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March 2017
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A bit of history...

Football has ancient origins and the name comes from the Chinese word Tsu-Chu (which means a ball pushed with the foot). It was played many centuries Before Christ, using a leather casing that contained an inflated animal bladder. Towards the end of the XIV century, Calcio Fiorentino was born and this was similar to a mix of rugby and football. In England, in the XVIII century, the Dribbling Game began to take shape and this, too, was similar to the football we know today, although it did still allow players to use their hands. Later on, in the mid 19th century, the sport now known as ‘football’ became popular all over the world and the first set of rules was established.
The official founding of football goes back to 23 October 1863 in a pub in Great Queen Street, London, where the English Football Association was set up, however, the first kind of football club was set up in 1857 (the Sheffield Football Club) and 1872 saw the first international match between England and Scotland.
The International Football Association Board was elected in 1876, to over see changes to the rules, and in 1890 the idea of having a single referee was introduced.
In May 1904, F.I.F.A. was born (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) which, today, all footballs teams are associated to. 
The football world cup is played every four years with the qualifying matches played on various continents and then the final games played in the host country. The following countries have won the world cup: URUGUAY (1930 and 1950); ITALY (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006); GERMANY (1954, 1974 and 1990); BRAZIL (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002); ENGLAND (1966); ARGENTINA (1978 and 1986); FRANCE (1998); SPAIN (2010).

Basic features of the game

The main aim of football is to score as many goals as possible; a goal is scored when the ball crosses the goal line and is thus in the net.
Football is played on a rectangular pitch, usually made of grass, which measures a minimum of 90x45m. Normally, however, the pitch is slightly bigger and is closer to 105/110m long and 65/70m wide, with two goals either end. These two goals are in the middle of the back lines and they are 2.44m tall and 7.32m wide. They have two posts either side and a crossbar at the top, and all three posts are either elliptical or circular.
The middle of the pitch has a white dot on it, and this is the point from where the game begins, or restarts after a goal has been scored. There is a rectangular penalty area in front of each goal that extends 16.5m from each goal post and 16.5m out front. For fouls sanctioned by the referee within the penalty area, a penalty kick is awarded to the opposite team and is taken 11m from the goal. In this area, only the goalkeeper can touch the ball with his hands.
The ball, which was once made of leather and was natural in colour, is now made of synthetic-elastic material and is usually white. The ball must have a diameter of 68-71cm and weigh 369-453 grams and it cannot be changed during the game, unless specifically authorised.
Each team, before starting the game, must present the referee with a list of 18 players, 11 of which will start the match, whilst the other 7 stay on the bench, on the sideline, ready to be substituted on. According to the rules set out by the International Federation, only 3 players (called reserves) can be substituted on during a match to replace a fellow player, as long as the substituted player has not been sent off by the referee.
The referee is assisted by two linesmen, who are placed along the side lines of the pitch and whose job it is to signal, with a flag, when the ball goes over the side lines, when players go offside (which is when a player, on receiving the ball, does not have at least 2 defenders, including the goalkeeper, between him and the back line) and other fouls. Every official match is played for two halves of 45 minutes, with an break for 15 minutes in between the two halves. At the referee’s discretion, after the 45 minutes is up, extra time can be added to make up for any stops during the game.


For many years analyses about football were based exclusively on practical observations, thus the resulting data was not very objective and therefore the statistics were not very reliable and somewhat useless. During the late 1970s, information technology was introduced into sport research and this meant that statistical analyses about the quality and quantity of work carried out during a match were more trustworthy. Although different sources report that players run a different, average amount during a match – 10,110m according to Whitehead, 1975; 11,195 m according to Withers et al, 1982; 9,790m according to Winkler, 1983; 10,000m according to Ekblom, 1986 – we can see that the average is somewhere near 10,000m and this amount represents the first parameter we can use to evaluate the physical strength used by a footballer during a game. Other aspects need to be considered though, like the technical level of the team and, above all, the type of ‘work’ carried out, for example, sprinting, jogging, walking, quick acceleration, and so on.
Football, like many sporting games, is characterised by intermittent movements, which are movements at different speeds with considerably long pauses in between them, and which are combined with a series of specific motor skills (jumps, backward runs, dribbles, shots, etcetera). In sport physiology (and specifically for football), these kind of movements are classified as ‘alternate’ aerobic-anaerobic activities since, during the 90 minutes of the match, metabolic commitments are continually changing (aerobic, anaerobic, lactacid, etcetera) and different types of strength and specific, complex coordination skills are called on.
A reliable analysis, carried out in 1982 by Withers et al, found that over a distance of 11,520m, 37% of it was walked (more for attackers), 44% was covered by light runs (more for midfielders), 13% was covered at high speeds (more for defenders) and 6% was covered during acceleration and outbursts of speed (more for defenders and less for midfielders).

