Ariel Holan is a relatively unknown name in the world of football. His recent Copa Sudamericana win has however brought some attention to his name. The 57-year old has only been in the game since 2003 when he made the switch from field hockey to football. He started out as an assistant manager next to Jorge Burruchaga. Following numerous stints as assistant manager at the likes of Arsenal de Sarandi, Estudiantes and River Plate, Holan finally became a head coach in 2015, where he took over the vacant Defensa y Justicia job.
He only lasted one season in charge of Defensa y Justicia but managed to achieve something historic with Hálcon: Defensa finished in 8th place and qualified for the Copa Sudamericana, the South American equivalent of the Europa League. It was a remarkable achievement with a team consisting mostly of loanees playing in a staggering 30-team league. His next job would become his biggest and most challenging job yet, taking over the reigns of the club he has supported his entire life: Club Átletico Independiente.
Independiente are one of the most successful South American football teams winning a record 7 Copa Libertadores titles, the South American version of the Champions League. However, most of these titles were won in the 80’s and their continental dominance has become a thing of the past. Independiente even got relegated back in 2013 but Ariel Holan has brought glory, pride and tears of joy back to Independiente.
Off the pitch
But there’s something that makes Ariel Holan stand out compared to his predecessors and colleagues. Ariel is, despite his age might suggest, extremely innovative and keen on using the latest technology. He was a true pioneer in this area in South America. Holan used drones to capture training footage and used a GPS-system on his players so he could track their physical performances. He had developed his own software during his time as a hockey coach which he has continued to use after his switch in career paths. He once even sold his car so he could buy an Apple computer, which would help him with the development of his own software. It’s characteristic of his personality. Holan is progressive, innovative and forward-thinking and he is despite his age far more advanced in that area than some of his colleagues.
Holan’s Independiente usually plays in a very fluid 4-2-3-1. We have to take a look at the following terms to help us understand Holan’s view on the game.
• Cutback from byline
• Vertical play
Fluidity especially is a key concept for every player that plays under Holan. You’ve got to be able to fill multiple positions during a game – much like the idea of Totaal Voetbal, which the Dutch successfully executed in the 1974 World Cup. It’s however not a coincidence that Ariel Holan expects his players to contribute to multiple phases of the game: Fluidity is an integrated part of field hockey where as mentioned, Holan’s managerial roots lay. Former captain Nicolás Tagliafico, who recently moved to Ajax for 5 Million, was able to play both as a left back as well as a centre back. Most players have filled multiple positions during this Superliga season but the main example of Holan’s fluidity is Maximiliano Meza. He’s a playmaker from origin, often filling their ‘10’ role. However, Meza has also featured on both flanks as well as a defensive midfielder under Holan.
Holan doesn’t only expect his players to play in multiple positions, they also need to fulfil multiple roles. Both wingers need to be capable of cutting inside, acting more like an inside forward, as well as acting as a more traditional wide winger. These then, in turn, create certain areas which can be exploited by Independiente’s fullbacks. An inside forward is often supported by an overlapping fullback, exploiting the space out wide. An underlapping fullback, on the other hand, is usually active in the halfspace aiming for a run towards the opponent’s penalty area. Independiente are well capable of using both options during a match, creating a constant dilemma for their opponents.
As you can see above Independiente successfully scored from a cutback from the byline. It’s a mechanic that has been well integrated into El Rojo’s style of play. An over- or- underlapping fullback will always have at least two options: One of Independiente’s attackers runs to the near post while the other one offers a more backwards passing lane, as shown above. This attacking style of play is visible in Independiente’s statistics. Almost 9 out of their 15 shots each game are taken inside the penalty area (per Whoscored.com).
Another key aspect of Holan’s Independiente is their vertical play. Their forwards are constantly looking to exploit the space left behind the opponents defensive line. Their lone striker needs to be able to get in behind the defensive line as well as holding up the play. Something that Gigliotti has been doing well. Again, another example of players fulfilling multiple roles.
Another passing move that you’ll see a lot under Holan is the diagonal pass, often displayed on the opponent’s half. When one side of the pitch is relatively crowded, Independiente often switches the play up with a diagonal pass to their other winger, who’ll usually receive support from their fullback. This way Independiente are able to exploit a vulnerable area, with most opponents still leaning towards the other side of the pitch,
The image below captures both scenarios very well. Both Independiente’s ‘9’ & 10’ make vertical runs behind the defensive line, while the actual pass is a diagonal one to the other side of the pitch.
All of the aforementioned concepts contribute to the biggest strength of Independiente: Variety. They’ve got the ability to switch their style of play dependant on their opponent or the phase of the game. This makes them an extremely tough opponent to predict and defend against.
Overall Independiente have been impressive under Holan who’s looking to improve his side every day. The former field hockey coach is one most innovative around and is despite his age one of the most promising managers on the South American continent. They’ve already won the Copa Sudamericana last year and will be keen to challenge for South America’s biggest trophy, the Copa Libertadores.