Stating the obvious, different teams have shown throughout time that they can reach success by using different strategies. When comparing the game model of Mourinho’s Inter Milan to the Barcelona’s of Guardiola era; the Real Madrid’s of Ancelotti to the Ajax’s of Rinus Mitchels, the only thing that these teams had in common is the number of eleven players starting every game. Therefore in first place it is important to understand what is the Game Model.
The Game Model is a useful way of organizing all the behaviours we want to implement in a team in the different moments of the game (defensive organisation, attacking organisation, defense-attack transition and attack-defense transition). Each of this phases there are the correspondent Principles, Sub Principles and Sub-Sub Principles of Play. The principles, sub-principles and sub-sub principles, functional organisation (team dynamics) and the structural organisation (1-4-3-3,1-4-4-2, etc) are sub-products.
However in my opinion, more important than adopting and organising these principles of play with the different phases of the game, is how these principles (and its sub and sub-sub principles) are connected and articulated, because the game is a continuous flow. This means that the way on team attacks is connected with the way one team defends and vice-versa. In other words, the moments of the game are bounded to one another. For instance, a team when in possession (attacking organisation) that looks for maximum depth and width, will compromise their attack-defense transition simply because the players are very far between them. As a result, when possession is lost there will not be many players around the ball zone, making the recovery off the ball less likely to happen. By the same token, the opposition will have more time and space to start their own defense-attack transition.
The Game Model is an idealisation/aspiration of the coach in constant changing. In other words it is never achieved, because it is permanently being constructed and re-constructed. Why? Because the coach itself is not static, the players are not static, the experiences lived by the coach will continuously shape his Game Model (it is not closed or absolute).This approach/perspective is influenced by cognitivist and constructivist learning theories.
The Game Model Adopted (GMA) by the coach, is also influenced by the cultural context of the club (and its resources), players’ characteristics, the coaches are different, the training process and methodologies are different, the competitions are different, the supporters are different. It is unthinkable for an Athletic Bilbao coach to suggest to sign non-Basque players or coaching Barcelona and implement a direct style play (although Tata Martino managed to do that with awful results). For the exact same reason I think everyone agrees that it would be very difficult to ask Leicester City FC players to mimic FC Bayern Munich game model (or ‘playing stye’).
It is the coaches’ responsibility to organize and analyse the process. For example, if it is established as a Principle to adopt pressing zone when defending, then the sub and sub-sub principles need to be related (pressing references; pressing from the blind side; pressing zones and feet orientation in order to help peripheral vision), in the training exercises. Another eternal question when discussing Game Models is its relationship with the opposition. Some coaches defend that having a Game Model implemented is the team’s identity, in other words, a team plays always the same way despite who the opposition is.
Other coaches prefer to adapt their team to the opposition week after week. In my opinion this is one of the reasons why there are so many games that are no good fun to watch. Many teams(and coaches) are more concerned with what the opposition may do than actually with what their own team may do, and their only aim is to nullify the other team at all costs (wasting time, playing with 11 behind the line of the ball-although very disorganised,etc). However it is important to stress the fact that teams with well defined models (Bayern, Borussia,etc), they do make some changes in their strategy depending on the opposition, such as, pressing higher or lower on the pitch, but never changing their own principles.
In the future I believe the biggest challenge for coaches will be to construct a Game Model with many variables in terms of structural organisation and team dynamics, in order to become more difficult to the opponent to analyse and employ counteract strategies. Bearing in mind that teams have increasingly less time to train. A good example of this is how Guardiola has displayed different versions of Bayern Munich, where the players occupy different positions (structure) and interact in different ways (dynamics), within the same model.
The video below shows some principles and sub principles in action: