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Systems Football Series

This is a four-part series of articles that aims to introduce football coaches and fanatics to basic concepts in a systems football approach (such as tiki-taka, total football et al). The systems approach to football is founded upon a system of complexity and unity. In all cases the coaches role is to understand and explain the more complex issues and transform them into training exercises and simplistic explanations.

Issues touched upon: the theory, positioning, defensive transitions, third-man running, pressing and playmaking.

Please use the links below to navigate your way through the series:


An introduction into the systems approach to football and a brief written explanation of the rondo

“It’s all about rondos [an advanced version of piggy in the middle]. Rondo, rondo, rondo. Every. Single. Day. It’s the best exercise there is. You learn responsibility and not to lose the ball.”  (Xavi)


A look into positioning and a look into third-man running as well as a rehearsed play training method

“Every player has to understand the whole geometry of the whole pitch”  (Gerard van der Lem)


A longer piece about pressing and defensive transitions within a systems approach

“You win the ball back when there are thirty metres to their goal not eighty” (Guardiola, 2009)


A piece that looks at the use of a playmaker and a concluding statement

“Generally, the most important thing is that they have the same vision [the players]. The ideal coach does not exist; every coach is different and that’s a good thing…however, he must absolutely know the basic principles of coaching and that coaching is more important than winning.” (Jan Olde Riekerink (Head of Jong Ajax 2007-11))


A piece that looks at the positional system and concept of formation following the processes of football rather than functions. This detailed article offers the most in-depth explanation as to how the ever-changing formation during the course of the game offers an adaptable approach to each phase of the game (four phases of ball circulation, the block set-up, the pressing and winning the ball back). An excellent article offering a fresh set of lenses of which to view football through


“Football and painting have always posed the same problematic.” Roberto Martinez started the way he always did. “Both ask us how we should fill space. Both are concerned with drawing movement from space. In each we layer a sequence of lines over and over until they are thick and we begin to read the traces of our body on the earth itself”. He paused to take a drink from a bottle that was being passed around. He wiped his lips and continued. “Victor’s [Moses] lines are perfect” he said, tracing his finger through the air. Everyone’s eyes followed the end of his finger as it rose then dropped in the air. “His touch is light. He does not try to break the ball in two or flatten the earth under his feet. He does not think. He lets the spaces in the field think for him. He sees where they open and close. Sees spaces that have not formed yet and knows when to drift towards them, when to let the ball into them and how long until they close and then open again.” 

Phillip Roberts 09/09/2011 http://www.runofplay.com/2011/09/09/roberto-martinez-and-abstract-painting/

 Artwork by Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm No.30 (1950)