A Turgid “Sameness”

By John Cartwright

The exciting and unpredictable game of Association Football has, over the past half century in this country, become a game lacking individual skills and imagination and boring to watch.

In industry and commerce ‘chaos’ learning methods of the past created trades-people with both individual skills and an on-the-job decision-making ability. Apprenticeships, were usually completed under the ‘watchful eye’ of an experienced craftsperson who themselves had ‘earned their stripes’ the same way. Learning a trade in the past therefore, was not acquired ‘by the book’ – it was a ‘hands on’ system based on ‘trial and error’ with realism in the ways and means of learning  of paramount importance. Trades-people were developed knowing their business from the ‘ground floor to the top’. The individual ability acquired in this way produced both confidence and capability to make any necessary on-the-job decisions to complete the work successfully.

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The development of footballers in the past followed a similar learning style with an unstructured, ‘chaos’ approach. It produced players with individual skill and a playing awareness that is missing today. A boring ‘sameness’ in our football has been the result of the use of ‘standardisation’ in coaching methods since the demise of ‘chaos’ learning. Coaching in this way has produced a game based on ‘non-individualism’ in which group predictability is preferred over individual unpredictability! Our players; look the same -make the same simple decisions -move in the same way -fight and chase the same -make the same mistakes, etc.  because, in my opinion, they have acquired their limited ‘ability’ from a coaching and development structure that does not develop players but ‘processes’ players towards mediocrity not towards excellence. We have seen simplistic football become the only option available, and fight not finesse ‘camouflages’ a lack of skill and game understanding.

THE DNA OF PERFORMANCE PHILOSOPHY (Game-style in normal language) is the latest attempt by our ‘academic coaching hierarchy’ to find a better way forward for our game. I believe they will have little success, for skill learning and the ‘moulding’ of individualism with team-play is a coaching (teaching) art that fails to be given enough consideration here. Individual ability is acquired in a different way and in different circumstances than through the use of over-organised, structured methods of learning. Realism, achieved through ‘practice whilst playing’ involves both the ‘hands dirty’ and the ‘trial and error’ formulae that creates skilful playing qualities – too many of our ‘academic coaches’ have not experienced teaching the game in this way.

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Older coaches, like myself, are too easily disparaged for their criticism of modern coaching methods. Those who disregard our concerns fail to realise that we were part of a learning process that developed players who were World Cup winners! These players, and many more in the past, did not learn the game through structured coaching methods, but through playing the game competitively in streets, school playgrounds, boys’ club games and school matches – I know this as a fact, for I grew up learning the game in the same way and played with 3 of those World Cup winners at West Ham Utd!

Let’s stop this farcical approach to the present teaching methods of the game and restore common sense to player development. Times have changed and the development of top playing ability must also change. Good players will only develop through good practice methods with realism an important feature. Equally important, our coaching ‘hierarchy’ must overcome the massive problem of lost practice time. Unless these basic but vital issues are resolved, we will continue down the pathway of boring, simplistic football.

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We can produce in large numbers, the world’s best players. We have most of the necessary requirements for doing the job except they are not being ‘pulled’ together properly and so we are mal-functioning as a football nation. Irrespective of all the money in our game, the quality is poor – and if we’re honest, from junior to premier league levels, the ‘English Game’– overwhelmed with foreign coaches/managers and players – is floundering and not functioning as it should.

There is a need for more open discussions to ‘hammer-out’ a positive and more constructive football pathway with progressive steps forward. A suitable national game-style along with inspired coaches and exciting players that can be dominant in world football for the foreseeable future must be the objective..…we must make it happen, for to continue ignoring the alarm bells that have been ringing for a long time, we will destroy any chance of success in the long term.

Let’s just get on and do it !!

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18 thoughts on “A Turgid “Sameness”

  1. Thank you for yet another good article John. The game has become even quicker over the last few years as evidenced by the % of sprints per 90 mins in the EPL but also across the top European leagues. Please could you please let me know what you think about this. How do you think modern coaches can adapt and develop high end, elite skills and game understanding. Eddie Howe seems to be a good, forward thinking, young coach. However, how could he develop and become dominant in the era of obscene largesse that is the EPL..?

