BallPossession in Soccer
Socceris a wildly appreciated and loved game in the world. It is a sportthat is played in every country, by all ages. Football, also known assoccer, has a rich history that goes back to the 19th century when itwas officially formalized (Göral 88). Football is a game that hasonly three outcomes a win, a draw, or a loss. Over the years, soccerhas developed significantly into becoming more than a game. Manypeople today depend on it as a source of livelihood. Players, teammanagers, technical staff, medics, commentators, club owners,investors, among others, all depend on soccer. These advancementshave called for more advanced techniques in dealing with soccer, andone of them is technical analysis. The level of competition intoday’s soccer matches has called for immediate and moretechnologically defined analyses. Göral states that it is mandatoryfor a team to include high knowledge statistical techniques to run ateam (88). Conducting match analysis is imperative in ensuring thesuccess of a team. Many coaches use the previous match analysis tocreate a weekly training program to improve on critical issues. Oneof the frequently used statistics is ball possession. It describesthe amount of time a team holds the ball during a football game.Therefore, this review argues that although some researchers, fans,football managers, and football critiques may argue that possessionis the key to team success, ball possession does not guaranteevictory or success in a team but only improves on special teamperformance.
BALLPOSSESSION AND PASSING SUCCESS RATE
Accordingto Göral, ball possession increases passing success by setting arhythm and pace that engages the opponent (88). Göral’s studypresents an analysis of passing success rates among teams withdifferent possession percentages during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.According to the presented results, Germany had the highest ballpossession rates during the 2014 World Cup with a figure of 56.71%(Göral 89). Similarly, the results showed a corresponding value of81.90% of Germany`s ball passing success rates. From the tworepresentations, it is clear that the ability to retain possession islinked to better success in passing the ball. Similarly, the studyreports that top teams in the English Premier League during the2012/2013 season which had high possession rates also exhibited highpassing success rates of 80.8±10.3% (Göral 93). One of the keys toteam success in today’s football world seems to necessitate passingsuccess which is created by sufficient ball possession percentages.
Jones,James & Mellalieu also report the perceived relationship betweenprolonged ball possessions and team success. The authors assert that“scoring goals is the ultimate determinant” of success in afootball team (98). Therefore, gathering from these indications, theability to possess for prolonged periods does not ensure teamsuccess. However, for a team to finally score a goal, a team may haveexperienced longer possession rates. It is widely expected that theteam with the highest possession percentage is more likely to score agoal at any minute. For instance, Jones, James & Mellalieu reporta research which discovered that the higher the possessionpercentages, the higher the chances for that team to enter into theattacking third of their opponent’s side and thus more chances ofscoring a goal (98). Although several pieces of research reveal aconnection between ball possession and team success, most of themhave failed to explain their data collection techniques. Some of theselected teams are chosen without explicit considerations andobjectivity which erodes the authenticity of the data presentations.
Asmentioned earlier, the analyses conducted are sometimes biased toone-off match events with no repeatability observation. Jones, James& Mellalieu discuss a previous research which asserts that ballpossession is the key to scoring goals (101). However, Jones, James &Mellalieu challenge the assertions with scenarios where teams canscore goals with a minimal number of passes (101). Similarly, theauthors question the argument of ball possession versus goal scoring.According to them, the proportion of ball possession to goalopportunities created should be direct. The study conducted by Jones,James & Mellalieu examined ball possessions that lasted more thanthree seconds and found out that teams in the English Premier Leaguewhich had high ball possession rates were more successful (101).However, the study was keen to note that the teams, whethersuccessful or not, were prone to holding the ball for longer whenthey were headed for a loss than a win (102). The explanation behindthis is the situation of a team gaining possession in search of agoal and avoiding defeat. However, Jones, James & Mellalieu pointout the suitable discovery of higher ball possession in a successfulwinning team. These inferences show that ball possession should notbe used as a goal scoring measurement, but how the strategy is usedto prevent the opponents from scoring. The length of ball possessionseems to define success in the English Premier League. However, itmight be attributed to team skills and devised strategies to makingthe team different and more successful.
Afootball team’s success is determined by the skills, confidence,and speed of the players. In other games, opponents can easily learneach other tactics and avoid them accordingly. However, football is agame of surprises which does not contain perfect teams. Coaches andeven players understand that learning the science of soccer isessential for success within their teams. However, it is the abilityof players to fully control the ball against opponents that createthe success in a team (Ajibua 2). In a particular study, Ajibuareports football matches between Nigeria versus Mexico, as well asNigeria versus Japan. The games were meant to show that ballpossession does not necessarily mean team success. In the Nigeria vs.Japan match, Nigeria had a low ball possession rates in both halvesof the game. In the first half, Nigeria had 33.87% while in thesecond half, it had 38.36%. In contrast, Japan had a ball possessionpercentage of 66.13% in the first half while it had 63.79% in thesecond half (Ajibua 3). In the end, Nigeria had an average ballpossession of 36.35 while Japan had 63.79%. However, the significantdifference between the teams’ ball possession rates still gaveNigeria a 2-1 victory.
