Why is dribbling useful in Football?

Tiago Estêvão
3 min readDec 28, 2017


A couple of days ago I tweeted a video about West Ham’s Arthur Masuaku alongside a mention of his impressive dribbling numbers. A lot of people engaged, often steering the conversation towards how these ended in nothing concrete and therefore had very little value — if any at all. While I disagree, I also understand where that argument is coming from and that is what prompted me to write this article. Why is dribbling useful in Football?

Let’s start off by defining a “dribble”, WhoScored considers a Successful Dribble “taking on an opponent and successfully making it past them whilst retaining the ball”. This clarification should help us organize and simplify our perspectives of the situation.

As long as the opponent is beaten it’ll go down as a dribble — regardless of whether the player then provided a beautiful assist or followed it up by losing it. So not all dribbles are the same and, although the ones that are able to be followed by a key pass or a shot could be deemed more relevant, this shouldn’t mean others don’t have value as well. Distinct kinds of take-ons occur in different situations and serve different purposes. Let’s explore the topic.

Middlesbrough’s Adama Traoré is the ultimate dribbler (credit: PA)

The benefits from those in the final third seem clear to everyone — in general, the closer to the opposition goal you move, the less space you’re going to have. Being able to beat a player or two, will free up space which is, ultimately, the purpose of any attacking sequence — since it will lead to chance creation.

Everything’s about space in football: this might be seem slightly obvious but moving from spot x to spot y with the ball is the basis of every offensive move. Teams do it via a combination of passing and ball-carrying.

For sides that do not have much control of the game, passing it out of the back is pretty much not an option. And while long balling it up top is a thing, having someone who can beat an opponent in a deep zone and turn defensive moment into a situation where they surpass the midfield is key. That’s what happens with Masuaku, and a similar situation occurs with Angelino is Eredivisie’s NAC Breda.

Even if these moments don’t end up amounting in a well-constructed attacking situation, they will at the very least give the team a breather from the defensive pressure sustained by their opponents. Furthermore, fouls are often won this way: giving his team an extra opportunity to threaten their rivals and extend their time on the ball.

Dribbling in deep zones isn’t a resource utilized just by the little guys, though. Bigger teams tend to look at it from a strategic standpoint as opposed to a necessity one. And while for the minor clubs it tends to be wider players doing it — as shown in the previous examples -, the big clubs tend to get the all so desired players with the capacity to burst past players in Central areas.

Players like Frenkie De Jong are showcasing how dribbling from deep can be used disrupt a deep block, via attracting players when in the opposing midfield, therefore freeing up teammates for a passing move to happen. The opposing team will be committing a player that wouldn’t have had to otherwise and the domino effect leads to a less organized defensive shape that will be exploited.

On the other hand, when these sides are pressed, these individuals can play through it, effectively breaking said press and taking advantage of the space freed up. The other common solution to that is to surpass it with long balls, which are hard to consistently pull off in an effective manner.

Dribbles are a lot more than just a Neymar flick that goes straight into a YouTube highlight reel. They are purposeful and having players capable of pulling them off is a key resource for any successful team.



Tiago Estêvão

Professional Football Performance Analyst | Uefa C Coach