    • Hi KRAMEKOSUM. The importance of speed must not be underrated. The problems with speed occur in several ways: players don’t have the ability to control the ball at speed, players keep their head down watching the ball and fail to see situations arond them, players are ‘processed’ to run fast in almost every situation whether it is necessary or not, players lack patience and play fast even when situations require composed play, players are not trained well enough to play with ‘animal stealth ‘ and then react quickly to exploit offensive penetrations.
      With regards to Eddie Howe, he must begin to accept that good football consists of players(teams) being able to adapt their game-style when necessary, for winning at top level is everything. In England, we tend to play the game without changes in speed and tactical variations —- fear of failure being a major factor.
      Unfortunately, too often a one brand style to fit all situations is the only show in town.

  2. One of the big problems with the Coaching Scheme in this country is that it has led young, enthusiastic coaches into the belief that they must control everything that happens on the field for their players. I believe that this is why we have the “sameness” in our football that John Cartwright refers to. Ron Greenwood used to talk constantly about the need to “give the game back to the players”. I think that in too many cases we have taken the game away from them.
    We have had maverick players like George Best and Stan Bowles who would not conform to the team ethic and though they were great crowd entertainers, their careers were much shorter than they should have been.
    There has been a lack of understanding in the coaching hierarchy as to how the greats of the game learnt how to play in their early years, i.e. in the street. So from the outset our young players have been developed in the game from day one by structured learning. This wasn’t the way that Messi, Pele, Maradonna and many others learnt the game and so it is many years since we last produced any players to compare with them. When we unearth gems like Best and Bowles then they rebel and too many of our coaches and managers don’t know what to do with them.
    I think that too many coaches have a photo-fit in their minds of exactly how a player in a certain position or role should play and he cannot be allowed to perform in any other way. For instance, I rarely see an English central defender, when he has time, intercept long passes from the opposition with his chest, so that he can bring the ball down comfortably to his feet, enabling him to begin an attack for his own team by playing an accurate pass to a colleague or bringing the ball out from defence himself into midfield. Instead, in the majority of cases, the centre half heads the ball downfield, regardless of whether he has time or not, and on many occasions the ball goes straight back to the other team.

    • Very good points Steve. You will remember how many coaches and so called pundits used to howl when Rio Ferdinand used to try something different and to play out from the back 20 years ago… The same derision is hurled at John Stones now when he makes one mistake. We have a football culture which is safety first, unimaginative and uncreative. This has been exacerbated by the new media obsession with simply winning even if the spectacle is anything but pretty. The way they used to fawn over Mourinho even when his teams played horrid, negative anti-football. Ho hum!

  3. Hi Steve. Our version of the ‘Beautiful Game’ in this country is little more than a boring ‘fightball’ event that needs to be ‘hyped’ to disguise its limited playing quality. Athleticism, although important in sport, has become the overriding asset in our game. Supplementary playing qualities have taken the place of individual skill and intelligent game understanding.
    We will reap the consequences for our mis-guided approach to the game if we continue to follow present trends towards financial greed and poor teaching.

  4. Hype and TV coverage go hand in hand. We are being sold a product, especially the Premier League. The television companies are very good at making ordinary, mundane football look exciting. In highlights programmes just a few minutes of play is shown, mostly involving the ball bouncing around the penalty area and hitting the back of the net. Interviews and analysis explained on clever computerised gadgets fills most of the time and creates the feeling of drama and spectacular play. Even the live matches on Sky are presented to project something that is much better than it actually is.
    The recent live match of the Premier League’s top two teams, Arsenal and Man City, was very disappointing and was typical of the Premier League’s current standard. Only Mesut Ozil stands comparison to the Arsenal ‘greats’ of the past, like Henry, Bergkamp and Viera. City spend fortunes on brilliant individuals but show little evidence of high level coaching which would turn them into the kind of team they should be.
    The Premier League also shows little evidence of creative, imaginative thought from the bench. In a Spanish match shown ‘live’ recently, Malaga – Atletico Madrid, I was impressed by the reaction of Atletico’s coach, Diego Simeone, when his team, 0 – 1 behind, was reduced to 10 men following a red card to a midfield player. He still kept two front men up top but compensated for the loss of a midfielder by getting the remaining three to play narrow in the centre and keeping his full backs high out wide. The two centre backs were capable of playing as the only permanent defenders, together with the keeper. In the Premier League the normal procedure would have been to convert to a 4 – 4 -1 and concentrate mainly on damage limitation.
    But we still insist that the Premier League is “the best league in the world”.

