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Ten Traits of Technically Gifted Players

Have you ever noticed how Arsenal and Barcelona have so many technically gifted players? I've been part of many conversations in which a comment like, "He's an Arsenal-type player" has been used. This led me to ask, What are the traits of these technical players, and how can we produce this kind of player in our youth development schemes?

Commentators often remark upon how Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger produces/recruits “clone”-like players. These players make up the core of the club’s playing philosophy. Some of the players in question are Fabregas, Ramsey, Wilshire, Rosicky, Arshavin, Nasri and Van Persie. Even the likes of Vermarlen, who plays as a centre back could be included in your thoughts, could be a composed, ball-playing central midfielder, as evidenced in how he carries the ball out from the defensive third and overloads the midfield and attack.

Many of the world’s best teams have been included in my thoughts on this matter, with Spain definitely showing a DNA in their philosophy and type of player winning the European Championship in 2008.

Barcelona are the perfect example with players like Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pique, Pedro, Bojan, Busquets not only presenting the club’s DNA currently, but also previously as graduates of the club’s Youth program — it really is “in their blood.”

I have come up with 10 defined traits on these technically gifted players, which are as follows:

  1. Ability to play in the future, a vision to know what to perform before execution.
    Do players know how to look? What to look for? Can they make decisions upon their next action depending on vision?
  2. Preparing self to receive ABC's:
  3. A — Angle, being available to receive
    B — Body Shape never square, but open to the pitch
    C — Check over shoulder before receiving, creating vision
  4. Mastery of passing details.
    Including the height of the pass, the weight (speed) of the pass, the line (direction) of the pass and the spin of the pass.
  5. Has a whole range of passes.
    Can make any pass, with either foot, on any surface, over any distance at any time!
  6. Plays with disguise.
    Hides his intentions by: playing with little to no back lift, not giving clues with his eyes or body shape, and executing look-away passes.
  7. Has a forward-thinking mentality.
    If playing backwards or square, will predominantly do so on one- or two-touch. Player is always looking for best passing opportunity, often through defenders.
  8. Masters communication in a chaotic environment.
    Use of hand signals to show preferred receiving positions and an indication of movement.
  9. Playing in tight areas, have the ability to 'hide' the ball from the opponents.
    Use their body to screen and protect the ball, waiting for the correct moment to free the ball. Can play late and clever in tight situations.
  10. Individualism, players with the ability to recognize the space to beat an opponent with a trick or feint and have the explosive pace to get away from them.
    Also, the ability to travel with the ball into and through space. Sometimes forwards, to break defensive lines and create overloads or finishing opportunities; sometimes diagonally, across space to move defenders and create new space to exploit; and even sometimes backwards, out of tight positions with the ball to keep possession or move defenders.
  11. First-touch move; players with the ability to have a shifting or moving first touch.
    Often the first touch moves the ball away from pressure and either breaks a defensive line or opens up a passing channel previously shut off. First touches with deceit, disguise and deception.

Now that we have an understanding of these traits, how can this impact upon how we coach our young players? How does it affect our elite-player recruitment process? How many of these traits can be taught, and how many are an innate gift?

We all sat back and admired the Champions League quarterfinal this year between Arsenal and Barcelona (which was billed as art), in which Barcelona came out on top, 6-3. Yet, why do so many coaches fail to encourage their young players to play this way?

Thanks for reading, and I hope you found this thought-provoking.

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