One of the major debates in the soccer world over the last several decades, and arguably longer than that, has been about the value of possession. When soccer first emerged as a game more than 150 years ago those playing did so for fun in their spare time on empty land whose quality as a playing surface was inconsistent at best. Quite often fields would be muddy, uneven, and very difficult to play on. This led to a brand of soccer where the best way to score would be to kick it up the field to try and have it as close to the opponent’s goal as possible. The closer you were to the opponents goal, this line of thinking went, the likelier you were to score. This also lead to lots of goals coming from crossing the ball in the air from a player out wide to a large target forward in the middle (to learn more about wingers and strikers check out the Forwards position page.) A typical goal in this style of play might also come just from the goalie punting it as far forward as he could and the striker heading it in or holding the ball up and passing it out to the winger for a crossed goal as mentioned before. For a game ostensibly about playing the ball with your feet, this version of the game had very little “football” involved. As you might imagine, possession as a concept had very little focus in this way of thinking, with the emphasis more on getting the ball as far up the field as quickly as possible.
Gradually, as the game grew and players moved from amateurs to full professionals and the surfaces being played on increased in quality some coaches began experimenting with the idea of possession being something that can contribute to the team’s success. This newer line of thinking suggested that if you have the ball that opponent doesn’t and therefore it is nearly impossible for them to score. Instead of the goalie punting the ball aimlessly down the field, they might instead pass it to their center back, who could pass it to a midfielder who could pass it up to a forward, who might send it back to the midfielder if he did not have an open shot. This idea of “recycling the ball”, sending it back to your teammate instead of forcing a shot was due to a belive that more goals would come with a quality over quantity approach to shots on target. Ultimately, both styles, and a mix of styles depending on the situation, are still common today.