What is possession - and how to train it?

Last week, I had some very interesting days in Nyon at my UEFA PRO coaching course with the Danish, Croatian, Belarus and Romanian delegation as well. We had some interesting lessons and discussions, and now it’s time for reflection to structure the notes, knowledge and to make sure that I learn to use the inspiration and knowledge in my busy daily run.

One subject in particular was very interesting for me at UEFA head quarters. We discussed the often used word ‘possession’. Most football people will combine this word with FC Barcelona, and the last years coaches, fans, experts and journalists have critized possession for being overrated and useless.

But the first important question is; how do you define possession? And are you training possession in the right way at your club?

We analyzed FC Barcelonas use of possession with the Danish FA Technical Director, Peter Rudbaek, in charge of the lesson.

My understading of possession, is in my Masterplan and Methodology, what I call Phase 0. This Phase 0 is defined by my team having the ball, waiting for our players to find the right positions and in the same time waiting for the opponents to make their move / show us where to play. So possession for me is my Phase 0 where we keep the ball without any aim of going forward before we can see the patterns are there to move and play forward and go into our ‘Phase 1’ - the build up phase.

Also possession can be used a defensive phase - to keep and protect the ball and make the opponent run after the ball making them mentally and physically tired.

Furthermore, it was very interesting to see that FC Barcelona in their possession phase use one-two touches and in average every 6 pass - one player will do a dribbling and then they pass again 5-6 times before another dribbling. Why? When you analyze their possession - it’s obvious that you can’t play one-two touch football all the time - you also have to seek the pressure from the opponents, so this subject also showed me that we have to think more about how we train possession.

Way too often a possession training is 8v8 or 10v10 in an area with maximum one or two touches. So in this matter - are we really training possession? The picture from FC Barcelona show that you can pass 5-6 times with one or two touches before you need to touch the ball more, make a dribbling and seek the opponents to keep on the possession phase? So to play 8v8 with one-two touch is not really training match related possession?

A question we need to ask ourselves as coaches, so we don’t just train like yesterday, but try to reflect on why and how - and always relate this to a match situation. And to define the words like possession in your own Methodology to make sure what’s behind.