If you had the choice of anyone in the world to teach you to play 5-a-side football, who would it be? How about Arsene Wenger, he man whose teams make 11-a-side look like the small-sided game?
“To excel at five-a-side you need the same qualities it takes to be a good footballer," Wenger tells FourFourTwo Performance. "The only skill that isn’t necessary is the ability to play the ball long or in the air.
More after the break
"You must have speed, skill, an eye for goal, the ability to pass, vision and above all the intelligence to put all these aspects into practice.
“Five-a-side confronts the player with constant decision-making. When you receive the ball, you are faced with dozens of options. Your brain acts like a computer: it realises it has been faced with this situation before and tries to come up with the right answer – the right pass or right shot. In five-a-side, you are faced with many of these situations, and that is why you improve so much when you play.”
“In five-a-side you must react quicker to things, you have to understand what is happening around you. Speed is linked with your brain. Your body must transfer your brain’s decisions into actions and so speed of thought comes into play too. How quickly can you transform those messages and respond physically to them? You improve by playing. If you train for a marathon, you will be in good shape but if you came to play five-a-side, you struggle because it’s about short bursts of pace. Keep playing and that will come to you. It’s all about working on your reactions.”
2. Ball skills
“How good is the quality of your touch? This can be decided from a young age, maybe as young as 12. At that age you can tell if a player is technically gifted or if they will be average for their whole life. Don’t worry though, if you are average, you can still improve. By practising and playing you learn to use the ability you have in the most intelligent way. This can be learnt far easier and to greater effect by playing five-a-side.”
3. An eye for goal
“Again, this can be learnt from playing and practising. Scoring is often about how much you want to score. How much does it mean to you? Take time to work on your shooting. Aim for the corners, the side netting, and your goal-scoring record will improve.”
4. Passing ability
“In five-a-side you don’t have much time. You must be confident in making one-touch passes. Again intelligence is the key. Sorry to keep bringing it up but for me, in life, whatever you do, it is better that you use your intelligence. In football it is important that, as a player, you can find an adapted response to the situation you face. If you have that, you are on the right tracks. Five-a-side develops the speed in which you find these responses and that makes you a better passer and, in turn, a better player.”
“This is ignored too much. The top players all know what they are going to do before they get the ball. Get a feel for having the ball at your feet while keeping your head up and your team will reap the benefits.
“As you will have gathered, I see five-a-side as vital to coaching professionals. You may think some players who I’ve worked with might not be so keen on small-sided games. Where will it get them on the Saturday if it has no relevance to their usual game?
“People like Martin Keown, Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira, even Glenn Hoddle, who was such a great long passer, these guys might not have the attributes necessary to five-a-side. But great players love to work and be competitive, no matter what you ask of them. Tony Adams was a fine defender, but he also liked to play. He wanted to win whenever you put him against others and by playing five-a-side, he had an opportunity to beat others. That was very appealing to his nature.
“What attracts every player of every level is the pleasure of playing the game. By playing five-a-side you are tapping into the roots of why they played in the first place. One day, as a kid, you played with your friends, you kicked a ball about and wow, you enjoyed it and couldn’t wait to play again. By making a professional play five-a-side you can take him back to that original joy, you can make him play with a smile on his face and that heightens his performance.”