Football is constantly evolving but the inspiration for these ideas that change the sport still remains relatively unknown. This article will provide insight into where these ideas come from and how the tactical frameworks of other competitive team sports, such as basketball and cricket, are actually exemplified within football.
As a sport and culture, basketball has been very important to the tactical innovation of football in numerous ways, as shown by Pep Guardiola even having tactical discussions with Bayern Munich’s basketball coach and I will be illustrating some recent examples where this is evident. The first example is the ‘screen’. Now in basketball, a screen is an action where one player puts his body into an opposition player to free up the ball-handler.
We can see here how the screener was able to free the ball handler from the opposition player by legally blocking his path. In basketball, this is a very common tactic but in football, this is not as common and can actually be used as a very astute and streetwise action. Football is a fine game decided by any margin and tactics such as these can help to swing the game in your favour, which is demonstrated by the image below.
This is an image from Arsenal vs. Brentford in February 2023 where Brentford have a free-kick and as we can clearly see, they have 2 players blocking Arsenal’s defenders in a ‘screen’ type motion. The screen allowed Ivan Toney to be free at the back post, who eventually scored from the set-piece. This is clear evidence of football evolving using inspiration from other sports. The intention of the screen remains the same as in basketball; to free up the ball-handler/potential ball-handler by using your body to block.
Brentford are one of the best set-piece teams in the league, with the use of screens allowing them to physically impose themselves on weaker sides, but the tactical similarities with basketball do not end there. The next concept that is identical in football and basketball is known as ‘dribble penetration’ in basketball. This refers to the ball player who drives into the heart of the defence and then finds the open player, as a result of the opponents over-focusing on the playmaker.
As we can see here, James Harden is able to use his elite dribbling skills in order to pull in the defence to overcommit onto him, which then leaves two open players with an easy lay-up attempt. This is dribble penetration as he attacks the heart of the defence and then kicks out to whoever is free, and this is clearly replicated in football as well.
This image represents the ball handler, Jack Grealish, driving into the core of the defence with 4 players all fixated on him, which leaves them vulnerable at the back. The end result of this leaves Grealish able to play a simple pass to open man #1 (Ollie Watkins) in between the 2 defenders, who was then able to convert his chance. This all came from the ball-handler’s ability to drive right at the defence and then pass to whoever was open, which is a clear indication of similarity and evolution from basketball.
The similarities with other sports do not end with basketball and are very evident in another team sport — cricket. Cricket is one of the most popular team sports in the world and there are clear tactics that align with football when they want to put pressure on opponents. As I stated, the main shared concept to look for between football and cricket is the similarity of tactics used when wanting to put pressure on the opposition.
In this image, we can clearly see how there are several catchers all around their batsman in order to pounce on any mistake that they can make in order to give their team a substantial advantage. In cricket, the fielders (catchers) are able to be spread out anywhere but putting them close to the batsman means that any mistimed shots will most likely be caught and this creates added pressure onto the batsman which gives the upper hand to the fielding team. This is also replicated in many footballing situations, where the team goes to press and box in an opponent with the aim of winning the ball back and converting.
As seen here, Liverpool pushed very high up the pitch to try and squeeze Brighton whilst positioning players in a narrow set-up to stop them from playing into the middle of the pitch. Just like in cricket, having players in an active position around the opponent with the ball creates added pressure which can often lead to mistakes.
A heavy touch by the Brighton midfielder leads to Naby Keita being able to steal the ball away from them which then leads to Mohamed Salah being able to open the scoring. This passage of play is very similar to cricket as being able to swarm the opponent leads to an uncharacteristic mistake being made, which therefore puts the team into the ascendency.
Despite what many might see, there are clear patterns of similarity between the top level of competitive sports through shared tactics and actions. The evolution of any sport is normally viewed as something that has never been seen before as a completely new idea but this is wrong; it is a previous package wrapped in something different whilst being presented to a new audience.
By: @DahaJama12 / Tiktok – Starz01 / Email – Dahajama1@outlook.com
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Mike Hewitt / Getty Images