikers When And How To Combine Their Movement To Create Goalscoring Opportunities

The session is divided into two phases: Functional Practice and Phase of Play

The principles of attacking should be applied throughout: Penetration, Dispersal, Movement, Support, Innovation

Functional Practice

Functional practice using funnelled central area starting from corners of six yard box
One deep lying feeder player
Attacking team in 1-2-2 formation
Defensive team in 2-2 formation with GK
Supply of footballs to rear of feeder player

Key Factors
– Movement of first striker (drop deep, move wide etc.)
– Movement of second striker (support / movement in relation to first striker)
– Centre midfield ball retention to draw out defending centre midfield players to create space
– Support from centre midfield players (drop off passes, third man runs)
– Starting position from feeder player to central midfield players

The principles of attacking should be applied throughout: Penetration, Dispersal, Movement, Support, Innovation


The functional practice allows the coach to focus on central play with the two strikers and central midfield players. From a session management point of view, it is important to encourage the two defending central midfield players to close down the attacking central midfielders to allow the strikers space in which to play. Playing the ball to the feet of dispersed, deep centre midfield players will allow ‘the hole’ to open up and opportunities to play the ball to the feet of the strikers to be created.

The strikers can practice a variety of scenarios such as dropping deep to receive the ball (turn if CB allows, hold up & lay off if marked tightly). The supporting striker should be alive to this movement to provide an option ‘around the corner’ if required and possibly utilising a 1-2. The centre midfield players can also be brought into play via a lay off pass.

The principles of attacking should be applied throughout: Penetration, Dispersal, Movement, Support, Innovation


Example of CM movement to receive to feet and open up space for ball to strikers:


Example of ST dropping deep to receive and decisions involved:


Phase of Play

Phase of play setup; full width of pitch, 80 yards approx. length
Supply of balls behind feeder
Attacking team in 3-4-2 formation
Defending team in 4-4-1 with GK
Starting position 1: into full backs
Starting position 2: into central midfielders
Condition defending team to try and score within small goals within 5 passes

Key Factors
In addition to the KFs in the functional practice:
– How wide players can come inside to combine with strikers
– Maintaining possession amongst team until opportunity to play to strikers opens up
– Can early ball be played to strikers feet when possession is won?
– Team shape when attacking (dispersal of defence/midfield)
– Positive attitude from full backs to get forward and combine when wide midfielders attack inside
– Positive support from midfielders when team is in possession

Phase of play starting position:


Example of wide midfielder attacking using striker and third man run from full back:


The phase of play allows the bigger picture to be seen and how the strikers involvement affects the team’s attacking shape. The strikers can continue to combine with each other and the centre midfielders as observed in the functional practice, but now can also combine with the wide midfield players and full backs as shown in the above example.

The strikers will also have the opportunity to attack crosses from wide positions, or link with each other following balls into feet from wide.

The team should be coached around and the way from the ball, i.e. Away from the ball the defence should be balanced, the midfield still dispersed to create space. Players around the ball should be offering movement and support to affect the play positively.

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Session: Coach a Team to Press As a Unit

Coaching A Team To Press Defensively In A Small Sided Game

70 x 50 approx.
8v8 + GKs
Offside rule applies

Key Factors
Compactness (Distance, angle of supporting players, horizontally and vertically)
Closest player to apply pressure (How? Show which direction?)
Tracking runners (Who? To where?)
Height of back four relative to pressure
GK sweeping

A pressing team capable of regaining possession high up the pitch is becoming more of a quality in modern football with many top European sides adopting an aggressive approach to ball winning immediately upon losing possession. If a pressing tactics are to succeed, this must be carried out as an organised, compact unit otherwise the opposition will pass the ball around and move up the pitch with ease.

The distance between the defending and attacking players must be kept low, in order to squeeze the space the opposition has to play. Across the pitch, players must be compact and keep spaces between themselves to a minimum to prevent teams penetrating quickly.

Pressure on the ball must be applied quickly, in order to prevent the high line being exposed. If pressure can not be applied, the back four must be ready to drop to prevent the long ball option being utilised by the opponent in possession.

The overall aim is to collectively regain possession high up the pitch to be the team a high chance of winning the ball back in a good scoring position.

The principles of defending should be applied throughout: Compactness, Balance, Control/Restraint, Depth, Delay

When one player applies pressure, the supporting players must remain focused and pay particular attention to the angle of support they take. Too close to the player applying pressure the unit will be ineffective at covering ground. Too far from the player applying pressure, the opponent can play penetrative passes too easily and the opposition will then bypass players and units.

The Practice

Ineffective Examples



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Football Tactics: Arrigo Saachi’s 4-4-2

Over the course of the next few months, I will look at numerous footballing formations utilised by various teams. In my latest blog, I’ll briefly look at Arrigo Saachi’s 4-4-2 system utilised with AC Milan.

Arrigo Sacchi’s route to the AC Milan hot-seat wasn’t of a traditional manager of a top European club with a stellar career which naturally parachuted him into a top job but from more humble beginnings. Sacchi was born in 1946 in Fusignano and didn’t become a professional footballer, but by the age of twenty six was coaching his local team Baracca Lugo, where he himself admitted he needed to command the respect of his players, “I was twenty-six, my goalkeeper was thirty-nine and my centre-forward was thirty-two. I had to win them over” he was quoted.

Following spells with Bellaria he managed the youth team at A.C. Cesena, who were in the Serie B. He moved on to Rimini who were playing in the Serie C1 where he almost led them to the title. Following this, he moved to Fiorentina as a youth coach. His achievements with the youth team did not go unnoticed and subsequently interest from Parma F.C arrived, who were in Serie C1.

