Ex-top coaches eager to see how teams respond to pressing, devise new strategies

AL RAYYAN, Qatar– Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klinsmann, a pair of former coaching greats now working on technical reports for the FIFA World Cup, see pressing as a worldwide trend in football today. And they can’t wait to find out how teams will counter that during the World Cup in Qatar.

“I think pressing has become absolutely universal now,” said Wenger, former Arsenal boss and now head of FIFA’s global football development and its Technical Study Group (TSG), at a press conference Saturday. “That’s why long balls behind the defensive lines will be interesting to analyze; how important it is to be available quickly when you win the ball, and how important the quality of the first pass is to avoid pressing. It’ll be important to dribble to get out of first pressing. These will be interesting data points to analyze during the World Cup.”
Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup as a player with West Germany and then coached his native country to third place in 2006, said the game has never ceased to evolve.

“There’s always development, and things move forward in the game,” said Klinsmann, one of seven members of the TSG. “It will be interesting to see how many teams will play their way out of the back and out of trouble, or how many teams go back to the old style and hit it long.”

The TSG will collect individual and team performance data during the tournament, which kicks off Sunday with a match between the host country Qatar and Ecuador, and share them with global television and streaming viewers, as well as participating players. The TSG will look at player movements with and without the ball, the number of times they break through lines, and the amount of pressure they put on opposing ball carriers. In addition to player performances, the TSG will analyze the systems of play and the tactical strategy.

Former South Korean international Cha Du-ri is also a member of the TSG, though he declined to speak to Yonhap News Agency after the press conference.

Wenger noted that the TSG has “created new insights into the way we want to collect data,” with those data presented as augmented reality and traditional graphics. Klinsmann said new tools give teams an opportunity to evaluate their performances right away and help them prepare for matches after quick turnarounds, especially during the group stage with games held after only three days of break in between.

Wenger also preached the importance of balance between relying on data and also using the more traditional approach.

“Badly used science can be detrimental because players can be too conscious of data and not play with enough freedom,” he said. “That’s why science of the game really has to be used well to encourage the players to keep taking audacious decisions. If science is not used correctly, it could be detrimental to the quality of the game.”

Klinsmann said teams’ strategies are often a reflection of their countries’ cultures, be it Spain with their ball possession-based game or Belgium with a more patient approach in waiting for counterattack opportunities.

“I am curious to see if we find strikers that are capable of breaking the line and go between defenders and score goals in a more traditional way,” the former striker said. “There’s no better place than the World Cup to see what the cultural elements are of the team by watching them play.”

With the World Cup taking place in the November-December window for the first time and Europe-based players jumping straight in from the middle of their club seasons, both Wenger and Klinsmann said fans will be in for some upsets in Qatar.

“The differences (between teams) are not like in the 70s, where you could win 7-1. Today, it’s very difficult to predict in the World Cup,” Wenger said. “Teams have worked very well to develop their players.”

“This could be a World Cup of surprises. If some underdogs, maybe African or Asian teams … if they’re courageous, they can go far in this tournament,” Klinsmann said. “This is not a tournament to sit back and defend. I think it’s a tournament that really invites you to be courageous and to go forward. I don’t think you go far if you just have a very defensive approach in this tournament. Teams are fit and hungry, and they want to get going.”

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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