The Future Game

How can we predict the future? How do we analyze what football will look like by 2025? To create long term succession planning this is the main task for clubs and federations around the globe.

Football is always changing. The defensive organization was the main trend in the 1980’s and the key to success. In the end of the 1990’s football was regarded to be a physical game. It was now about running more than your opponent.

Still to this day this assumption from the 90’s keeps resurfacing but there are no empirical studies to support it. Analyzing the physical data: Teams don’t win more games or more tittles the more they run. It’s simply not true. Not proven.

Recently I found the following posted online, a comparison between physical dominated sports and football, which proves my point:

100-meter sprint:

Position: Same for all

Moment: Same for all

Direction: Same for all

Speed: Different for all

50-meter swimming:

Position: Same for all

Moment: Same for all

Direction: Same for all

Speed: Different for all

1000-meter rowing:

Position: Same for all

Moment: Same for all

Direction: Same for all

Speed: Different for all


Position: Different for all

Moment: Different for all

Direction: Different for all

Speed: Different for all

= Football is much more than just running, speed or power, while the other three sports mostly are about speed and power as is the construction of the competition.

Football 2018 is a game of intelligence and speed of action – not just speed. Football is an open-game sport as it has decision-making all over the pitch - on and off the ball. And therefore the game intelligence (when to do what - and how?) is the main difference between a top player and an average player: “It’s all about understanding time and space” as legend Johan Cruyff would have said.

The systematic offense

When studying and analyzing today’s game and the technical reports from the Champions League, the top 5 leagues and the World Cup there are some patterns and signs on how football is developing. Down below are a few examples (subjectively and objectively):

A club strategy and philosophy (style of play/methodology/management) developed inside the club and controlled by the club – not the coach.

Tactical details defensively has been done for several years, but now it’s also needed offensively(!) as a key to succeed over time on the highest level. The non-scientific assumption to ‘set the players free’ offensively is dead as structure is the main trigger for creativity. As I wrote in my post-analysis column after the World Cup 2018:

“(…) And this proves the unexplained misunderstanding that prevails in the world of football: That creativity occurs when you put the players free and ‘just let them play’. No. It’s not even a football topic, but hardcore science. Creativity needs structure - not freedom. The brain needs some clear structures to start the creative processors. Without structure, chaos and stress arise, and we won’t find creativity”.

The offensive, systematic approach is driven by coaches like Pep Guardiola, Maurizio Sarri, Thomas Tuchel, Mauricio Pochettino, Massimiliano Allegri, etc.

But even a coach as Jürgen Klopp is re-defining his style of play in these years and have more possession than a normal ‘direct-related counter based style of play’. Liverpool against Manchester City for an example had only three passes fewer than Pep’s team and Liverpool had more passes than Chelsea at Stamford Bridge some weeks ago as well. These examples support that the teams at the highest level are recognizing the importance of controlling the game by possessing the ball.

More passes & less free kicks

Football is also developing when we look at data and analyze the development through measurable tools. Some examples:

- More passes per game: As mentioned above. A normal game now has more passes than 10 years ago. It’s not only Manchester City and their philosophy, but also a development in general. 1000 passes per game is now quite average on the highest level. So we need to teach our teams to be stronger on the ball and not only off the ball. And we need to teach our youth players the necessary technical level and tactical structured approach to solve the demands of the modern game

- Less free kicks and tackles: Stats from one of the most physical leagues – Premier League show a decrease in both free kicks and tackles. This is a sign of a faster game with a higher and more fluent game rhythm, which means today you need to read the game, intercept a pass instead of tackling. The modern player needs to be constructive in his defensive approach instead of relying on a more old school tackling and primitive defending approach

- Goals from open play are still created primarily through combination play (wall pass, etc.) in the central areas of the pitch (zone 14) and a ‘deep pass’ is one of the main offensive solutions to goals scored in open play. This once more shows the need of an offensive structure and a detailed last 3rd game plan. The players will not figure this out by themselves

- Also an increase in goals coming from a run and pass into half spaces and assist through lower crosses or cutbacks, so we need to strategically implement these areas in the daily training to teach the players how to use the real danger zones

- A phase 1 offensively (build up from the goalkeeper) in control - not sending the ball (blindly) forward. Data show if your passes are over 15 meters long the risk of losing the ball will go up significantly. So the key is to keep the ball and control the game from phase to phase

An offensive systematic (collective) example

In my own philosophy and approach, I try to work systematic as well through a simple decision making-formula (within our philosophy & style of play):

Positions – options – decision

In this approach I work in trained and recognizable positions in 4 horizontal lines and 5 vertical lines (in possession). With this structure and recognizable patterns you create a foundation and develop collective moves, as the players now know where they have to be and where their teammates will be as well.

So basically: Your positions will give the player on the ball several options and therefore lead to a better and faster decision, which will benefit the team (positions – options – decision).

All of the content above is the demand of the game. We have to change our approach as the modern game demands a (new) certain type of players with a (new) kind of skills-set together with a more detailed and systematic (collective) understanding.

All of this is necessary if you want to succeed on the highest level in the future.