Why do you watch the beautiful game? Is it for the entertainment? The Passion? The History? Most likely it’s a combination of all these factors. One of the most enthralling aspects of football is the many styles of play adopted by teams around the world.

Calling on all football snobs… We get it, your home country’s style of play is “the best”.

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We will respect all football styles of play by recognizing the most successful philosophies. This is a list of the greatest styles of play in European Football.

Catenaccio – Italian

The Italian style of play, catenaccio (“kate’natto”) is actually an Italian word meaning “door-bolt”. Originally this system came from an Austrian coach named Karl Rappen way back in the 1930’s but was adopted by the great Italian coach Nereo Rocco in the 1950’s. He used this style to great success with teams Triestina and AC Milan. Many people confuse Catenaccio with a “parking the bus” strategy. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The entire system relies on a great “sweeper” located behind a strong defensive backline. If a team has creativity and a “sweeper” that can produce devastating counter attacks, this style of play is very difficult to defeat. It is still greatly utilized by the Italian National team today.

Gegenpressing – German

A German style of play called gegenpressing has gained recent popularity with the success of German coach Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool. The word gegenpressing comes from the term “counter-pressing”, however this style of play is not what you think. You would assume it has everything to do with “counter-attacking” This is not the case. The key to gegenpressing is the relentless desire to win the ball back after you lose possession, instead of backing off. Your team must be in peak physical condition in order to play this style of football. It’s kind of like a tactical “blizkrieg” approach but only initiated after you lose the ball.

Tiki-Taka – Spanish

You could say the Spanish style of play, tiki-taka is in fact a relatively new philosophy. It original began to take form at Barcelona FC in the 80′ and 90’s, was adopted by the Spanish National team in 2006 and ultimately perfected by Pep Guardiola. Tiki-taki involves quick one-two passes with a heavy focus on midfield players that keep possession of the ball at all costs. Unless you live under a rock you’ve probably heard of Leonel Messi. Players like Leo thrive under this style because of their incredible ability to pass the ball. It’s essentially like playing “keep away” until you see a perfect moment to score a goal.

Picture of the the greatest player of all time, Leo Messi.
The GOAT Leo Messi

Zona Mista – Italian

It would not be controversial to say that the Italian style of play catenaccio gave birth to a more modern version in a tactic called zona mista. This style of play relies on two major aspects. First, the defense is zone marking, not man to man like catenaccio. Second, the sweeper, attacking full-back and winger all play essential roles in a more aggressive style of offense and counter attacking. Where as in catenaccio a sweeper may create plays from only the back and rarely the front line. The most successful modern Italian teams have adopted the zona mista philosophy.

English Football: Relentless Attacking

It’s fair to say the English style of play is extremely physical and relies on hard work by relentlessly attacking opponents. Teams must be technically sound and limit defensive mistakes in order to create opportunities for as many shots on goal as possible. You’ll often see English teams shoot from distance, score from set pieces and play high lobs across the box. Anything to score a goal. Everything but the “kitchen sink” some would say. There may not be a name for this philosophy but some say it should be called “the way of the warrior”. That name is quite fitting.

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