  5. Kieran Smith worked as a coach in Spain, he shares some surprising truths about coaching in Spain, very interesting read.

    What were your experiences when you arrived in Madrid?
    I knew I couldn’t work in football straight away, purely because I couldn’t speak Spanish, so myself and my girlfriend had to try and learn the language. So, for the first 12 months it was purely a learning curve for me. I had studied Spanish football from a far, but it is completely different when you come here to live. The cultural differences from both a none footballing and footballing perspective are very wide. I think in that 12 months, I visited almost all the teams in the community of Madrid. I took in around 350 training sessions, anything from under 6 amateur teams to first team sessions of La Liga clubs including Real Madrid, Atlético de Madrid and Rayo Vallecano. On top of that, between 100-120 games as a lot of teams play back to back from 9am to 6pm, from under 6s to first team for example.
    The structure of the sessions in Spain compared to the UK is very different as the tactical input comes very soon in the player’s career. From the age of about 6-8 they start to look at patterns of playing out from the back, I saw that consistently across 10-15 clubs. A huge thing to add, to the structure of the sessions, is the lack of freedom the players have from a young age, which baffles people due to the nature of the players Spain produces, these skilfully free players.
    They do a lot of technical sessions, coerver is a big thing in Spain for younger age groups at the moment. However, a lot of the technical sessions are in isolation, unopposed. Much of the technical sessions are in lines, which is something that we would be very opposed to in the UK. But, the biggest thing that I noticed was the simplicity of the sessions. Now, when I look at sessions that I have been sent from the UK or even when I visit the UK, some coaches want 15 things going on at once, and here it is not like that. If we take a Spanish team, at a younger age, many of the passing sessions are unopposed, from cone to cone. Basic principle of pass to the player on the cone, play-rotate, play-rotate. This is done in the first 10 minutes of the session, and most players have had 100 touches of the ball.
    Do you think British Coaches would find that shocking?
    Absolutely, as I said before, these sessions would be frowned upon in the UK. I would go to the extent of saying that if I had a job interview in the UK, I wouldn’t do the same sessions some of the biggest clubs in the world are doing with their Academy players, because it would be deemed ‘to simple’. And this is the difference, a Spanish session would be so simple, but with many learning objectives. Also, they would repeat a session, or a variety of that session, frequently. As in the UK we would have less repetitive sessions or sometimes do a different session every week. If I can give you an example, something we have touched on is playing out the back. They would work on the patterns of playing out the back, and how to do it etc. The next week, it would be the same session, but now emphasis on the strikers and how to stop the play through pressing, but the standard of the previous session of playing out the back would have to be the same. So we are really looking at repetition and ways of creating different objectives throughout the same sessions to emphasis that repetition. A Spanish coach would only have about 25 sessions in their portfolio, but British coaches could have over a 100, but it’s the differences in the information that makes it key.
    What has been the most surprising difference in Spanish youth football compared to the UK?
    Not so much of a surprise, but something that needs to be noticed is the competitiveness in Spain, in and around football from a very young age. We have league tables from under-6, which are promotion-relegation, and also top goalscorer tables from the same age. So where in Britain, we would be very much against that, it is a natural part of the culture of Spanish football, and they are one of the leaders in the game. So another example would be the division we are in at Alcorcón. This is the elite division of Spain, but the difference is it is regional, rather than national like the UK. So we play against the top teams in our region which are, Real Madrid, Atlético de Madrid, Rayo Vallecano, Getafe and more, and it is all promotion-relegation again. But the players have had this system since they were 6 years old. So the nature of the competition is cultural, more than implemented artificial. We can see that clearly with the language some of the coaches use in Spain, which would be deemed as unacceptable, for example swearing. Now they are, like the UK, trying to implement the respect side of football, but it isn’t working as effectively desired. I can give the example where recently a coach of about 20, got sent off for swearing at a referee and marching on the pitch because he didn’t give an offside. This is common practise in Spain, but that is uncommon in many countries.
    I feel working here is closer towards a first team manager due to the nature of competition of the football. In Spain you look to use analysis and how to break opposition down from a young age in Spain, at Alcorcón it is 12 years old. We will look at the opposition and look at their weaknesses and where we can adapt to them. In the Juvenil A, under 18s, we are basically a first team in the way we approach games, from analysis of previous games to pre game strategy to win the next game. We look to win every game, thus adapting to different system to gain a competitive advantage. As in the UK we would concentrate on how we play, rather than how we beat them.
