Monday, May 11, 2015

Ban the 4-4-2!

Just kidding, but I am happy that I caught your attention.

The 4-4-2 system of play.  Why so popular in all the wrong places?

I see it everywhere ... high school, house league, wee lads, senior men, etc.

The truth is very few coaches know how to coach it and very few players can handle it.

Don't believe me?  Next time you watch a game, see if you can detect 3 lines straight across the pitch. Four defenders, four midfielder and two strikers. Straight across, as if positioned by a surveying crew. Big wide gaps that a cargo ship can pass through, just waiting for opponents to drop balls in to and get behind your players.

Chances are:

  • the way it's being taught, your players are too young or not fit enough to cover the space (physically and with the ball)
  • you don't have suitable players for each position
  • your players don't understand how to NOT fall into three straight lines.
Don't expect anything tactically Earth-shattering in this article as it's not an analysis of the 4-4-2 system.  I am just suggesting you might be well served to seek another system of play. (Maybe this would have been a more productive article if we discussed how to fix your 4-4-2)

The 4-4-2 has a lot of nuances to teach and there are multiple variations of it.  Every system does, but there are things I don't like about 4-4-2 for most teams.  My four main dislikes are:
  • The 4-4-2 doesn't develop the types of players in the types of positions we need to move our game forward.  When it's taught incorrectly, it doesn't encourage attacking (in my opinion)
  • We don't have enough coaching time to coach a two-striker system.  Your first sign that something is wrong is that your two strikers and way up top waiting for balls.  This creates the first big gap I mentioned, between the strikers and midfielders.
  • For a youth/amateur team where every player get splaying time, the 4-4-2 is more difficult to move players in and out because your players are limited in what roles they can play.
  • When applied incorrectly (3 straight lines), there are not as many natural linkages between positions, making it more difficult to teach a younger team.
There are simpler, more effective systems that you can share with your team.

(If I had my way, which I don't, I would ban the 4-4-2 system of play for all teams under 16 years old.)

I am not saying 4-4-2 is unilaterally a bad system.  I am saying 4-4-2 is not suitable for 95% of the amateur teams (and their coaches) in Canada or the USA.  At the professional level, you see a lot of versions of the 4-4-2 and every coach expresses themselves in how they organize it, but even then it can be implemented to a team's detriment.

I have become a fan of the 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 with a midfield triangle.  I've used 4-4-2, 3-5-2, 3-4-3 etc, when the situation was right and it suited the players on the team.

Whatever your system, for God's sake, do some research and know as much as possible about it. Read several interpretations of a system.  Make sure it suits your team.  Become an expert in your system and teach it to your players.  Heck, I bet if you told your kids you are playing a 1-3-1-3-1-1 instead of 4-4-2, you would start closing up a lot of the gaps.

Last thought ... whatever system you teach/implement, remember to include your goalkeeper when teaching it.  We should start designating all systems with "1" to include the GK.  1-4-4-2  , 1-4-3-3 , 1-3-5-2 , etc.

Some interesting articles for you ...

http://www.theoriginalcoach.com/#!the-death-and-rebirth-of-4-4-2/c1a6a

http://footballspeak.com/post/2012/07/02/Why-4-4-2-is-bad.aspx

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2010/jul/14/the-question-what-next-for-442