principalsThe principles of play will help you to adapt to any situation during a game of football.

These principles have :

  1. remained the same for as long as the game has existed, even though we may not have known it at the time.
  2. apply to the game regardless of different systems of play and the different formations played by teams
  3. will withstand the evolution of the game
  4. will always apply regardless of whether your team, or the opposition team plays a 4-4-2 system or a 3-5-2 system or a 4-3-3 system or any system.

Understanding the principles of play will make it easier to react to variations in formations and systems of play that you will encounter from opposition teams.

Becoming proficient at your skills as a player is requirement of any game, but understanding these principles will help you get the most out of your skills.

“I can manage pretty well in all aspects of the game, kicking the ball is the least important one.”

Johan Cruyff


First we need to recognize that there are three stages of football:

1. we have the ball (attacking)
2. they have the ball (defending)
3. no one has the ball (the ball is in transition)

The principles of play are therfore divided into 2 categories:

Attacking Principles

The attacking principles apply when our team has the ball and is looking to:

1. Keep possession of the ball
2. Move the ball forward into an attacking position
3. Create chances to score a goal

For a full explanation of the principles of attack (click here)

Defensive Principles

The defensive principles apply when the opposition has the ball, and our team needs to:

1. Prevent the opposition from creating a chance to score a goal
2. Limit the opportunities for the opposition to get into attacking positions
3. Regain possession

For a full description of the principles of defence (click here)


“Football is a game of time and space.” Johan Cruyff


The controls of this game below are tricky, but if you persist, I think you will score your first goal by making a pass in between the two defenders to create a shooting opportunity.

To help you to win the game above, lets focus on the principals of attack.

  1. Penetration – achieved by dribbling forward or passing forward, passing is easier to not be tackled, so we need to move at least one of the players into a forward position.
  2. Depth – In the game above we start with the ball in a deep position, this brings the defender to us and allows us to use the space behind him when he challenges for the ball.
  3. Width – we need players in wide positions to create an angle with which the first attacker can make a clear pass, the further wide they are, the further the defender needs to come to challenge for the ball, this leaves more space in the middle of the pitch (in front of goal).
  4. Mobility – we need to move quickly. If we are too slow we will get tackled, if we are even more slow, we may run out of time.
  5. Improvisation – In the first levels of this game it is still possible to take on the defender 1v1, shoot and score. Also, something might happen during the game unexpectedly, which either creates an opportunity or presents a new problem that you need to address in order to score your goal.

When training, after we have developed the basic techniques into skills, we need to focus on playing small sided games to develop our understanding of these fundamental principles of play.

These are at the heart of football insight and understanding the necessities of these actions and reactions to defend or attack efficiently, will allow you to understand how all the other components of the game interconnect.

Knowing, understanding and implementing the principles of play, means that we should, in theory, be able to defend perfectly. If both teams defend perfectly, then it leaves only fitness or an individual piece of skill in a 1v1 situation to be the factor that wins the game.

“Football is about mistakes! Whoever makes the most loses the game.” Johan Cruyff

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