Speed is defined as ‘the rate at which someone or something moves’. In football, there are several types of speed. Analyst and former Madrid manager Jorge Valdano grouped them into three different categories:
1 · Translation speed | This is the one we are all most familiar with. In other words, pure running or physical speed. It means in how much time can a player cover a distance and go from one point to another.
2 · Mental speed | This is what allows the footballer to scan his surroundings, gather information, detect the available options and choose one of the multiple possibilities. Anticipation, recognition, decision, reaction. It’s also the ability to be aware of all factors of the game, involving the opponents, teammates, ball, situation, dimensions of the pitch and position of oneself.
3 · Technical speed | This is the least intuitive one. It can be called precision as well. It is related to the capacity to control and handle the ball with the feet and body. The accuracy in the execution.
With this in mind, which is the most important speed in football? To me, running speed is the least essential of them all. This should only be an accessory or supplement that gains more relevance only if the player does not possess the two other velocities. It should be a tool, but not a differential factor. For instance, Riqui Puig has a brutal pace and agility, but it’s just another mechanism he employs to eliminate rivals and progress. But Xavi was not any worse for not being extraordinarily quick.
What in my opinion does make a difference between one footballer and another is mental and technical speed. Valdano described the latter as the most valuable one, as it goes from the individual to the collective. Making an accurate one-touch pass not only shows your own quality, but it allows the team to move faster too. At the same time, mental velocity is as key for the collective as the technical. It implies being properly positioned, complementing the teammates’ roles and adapting and reacting to every given situation rapidly and accurately. Football, after all, is not about getting somewhere first, but about getting there in the best conditions.