"The rondo contains everything you need in football."
This is how Johan Cruyff described the rondo, a practice that is today used by all coaches in training sessions or as part of a warm-up.
The Dutch coach was, as ever, ahead of the curve, using the rondo after arriving at Barcelona in 1988. He introduced it in training and then transferred it to his team’s pre-match routine as well. A game of short, quick combinations in which the defenders chase after the ball relentlessly soon became part of the identity of the Catalan team.
The rondo is a game in which players stand in a circle and pass the ball between one another while one or more defenders, who are inside the circle, try to disrupt the attackers' possession.
The defender who steals the ball swaps places on the outside of the circle with the player they won it from. Defenders can win the ball through tackles or interceptions. This dynamic continues for an allotted amount of time, with players switching roles continuously whenever a defender wins the ball.
There is no limit to the number of players that can be involved, and there is no set ratio between attackers and defenders. The only rule is that there are fewer defenders than attackers.
Coaches often set a rule on the number of touches the attackers can use. At the highest level, rondos are usually played with a limit of one touch per player, and the circle is kept small to challenge the players.
The rondo is a simple game that works on players’ passing, vision, control and combination play. The in-possession players have to reach a certain number of passes – pre-determined by the coach – while the defenders have to prevent their opponents reaching that tally.
Given how little time or effort is needed to set up a rondo, the intensity it generates and the opportunities to rest between repetitions are huge in comparison, making it a very useful exercise.
As the players in the circle don't move long distances and the players around the outside are stationary, it can be used as a warm-up. However, if the playing area is made bigger and more participants are added, the rondo can provide a greater and more complex challenge. Then, the rondo can be used as a main part of training. Equally, a less intense version can be used at the end of training as part of a warm-down.
At the core of the rondo is fun and competitiveness, and these must be retained in order to ensure the players’ commitment. In other words, achieving the objective – keeping/recovering the ball – should be so rewarding that the players are motivated to win. Likewise, the pace of the game is a key factor in stimulating competition and keeping the players entertained. The coach should strive to ensure the rondo is played at a good speed. In short, the rondo is a fun and competitive activity, which helps to improve players both technically and physically.
Although rondos can be any size, the most common involve 5-8 in-possession players and two defenders. The attackers stand in a circle with a few feet between each player, with the two defenders in the middle. Alternatively, a larger rondo could involve a whole squad in a circle measuring roughly 10-12m in diameter, with as many defenders in the middle as feels appropriate.
It is also possible to make the rondo more advanced by using attackers inside the circle (above), or by making it a continuous exercise in which the defenders try to keep the ball once they have won it. Floating players can then be used (below), and they play for whichever team is in possession.
- Always play the way you are facing.
- Draw an opponent in with a pass to a close teammate before playing the next pass to a teammate who is further away, and free from pressure.
- Play off one touch wherever possible to keep the defenders off balance. This may not always be possible but should be the aim.
- Think fast, and execute passes with precision.
- Stay on your toes and be ready to adapt constantly.
- Press with intensity.
- Close off passing lanes through the middle of the playing area.
- Maintain the pace and intensity of the game by running at speed to press the ball. This will ensure everyone gets the most from the rondo and will be able to take what they have practised into matches.
Rondos have many benefits for the players. First and foremost, they involve lots of touches of the ball for every player, and when the ball comes their way, they are under pressure immediately. The players are therefore forced to learn how to play off one touch – something they will clearly benefit from being able to do in a match.
The rondo also builds good habits. The players are subjected to lots and lots of repetitions of receiving quick passes and close combinations. For the best results in coaching, it is best to repeat an action over and over, and eventually it will become second nature for the player. The rondo helps to do that with passing.
While the rondo is popular and extremely useful, it also has its limitations. Firstly, the rondo lacks many of the components of a full-sized match. It is directionless, for example. That is, teams are not attacking towards or defending a certain end or goal. This means possession is just prioritised for the sake of keeping the ball, rather than with the purpose of scoring a goal. This can establish habits that aren’t all that helpful in 11-a-side football.
Also, the rondo is meant to be played entirely on the floor, so players are not able to practise or test themselves playing or receiving medium-length or longer passes, which are of course very common in football.
Meanwhile, for the defenders, the rondo is all about pressing to win the ball back as quickly as possible, whereas in matches defenders need to be able make good decisions as to when to press and when to drop off their opponents.
Pep Guardiola (above) learned his trade from Cruyff and is known for a similar use of the rondo, with 6-8 players on the outside and two on the inside. The idea for Guardiola is clear: to attract defenders with passes involving two or three players who are close together, before then moving the ball to the other side – usually to a wide player – to find a teammate in space. For Guardiola the rondo is a key vehicle for teaching the ideas that he considers to be the basic elements of his attacking play. Drawing opponents towards the ball to free up space elsewhere is a key principle for Guardiola.
Carlo Ancelotti (above) uses the rondo as a fun part of his training, often to start off a session and relax the players. He often uses rondos with five or six players on the outside and two defenders in the middle, as this means the players get lots of touches of the ball, and also there are lots of turnovers, which means the players rotate roles very often, and the defenders won’t be stuck on the inside for long periods.
Ernesto Valverde makes his rondos extremely competitive. He divides his squad into three rondos, and within those rondos, the players compete in pairs to avoid spending much time as the defenders.
His approach focuses on team spirit and the fight of the players. This has the added benefit of ensuring the practice is played at such a high intensity that it helps condition the players more than others’ rondos might.
Want to know more about football tactics and learn how to coach from the very best? Take a look at the Coaches' Voice Academy here
Author: The Coaches' Voice