How to play the passing game

Fiorentina manager Paulo Sousa on how to ditch the long-ball game for patient passing

It’s like coaching and developing young players - you need to reduce complexity in everything that you do to build up confidence. Then, lots of repetition will help you acquire more confidence and the technical skills required to deal with the ball and with the space created. It can help them a lot to have time and space to make better decisions. This helps the players and the team feel comfortable.
As a manager you need to adapt to the quality of the team and the players, and adapt drills to fit that mould in terms of complexity. The simple ones can be just controlled passing, or one I use at a higher level is to steer them towards a positional game. That’s the most important thing - the decision making. You need to educate the players to make those decisions in keeping with the intensity of the game. You need to repeat in training what you want to see in the game.
The most important thing is to understand the players, and the players to understand what needs to be done. You need to create a common identity where everyone knows their tasks and that of their team-mates. A lot of it is down to psychology, you need to give them the belief. Imagine if a striker is not scoring goals - you can show them a video of them scoring goals. It’s the same thing. It’s not enough, though - you need repetition on the training pitch, to create the same scenarios in a match. 
It’s not in difficulty that you stop this process, it’s in the difficulties that you can grow. There are lots of elements that can change - for example, a bad pitch. There will only be some areas where you can play, but you can be strategic and use that to your advantage. Don’t build up from the back, but look for another area. You need to keep using the ball as best you can and keep trying, keep pressing. You need to create solutions to problems, create alternatives. There needs to be more responsibility for each player - instead of having one possiblitywhen you get the ball, there needs to be two or three.
DON’T PLAY 4-4-2
For me, 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 is best to be mobile - the only change between the two is the midfield triangle. We rotated between the two a lot at Swansea. You can better cover more areas on the pitch this way. It’s harder for the opposition to press and defend against you, especially when you have good quality - that’s speed in decision making and speed on the ball. These systems offer more lines of play - for example there are four defenders, but they’re not all in one line - the same with the midfield. This gives you more opportunity to control the game.

For more football tips see:
Perfect the possession game
Play the killer pass like Steven Gerrard
Playmaking the Xavi way
Xavi: Master the pass
Play like Spain: Make the killer pass

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