    I think there are fine lines between losing and playing well, and winning and playing badly, and that is even evident at my current club. So winning has a huge part to play in football in Spain and I think this makes them unique in terms of their will to win, and we can see that come to fruition in the last decade. However for me, we need a balance and I believe somewhere between the competitive nature of football and the development phase of players is about correct.
    So what is a working week for you?
    So obviously depends week to week, but a normal week for me is Monday I have an hour session with my youngest group of players, under 10s and then have a few meetings. Tuesday, we have the under 18s, so the coaching staff will meet around an hour before the session to discuss the previous game and availability of players as some may be training with older or younger groups. Wednesday, we should have received the scouting report for the next game, and we would go through that with the coaching staff and look at everything from how they play out to the set pieces. We would then do the session and I have another session with the younger group afterwards. On Thursday we would look to work on the tactical part of the game, and how we can nullify the opposition and prosper from our point of view. So we could split the group into attack or defence or all together, really depends on what is needed for the next game. Again, that could be combination play or playing out from he back, mainly adjustments. Depending on the game, we would do the tactical break down with the players for the opposition on Friday or Saturday, then on the Saturday morning I have a game with the younger ones then a game with under 18s. I love it basically, and what I have, especially with the 18s, is the opportunity to work full time in the club as I am here every day. So sticking to that cycle of post/pre game analysis and working with the players every day tactically and technically allows me to gain experience, like I said before, in an environment that mirrors a first team.
    How does the coaching style differ in Spain to the UK?
    I believe here they talk more. In the UK we are told to get in an out as quickly as possible, here it isn’t the case. You see these circles of Pep Guardiola and Paco Jémez talking to the players, we have those types of discussion every day, looking to communicate before the session and even during. The coaches I have worked with, stop the session a lot less than in my experiences in the UK, but give a lot of information as they go. Not an uncommon theme here is to see the coach stood in the middle, with his clipboard, speaking and demanding from the centre of the exercise or game.
    I would say that there isn’t a huge variety of coaching styles in Spain from what I have seen. It is very much a command style, not much guided discovery, the question and answer style has been, I’ll ask you a question and you better give me the right answer. So that has been very interesting to see the differences from the UK, as we are told to use a variety of styles.
    So that is interesting you say that, because what your experiences have told us, is that it is the contrary to what we, as coaches, are educated. Why do you think that is?
    I think this is one of the key points to why we are so different, the culture. If you experience the education system in Spain it is very much a command environment. The teachers shout all the time, it is ‘sit down, shut up and do your work’ and there isn’t much interaction. So when you have that transition from classroom to pitch we see similar patterns, because the players are used to that. You ask a question, and they say ‘tell me what to do’, and that is their environment of command.
    So when it comes to culture we are on 2 different planets, from an educational, football and general up bringing point of view. This is why I have had conversations or debates on social media outlets such as Twitter, about the culture. The greatest example of this would be when the Clasico is on. I will actively warn people that, if you don’t like play acting, imaginary yellow cards being waved, then don’t watch it. This is where we need to understand the culture of the environment these players are placed. It is important for them to use this, and we see that with Mourinho and Guardiola, who is apparently the holy of all holy coaches. Guardiola has been known not to shake hands with opposition coaches if something has happened. For example in the All Star game with Bayern in the summer, he didn’t shake hands with the opposition coach because of a bad tackle. That is a very Spanish thing to do. It is not what I would consider appropriate but, without constantly repeating, it is a difference in cultures, that’s the key.
    So have you had to change your coaching style?
    Massively! Especially with the younger age where I have tried to use a more question and answer approach. But even then, they still don’t know how to answer. Obviously we query whether it is the right question, but sometimes it is a basic question and they shrug their shoulders in a state of not knowing. This is normally due to the nature of the command techniques, where when they’re asked a question it is normally that they feel they are in ‘trouble’, so they are simply not used to that style of coaching.