Aerobic metabolism
In the past, it was stated that aerobic energy requirements during a football match (that is the ability to use oxygen efficiently in the cardio-vascular and respiratory systems) were higher than anaerobic energy requirements. However, the data reported by Withers et al (by Professor C. Bosco, for example) showed levels were lower and that footballers use between 70-80% maximum oxygen consumption (VO2max) (Ekbolm, 1986). This data also shows that the VO2max in footballers, as well as certain values, is important but is not a limiting factor in performance. In the cited literature, the maximum consumption seems to be around 60ml/minute/Kg, which is lower than that of other aerobic athletes (long distance runners, skiers, etcetera), where elevated data is fundamentally important for final performances. It can, therefore, be confirmed that explosiveness and speed, alternating with frequency in the game, require so-called ‘quick’ resistance, rather than the specific qualities of "endurance".

Anaerobic metabolism
As we know, football is an intense, intermittent, sporting activity. This means that anaerobic energy is required occasionally through the use of high-energy phosphate compounds, which help players to be "explosive" (using "alactacid" metabolism), or do prolonged exercise by means of immediate use of muscle glycogen when there is not enough oxygen available (“lactacid" metabolism).

Some data from Doufour (1990), which considers actual play to only last 60 minutes and the distance covered by players to be 10km, 7km of which is supposedly run and 3km of which is covered by marching, show that 14% of this time is spent working intensely, thus progressively accumulating lactic acid. It must be said, though, that the concentration of lactate in blood is normally used as an indicator of the energy production that comes from lactacid. Assuming that lactic acid is produced quicker during intense exercise, it follows that the metabolism of lactic acid will be as high as the pace of the game, a speed that comes as a result of the relationship between intensity, the amount of activity in the game and the type of breaks between each activity. There are studies that support the fact that the lactacid metabolism is considerably under pressure and these show that the amount of lactate during a match is between 8-12mmol/L.

This represents one of the fundamental characteristics of a football player and it is a quality of primary importance in so much as it allows players to execute highly specific gestures in the best way possible, such as:

  • outbursts at very high speeds;
  • deceleration and abrupt stops;
  • changes of direction, in both accelerating and initial phases;
  • jumps to head the ball, or intercept the ball;
  • kicks from standing and whilst running;
  • ball control whilst moving.

The variety of actions described above clarify the reason why even rhythmic movements, such as running, are carried out differently by a football player than by an athlete, who practises athletics. The technique of running with the ball, for example, differs from that of a sprinter running a classic bend; the knees do not come out very much, allowing the centre of gravity to stay low and reducing the height that the player rises to between strides. A footballer’s run is therefore a run with small, quick strides that allows him to change pace and direction quicker. This technique reduces the top speed of the player but this is not problematic because the player has better balance when moving. The neuromuscular recruitment capacities also play a fundamental role in all the footballer’s movements.

Technical-tactical development

Football was initially developed by the English, who remained the best technical and tactical players for many years. Originally, football seemed extremely simple with teams placed around the pitch and positions that had to carry out specific tasks; half the team defended and half attacked. After the first world war, football became even more popular and it was established in the Danube countries (Austria, Czech Slovakia, Hungary), and South America (Uruguay and mainly Argentina) where they used different tactics: their game play was more organised and focused on individuals’ skills. In the period between the two world wars, the layout on the pitch gradually became more and more like that of the ‘English masters’, whose tactics were always very advanced. The first formation that was universally recognised in Europe was called the ‘metodo’ (until the 1940s) and it consisted of players being spread out in to three horizontal lines; two defenders, 3 centre backs and a midfielder, who tried to ‘organise’ the game, and 5 attackers, who mainly had to play offensively. Furthermore, a few years before the Second World War, Arsenal F.C. changed their layout from that of the ‘metodo’ to a more rational formation: the new layout, that progressively took over from the previous one, was called the ‘new system’ or ‘WM’. The two letters, W and M, are placed one on top of another and the points represent where players are placed; 3 defenders in line and three attackers opposite, 2 centre backs slightly in front of the defenders, 2 on each wing and, finally, 3 attackers. With the WM formation, the central zone is occupied by the famous ‘square’, which is spread out over two lines, and whose job it is to organise the game play. In 1958 in Sweden, Brazil won the world cup and showed another formation to Europe which was 4 defenders in a line, 2 centre backs slightly in front of them and 4 attackers, which is the 4-2-4 formation. This was a more flexible formation that allowed players to change position more easily, improving the play, universality and technical skills of the Brazilian players. This formation, which expects players to be more universal, was then modified and made famous by the successful wins of the Dutch national team in the 60s and 70s, transforming into a 4-4-2 formation. Italian football, which was reluctant to sudden changes, used the WM formation for years, only modifying it slightly, for defensive-tactical reasons, at the end of the 1950s and early 1960s, moving one centre back behind the line of the other centre backs to be ‘free’ from fixed marking, and moving one attacker out of their line to help support the midfield.  The most common formation today is the 4-4-2, above all in England and Brazil, whilst the rest of Europe’s leading clubs tend to change their formations every year according to the tactics of the current manager, who usually prefers to put the players in a formation that suits their physical-technical characteristics rather than follow the ‘in’ tactics of the moment. There are many different formations that clubs can use: 3-5-2, 5-3-2, 4-3-3, 4-3-1-2, etcetera. The abandonment of man on man marking, and the tactical formation that leads on to opposing players being offside, means that it is more difficult for technical players to play at their best, the game is quicker and that the physical warm-ups are more important.


