In 2004, famed soccer giant Jose Mourinho, then coach of Chelsea Football Club, accused his opponent, Tottenham Hotspur, of bringing the bus and leaving it in front of the goal.
This phrasing, which apparently is common in Portugal, quickly spread through the world soccer lexicon, and thus, parking the bus was born.
But what does it mean to park the bus, and why would teams do it?
What is park the bus in soccer? Park the bus is a strategy that refers to a team that plays ultra-defensive to prevent the opposition team to score. It often requires the entire team to defend and is mostly used at the end of games to secure a victory.
A Team Goes All In On Defense
This strategy is an ultra-defensive style of gameplay, and while it can be deployed for the full 90 minutes, it’s more often used by teams towards the end of games.
That’s because it involves parking all of the players on their half of the field while keeping possession of the ball as much as possible, limiting the ability of the other team to score.
Teams that are ahead as the clock winds down may switch to this conservative tactic in order to keep their lead. But also teams that are tied may also play this conservative method instead of risking losing outright—and eliminating their own chance to win outright by taking riskier plays and making more shots on goal.
Did “Park The Bus” Start In 2004?
Since humans have been playing soccer together for hundreds of years, there’s no way that this type of defense sprang into fruition in 2004 when Tottenham was playing Chelsea. Although Mourinho’s quote after the game gave rise to this strange moniker, this style of defense may also be called the low block.
Fans may hear this ultra-defensive strategy referenced as either the low block or parking the bus or, in some case, even anti-football (or anti-soccer, for the Americans).
There isn’t a ton of movement when teams are in this formation, as they’re usually forming a blockade on their side of the pitch. Players hold and pass the ball, keeping it away from their opponent’s offense and reducing their opportunities to take the ball.
Even if the opposing offense does get a chance to have possession of the ball, they will have to navigate it through the entire roster of the team who has parked the proverbial bus, which is going to make scoring a very tall order.
Offense All But Goes Away
The team who is parking the bus has taken control of the way the game is going to be played, and they are trying to essentially eliminate offense from the game on both sides of the ball.
By choosing not to play their own style of offense, they are decreasing their ability to score and have to leverage the goals they’ve already scored or hope to score on set pieces.
But with the back half of the field being so densely populated, they have also taken away the opportunity of the other team to play their offense if they can successfully execute the bus. The opposing team will likely struggle to penetrate such a deep defensive strategy, although it can be done.
Playing Against The “Park The Bus” Strategy
Continually attacking the bus can certainly wear down those defensive players. By chasing down the ball, defensive players will need to pass it more often, which can provide opportunities to take that ball away.
The players who are taking up positions in the parked bus are not just standing around, and this strategy takes a lot of concentration from the players.
Just like bodies will fatigue, so will the minds of the players who are in this intensely defensive spot, so those opposing teams can hope to catch the parked-bus team in more mistakes as the game goes on. If they can exploit those mistakes before the clock runs out, they stand a chance of scoring against the bus defense.
Opposing teams can also pull their goalkeepers out of the goal, which is incredibly tempting to offensive-minded players on the other side. Even though they’re supposed to be parking the bus, they may not be able to resist the draw of an unattended goal, and if they make a break for it, it may give the non-bus side an opportunity to steal the ball.
It also doesn’t always work for the team relying on their defense. In 2020, West Brom parked the bus against Liverpool from the very beginning, but it took only 12 minutes for Sadio Mane to score a goal.
Liverpool went on to win the game 3-0, so it is worth noting that this strategy of play is incredibly difficult to execute properly, and it can lead to the team who has parked the bus being outscored if they can’t, a, stop the opposite team from scoring and, b, aren’t taking shots on goal themselves.
Is This Defensive Strategy Offensive?
Well, fans may certainly be offended when they see their team hanging back and essentially choosing not to play offense anymore. If the purpose of soccer is to get more goals than the other team, it can be disheartening to watch a game where no goals are being scored.
Casual fans may not know or understand why there is so little happening on the field, and while it may not be the most interesting tactic, some fans may recognize it as the strategy it is and appreciate it nonetheless.
Others may see it as playing not to lose instead of playing to win, which certainly can annoy some fans who think that it’s better to play aggressively, even if the team ends up losing, versus playing a style that requires them to hang back.
The crowd goes wild when teams score and play aggressively and are really engaging with the other team. But in the parking the bus strategy, there is certainly less of those highlight-reel moments.
From a strategic standpoint, there is value in protecting your lead or attempting to force a draw, but there are also fans who are of the opinion that the teams should always be attempting to score.
Who Can Park The Bus?
Strange though the name may be, parking the bus is a legitimate defensive strategy that has helped teams win important games and cause draws when needed.
This strategy does depend on having strong central defenders and competent midfielders who can keep possession of the ball and have the discipline to remain in the defensive position.
Teams who rely on this strategy should also be excellent on set pieces, which could still potentially give them the opportunity to score without having to change up the parking the bus defense.
A game where the bus is parked may be dull for fans and frustrating for the opponent attempting to score despite the entire team essentially acting as goalkeepers, but for teams that can pull off the bus parking, this defensive strategy can secure a win or a draw.
It may not be the prettiest, but if it works, go ahead and park it.