    Also, being a foreign coach, I have had to deal with many personalities within my current staff and players. We have players from Brazil, Bulgaria, Korea, different parts of Spain, and the personalities are completely different. So I have had to learn to become more adaptable within these situations. Being a foreigner has actually helped me relate to the players, especially the international players, better. So, for example, I found out how to speak a couple of Korean words to a young player who was finding it difficult and didn’t speak much Spanish nor English. When I said them, his eyes lite up and gave me a hug. But it was the appreciation of interacting with him in his native tongue that gave him a lift. Now, I am not saying I am fantastic because of this, but I understood the difficulties of living in a foreign culture and I appreciate things such as, speaking to me in my own language. So personalised messages or cultural understanding is something I have taken from adapting my coaching style to Spain.
    This is why I feel for Angel Di Maria and other players who haven’t adapted to the English environment as others have expected, but it is a lot harder than people think. Not just the playing but the food, weather and general way of life is very difficult to adapt to, consequently people take longer than others.
    What is a typical Spanish player for you?
    Well I think a Full Back is a different breed of player in Spain than in the UK. Yes we have had Ashley Cole, but it has been a consistent revolving door of Full Backs in Spain. I think because of the education of the player they have a natural idea of positioning, especially in attack.
    I think there are players we don’t create in the UK, and I can’t think of one, which is the ‘Interiores’. So players like Isco, Thiago, Cazorla, David Silva etc. It is like a false winger or false 10. To be honest with you, I am not sure how Spain produces these types of players, let alone so many of them. I feel maybe it is indicative of the way Spanish clubs train. Very tactical from a young age, receiving the ball under pressure all the time, not playing the way they face but spinning off. Their body type has a big part to play, these small, stout players with big legs and ‘disco hips’. It is almost a style of play, they’ll have their arm and body in between the ball and the opposition. We can dramatise it by saying it is a way of life.
    So on the back of that, Spanish players are seen as ‘Champions’ at the moment. So where do you think Spanish Academies succeed, where British Academies seem to fail?
    We have touched on it before, but the competitive nature of Spanish football is so important. If we look at a typical British academy at the moment, they are looking to produce players and, quote on quote, develop players from 6 to 16. Then you sign a scholarship and you’re playing to win. Or you sign a contract at 16 and possibly you move to the first team very quickly, where the results are everything. It is too big of a jump from what you would say is ‘development’ stage football to competitive stage football. You can’t just turn on a switch to be more competitive. Though a player needs to have an inward desire to be competitive, the pressure focus from the coach also changes quickly. Subsequently the players are unable to handle that. In Spain, even coaches jobs at very young ages are under pressure if they don’t win. I am not a massive fan of plastic trophies, as being the best youth player and winning everything doesn’t guarantee a career in football. That said, I am a fan of playing for something.
    Secondly, the playing time is a critical factor we need to look at. We work on individual ages in both nations for the lower groups, under 8, 9, 10, 11 etc. then when we get to 16 we move to under 18s. Then passed 18 we move to under 21s. So in two team you have leaped 5 years. This is the Pathway stage of development in the UK, we are producing fantastic players, but they are getting lost along this route. In Spain, the structure is different. So when a player gets to Cadete A, which is under 16s, they then move to under 17 (Juvenil C), under 18s ( Juvenil B) and under 19s ( Juvenil A). They’re all playing for promotion and relegation, and they’re only signing for 1 year so that means they’re only playing for their next year. So where an academy player in the UK plays 10 games in 2 years, the same player would play 60 games in the same time frame in Spain. To add to that, if they are improving they can jump up to different age groups(Jevenl B to A for example), but not massive leaps (18s to 21s for example) that could have a negative step as well as a positive. Different experiences, different caliber of players, internationals for example, and playing against some of the best teams in Spain such as Real Madrid, Atlético de Madrid etc, under great pressure of promotion and relegation. The Spanish player is always advancing through ages, up until 19, then they go to the B side, then they are knocking on the door for the first team and it is that constant movement, rather than stagnating in under 18s or under 21s.
    So these two point of competitiveness and playing time are the 2 reasons why Spanish Academies are more, what you could say, successful than in the UK from my opinion and experience.
    So the Pathway is a serious problem in Academy football, is the B team the way forward?