Promotion to Serie B was achieved and following good performances in the Coppa Italia campaign, where Parma defeated Milan on two occasions, Silvio Berlusconi approached Saachi to manage Milan in the 1987-1988 campaign.

Sacchi’s team was renowned for its balance, organisation and intense pressing tactics deployed to delay or disrupt opposition possession as well as regaining the ball. At the base of the team, there was a back four who played as a sliding arc, only ever flat when the opposition’s possession was central. Sacchi drilled this into his defenders relentlessly. Paolo Malidini commented “each player was as important defensively as he was in attack, it was a side in which players and not positions were key.”

A key part of his practice was the shadow play drills he ran his team through, seen as revolutionary in continental Europe at the time. Defensively, Saachi would line his team up without opposition, place flags on the pitch to represent the ball and have his players organise into their defensive shape to defend each flag as if it were a player in possession. He would then simulate a ball moving around the pitch with his voice and actions, requiring the players to move accordingly where he would correct positioning in the process.

The pressing tactics used, were it always to regain possession of the ball. Sacchi would use methods of ‘partial pressing’ where players would concentrate more on jockeying rather than winning possession. In other situations, he wold instruct his team to carry out ‘total pressing’ where regaining the ball became the priority and on other occasions he would instruct the players to utilise ‘fake pressing’ where the team made pressing movements but of a lower intensity designed to allow the players to recuperate. “Pressing is not about running and it’s not about working hard, it’s about controlling space” he said. “Pressing was always collective, I wanted all eleven players in an active position, effecting and influencing the opposition when we did not have the ball.”

Sacchi’s team were compact, moved as a unit and were well drilled. He ensured that the distance between defence and forwards was never more than 25 meters, essentially with the compactness and arcs in the two banks of four, a natural pressing team shape occurred. “In the defensive phase, all players had four reference points; the ball, the space, the opponent and team-mates. Every movement had to be a function of those four reference points. Each player had to decide which of the four will determine his movement.” He added, “The key was the short team. I used to tell my players if we played with the distance of 25 metres from last defender to forward, given our ability nobody would beat us.” The aggressive offside trap meant it was hard for teams to exploit space behind and three compact units in defence meant playing through the team was extremely difficult. “This allowed us not to spend too much energy, to get to the ball first and not to get too tired.”

In conclusion, Sacchi’s Milan was an organised, compact and intense unit without the ball whose tactical nous allowed it to win the ball back in favourable positions whilst still ensuring solidarity in its defensive third. In possession, players such as Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard were able to affect play due to their superb football intelligence in dangerous areas of the pitch. The creative freedom was not compromised by Sacchi’s organisation and structure, so often the criticism of coaches who attempt similar, organised systems. Strictly defensive, was not how the team were. “I always demanded, that at least five players were ahead of the ball when we won possession. There would always be a man wide right, a man wide left.”

Milan became one of the dominant teams in Europe under Sacchi, winning the European Cup in two successive years. The team he left behind was built upon by Fabio Capello where more success followed. Sacchi went on to manage the Italian national team leading the Azzuri to the World Cup final in 1994, only to lose on penalties to Brazil. He parted company with the national team after a disappointing exit in Euro 96 and is now the national youth coordinator.

Example of pattern play to coach team shape (team defending black flag):

Example of team compactness during defending phase:

Further Information
Inverting The Pyramid – Jonathan Wilson
Arrigo Sacchi – Coaching The Four Four Two

Drawn Using The Master Tactician

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Session: Coach A Team To Defend Against Combination Play

Coach A Team To Defend Against Combination Play

A session I coached to coach a team to defend against combination play. Session begins with a functional practice then moves into a phase of play. I spent approximately 20 minutes with the functional practice and 25 minutes on the phase of play.

The attacking team must play with a commitment to combination play to bring out the topic and test the defence. I played a left footer on the right wing and a right footer on the left wing to allow these players to attack the centre of the pitch and open up combinations with various players. The defending team must decide how it wants to defend in 1v1 situations with these wide players (show inside? down the line?). The defending team initially were unable to prevent balls into strikers’ feet which then opened up the possibility of combinations. The midfield were coached how to be compact and defend against these forward passes from being made. The depth of the back four must be observed; if combination play becomes unsuccessful the attacking team may then seize the opportunity to make long balls into the space behind as a result of the back four squeezing the space in front of them. If no pressure can be put onto the ball up the pitch the back four must be aware to protect the space behind.

Functional Practice


– Cone off area as illustrated
– Attacking team instructed to play with combinations
– Start from feeder into full back, centre midfield, striker
– Defending team can counter into goal via target feeder

Key Factors
– Principles of defending (pressure, depth, compactness, balance, control)
– 1 v 1 defending technique
– Compactness to prevent passes going into key areas
– Tracking runners with/without the ball

Phase Of Play


– Full width with two small goals as illustrated
– Both teams play with two lines of four and one target/feeder and one GK
– Target/feeder to play into full back followed by midfield
– Defending team can counter into two small goals

Key Factors
– Retain compactness to prevent ball being played with fast, combinations into key areas
– Show wide players certain direction depending on team philosophy
– Protection of Zone 14
– Attack may attempt to look for space behind – depth of team
– Pressure on ball
– Establish distances between individuals/units

Drawn using The Master Tactician

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Barca v Barca

Barcelona play Barcelona in a small sided match. Tito vs Pep.

Watch the video here.

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Practice, instruction and skill acquisition in soccer: Challenging tradition

An interesting read by A. MARK WILLIAMS & NICOLA J. HODGES on skill acquisition in soccer.

Skill Acquisition In Soccer

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