There are no wrong ways to win in soccer. However, there are only a few teams have been in discussions about the best teams that have ever played. Amazingly, many of those teams have been related to Johan Cruyff, as a player, coach, technical advisor, and technical director. Most importantly, the concepts of rondos, rondo coaching, and total football, are all synonymous with his name. Coincidence?

“Everything that goes on in a match, except shooting, you can do in a rondo. The competitive aspect, fighting to make space, what to do when in possession and what to do when you haven’t got the ball, how to play ‘one touch’ soccer, how to counteract the tight marking and how to win the ball back”

Johan Cruyff, inventor of rondo

What is rondo?

My players want to call it “monkey/piggy in the middle”, others just think it’s a keep-away game or a warm-up exercise. In simplest terms, it’s a circle of players passing the ball to each other, while one in the center is trying to intercept it.

but frankly, I found it rather elementary.

Yes, it is supposed to be elementary. Soccer is not supposed to be complicated, it should be art in its simplest form. As the title of the documentary about the legendary team of Barcelona (2008-2012) suggests, the essence is “Take The Ball Pass The Ball”.

It starts with just the structure of 3v0 or 4v0 rondos with no opponents. Then it progresses to 4v1 rondos with very low pressure. Then we transition to 5v2 rondo variations to keep the same pressure but increase the complexity. Finally, we get into 4v2 rondos as the base of what rondos is all about – picking the right option with the right technical movement.

Soccer Rondo Progression Intro

What is rondo coaching in soccer?

I remember a parent of a 7-year-old asking another coach what should the player work on. The reply was: ball control, dribbling skills, body control, passing accuracy, spatial awareness, tactics, risk assessment, speed, agility, endurance, balance, coordination, strength, mindset, winning mentality, composure, aggressiveness, motivation, focus, team player…

Pick any world-class player and we’ll find several attributes where they are below average for the league where they are playing. Then pick any player that is collecting any sort of payment to play. You will see that he/she will know how to receive a ball and pass a ball. The difference between the world-class player and the amateur player is actually in the number of options they can play.

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Barcelona positioning

Case study of the rondo masters

Let’s take the situation above, where the ball is with number 6, likely Xavi. Any youth player with a bit of experience can see and pass to #4, #5, and #2. The receivers will have close to a 100% chance of having comfortable possession of the ball. They need a vision to pass and technique to pass to #3 and #8. For the average player, that’s where the options end. If you swap me with Xavi, I would likely see 7-8 options, but my subconscious rules out #7, #9, #10, and #11 as too far and challenging. However, it is likely that the weight of the pass and/or the timing of it will position #3 and #8 in a difficult position. Realistically, I have #4, #5, and #2, and that’s without any pressure!

Xavi, being the world player he is, can pass to any person on the pitch, giving them at least a 50% chance of retaining the ball. Moreover, he can retain the ball himself and find the right timing to pass, so that his teammates can be in the right place at the right time. However, he rarely does, because that gives more time for opponents to close opportunities. And with his teammates (Iniesta, Messi, Ronaldinho, Neymar, Henry…), he would trust them to make the next right pass if they are in a better position with high precision.

“If you play in one touch, very good. If you touch the ball twice, good. If you touch it three times, wrong.”

Johan Cruyff

Like any other drill, we practice rondo because we can control the intensity and use it as a building block. We’ll discuss how you can evolve your rondo coaching over time for the same group of players. It will be fun!


No Opponents Rondo

Introduction to rondos with 3v0 and 4v0. Coaching passing, receiving, and the concept of “backfoot”.

First opponent

Introduce an opponent in the rondo. Create the need to move off the ball and think of passing lanes.

Increase intensity

Limit one passing option, and improve decision-making. Put pass-and-go into practice. Introduce a transition rondo to 5v3.

Increase complexity

Introduce team pressing of two players. Coach the central midfielder for the first time.

Pro Rondo

The rondo that pros play. Teaching to split the opponents with the right weight of the pass.

Positional play

All variations of the complex rondos before transitioning into positional play and game scenarios.