My Dictionary refers to Individuality as; ‘different from all other things, and interesting and noticeable’. I suppose that, like everything else in life, there are levels of individuality with ‘Genius’, I assume, ranked by mankind as the highest level of human accomplishment. But learning never ends and, although a person may achieve such a status in his/her profession to be called a genius, those who reach such heights must continually seek to go beyond their present ability to keep at the forefront of their profession. How does a Genius regard those who don’t possess a similar level of knowledge or ability as him/herself? Do they ignore them or combine with them? Well, I suppose individuality to the point of Genius, produces both types of response and relates to the character of the person in question.
I have always believed football is a difficult game to play well. Those who use easy, ‘throw-away’ comments to support their belief that ‘football’s a simple game’, fail to notice that very few actually achieve high playing standards; if it was a simple game, why is this the case? No, football’s not a simple game, anything that involves interference to a performance must be regarded as difficult, Football, is a competitive sport with interference (defending) being half of the game’s composition. Without interference in football there would be no game! So let’s say that, football is a difficult game to play and needs specialist players to play it well.
The other, ‘throw-away’ remark that is so frequently and so easily uttered about the game is, ‘football’s a team game’. Of course it’s a team game, but it’s individuals who make up the number! It is at this point where our game has become ‘unstitched’ as to the playing realities and requirements of top level performance. We have mistakenly embraced the concept of team and not individual player through the development years until, at the top of our game, we ‘camouflage’ a lack of individual skill with physical qualities.
For decades, we have prepared players to play simple football; the result has been a ‘roboticising’ in the way we play the game. We have lost generation after generation of talent to a mis-guided belief that ‘simplicity is genius’ and have produced players who don’t have individual ability to provide an answer when confronted with difficult situations in a game. A clear example of the effect of simplistic, ‘robotic’ development is the mistaken use of ball possession here ‘The pass-pass-pass-pass, backwards and sideways, followed by a long kick up-field’ culture that has infected our game stems directly from the simplistic playing qualities embraced here. The result is a production line of ‘same’ players who are unable to positively exploit any advantage that possession play might have created.
I have always believed that the secret of coaching success is about developing high individual skill levels in players, whilst at the same time, gradually introducing and nurturing those skills to combine effectively into team play at each development and playing level. FC Barcelona, have proved my football beliefs to be correct, for within their development and playing structure, they have produced individual skill that ‘cements’ their team play together effectively and successfully. Barcelona’s ability to keep possession of the ball is an outstanding feature of their game, but it is how individual players throughout the team can contrive to answer the difficult questions the game asks that makes them so unique.
When are we going to subscribe to the obvious statement that, ‘the faster one does something, the more likelihood there is of a mistake’. We try to play high tempo football at breakneck speed and consequently, we make mistake after mistake. We do not have the skills to use in games’ requiring such high speed, nor have we developed the necessary football intellect to support fast and produce combined movement. Our skills are simplistic as already stated and this has forced players to become ‘position conscious’, thus making movement and interchange difficult to incorporate into flowing team play.
The lack of emphasis towards developing individuality for our game has created a web of negative side affects. These all conspire towards producing a game of poor playing standards that requires ‘hype’ to sustain it. Like the greed and ‘too big to fail’ attitude that derailed our Banking system with such disastrous consequences, football here must wake up and deal with the deep-rooted problem of player development or we could easily see our national game falter alarmingly. Tinkering with supplementary aspects, as has so often occurred within our game, can follow later; for until excellent development programs are produced to develop excellent coaches, who then go on to produce excellent players to play excellent football, our game will fall further and further behind the better prepared and more skilful adversaries of world football.