Soccer Player Development

A Historical Review of Soccer Tactics

Great Historical Narrative. Shortsighted Prognostication

In their YouTube video WHY the development of football tactics is over the folks at DW Kick Off give a beautifully detailed chronology of the evolution of team tactics, starting with the first international soccer game ever in 1872 – where England used the 1-1-8 formation versus Scotland’s 2-2-6 formation. Game score was 0-0.

Image of 1-1-8v2-2-6 formation

They go on to breakdown each of the dominant formations as soccer tactics evolved from

  • Extreme offensive pressing and counter-pressing to
  • Emphasis on ball possession and circulation to
  • Extremely defensive tactics to
  • A combination of the old tactics, requiring every team to master every tactic and then seek refinements in their application

Watch the video below. Then read on afterwards to see the highlights described on a timeline and complemented with tactically-centered reference videos that explain how each tactic revolutionized soccer and show how the tactics are applied to perfection.

Chronology of Historical Revolutions in Soccer

From 1872 to the 1960s we see the dominance of extreme offensive tactics. The chronology goes as follows:

  • A few years after 1872: England adopts the Pyramid or 2-3-5 formation
  • 1930s: Arsenal dominates with the WM or 3-2-2-3 formation
  • 1930s – 1953: Pyramid and WM are the norm for 1st few world cups
  • 1953: Hungary moves the center forward back on its 2-3-5 formation. Thus transforming the Pyramid, 2-3-5, to a 2-3-1-4; creating the first false 9 position, and beating England 6-3 in the process.

In the 60s we see extreme defensive tactics take center stage.

  • 1960s: First introduced by Karl Rappan in the 1930s, Catenaccio didn’t gain traction until the Italians reintroduced it. Catenaccio (aka The Chain), which means “door-bolt” in Italian, is zone defense that, when executed properly, can put as many as five defenders on the offensive player receiving the ball at the same time. Inter Milan dominated the sixties with this tactic. See the best explanation of Catenaccio in the video below.
Although described as a defensive tactic this video clarifies how Catenaccio was much more than that.
  • 1970s: Say hello to Total Futbol or the 4-3-3 formation. Each player can play any position, but the formation must be maintained by the team at all times. It is used by Holland most consistently and effectively. Watch Holland in action using the Total Football tactic in the video below..
  • 1980s: The 4-3-3 formation is complemented with Ugly Defensive Football which puts emphasis on heavy man to man coverage of all play makers. Used most successfully by Germany and Argetina.

  • Late 80s – Present: Arrigo Sacchi (aka The 4-4-2), named after the famous AC Milan coach, introduces a flat back 4 and uses an aggressive offside trap, while keeping the distances between the three lines compact. This tactic went contrary to what most Italian clubs were using at the time, Catenaccio. More focused on offense than defense, this tactic places heavy emphasis on ball possession. Hence, the need for keeping the space between the lines compact. This tactic revolutionized Italian soccer. For most clubs, it’s still the standard today.

What’s Happening Right Now Right Now?

What we are seeing today is investment in tactical refinements. Pepe Guardiola has led a mini-revolution refining the Tiki-Taka. This possession based offensive tactic looks like a 2-3-5 with a false 9 that creates a tremendous number of short passing lanes. Call it the extreme version of theTiki-Taka.

Because the 2-3-5 is a high risk tactic that can leave your defensive line vulnerable to counter-attack, it can only win championships if you possess the most elite of fullbacks capable of closing long defensive gaps quickly. Hence the rise of the expensive super-back.

The long ball, with an emphasis on cross-field diagonal passes, has made a comeback as well.

Another blast from the past is La Pausa. Used masterfully by Pele in the 60s, and part of Messi’s bag of tricks today, a highly skilled and quick dribbler will stop his sprint mid-stream. This causes the defender to make a split-second stop long enough to have to reset and re-guess what the offensive player’s next move.

Last, we have the stopped ball plays. If you’re as old as I am, you’ve noticed that corner kicks and free kicks have become scientific and artistic beyond anything you could have envisioned 20 years ago. They are beautiful and accurate, and each one matters, as many critical games in recent history have been decided by dead ball plays. This is not by accident. It is yet another example of teams searching for any refinement they can make to gain the upper hand over a competitor. Watch NTX’s 50 Insane Free Kicks in Football 2019 below.

Outside of tactical refinements of already existing tactics, there’s not much left to discover. This is where the story ends for the DW Kick Off writers. However, it doesn’t end there for the soccer world. A new hero is born – the goalie.

A New Real Technical Tactical Revolution is Emerging

How do you add another offensive player to your team? Involve the goalie!!

At first I thought this article from THE18 was a gag article, but it isn’t. It breaks down the way Manuel Neuer, superstar goalie from Bayern Munich, made the difference in their Champions League game victory over Tottenham. And so the wingback keeper position is born. Click the image below to learn more about what he did in the game, and drafts the template for the next revolution in soccer tactics.

