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How To Stop Ronaldo From Scoring

Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Portugal has been elected FIFA’s best player several times. He is a prolific, consistent top goal scorer in the Spanish La Liga and for his Portuguese national team. There always have been prolific goal scorers and there are others besides Ronaldo today – Messi, Lewandowski, Dzeko, to name just a few. But I want to talk about Ronaldo, because he has just accomplished something truly remarkable in the UEFA Champions League.

In the quarter-final he scored five of the six Real Madrid goals against Bayern Munich, both goals in the 2-1 win in Munich and a clean hat trick in the clinching 4-2 OT win in Madrid. He followed this by scoring all three goals in the first semi-final vs. Atletico Madrid. That is eight goals in three games at the very highest level of soccer. While Madrid and Ronaldo supporters are ecstatic about his feat(s), one might ask “How does he do it?”.  Or, “How does the other team let this happen, time and time again?”.

Ronaldo is no secret, his skills are well-known, his danger in front of opposing goals is globally recognized. Ancelotti, coach of Bayern, and Simeone of Atletico are excellent and very intelligent coaches. They have superb defenders on their team. How can they let Ronaldo score this many goals in critical games? As stated earlier, Ronaldo is representative of a host of prolific goal scorers and Bayern and Madrid represent teams  who get scored on by these exceptional players.

I look to the system of play and game strategy for answers to these questions. Today’s soccer relies on zonal defending while until the 1990s defenses mostly employed man marking strategies.

Zonal defending essentially means that defenders are responsible for a certain space on the field and they need to challenge any opponent that enters their space, with or without the ball. As attackers move around the attacking areas they get passed from defender to defender.

Man-marking means that a defender is assigned a specific opponent and when they enter the attacking area they get “marked” by a specific person.

In the days of man-marking there were also prolific goal scorers, Gerd Muller of Germany, Eusebio of Portugal, oele of Brasil, etc. So man-marking wasn’t the answer. In fact zonal defending was developed in the hope to control these exceptional attackers.

I believe it is time to admit that zonal defending has failed from the perspective of stopping the Ronaldos of the world. And that is the crux of the issue – top coaches today have accepted zonal defending as THE GOLD STANDARD and they will not move away from it. I am convinced that within their game preparation against Real, Ancelotti and Simeone had a plan to contain Ronaldo. I am equally convinced that the team bought into the game plan and was certain it would work. But it didn’t.

Should they have man-marked Ronaldo? Perhaps. But before I offer a suggestion, a brief analysis of what makes Ronaldo (and his goal scoring peers) so effective. They are the best at the Seven Speeds of Soccer, their reading of the game, anticipation and perception speeds, decision-making speeds, movement speeds, and game action speeds are superb. They show up in the spaces between the zonal defenders at the right time ready to strike. Look at the space Ronaldo had for his third goal against Atletico – incredible. It’s not because the defenders were bad, it’s because Ronaldo is that good.


What is required, in my opinion, is a rethinking on how to defend against these exceptional players. I suggest a mixed zonal/man-marking approach.  Play zonal defense everywhere except within 20 m of your own goal. As soon as Ronaldo (and his peers) come within 20 m of the goal, assign one of the defenders as a man-marker, staying tight to the attacker. Have covering defenders in case the “marker” gets beat by one of their trade mark 1v1 moves (check Messi, Robben). As marking and covering defenders are consumed, fill in the zones they are vacating with retreating midfielders. And always be goal side to block the shot.

Coaching pride might prevent such a strategy, but what is better – Munich and Atletico playing a conservative defensive game and advance, or sticking to their system and get eliminated?

On systems of play and how to adjust read our book Systems of Play



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Meaning Of Soccer Jersey Numbers

Red uniformed player kicking a corner penalty kick.


I hear TV announcers talking about a player being in the number 8 position, but on the back of the jersey he has number 23. What does that number position refer to?


Soccer numbers were originally created to identify certain positions in a tactical formation. The player holding that position was assigned the corresponding jersey with the correct number. There were no player names on jerseys so it was fairly simple. Also, with 11 players on the field, numbers went from 1 – 11, substitutes started at number 12. Considering a very traditional 4-3-3 system, a formation looked like this.

Old Line Up

1-Goalkeeper, 2-Right Defender, 3-Left Defender, 4-Stopper, 5- Sweeper/Libero, 6-Right Midfielder, 8-Left Midfielder, 10-Center Midfielder/Play-maker, 9-Center Forward/Striker. Midfielders 6/8 had more defensive roles.

