What does 'parking the bus' mean in football? Defensive tactics term explained & teams that do it

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The main objective in football is to score more goals than your opponent, but not every team is blessed with the attacking riches to adopt a forward-thinking philosophy week in, week out.

Even managers boasting some of the world's best players often opt for a safety-first approach, prioritising clean sheets over big numbers in the final third, with that pragmatic outlook often reaping considerable rewards.

'Parking the bus' is the phrase most closely associated with playing defensively in the modern era, but what is the basic premise behind it? Goal is on hand to provide you with everything you need to know.

What is 'parking the bus' in football?

In football, the term 'parking the bus' is used when teams operate with a lot of players behind the ball when out of possession.

The system also tends to favour minimal risk in attack, with very few players committed forward to make sure that the opposition cannot break quickly when they win the ball back.

Parking the bus can cause great frustration because opponents have less room to create chances and will often be reduced to shooting from long range, with it possible that mistakes can also creep in due to tiredness as they probe for openings.

Where did 'parking the bus' come from?

Parking the bus is a phrase that was initially coined during Jose Mourinho's first spell in charge of Chelsea between 2004 and 2007.

It is a phrase which has become synonymous with Mourinho, but, interestingly, he actually first used it to decry the style of Tottenham following a 0-0 draw against the north London side in 2004.

"As we say in Portugal, they brought the bus and they left the bus in front of the goal," Mourinho told reporters. 

"I would have been frustrated if I had been a supporter who paid £50 to watch this game because Spurs came to defend."

The Portuguese guided the Blues to back-to-back Premier League titles, one FA Cup and two League Cups while championing a style that required great discipline from all 10 of his outfield players.

Mourinho's method was most successful during the 2004-05 campaign as Chelsea broke the record for the most clean sheets in a single Premier League season (15) and won the title with only one defeat to their name.

Which teams are famous for 'parking the bus'?

While Mourinho suggested that Jacques Santini's Spurs team were guilty of 'parking the bus' in 2004, it is the Portuguese coach's teams that are most closely associated with the term. 

Thanks to a strict defensive set-up, Chelsea were considered the masters of 'parking the bus' under Mourinho and he brought similar tactics back to Stamford Bridge when he returned for a second stint in the dugout in 2013.

The 58-year-old also turned Italian giants Inter into a great defensive team on the way to delivering a treble in 2009-10.

After defeating Barcelona in the semi-final on the way to Champions League glory in 2010, Mourinho took his metaphor to another level, suggesting that the Nerazzurri "parked the plane" to beat the Catalan side.

"We won the tie in Barcelona but everyone talks about Barcelona winning and says we parked the bus in front of the goal," he said.  

"We didn't park the bus, we parked the plane and we did it for two reasons. One, because we only had 10 men and two, because we beat them 3-1 at San Siro, not by parking the bus, or the boat or the airplane but by smashing them."

A number of other coaches have followed Mourinho's blueprint.

Juventus and AC Milan are also traditionally strong defensive sides, while Spanish giants Atletico Madrid are well known for sitting back and absorbing pressure under Diego Simeone.

Sean Dyche's Burnley have become renowned for their resolute defensive style and are regularly described as having 'parked the bus' against opponents in order to grind out results.