Playing football in different countries means adapting to a variety of playing styles. One player who can tell us more about that is the central defender of Vfl Osnabrück Joost van Aken. He started his professional career in the Dutch Eredivisie at Sc Heerenveen. After 89 appearances he moved to Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship in England. During his period in Sheffield he got injured and he was unable to play for 18 months. After two seasons at the club, they decided to move him to Germany on loan. With these experiences, he is the perfect player to tell us more about the differences in tactics in all these countries.
Knowing your tasks
When asked which aspect of playing he really needed to adapt to when he first arrived at Vfl Osnabrück Joost answered “Definitely the intensity of playing. In Germany, the games go up and down very quickly and that requires a lot of energy.” He also mentions that the teams in Germany are very organized. It’s not often that there are very wide spaces in-between positions. Almost all players have their own tasks that they need to execute during games. “This differs from the general tactics that I have experienced in England. Of course, we had certain tactics in England, but not as detailed as here in Germany. In the Championship, different aspects of the game are more important compared to Germany, especially the physical aspect.”
Dealing with different playing styles
During the season of 2017-2018, he moved from the Netherlands to the second league in England. The biggest difference he noticed was the time, or the lack of it, on the ball in England. “ When I played for SC Heerenveen I had way more time when I received the ball compared to my time at Sheffield Wednesday. Next to that, it was easier to predict which tactics opponents would use against us in the Netherlands. Almost every team tries to play attacking football in a 4-3-3 formation. This made it easier to recognize situations and to react to them. In England and Germany, you face a lot of different pressing-styles. This makes it harder for a player to get familiar with different situations.”.
Get more structure in your development
To improve yourself as a player it is important to know how to react in different situations. Recognizing these situations helps you find the right solution at that time. This is something that Joost van Aken struggled with during the beginning at Sheffield Wednesday. He said, “During my time in England I realized that my knowledge about team tactics was developed well, but my knowledge about individual tactics needed improvement”. He knew that the switch to a different country demanded more of him and his individual skills. That was the moment that he got in contact with us, Tactalyse. Joost mentioned, “What exactly didn’t go well, I didn’t know completely, but at that moment I ended up in many situations in which I had never been before. Of course, I went looking for solutions myself, but if you get more structure in that process, it helps and it makes it easier to tackle the problem. This is what Tactalyse provided for me.”
In preparation for the game, he also experienced different methods that were used to get the team ready for the game. Most of the tactical sessions in the Netherlands are focused on your own team in ball possession and how you need to play when you are under pressure. He said: “In these sessions, you mostly talk about how you’ll create chances from the perspective of goalkeeper, the defenders and the defending midfielder. Those people get the most instructions and the attackers are given more freedom to create chances. In contrast to this, the focus in England is more on finding ways to keep the opponent as far as possible from your own goal. The coaches in England expect a certain maturity of the squad to create a plan when they are in possession. On an individual level, not every player has specific tasks before he starts with his game.”
And how is this approach at Vfl Osnabruck at the moment? According to Joost their training schedule is very much focused on their next opponent. “Every week we adapt to the opponent, based on video analysis. After the analysis we know in which spaces on the pitch there could be opportunities for us. When we have identified those spaces, we know as a team how we need to prepare ourselves to profit from those spaces. On the first day of the week, we work in the form of a positional game that is already tailored to the tactics of the opponent. Recently for example, it was clear that our next opponent would put pressure on us with 3 strikers and with a lot of space behind them where our defensive midfielder could benefit from. With this information, we ended up in a positional game where we had to play passes between the lines. Two days before the match we train on patterns to play in those spaces, only based on the tactics of the opponent and where they leave the space. These patterns differ per opponent.
Watching clips of the opponent
Zooming in on the current tactical approach at Vfl Onsabrück it is clear that video analysis is an important part of their tactical preparation. Every player in the club has access to an app where clips are available about potential opponents. The clips that are available for players are based on past situations that were difficult for that player. This shows for example which leg is their favorite or what their signature moves are. In addition to this, they make use of presentations with animated visualizations of how they have to move as a team in specific situations.
Expectations in different countries
With all this experience in these competitions, is it possible to conclude that it is a big advantage to have played in different countries compared to someone who only played in one country? Joost gave the following answer: “On the one hand, yes, and on the other hand no. In every country, I have learned a little bit about different tactical approaches, but in every country, they also expect something else. For example, much is expected on the ball in the Netherlands and much physical football has been played in England. In England, on the other hand, they do not expect that a central defender can bring something in the build-up, and then I have that advantage because of my Dutch background. But they usually only have their focus on what is important in their country, and that is the case in every country. In England, they could say about me that my defensive skills are not as good as the English defenders, but he brings something different in the build-up. And that is exactly the other way around in the Netherlands.