Hands up if you watched this moment and screamed at the telly ‘Get rid of it!’ or sat reflecting afterwards and uttered the words ‘if in doubt, kick it out.’
Understandably so. The pressure of wanting the team to win, the desperation of seeing an opponent gifted a free chance to take the lead in a UEFA Nations Semi-Final. Yet we also have the benefit of hindsight. Look at the picture below. This is a scenario John Stones will face many, many times each match. Receiving the ball with good distance between himself and his opponent, taking a touch and passing to a moving central midfielder to receive in space, playing back to his goalkeeper or turning and passing to an advanced team mate on the left.
Below you’ll see as he turns he likely notices Harry Maguire’s body language, clearly demonstrating he isn’t ready to receive the ball, and the positioning of the Dutch central midfielders, ready to press the passing lane they’ve left open.
At this moment he could ‘clear his lines’, but he does something he again has done many times in this situation before, he turns away from the opposition player to pass to the goalkeeper or open space on the right. The problem? He doesn’t turn away from Depay, but instead towards the direction he is sprinting. It’s a mistake. It happens in the game, even at the highest level.
Question then, is the problem the decision or the execution of the technique? With a sharper turn away from the run of Depay he travels forwards and takes up to three opponents out of the game, creating a numerical superiority for his team.
Do England need to abandon this method of building play from the back or improve the supporting positions and body shape of players around John Stones as he gains possession? With better movement from Chilwell and Maguire England could beat the first line of the press and create numerical superiority in the middle of the pitch, which is one of the reasons for building possession in this way.
Now, the real purpose of this post. Let’s rewind 15 years to when John Stones is a 10 year old playing for your grassroots team. We’re not now competing with Holland for a UEFA Nations Final place. He makes the same mistake, loses possession and his opponent scores. You’re now 2-1 down. It’s a fixture in a league game against another team battling at the top of your Under 11’s league.
What do you do? Demand he ‘gets rid of it’ next time, or encourage him to continue trying to play in this way? Enable him opportunity to learn from this situation? Offer some support about how to protect the ball better when turning away from an opponent? If players at the level of the game that John Stones are playing make such simple mistakes, our 10 year olds definitely will.
We admire the quality of Modric, Busquets and De Jong but did they develop that technical tranquility under pressure through avoiding risk and playing safe, or being enabled to play with freedom, imagination and creativity? The question is, do we embrace these mistakes and encourage children to be positive, learn from them and accelerate as footballers, or restrict, stifle and de-motivate them? I know which environment I would rather be a part of.