The philosophy of a young coach – Xhulio Zeneli

It is important for any coach to have a clear vision for how they want their team to play. Coaching content creator Xhulio Zeneli breaks down his coaching philosophies to our readers.  


When we have the ball we want to play quick, direct football – incorporating as many vertical passes as possible instead of horizontal passes. I tell my players that we should play with horizontal passes only when we don’t have another possibility. My intention is also that our game should start from the goalkeeper. My most important  philosophy is that we as a team play from the wings, our possession phase should be fluid and for that we should have fewer touches on the ball. The wingers should be capable of running at fast speeds and all attacking players should never be static. It’s important that every player have a maximum of 2-3 touches on the ball and then make a decision about their next pass. I also want my central defenders to play with the ball and take part in the build-up, not just playing longer passes. For the midfield, part of my intention is to have midfield players that are technical players and play with the ball very well to create space. I also want strong and physical midfield players so they can destroy the other team’s progress and intercept the ball.

My strongest point in my playing philosophy is that the team should have a strong defense. In defense I want to have strong physical players, strong players in the air, but also players that can build out from the back. For the fullbacks on the other hand, I want them to be fast players, capable of operating up and down the wings at pace, and good at crossing the ball. They should constantly look to go forward and create numerical superiorities. The defenders should be quick in their decisions and make decisions as a unit through constant communication.  The midfield meanwhile is a crucial link between defense and attack. Regarding the two central midfielders, I want one of them to be a strong, powerful player, that destroys the actions of the opponent and wins back possession for our team. The other central midfielder can be more of a creator,  spreading vertical passes into dangerous areas.  Ideally, the midfielders should also contribute in attack by scoring goals. Regarding the wingers, I want them to be fast players, to be technical players, and to be good in 1v1 situations. Specifically, dribbling and creating numerical superiority to deliver crosses into the penalty area are important attributes. For me it is important that our left and right midfielder should be able to interact with our left or right back in both attacking and defensive phases . Our midfielders should be box to box midfielders. They should not be static, and they should constantly look for the space, particularly in finding depth rather than width. The attackers should be powerful in the air, but should also be technical players. The attackers should be able to attract the opposition’s defenders so they can create space in the middle for our midfielders to get into dangerous areas. Working in a pair, they should be able to cooperate together and move accordingly based on the other’s position.  A very important thing for me it is that my players should play calm and secure in their abilities despite the opponent we are playing.

out of possession

Our main purpose out of possession is to immediately regain the ball. We should press the opponent, with each player having assigned duties. Defensive actions need to be taken quickly, as we want to win the ball back and go on the attack right away. Also when the opponent has the ball, our main focus as a team is to press the weakest players. It is important that my players stay focused on our main purpose to regain the ball, and that we press as an organized unit. In my philosophy, the first defenders in the team are the attackers. Another important consideration is the use of triggers in the press.

During training, we constantly work on when we should press the ball, where we should press around the ball and how we can do so together as a unit. During the match, I want to give ownership to the players so they can decide when they should do these things. In matches, when we don’t have the ball, we should remember the four principles of pressing: who, when, where and how. The question of “who” is particularly important. The attackers are the first link of the team that should press. That strategy of pressing works best when we act simultaneously as a team. The midfielders and the defenders meanwhile, should press in a way that stops the opposition from passing the ball, delaying their progress. Every player has their assigned duties, and an important aspect for me is that each player stick to their duties. We should stay calm and not be afraid to win the ball back.

in transition

As a team, we should be able to understand the situation in which we are in and act based on the situation. We should react quickly, as football never allows too much time to think. When possession of the ball changes, we should apply the objectives of the pressing phase: the first objective is to win the ball, the second objective is to delay the opposition’s progress, and the third objective is to stop the opponent from progressing forward. It’s important that we stay focused on our objectives and that each player remembers their duties. When we are in an attacking transition, we need to attack at speed and look to play vertical passes. When we are in a defense transition, we should press quickly and if we cannot press due to a lack of balance in the team, we look to delay progress whenever possible.

So there it is! Xhulio Zeneli’s coaching philosophies in possession, out of possession and in transition. Be sure to check out more coaching content, including Xhulio’s article on How To Defend Like A Pro. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

You might also enjoy…
-> The Art of Persuasion in Coaching
-> How To Coach Pressing
-> Playing Out From The Back – Session Plan & Coaching Points

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