Is Speed Everything?

In today’s modern game players are becoming more and more athletic, strong, fast and incredibly fit and energetic.

Which leads me to an important question - is speed everything?

To play at the highest level, all players need to have an outstanding level of technical ability, so good that if we were to go up against players who are benchwarmers, players who we may not necessarily rate, then we would be wowed at just how good they are on the ball. But, if we look at the highest levels, are there any players who aren’t very quick that are excelling?

If we take a look at the wide attacking positions, players such as Rashford, Salah, Mane, Son, Adams Traore and Timo Werner, to name just a few, we can see they are all absolutely lightening. Their skill level is very high, as are their physical capabilities.

In other positions we can see it too; flying full backs like Kyle Walker and João Cancelo, fast centre backs such as Virgil Van Dijk and Dayot Upacameno, if we look further afield. Pacy players are all over the pitch, but is speed everything? Do we need to be the quickest players on the pitch to be viewed as one of the best?

My thoughts on this are that you don’t have to be. I love watching players who have pace to burn past their opponents with trickery and skill but it is not the be all and end all.

And there is one team at the moment who are proving that: Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. If you take a look at the City midfield, the number of highly technical players that they have is incredible. Ilkay Gundogan, Foden, De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, and a previous player in David Silva, all show that speed isn’t everything.

Interestingly, these players, apart from Kevin De Bruyne, are smaller in stature, not blessed with the physical attributes that other players possess. But what they do have is a fantastic footballing brain that ensures that having speed isn’t the be all and end all in the player's search for success.


Kevin De Bruyne, highly technical with excellent movement off the ball.

These players are a huge part of the Manchester City team, which is currently on a sixteen match winning run in all competitions, driving the team forward with relentless possession and precise passing. It shows that speed isn’t everything if you want to be a good player but what can you do to help you take your game to the next level? Especially if you don’t have bundles of pace to burn.

Firstly, and perhaps the most obvious, is technical ability. It is incredibly important to be consistent with your first touch, positioning that ball where you want it to go, on both feet. If you can develop this ability then you’re going to be putting yourself in the best possible position to go and affect the game. Top players all have the ability to keep the ball away from their opponents, more often than not by protecting it with the safe side of the body, something that you don’t have to have amazing speed to do.

So make sure that your technical ability is at as a high a level as possible, comfortable in receiving the ball with both feet, protecting it, passing accurately while also being able to turn and dribble confidently.

But, after that, it’s not always about what you do on the ball. Players who have good movement can run rings around those who just have speed. Quick one twos, overlapping runs, dropping into the space, are all hugely important components of the game for players with good movement. Doing this will put you in the best positions to receive the ball, giving you time and space to make the best possible decision when you receive it.

If you're clever with movement, you can find yourself in some brilliant positions but this next component, or technique, is just as important going hand in hand with movement.

Scanning.

Top players constantly scan, checking their shoulders, assessing where teammates are going to be and how the opposition are set up. If you scan regularly, checking your surroundings every few seconds, then you are going to build a great picture of everyone’s positioning on the pitch. It’s not just their positioning, you’ll begin to see how the opponent pressures you or your teammates, the intensity of their movement off the ball, how they act when not in possession.

When you start to do this, and actually see what is happening around you, then you will notice the key areas to move into, allowing you to get on the ball many times during the game. This scanning allows you to make the best of your movement off the ball.

Then, when you get it, your technical side can come out.

Some of the best midfielders that I’ve seen play have been the smallest, lacking in pace. Xavi and Ineista of Barcelona come to mind. They weren’t tall, but the quick, athletic and powerful players couldn’t get near them at times. Their footballing brain was so good that they could play around the physical capabilities of their opponents, not even worrying about their own lack of pace.

I’m sure that players like Xavi and Iniesta would love to be blessed with the pace of a Marcus Rashford, or Kyle Walker, but would they be the same player that they are now if they did?

Probably not.

But it’s an important lesson for all players, even if you do have lots of pace.

It isn’t everything and don’t rely on it. Be aware of what is going on around you, scan constantly and move off the ball, putting yourself in positions that make it difficult for your opponent to track you. Once you have this time and space your technical ability will thrive.

Speed isn’t everything, and in a rather pessimistic way we must also remember that we won’t be the quickest throughout our whole footballing career. Even the very best slow down as they get older, toward the end of their careers. If you’ve only ever thought about what to do with your pace there is a good chance it can be difficult when you start to naturally slow do.

I know I’m not as quick as I was when I was a late teen!

However, players who are quick, but have good movement, awareness and technical ability are hugely impressive. So, if you’re a budding young player, looking to reach the next level of your game, it is really important to remember that speed isn’t everything. It’s a great aspect of your game to have, but don’t rely on it to be your only strength. Think about the game, and develop your understanding through your vision, awareness and movement, allowing you to make better decisions when you do have the ball.

If you’re a player that wishes they were quicker then don’t worry, play to your own strengths and aim to be quicker in the mind. Try to be one step ahead of your opponent in your thinking and you’re going to get on the ball more, in situations that don’t require you to be the quickest on the pitch.

I love seeing players with speed, I think most of us do, but if you don’t have it, it doesn’t mean that you can’t go far in the game.

Speed of thought, awareness, decision making and execution of your technical skill are just as important, if not more so.

You can get yourself quicker off the mark with sprint and agility training, something that all players should do, but don’t feel dejected if you aren’t as quick as others.

Your strengths will shine if you practise in all these areas we’ve talked about.

Football is a wonderful game, with so many players of differing abilities and styles. Play to your strengths and develop your own game and style.