For quite some time now, we’ve witnessed an extreme conceptualization of football. Recently, social media echoed pre-match statements that quickly became viral. A coach twisted the language in such a way that many of us involved in this had the impression we were hearing about another sport. This isn’t an isolated case.

The creativity that, unfortunately, we increasingly miss on the pitch seems to have conquered the studios and broadcasts, causing many coaches (especially those of recent vintage) to become great imitators and jump on the bandwagon of a dialogue seasoned with “cool” and ostensibly “modern” terms that sell well (marketing) but fundamentally do not explain anything beyond the packaging. All you need to do is listen to the great coaches of our time—Guardiola, Klopp, Ancelotti, Simeone, to name just a few—to realize that those who truly understand this don’t need to adorn themselves with the complexity of words to explain football.

Today, I want to focus on one of those trendy terms: “The Search for the Free Man.” The term “free man” refers to a player who is not marked by an opponent and, therefore, has the freedom to receive a pass, move, or participate in the game without immediate restrictions from the opponent’s marking. This free player is generally strategically positioned to receive the ball, progress, and/or create opportunities for their team.

The idea behind having a free man is to generate numerical superiority in certain areas of the field. If a player is unmarked, they can receive the ball without pressure and make more effective tactical decisions, such as advancing with the ball, making a key pass, or shooting at the goal. Creating a free man often involves coordinated and tactical movements by the team to unmark a player and create space for them. Coaches try to design specific strategies to free a key player and leverage their ability to positively influence the game’s development. So far, the explanation of the concept.

However, I often have the impression that nowadays, far from becoming a means, for many coaches, it has become an end in itself, and they refer to it as if talking about the Holy Grail. Many coaches, especially novices, indulge in an idolized pursuit of the term without weighing its practical application, revealing many theoretical expectations but few practical results since their teams are unable to progress past midfield, and that, in any case, is always a problem.

Focusing excessively on theory and trying to conceptualize everything (which looks good in a book, on a TV program, and of course, on a Twitter thread) often becomes so abstract that it distances us from the practical reality of the game, limits the player’s creativity, and significantly restricts the inherent emotion and passion of football. The inherent complexity of this sport, with multiple interactive variables constantly changing, makes it impossible to conceptualize and predict all possible scenarios. Hence, the balance between theory and practice, conceptualization and intuition, is essential for a complete and rich understanding of the game.

Having said that, we cannot forget that, in modern football, the true “free man” always wears a different color, wears gloves on their hands, and stands alone guarding the opposing goal. Therefore, that is where we must direct our search…