Anothermatch between Nigeria and Mexico revealed an opposite assumption ofsuccess’ relationship to ball possession. Nigeria had 38.98%possession during the first half of the game, and 41.43% during thesecond half. Conversely, Mexico had 61.02% ball possession during thefirst half, and 59.69% during the second half. However, the matchended in a 1-1 draw (Ajibua 4). The presented results in Ajibua’sstudy depicted that ball possession does not determine victory.Because victory is the representation of success in a team, it is,therefore, correct to say that ball possession does not ascertain thesuccess of a team. Ajibua asserts that it is a team’s philosophyand strategy that makes it successful (5). It is this assimilation ofdifferent tactics that helped Spain win the 2010 World Cup with their“tiki-taka” technique, which means ‘touchy-touch’ (Ajibua 5).These strategies include how defenders and strikers positionthemselves to create balance, depth, high-pressure defense, abilityto restraint delay, indirect and direct attack.
Itis the effectiveness of the ball possession that offers success to afootball team. Kempe et al. assert that it is the ability of a teamto effectively utilize the ball possession by converting it toshots-on-goal (35). One example of a team that effectively utilizesdominant possession is Bayern Munich Football Club. The club has beenable to advance to the Champions League Finals three times in 4 years(Kempe et al. 35). However, a team that uses a different tactic fromthis is Borrusia Dortmund. Borrusia Dortmund prefers a direct playapproach (Kempe et al. 35). A match between the two teams would seemchaotic and difficult to analyze as both have different measurementsof performance. The study by Kempe et al. revealed that BorrussiaDortmund was the only team that exhibited success from using a directplay approach (39). The analysis shows that the team had an effectiveattacking strategy which shows a successful possession. Thedifference between possessed play and direct play is that direct playseeks to use the least number of passes to find a scoring chancewhile possessed play aims to hold the ball while strategizing on anelaborate attack (Kempe et al. 36). All these tactics are utilized byteams to score goals, while at the same time preventing the oppositeside from scoring goals (Kempe et al. 35).
Severalpieces of research have examined the possession strategies ofdifferent football teams. For instance, Lago-Peñas & Dellalexplore the various critical issues that arise from assertions ofball possession and success. According to Lago-Peñas & Dellal,the concept of successful teams and ball possession has failed toshow the reliability of the methods used to gather the data (94).They posit that the determination of success in teams as a factor ofball possessions should aim to include variables such as location,match status, and quality of the opponents. The variables aresignificant in any performance evaluation of a team as they depictthe actual picture of a particular team’s performance. Similar toJones, James & Mellalieu’s inferences, Lago-Peñas & Dellal(98) note that teams tend to gain possession when they are behind onscores and lose possession when they are winning. The team acquires anew mode of play, direct play, which then uses it to create counterattack opportunities. As a result, Lago-Peñas & Dellal’s studyindicate that possession is influenced by situational variables whichare either created by a team or its opponents.
Thisassessment has established the role of ball possession in soccer.Although ball possession is regarded as an indicator of success andvictory, some matches’ results and their consecutive post-matchanalysis have indicated quite the opposite. Several analyzed matches,including Nigeria, vs. Japan, and Nigeria vs. Mexico, haveillustrated that having possession does not necessarily necessitatevictory. In both cases, Nigeria was disadvantaged on ball possessionbut emerged victorious in one match and drew in the other. Notably,it is the teams` employed tactics of attacking, defending, andmid-fielding that ultimately determine the victory and continuingsuccess of a team. Gaining possession in a football match is acrucial aspect as it gives a team the leading role. However, it isthe effectiveness of the ball possession that will offer victory tothe team. Therefore, it is important that technical teams, teammanagers, and players understand the role of ball possession and makestrategic actions in the match.
Ajibua,M. A., and N. Igbokwe. "Ball Possession as a Determinant ofVictory in Soccer."
Göral,Kemal. "Passing Success Percentages and Ball Possession Rates ofSuccessful Teams in 2014 FIFA World Cup." InternationalJournal of Science Culture and Sport (IntJSCS) 3.1(2015): 86-95.
Jones,P. D., Nic James, and Stephen D. Mellalieu. "Possession as aperformance indicator in soccer." InternationalJournal of Performance Analysis in Sport 4.1(2004): 98-102.
Kempe,Matthias, MartinVogelbein, Daniel Memmert, and Stephan Nopp."Possessionvs. direct play: Evaluating tactical behavior in EliteSoccer." InternationalJournal of Sports Science 4.6A(2014): 35-41.
Lago-Peñas,Carlos, and Alexandre Dellal. "Ball possession strategies inelite soccer according to the evolution of the match-score: theinfluence of situational variables." Journalof Human Kinetics 25(2010): 93-100.