It’s also about stopping goals

In action: The writer during the recent coaching course conducted by Premier Skills.

A strong defensive philosophy centres on stopping your opponents from attacking and scoring goals

NOT long back, I attended a football coaching course conducted by Premier Skills – a partnership between the English Premier League and the British Council. The aim is to use football to develop a brighter future for young people around the world.

During our coffee breaks, the coaches would sit around and share their particular football coaching styles and philosophies. I remember one coach said: “I try to teach my kids that football is simple. It’s basically about passing and finishing.”

Then one gentleman who works for UEFA said: “Fair point, but you obviously have not spoken to the Italians.”

Italian football prides itself on its very strong defensive philosophy. The Italians are famous for their tactical system, “catenaccio”, which means door bolt. This system focuses on stopping the opponents from attacking and scoring goals.

When I heard this conversation, I then thought to myself — when we Malaysians play football, do we ever think about defending? It’s bad enough that some of us are not too keen on passing the ball.

How many scratch futsal games have you been to where passing was not really part of the game plan? For me, let’s just say banyak (a lot).

Time and time again when our Malaysian national team fail to bring back the big trophy, the Malaysian football hierarchy will always talk about better grassroots football, the right development process and some innovative tactic that will help make us Kings of Asian football.

Not too long ago, Liverpool legend Ian Rush was brought in to help our national strikers find the back of the net. A creative move, but during that time, our national team played Chelsea in a friendly and lost 2-0. Michael Ballack was still playing for the Blues.

The score line that day was a respectable loss. Against the Blues, our defensive game, compared to our EPL opponent’s left much to be desired.

After the match press conference, a particular national coach came up to me and said: “I think you are right. It’s now time to implement that defensive philosophy.”

I quickly replied: “Glad you agree with me coach, but how hard will it be to implement?”

He just replied: “Mah fun (troublesome).”

We Malaysians dream about our country playing in the World Cup and Olympic Games, and seeing Malaysians play for a big English Premier League club. But how long do we have to keep dreaming?

Being successful in sports is about doing the simple fundamentals well. We need to revisit these fundamentals and teach our young athletes that stopping goals is just as important as scoring goals. Goals win games, but defences win championships.

Defenders don’t get much praise. It is always the strikers or goal-scoring midfielders who get all the accolades. But what’s the point in scoring many goals when you are always on the losing team?

The sport of football is always evolving. We Malaysians need to do the same and teach our up-coming talents that the beautiful game is not always about having possession of the ball.

One of the main objectives of competitive sports is to prove to the opposing team that you are better. The best way to do this is to get in their face and defend. Nobody likes being stopped!

Ben Ibrahim is an accredited junior football coach and works as a anchor with Foxsports Asia. He can be contacted via

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