‘Tracking Back and Workrate’ – The new Requirement to be a Superstar?


Tracking Back and Workrate !! Before we begin, Am talking about mere mortals in the football world who end up tracking back for lost balls. Mere Mortals? YES, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are exceptions. The La Liga duo was given a special permission by the world not to track back even they were at fault. Though you can not complain them, it should be noted that the trait ‘tracking back’ is being considered very valuable these days. Except the two BIG GUNS, every other player is expected to track back and defend in necessary conditions.

There are many players in recent history who are always known for their work rate, the most famous one maybe Dirk Kuyt. An unfashionable striker who was more known for his non-stop running than scoring spectacular goals which made him a Fan Favorite among the KOP during his spell at Anfield. Even when the match was as good as lost, he runs in full throttle.

‘Tracking Back’ – The New rule in modern managers’ tactics

Why has this ‘tracking back’ become the new trend among the Managers ? Jose Mourinho famously benched Juan Mata when he took over Chelsea in his second spell. Mata was and still is a Fan Favourite at Chelsea and two times Fans’ Player of the Year award winner. He ended up being sold to Manchester United in the next transfer window. The reason is, Mourinho preferred a player who can track back lost balls, Oscar dos Santos. Oscar somehow fit the bill and Mata remained on the benches.

Jurgen Klopp, the man who likes to play Heavy Metal football is known to demand his players keep running for his Gegenpressing style. This proved to be true when they ran a total distance of 117.6km in their recent visit to the Emirates, the most distance of any EPL team since camera tracking was introduced. Guardiola’s Barcelona side was known for their possession football, but they were also known for going in numbers to recover the ball when lost.

‘Tracking Back’ – Why it is a necessity in Today’s football ?

Why is it so important in today’s timeline? We do not need a better example than England’s dismal World Cup Campaign back in 2014. Roy Hodgson picked a team to replicate Liverpool’s tactics on their almost Title winning season. The only problem being that it missed a Luis Suarez and a Philippe Coutinho to make it work. Gerrard was never going to be a natural Deep Playmaker without ample support. This was where Suarez/Coutinho helped him in Liverpool along with the emergence of Jordan Henderson.

All the players made sure they chase down in packs for lost balls and Gerrard was well protected to try his passes. This went downhill when the only person trying to cover ended up being Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling leaving Gerrard exposed for fast attacks. This can be just one example of many, but it does give us the picture of how relentless tracking back can change a team’s fortunes with the right players.

Recently during the European Supercup against Sevilla with the absence of almost all the established stars, it was expected that James Rodriguez would take the spotlight for Real Madrid. Instead, Zidane opted to play Morata who was supported by Lucas Vasquez and Marco Asensio on the flanks. Everyone knows about James Rodriguez’s skills but he has been criticised for his work rate on occasions. Hard to counter the blame when the person he ended up replacing in the lineup was Angel Di Maria.

‘Tracking Back’ – The Next Evolution in Football

The reason for Real Madrid’s ‘LA DECIMA’ and Mourinho’s one of the most favourite Real Madrid players. Di Maria’s work rate did wonders for Real Madrid during the ‘La Decima’ season. Vasquez is clearly a workaholic winger who is more than happy to play under the spotlight than his established peers. This attribute has clearly put him ahead of James Rodriguez in the pecking order.

Football has evolved and it has had a rapid evolution in terms of style. Pep Guardiola’s Possession football found it’s Anti-thesis in Jose Mourinho’s back to the walls defending. Mourinho’s Back to the walls defending found it’s Anti-thesis in Jurgen Klopp’s Gegenpressing in the 4-1 mauling against Dortmund. Almost all the modern football styles used by different managers today has its roots from some of these notable tactics. Styles keep changing but one common thing in all these formations is, all the players are required to track back. It does not matter if you are a striker even. The forward should run back when he does not have the ball to support his Midfield and Defenders.

Gone are the days when just step-overs, flair and trickery are enough to make the starting eleven. Right now, with the current evolution of tactics, players need to work on their stamina and running as well. If not, there is no Guarantee that they will be in the starting XI for every game.