It does seem counter-productive to move the ball backwards so much. I admit, even having played football in my younger days and having spent many more happy hours watching it, that at times, I share the annoyance.
However, There are good reasons why teams/players pass the ball backwards so much and it’s worthwhile to explore them because they touch on some of the core principles of football.
The first reason why teams pass the ball backwards so much is because it helps them keep the ball longer and having the ball is much less tiring than chasing the ball.
Fatigue is an important element of football. The game is one and a half times to twice as long as some other team sports. Football is also much more restrictive when it comes to substitutions than some other sports. In competitive football, Being fitter than the other team is a big advantage and possession of the ball for a majority of the time is a big tactical advantage when it comes to fatigue.
The team with the ball moves as it wishes, offering a chance for some to catch their breath while others make short, sprinting runs up field. The team without possession is forced to chase, not just the ball, but player with the ball, and anyone else who is running around the pitch.
As the team with the ball moves forward towards the goal they are trying to score in, they meet increasingly more resistance from a higher concentration of defenders. This increases the chances that they will lose the possession and have to transition to more tiring defensive behavior. If, on the other hand, they pass the ball backwards, they’re less likely to lose the ball and they can continue tiring their opponents. Advantage team with the ball, advantage passing backwards.
Of all the major team sports, football is the hardest sport to score in. There are four key factors in this:
- Firstly, the most dextrous limbs at your disposal, your arms are taken away. No using your hands or arms.
- Then they put a ball on the field that, if you kick it hard enough, bends and dips in all sorts of fairly unpredictable ways.
- Controlling this ball without using your hands means that your top speed with the ball is way slower than a defender who can run without the ball.
- Finally, football allows just one player, the keeper, who is there with the sole purpose of preventing you from scoring, to use his hands.
All of these offensive disadvantages are magnified when operating in a space with a higher density of defenders. The precision a player needs to hold on to the ball, pass it to a teammate, or get a reasonable shot on goal increases seemingly exponentially when surrounded by two, three, or four defenders. Players know this. They know that they have a much better chance of scoring if they can do it against a sparse collection of defenders. One way to do this is to allow the opponents to have the ball and attack. Then, try to dispossess them and quickly transition to attack before their players can run back to defend. That’s a risky proposition! Passing the ball backwards is a safer, if slightly less effective way of achieving the same effect. By moving the ball back towards your own net, you tempt the opposition to follow you, stretching their position and decreasing their ability to completely surround and stymie your forwards.
You often hear commentators or fans talking about a team’s “shape.” It would be easy to dismiss this but it would be a mistake. The metaphor of shape is incredibly useful when watching football. It’s so difficult to translate the positions and actions of 22 players in constant motion into meaningful tactics. If you think about each team as having its own shape, with edges defined by the outermost players to the front, back, and sides of the field, then understanding what a team is trying to do becomes easier. When a team’s shape is compact, it’s very tough to cut through and score. When a team’s shape gets stretched out, it’s much easier. When the team with the ball passes it backwards, they’re trying to stretch their opponents shape until it becomes thin enough to poke through with a few passes ending in a goal.
So there you have it, basically Adam Clayton, et al, are just being creative in a different way – Its part of the game.