The soccer world still has new tricks up its sleeve, and there is yet more room for this beautiful game to grow. Thank goodness!!!

Article on Manuel Neuer’s, a goalie, new role

What’s Next in The Evolution of Soccer Tactics?

This concludes A Historical Review of Soccer Tactics. All of the videos featured in this article can be found on my growing YouTube playlist, Soccer Wisdom. The YouTube Embed below gives you access to that playlist.

Thank you to the folks at DW Kick Off! for providing the inspiration that pushed me to learn more and more about the history of the revolutions that have changed the game forever.

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Soccer Player Development

The Future of Soccer in the U.S.

The future of soccer in the U.S. is looking good – especially for women’s soccer. Soccer fandom continues to grow, and it appears that Hispanic women are the human engine pushing soccer’s growth. Read more below.

Soccer Life Lesson Image
Before I proceed with this week’s story, I want to invite you to also read last week’s article where I critique US Youth Soccer’s lackluster explanation to parents about the life lessons our youth gain from playing soccer. What you are about to read below is a follow-up to that critique. THIS is how you write about soccer! Ole!!!

Stats About the Overall State of Soccer in the US

Soccer is more popular than ever and growing.

  • As of May 2015, over 24.4 million people play soccer in the United States. Reported by Wikipedia
  • In 2017, Gallup reported that soccer was the third-most played team sport in the U.S., behind only basketball and American football. Reported by Wikipedia  
  • According to the study findings reported in this article by Telemundo, close to 1 in every 4 Hispanics consider themselves die-hard fans.

One in Every Four is No Small Potatoes

Remember, there are close to 60,000,000 Hispanics living in the U.S. All of a sudden 1 in every 4 doesn’t sound so bad, does it? That’s close to 15,000,000 die-hard fans. We’re talking about those folks who can’t be disturbed for at least two hours, until “the big game” is over.

Then there’s the millions of regular fans who love the sport, but aren’t ready to devote all their free time to it. Bring the die-hard and regular soccer fans together, and we have a some serious fandom.

A view of the fans of the Womens World Cup soccer team ticker tape parade in New York City

Stats About the State of Women’s Soccer in the U.S.

Telemendo June 10, 2019 Soccer Article


  • 58% of soccer fans say they are fans of women’s soccer
  • Fanhood for women’s soccer is strong among Hispanic women, with 54% saying they are fans
  • 62% of Hispanic female soccer fans hope to share their passion for soccer with their children
  • 40% of Hispanics and 24% of non-Hispanics feel that their interest in women’s soccer has grown over the past five years.
  • Half of Hispanics and one-third of non-Hispanics (51% and 35%, respectively) feel that in the next five years, the FIFA Women’s World Cup will be equally as popular as the Men’s FIFA World Cup.
  • Half of Hispanics and close to one third of Non-Hispanic (51% and 31%, respectively) feel that men and women soccer games are equally entertaining
  • 51% of Hispanics and 27% of non-Hispanics would like to see more women’s soccer coverage on television.

A Bright Future for Soccer Means a Bright Future for Those in the Soccer Business

I never thought I’d live to see soccer beat any of the original top three American sports in popularity. Now it stands at number three. Clearly, the rapid growth of the Hispanic demographic in the past 20 years has had an impact on soccer’s popularity.

Hispanic Pop by 2060

The projected Hispanic population of the United States for July 1, 2060 is 111.2 million people, or about 28% of the nation’s total projected population on that date. That’s growth by a factor of nearly 90% – almost double the population of Hispanics today.

All trends in soccer’s popularity remaining equal, if the number of Hispanics living in the U.S. nearly doubles what it is today by the year 2060, then we can assume that the same will happen for soccer’s popularity, if not better. That’s good news for the hundreds of thousands of soccer coaches who have carried the torch for soccer – with low to no compensation, and in most cases having to come out of pocket to cover costs.

In Our Next Article

Maybe It’s Time To Start Showing the Grass Roots Coaches Some Love

For decades grass roots soccer coaches across the country have been working for free, or close to it, treating their craft like a full-time job. Some even making full-time soccer coaching their career – figuring out how to pay the bills along the way, but always staying true to the promotion of soccer.

I know two of those coaches. Their names are Coach Beto and Mario Sanchez. Check out their stories. They’re truly extraordinary individuals who embody the behaviors of world-class soccer coaches.

There’s a Lot of Big Games to Watch If You Like International Soccer

How big is professional soccer? Six confederations, dozens of leagues within each, with dozens of teams within each league, and dozens of players on each team.

There are 265,000,000 soccer players world-wide. That’s almost the size of the entire U.S. population.

Soccer is Huge!!!