So over time numbers got associated with certain key roles AND players. For the most part, goalkeepers have remained #1, I think to indicate who is the number 1 goalie on the team. Numbers 6 and 8 have remained to indicate more buy steroids australia defensive or holding midfield roles. Number 10 remains the play-maker, witness Messi. Number 9 remains the striker or key goalscorer. So if we look at the common 4-2-3-1 formation, this is how it plays out today:

 New #

Numbers 6 and 8 are used to describe holding midfielder positions, regardless what number is on the back of a player’s shirt. So when an announcer says Xabi Alonso is playing the number 8 position, then he is in a holding midfield role, even if the back avanafil of his jersey has # 3 on it. Number 10 is still the offensive play-maker role, the creator of scoring opportunities. Number 9 is the lone central striker role.

So hopefully the next time someone says player X is in the number 10 role, you know what the job of that player is, regardless of the number on his back.


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Soccer Referees

Most soccer clubs and organizations have a code of conduct, or code of sportsmanship. All of these ask coaches, players, parents, spectators, club officials to respect the game officials, the referees and their assistants. Yet without fail we can observe every day how those involved in the game disrespect the referees. Why is that and what can we do instead?

cardsLet us first review the role of the referee. In it’s simplest terms, the role of the referee is to ensure that the game is played respecting the laws of the game, whether they be FIFA Laws or local adaptations of them. Where players, coaches, or spectators violate the rules, the referee can hand out penalties to keep the game fair. That’s it. Regardless of whether we have a child refereeing a game of even younger children, an adult call a competitive amateur game, or a professional referee manage a professional game, the job is the same.

People become referees for various reasons, but they all start at basic levels. Just like players progress through their own training and development with some reaching professional levels, so referees progress through training and qualifications to become professionals. Referees are no different than the athletes or coaches – they can make mistakes. And just like a player missing an open net, a coach making a grave tactical error, a referee’s mistake can decide the outcome of the game. So why do we tend to be harder on referees? Because the referee is easily identifiable and they are in the minority when compared to coaching staff, teams, or spectators. It’s a bit of preying on the weak mentality.

At this point I want to leave the professional arena and focus on amateur soccer.

Within amateur soccer we have paid game officials and we have volunteers. For paid referees who have invested time to earn qualifications it is an opportunity for some extra income. These referees are typically adults or very confident young adults. They know how to deal with disrespect and can manage the game. In my experience as player and coach I found arguing with a referee during a game rather unproductive. They don’t change their mind and subconsciously they may resent your or your team’s theatrics and make the next 50/50 call against you. The most effective way to deal with situations at this level is to ask the referee at half time if they would take some time to explain a call or explain a rule. In most cases their explanation makes sense and the issue goes away. And sometimes they are made aware of something they miss and this allows them to correct it in the second half. I always instructed my players and our team’s fans to leave any challenge of the referee to me, the coach.

Let’s discuss youth/children’s soccer when referees are other children. They typically volunteer to referee because they like it and want to be referees, or because they get some sort of educational credit for community service. They likely have sat through a seminar or two where someone explained the rules used by the club. Good clubs will post these rules for all to see on their web site. These young referees have little experience and are often nervous during the games. This makes them the most likely candidates to make mistakes. They are also the ones most affected by public criticism. And yet, on every game day in every league we see coaches and parents scream and yell at these young volunteers for making mistakes. How despicable. Imagine if coaches (and some do) and parents screamed at YOUR child every time they miss an easy pass or goal? These young referees are someone else’s child. They need more respect to build their confidence and more help in their development. I advocate that it is the coach’s responsibility to set the conduct expectations with the parents, the team and themselves, and follow them. Let everyone know that you, the coach, will deal with any refereeing concerns with the aim of helping. The best way to do this is to quietly ask the referee a question at half time, or point out a rule they may have missed. Or after the game. Approach them with a smile and thank them for being there.  It is also good if you let the club know that some referees are making some wrong calls. Quite often it leads to a mid season review of the rules with these young referees, leading to a better experience for all during the remaining games.

It is always right to be kind, it is never right to yell at a child.

Coach Tom



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Soccer Nutrition Guidelines

Proper nutrition is a key part of a optimizing a player’s performance.  Listed below are recommendations to help one choose foods that will increase the comfort and energy level of youth and adult athletes.


