Players: physical, quick, direct
Characteristics: The no-nonsense British style incorporates a lot of traditional values that have been present in England since the emergence of football. Attacks are set up quickly and with few touches. This fast-pace mentality often leads to fierce fighting over 50-50 balls. Passes are direct, often sent over the defense and crosses are served from any situation.
Success: In the modern game, English club teams have generally struggled in international competition. Manchester United and Chelsea are exceptions although both clubs play a completely different game outside of England. More recently, the country has been trying to adopt a more continental approach and the FA has even appointed a foreign manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Players: skillful, cunning, cautious
Characteristics: Italian teams are very cautious about the number of players they are committing forward. Players use a variety of skills and the tempo changes often during buildup. Attackers make runs at indirect angles which is unpredictable and difficult to contain. Defenders prefer to slow down the tempo by shielding and playing the ball back. Most Italian teams like to saturate their own half and shut down their opposition.
Success: Italian clubs have had a dominant presence in European competition. Clubs like Milan, Juventus, Roma and Inter have been very successful.
Players: confident with the ball, good dribblers, creative
Characteristics: The Latin game is very distinctive because of its possession-oriented character. Attacks are developed through possession. The ball is moved spontaneously with a lot of individual-based plays. Latin teams such as Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Argentina are typical examples. Brazil takes this style to the extreme through improvisational and free-flowing movement.
Success: Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, and Spain are the leading forces when it comes to the Latin style. Spanish clubs have been very dominant in Europe while Brazil’s national squad has dominated in the World Cup.
Players: aggressive, fast, organized
Characteristics: The game is played in a very direct way with forceful, although predictable attacks. In defense, a definite shape is always preserved. Players have very specific roles within their team and rarely improvise. Northern teams, such as Germany or Sweden, either keep possession or attack by hammering forward. There is no in between.
Success: Germany is a powerful side and has been representing the Northern style for years. Germany is a powerful side and has been representing the Northern style for years. Although it may not always look attractive, the Northern style can be quite effective.
Players: good passing, collectivists
Characteristics: Plays are developed with creativity yet there is a sense of composure and team coordination. Positioning is not very strict so there is plenty of movement without the ball in order to accommodate.
Success: Holland’s total football has revolutionized the game and the collectivist mentality is the essence of what is considered the “continental” style. The style has been successfully adopted by many other European countries.
Players: crafty, excessive dribblers
Characteristics: Most of the time, the ball is moved around with short passes and a lot of dribbling. Virtually all players have good 1v1 skills. Players rarely make quick runs. Overall, the tempo is slow during buildup except for the occasional and unexpected long, forward pass.
Success: Mexico is probably the only noteworthy representative of this style of football.
References and further reading:
Soccer systems and strategies by Jens Bangsbo and Birger Peitersen