What Is A Style Of Play? – By Pablo Toledo

Pablo Toledo is Rush Soccer’s Sporting Project & Coach Development Director. 


This question sounds so obvious that it seems like it wouldn’t deserve a full post, but I’m frequently surprised by the number of misunderstandings and misconceptions around it.

Have you not ever been in an informal gathering and somebody responded to the question of what the style of play of a certain team was by saying something like “they’re not a good team, they just drop back and then play direct, they play the counter” or “they’re very total football, playing two touches and moving” ?

Right there, in those very two sentences, I find multiple misunderstandings (to say the least).

Firstly, counterattacking is not a style of play but a tactic. Secondly, direct play and counterattacking are not necessarily the same thing. Liverpool FC plays direct, so does every team from Marcelo Bielsa, but they don’t drop back to a low block on purpose just to counter later, they just play direct because they don’t have a particular interest in long indirect, possession based passages. You can play direct and not have the counterattack as part of your strategy, and vice versa. For example, Barcelona won the Champions League in 2015 with Luis Enrique, and it was a very possession oriented team, indirect, that used to counterattack quickly because they had fast forwards. It was just part of the team’s usual strategy. Proof below.



Total Football, on the other hand, was a tactical novelty about switching positions on the field while sustaining a certain shape or structure. The constant rotation was the distinctive factor, so you can play direct or indirect and be total football, or very defensive and counter and be total football. Moreover, nobody said that total football implies lots of passing or playing two touches.

Now, can these be a part of your style of play? Of course, they can be features or characteristics of it.

Then what is a style of play?

A style of play is a subjective concept related to how a team plays, and is defined by the playing characteristics, strategies, and tactics that such team focuses on in each phase of the game. There are unlimited styles of play as these are defined by the characteristics of the players and the ideas of the coach, and how these reflect on the field.

There’s a passage from Cesar Luis Menotti in which he expresses the subjectivity of the playing style:

“I maintain that a team is above all an idea, and more than an idea it is a commitment, and more than a commitment it is the clear convictions that a coach must transmit to his players to defend that idea. So my concern is that we coaches don’t arrogate to ourselves the right to remove from the spectacle the synonym of festival, in favor of a philosophical reading that cannot be sustained, which is to avoid taking risks. And in football there are risks because the only way you can avoid taking risks in any game is by not playing.” – César Luis Menotti

Cesar Luis Menotti – 1978 WC Winner As Argentina’s Head Coach

I think a lot of the misunderstandings come from confusing the ideas of style of play, strategy, and tactics.

Strategy is your overall plan. Let’s imagine that we observe a rival and we discover or conclude that the left back is their weak link defensively. Our strategy (that should include ideas for all 4 phases of the game) for the attacking phase could be to try to create 1v1 situations on the right flank.

Tactics are the specific means to accomplish the strategy.  In this example, we could choose to move our left wing to the right side (let’s imagine that this is our fastest player and best dribbler), so that he goes 1v1 against that left back.

And what is Rush’s Style Of Play?

The Rush Way to Play is based upon movement and activity by both player and ball. Possession-oriented does not fully describe how we play; attack-oriented does. Whether in possession or in defense, we are attacking. Rush Players play with freedom yet understand the importance of responsibility and the balance between the two. We are possession oriented but we are not stubborn, we want a purpose in our possession, the purpose of hurting the rival’s defense and keep scoring. Rush teams are flexible and adapt to varying circumstances. The Rush Way to Play represents both passion and purpose.

Therefore, the Rush Style Of Play is attack oriented, celebrates possession but with a purpose, demands lots of mobility, is pragmatic, aggressive, and intense.

That’s a style of play. Go Rush!