It is recommended that a dinner\supper the day before the game/tournament be that of a complex carbohydrate one (for a list of CC’s see below).  This will provide the muscles with glycogen which is released through physical activity and helps in endurance due to a steady release/supply of energy


The day of the game, it is recommended to eat a hearty breakfast consisting of oatmeal, fruits, whole wheat breads, pancakes (easy on the syrup) at least 1 1/2 – 2 hours prior to the game for a morning game. Otherwise have the breakfast at your usual time.

Eat a light snack consisting of carbohydrates (fruit, pasta) about 1-1/2 hours prior to the practice/game.  This will enable quick digestion, energy release to working muscles and will help in avoiding cramps.

Large/heavy meals before a practice/game will result in:

  • not being able to run at full capacity
  • tiredness/weighed down
  • cramps and irritability
  • possible vomiting
  • and not being able to keep up

No chocolate bars, chips or ice cream. These will weigh down the athlete and not provide a boost of energy,

If games/practices are scheduled around mealtime, only have a small snack/energy bar on the way to the event. It is better to play on a slightly empty stomach and have a regular meal after the event.


As the body needs to replenish lost fluid, it is recommended that water, fruit juices (not drinks or beverages) or a combination of both be used.  Water goes directly to the working muscles and quenches thirst.  Electrolytic drinks are ok during hot days and intense practices/games.

Eating between games is always tricky but not impossible.  Try to stay away from chocolate, chips, meat sandwiches etc. as they require the body to work extremely hard in order to digest and makes one very thirsty.  Foods that are easily digestible (fruits, cheese/peanut butter sandwiches) will provide muscles with a steady supply of energy.

(Short time between games, cut back to fruit, half a sandwich)


Plenty of fluids (water, fruit juices) to replenish the body and a good hearty meal of whatever the player wishes ( the only exception is if the team makes it to a second day of play then you repeat the above recommendations).

Coach Tom


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Soccer Game Management – Playing Time

competeManaging playing time can be a major challenge for the soccer coach, regardless of the level of competition.

Competitive Soccer

In a competitive environment the coach must put the best team on the field at all times. Regardless of the substitution rules, three (FIFA) or unlimited, playing time is determined by what is best for the team. This might mean that some players may not get to play at all in a game, or in the entire season. The challenge this presents is motivation of those who play very little, and in the case of youth soccer, managing parents’ expectations (they put money and time into their child playing). The proper way to manage this is to be clear about your playing time policy before the season starts, or better yet, before players commit to be on the team. But also have a plan to motivate those who won’t play much. These players are vital in practice to provide decent challenges to the starters when running your drills. They must be fit, skilled, and energetic. They should always have the goal of making the starting line-up. And during the game, they need to cheer on the team. They can assume important responsibilities such as keeping stats on players, observing the opponent, and finding opportunities. The entire season is a team effort and playing time should never be a player’s sole measure of success.

Non-Competitive Soccer

Typically in recreational (grass roots or house league) soccer, clubs have some policy regarding playing time. Most common is equal playing time followed by playing at least half the game. The challenge here is the actual game management. We recommend to develop a schedule for the game that has everyone playing according to club policy. The problem comes when the players you thought would show up for the game don’t. This throws your carefully prepared schedule out the window. Here is a method that we use:

  • calculate the number of “shifts” each player should play. For example you play 8-a-side in a 60 minute game. You plan to substitute every 10 minutes. This gives you six “shifts” of 10 minutes * 8 players/shift or 48 playing slots.
  • Divide the number of slots by the number of players you expect for the game. Let’s say you expect 12 players to show. Each player should play 48/12 or four shifts. If you had 13 players then the best distribution would be 9 players with 4 shifts (36) and 4 players with 3 shifts (12).
  • The above works if you are rotating goalkeepers throughout the game. If you have a permanent goalie then the math changes. You now have 42 outplaying slots and you divide these by the number of players available.
  • You might want to develop a few charts to bring to the game based on having less players than planned (what if scenarios)
  • If you have an assistant coach, one of you can manage substitutions, otherwise you have to manage the game and the subs.

Once again, manage the expectations of the parents. Explain the club’s playing time rules and your strategies of implementing them. State that while equal time each game may be difficult (discuss shift “math”), over the entire season it will even out. If players miss games, they don’t get extra time the next game, it wouldn’t be fair to those who always show. And offer the parents to keep track of their child’s playing time and advise you if they see an issue.

All of this effort is worth it – one of the biggest issues parents will raise is playing time. So be proactive.

Coach Tom