Personal Development Soccer Player Development

US Youth Soccer’s Life Lesson Checklist Needs Some Backbone

Youth Soccer Life Lessons Article Image

In this post we review US Youth Soccer’s article entitled, “Soccer Teaches Many Lessons On and Off the Field.” My overall critique is that US Youth Soccer’s life lesson checklist needs some backbone. This is why?

A Hopeful List of Life Lessons Taught By Soccer

The purpose of my critique is to tell US Youth Soccer that it must at least sound more confident when it communicates the benefits of playing soccer. How they articulated these benefits in this article is an embarrassment.

More importantly, US Youth Soccer missed a real opportunity to establish itself as a legitimate leader in this beautiful sport by asserting its expectations for the adults that participate in the sport of soccer. Personally, I would have spelled out for the adults the behaviors they must model and teach in order for soccer to successfully teach these life lessons.

What’s Wrong With This Article?

This article does neither of the things suggested above. It sets no expectation and it lacks confidence in what soccer can do for our youth. Moreover, the description of the Life Lessons it lists fails to distinguish what is uniquely special about soccer that enables teaching them.


Worst of all, it absolves the adults which participate in youth soccer of any responsibility or accountability. Come on US Youth Soccer. Soccer doesn’t teach life lessons. Adults do!

What Do You Mean “We Hope?”

The article provides a checklist of eight life lessons that soccer can teach its youth players. It introduces this list to the reader as follows. “Here’s a checklist for life lessons we hope your athlete has learned or will learn through their youth sports experience.”


This is what I envision when I think of paid professionals and leaders operating off of hope. Leaders are expected to do more than hope. Leaders lead by example.

“We hope??? We hope???” What kind of a leader in any field, industry, sport, nation, or business sells the benefits and advantages of their product with a statement of hope. How would you react if your child’s doctor said this right before beginning surgery? “I hope I can save your child’s life? Let’s keep our fingers crossed.” Not too reassuring is it?

What Does Hope Look Like In Soccer?


In youth soccer, to hope is to throw a ball and eleven untrained and unfamiliar individuals onto a soccer field to play against a well-trained, highly disciplined elite soccer club respected for its sportsmanship and winning streak, and expect that your team doesn’t get clobbered so bad.

There Is No Reward for Hopeful Soccer Leadership


The first item in the Life Lesson Checklist is Practice Makes…Better: It’s not about being perfect. It’s about getting better and improving. One of the life lessons we hope our children learn through sports is that their effort will be rewarded.

I know what this looks like from personal experience. Last year my 12-year old played on her school’s soccer team. They had three practices all season. They were dominated, sometimes creamed to the point of disillusion, in nearly every game. In the one game the team held its ground the coach’s end of game pep talk began with, “Well, that’s the best loss we’ve had this year. I’m really proud of you.” What??? This is a coach who operated from a place of hope. Do you think these girls felt rewarded?

US Youth Soccer, don’t hope. Lead. Set a standard. Establish an expectation. Make it a requirement for public school and grass root soccer coaches to conduct thoughtful and frequent practices prior to and during the season, and develop their players. And then, enforce the standard.

What Is The Life Lesson When We Hope Both Teams Play Fairly?


Parents, coaches, players, how many of you have experienced near uncontrollable rage when you or your player/child was the kid in the green shirt? How many of you recall wondering why the referee or the opposing coach, did nothing to enlighten the kid in the red shirt about playing with dignity?

Another item on the Life Lesson Checklist is Win and Lose with Dignity: It’s called “Honoring the Game” in sports. And we hope our young athletes learn to both win and lose while respecting themselves, their teammates, their opponents and the officials and organization that help make their sport experience possible.”

There’s that word hope again. This is what I hope. I hope US Youth Soccer realizes there are many wrong life lessons being taught by the adults who participate in it, either deliberately or through their inaction. Both are equally as guilty.


US Youth Soccer, demand that adults who participate in the game of soccer teach the right life lessons. Lead by example. Model, enforce, and support the behavior. If not, we’ll have more of what you see in this image.

In Conclusion

There is no hope for soccer if we hope our youth learn life lessons through osmosis. Hope is a word used by those unprepared or out of their league. This article was written by someone who’s in the wrong league altogether.

The argument that soccer teaches life lessons is correct, but advocates of soccer must be able to make an argument that highlights the specific life lessons that can only be taught within the game of soccer alone.

Examples of Life Lessons That Can Only Be Taught By the Soccer Community

Stay tuned for our next article, where we share with you the life lessons that can only be taught by the soccer community.

CTDDS YouTube Channel Soccer Section

In the meantime, we invite you to visit the CTD Development Services Inc YouTube Channel. We’ve built a section just for the soccer community.

Select any of the clips below watch some of our clients that are soccer coaches talk about the life lessons they teach through soccer.