Training usually takes the form of logical and systematic repetitions of particular movements and set plays with the aim being to improve them to perform better. Improving play is done by ‘adapting’ the body to certain types of tasks and making these changes ‘stick’ by training bodily systems and organs. Training should be ‘rhythmic’ and is carried out over a series of sessions: a series of exercises, suitably selected and linked together, are carried out according to "quantity" and "intensity" of the workload. The element that characterises the training session is chosen from exercises that can be technical-tactical (working on the technique or combination of plays), organic (mainly running), muscular (training aimed at particular muscle groups) or mixed (a balanced mix of exercise that have different aims).

Technical-tactical training
This is where players practise complex skills like ball control, stopping the ball, kicking it and dribbling it at high speeds, so they can execute set plays as well as possible. Improving these skills is only possible by methodical use and constant, specific training. It is believed that between the ages of 8-10 years old we are most ‘sensitive’ to learning skills and young footballers should learn and perfect the technical skills that football require by aged 10, also by means of playing the game as this is a more natural training method for children. Training can take an ‘analytical’ route, by systematically repeating basic technical movements with the ball and individually. On the other hand, you can use the ‘global’ method which involves technical elements and realistic, competitive game situations. These sorts of exercises include making use of spaces for play that have been made smaller by the opposition (exercises with 2 on 2, 4 on 4 attackers versus defenders, etcetera) so as to improve technical skills in specific situations. By doing this, the speed of an actual game may be increased because of the repetition of fundamental techniques at a high pace. Playing different ‘parts’ against one another, attackers against defenders for example, makes the training ‘themed’ because the players’ arrangements and movements become automatic thanks to both the repetition of the organised drills set by the coach and the systematic learning of movements carried out by the opposition.

Physical training

Strength: this represents the capacity that a footballer’s muscles have to tense and oppose external resistance. A good training programme for the muscles is a necessity for footballers because the game requires different levels of strength at different times. The acts of kicking, shooting, jumping and tackling are all displays of strength and, in particular, explosive strength.

Speed: this factor, which is more than just a basic quality of a footballer, is considered to be a ‘derivative’ because it is determined by the application of strength, which is capable of changing the state of a person from static to dynamic. Training methods must mainly be aimed at developing acceleration skills since footballers have very few occasions to run for long enough distances to reach maximum speed as their movements normally occur over short spaces. Relatively recent research shows that footballers accelerate/decelerate, on average, 70 times per match, running between 5-15m each time. Therefore short sprints with quick decelerations, changes in direction and abrupt stops are all exercises that should be included in training, also because they stimulate the neuro-muscular system very well.

Resistance: this is normally characterised by how long the body puts up with working hard for long periods of time and, obviously, the ability to prolong the work is inversely proportional to the intensity of the work itself. The ability to work harder and longer, before becoming too fatigued, depends on both the athlete personally and continual work, carried out sensibly. Usually training methods are similar to those used for athletics training; running over different distances, at different intensities, doing repetitions and taking progressive breaks. Distances covered at a high intensity and covered in less than a minute mainly stimulate the mechanism of anaerobic respiration. Repeated and prolonged work carried out over distances of around 1,000m encourage an increase in oxidative, metabolic processes (improving maximum oxygen consumption).

Physical checks and evaluations: during the year it is necessary to carry out a few ‘checks’ to let the coach, and the footballer himself, know what shape he is in and to see if training is working. To evaluate the ‘specific strength’ skills, it is now common to use the battery of tests, invented by Professor Bosco, which involve the use of a small platform which can sense the electronic measurements of the strength lower limbs’ muscles. The anaerobic threshold test is sometimes used to test a player’s aerobic potential and it is based on the relationship between the speed of a run and the heart rate. The test is an estimate and requires the run to be ‘rhythmically sensitive’, which is not normally the case for footballers because it is not necessary in football. The Cooper is also used a lot and is relatively easy to carry out. It consists of running continuously for 12 minutes according a pre-set course; the subjects are evaluated on the basis of the distance they run during the 12 minutes.


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