Football tactics explained: What is parking the bus?

Jose Mourinho is synonymous with 'parking the bus.'
Jose Mourinho is synonymous with 'parking the bus.'

Portuguese football manager Jose Mourinho is synonymous with his famous 'parking the bus' technique in top-flight football management. Mourinho, who has managed several European heavyweights such as Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester United, has brought along this style of play with him wherever he has gone. It would be most unfair of us to suggest that he hasn't achieved any success with it.

While the statistics show that Mourinho's style of play has won him trophies and championships, he hasn't earned a lot of plaudits from either football pundits or fans for it.

So what really is parking the bus? Today, we examine what this style of football really is and why it is considered boring. We also look at how it has brought Mourinho success.

To explain what parking the bus means in football to a layman, one can say that it is a sort of style wherein the team gets ultra-defensive and propagates keeping possession of the ball more than trying to widen the areas and build offensively. In this style of play, central defenders and central midfielders play a huge role as they determine where the ball is going to go after possession has been snatched back from the opposition.

In this system, the defenders keep hold of the ball more and do not give it away easily to the opposition before passing it on to the midfielders. For example, the goalkeeper may start the game by giving the ball to a full-back, who will leisurely take his time to pass it to a centre-back who, in turn keeps possession for sometime, while luring one or two of the attacking players from the opposition to snatch the ball away from him, before looking at wide areas in the pitch and passing it through either by a good pass or a long ball.

One of the central characters for this style of football to be successful is a strong, physically capable and agile central defensive midfielder. Mourinho achieved this with Claude Makelele at Chelsea (during his first term) and Nemanja Matic at both Chelsea (in his second term) and Manchester United. This player is the pivot around whom the entire game rotates. He would drop in often to be the third centre-back, while at times go forward to put the pressure on the opposition defenders.

Any team willing to imbibe this style of play will also need to work a lot on spontaneous movements towards goal as the defenders will be looking for an opportunity to offload the ball. The team must also be good at set-pieces and making counter-attacks count.

Edited by Samya Majumdar
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