By John Cartwright
As most of the regular readers of the ‘Blogs’ I have written over the past few years will probably realize, I am not a great lover of the ‘English Game’. I believe we have failed to develop players with a full quota of playing qualities and are becoming more and more reliant on athletic ability to camouflage a lack of individual skill and game understanding. There is a massive disregard here for a ‘classical’ approach towards the thinking, development methods and competitive playing of the game. Force is favoured over finesse from junior to senior levels making it more and more a physical ‘contest’ than a football ‘spectacle’.
Long used traditional beliefs attached to coaching and the playing of the game must, in my opinion, be discarded; players should not be developed to fill a single positional ‘space’ but be capable of occupying any position in a team throughout a game. The physical attributes of players must still be recognized as important, but players must also possess high skill and understanding levels for the game; the higher the combination of all these aspects that players acquire, the higher up the playing ‘ladder’ they must be directed. The rough-tough defensive ‘stoppers’, so prevalent in our game, must be developed in future with the ability to be positive ‘starters’ of offensive play as well; our mid-field players must not be just recognised as physical battlers — the ‘engine room’ of a team — they must become players able to convert from ‘defensive stalwarts’ into ‘offensive, creative, predators’ as situations in a game demand; players normally in forward positions must be equally comfortable when asked to cover back to defend in deeper positions. In these deeper roles, they must display the ability to be both safe yet creative and, on returning to more forward positions, be equally creative, but also display penetrative qualities. This ‘rotational’ form of playing requires a team of highly talented individual players who possess the skills, game awareness and physical qualities for the game. I have often thought that we have not utilised opportunities to convert talented players to other areas of a team to both enhance their own playing qualities and increase the playing standards of that team. By converting higher playing qualities in this way would increase the possibility of a more ‘all-round’ playing style. This ‘conversion phase’ would be necessary until an improved development program produced players with the ability required to cover any out-field position.
We have not followed a development ‘pathway’ that has emphasised the use of ‘total talent’ for the game and ‘organised team-play’ has been prioritised without recognising the vital importance of individualism within it. Players have taken up positional roles for numerous reasons, many of which have not been the correct decisions for them. Too often players remain ‘fixed’ to a positional role due to limited team selection or a lack of positional experimentation and our game has failed to make sufficient progress. There have been successful ‘conversions’ in the past but these have been rare and in general have not been influential in changing a playing style.
In producing and selecting players to play a game-style that resembles a total form of the sport we would see a more ‘rotational’ version of it in which present ‘straight line’ running and ‘robotic’ decision-making would be things of the past. Yes, the physical aspects would still be a necessary part of the game, but the boring, pugilistic one v one ‘conflicts and scrimmages’ that are a regular part of the mess our game has become would be decreased considerably. The ability to ‘overload’ situations with skill and understanding combined with players who were equally capable of extricating themselves positively from ‘under-loaded’ situations is how we must take the game forward into its next development and playing period if we are to achieve success on the world stage.