By John Cartwright
Rinus Michels, saw the problem developing in Holland back in the 1970’s; the streets were no longer the training grounds for future football talent! The close proximity for playing the game for young kids – the street – was becoming filled with cars and the historical method of player development was under threat. Something had to be done. The Dutch FA were notified of the serious problem that was occurring to practice time as less street space became available for youngsters to play in. What did The Dutch FA do? They saw the problem and they listened to coaches like Michels and, in conjunction with the professional game in Holland, they set about creating a development system that has produced an abundance of talented individuals as well as exciting club and international squads over the past 40 years.
The Dutch realized the importance of individual skill in the playing of the game. Before a team can be constructed it requires an intense amount of programmed work to produce the individual playing qualities for the team ‘engine to fire’. Michels, in his famous book – TEAM BUILDING The Road To Success – comments on how Leonard Bernstein, the famous conductor, listens to each individual musician play before bringing them together to form an orchestra. He then makes the important point that should resonate through every team situation whether it be sporting or any other group situation, “ individually you are all very accomplished, but as an orchestra you will have to travel a long and difficult road”. That difficult road can only be negotiated successfully if each of the musicians (footballers) has the individual ability to make the journey.
We have seen over many years how football in many parts of the world has recognized the importance of producing top quality individuals able to connect easily into team requirements, Like the perfection of sound made by individuals moulded together to form an orchestra, the harmony of a football team must consist of both individual and collective ingredients if a team is to create a seemingly effortless flow and style to their game.
The football hierarchy here have made the mistake of failing to understand the importance of developing high quality individualism. Yes, there have been numerous attempts to improve the problem of skill deficiencies in our game, but without success; the overriding problem is, without a shadow of doubt, COACHING METHODS and DEVELOPMENT INFRASTRUCTURE. The same loss of street-manufactured skills for the game occurred here but the significance of street football with skill acquisition was overlooked as a more structured, academic approach to player production was introduced. A combination of unrealistic and shortened practice time combined with an increase in competitive match-play has provided a ‘cocktail’ of disaster for our game – resulting in our ‘orchestras’ being deficient in individual ability and playing ‘music’ that is terrible!
The London 2012 Olympics, have been described as a huge success; facilities, organization and presentation have been praised by competing nations as well as spectators etc. I withhold my judgement as to the success of the Games until I see the importance of sport fully realized by this and any future Governments. We have collected a large quantity of medals of various colours and some of our sports’ seem to have made tremendous improvements over the past few years; Football is, unsurprisingly, not one of those sports. How those involved at the top of the various sports’ decide to take their particular brand forward will be interesting to watch.
The GB football team, full of players regular participating in our ‘over-hyped’ Premier League, failed to produce any kind of football quality in the games in which they were involved. Teams’ such as Senegal, UAE and South Korea had several better players in their squads and produced more skilful and tactical performances than us. The malaise of poor leadership and poor development methods that blights our football is obvious for all to see. The connection of effort and artistry in our game is still not accepted nor appreciated as essential for success. Perhaps the FA should appoint conductor, Leonard Bernstein, to head football development here, we might then see football played with the passion of Beethoven; the nationalism of Elgar; the continuity of Vivaldi and the waltzing harmony of Strauss. The World’s greatest game certainly deserves more than the ‘Punk Rock’ version we subscribe to it!