Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Germany is in the street again

Norbert Elgert has been Schalke 04’s U19 coach since 1996. He says Germany is ‘back on the right path’ because they’ve reverted back to street football. ‘Coaches are there to coach through supervision, not by constantly determining what’s happening.’

Elgbert laments about Germany’s struggles over the past years and how it is now changing at the youth level, in James Gheerbrant’s piece, “After a decade of wrong turns, Germany can see path to home glory” for The Times:

But, Elgert believes, these errors of emphasis are being put right. “We’ve completely changed our approach, even with the youngest ages,” he says. “There has been a total rethink, back in the direction of what Germany was good at: street football, two against two, three against three. The coaches are there to coach through supervision, not by constantly determining what’s happening. We are back on the right path.” The restoration of German football, it turns out, is not fixing a broken-down machine, but rather reconnecting with the subtle, human, intuitive qualities that made it great all along.

This is how coaches will gain an edge. Embrace the roots of football in the street. It is not a lazy or passive way of approaching the game, it is a way to embrace the natural instincts of the players by giving them as few instructions as possible. Train in an environment that replicates that, and then force players to find their own solutions.

The mood around German football is more optimistic than it has been for a long while, not just because the Nationalmannschaft has turned a corner, beating France and Holland in Nagelsmann’s fifth and sixth games in charge. Last year Germany’s under-17s, featuring Elgert’s latest discovery, Assan Ouédraogo, won the European Championship and the World Cup.

Elgert believes there has been a necessary shift from positional deliberation towards empowering players to make quick, sharp, instinctive decisions. “Football has changed,” he says. “Everything has become quicker: speed of running, speed of thought. That’s where the biggest room for improvement is: on the cognitive side. You have to think quickly — play, anticipate, scan — not, ‘Should I pass there or there?’‌”

With more athletes, it is harder to tire the opponent compared to a decade ago. Maybe that helped the players with ideas shine because those that were defending were tired and more prone to error. And those with the best ideas that the opponent couldn’t expect were not always the best athletes.

Spontaneity should not be punished. The next generation should develop their minds first and then their bodies, because if this trend continues away from ‘positional deliberation towards empowering players to make quick, sharp, instinctive decisions’ then those players with the unique ideas will shine brighter again.

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