    I think in Spain it is vital part of their development tool. If we take a team like FC United or Barrow FC, many of these players have played at bigger clubs. They don’t make it for whatever reason, and now they’re playing non league football. The question is; why didn’t they make it? I don’t think it has much to do with their ability but more to do with that there is no clear path for them to develop as players and people.
    When a Juvenil A player moves to the next level, it is to go to the B team. Which is a huge level to jump to, but not as big as the British level jumps. They play week in week out against grown men, with teams averaging an age of 27. Yes, they play what you could constitute as a lower standard of football, but it is in the footballing pyramid against ‘real’ teams looking for promotion and fighting relegation much like the B team itself. So all these learning experiences happen, in different football environments to increase the development on a competitive stage and enhance their knowledge of first team environments, because that is essentially what it is.
    I think the biggest problem in the UK, is to actually implement it. It is grossly unfair to add a league sandwiched in between the conference and League Two. I am unsure on what to do, because the loan system works and doesn’t sometimes, but it is something we need to address in the UK.
    So why don’t managers use younger players to develop them?
    I think it is a simple answer, they’re there to win. As much as we can take a back seat and say ‘if I was in charge…’ you can’t because this is a managers livelihood, and guess what, as said before, they’re there to win.
    I think development is an area of Spanish football that has actually benefited from having no money. If you look at Rayo Vallecano or Alcorcón, teams with very little money, they have no choice but to play their Academy players, because they can’t afford to buy a player. Both teams have used under 18s in their sides, or at least on the bench this year. We can also see that with financial stricken clubs such as Sporting Gijón, whom have been forced to play their young players and have thrived in this situation and are looking to get promoted to La Liga with a core of youth team products. Nevertheless, it is the same if you’re fighting relegation such as Osasuna, they are playing players from their academy structure. But the value of their experience is priceless. If Jose Mourinho has a choice, and no doubt he would love to, would he use an Academy winger over £20m Juan Cuadrado? I don’t think so, because he needs to win and can’t fully trust that academy player. So it is a completely different mentality because of finance and because of the natural development of players.
    This is also the case at the bottom half of the League structure, if you’re Accrington Stanley and you’re fighting relegation for example. Again, your livelihood is literally on the line as maybe Jose Mourinho’ isn’t. You have real fears of not paying your mortgage or bills and if you lose your job, what will you do? So you see this time and time again where managers will sign journeymen or taking emergency loans, instead of promoting a youth because the need to win is so great.
    The money issue is a huge factor, as to add to my previous point, most of our Juvenil A players are still at school or going to university. So they are getting full time education in the morning, then training in the afternoon. Whereas in the UK, they have cash on the hip, they have their Nandos card and they are living as a full time professional. The Spanish players of the same age are fighting for their careers as they don’t have that financial stability as a young player does in the UK. So money becomes a critical point in the development stage discussion.
    Do you think the EPPP goes some way in resolving some of these problems?
    I am not sure, every EPPP I have read or come across is the same. The plan reads, control the possession, play out from the back, possession with a purpose and when we lose the ball we look to get it back straight away through high pressure. That’s fine, but what does your first team play like? If you’re changing your first team manager 6 times in 6 years, how can that fit into a philosophy? On top of that, we are releasing 18 years old because they don’t ‘fit in’. Well, you changed your manager so how can they fit in? There are many questions I would ask about the philosophies of play in the EPPP and in general, in British football. But the good thing is, we are changing and I feel it is in the right direction.
    So do you have a personal ‘philosophy’ based around your beliefs of the game?
    My own belief is that I like to keep possession of the ball for the purpose of moving and dragging the opposition around. In Spain we would call it ‘Juego de Posicion’. This concept looks to progress through the field stage by stage, moving the opposition out of areas or positions of the field to gain competitive advantages. It sometimes looks very free flowing with players moving wherever they like. But it is a very structured way of playing that people don’t realise.
    I would say since moving here I have become a lot more flexible in my style of play and the way I would approach games and teams. I am not afraid to go long from the keeper if it is necessary or look to play out from the back when we can. I think it all depends on the level of player, the situation of the game, promotion or relegation for example or simply ‘what are the other team doing?’.
    My preferred base system is 1-4-3-3, with lots of rotation in areas. I have my own way of defending, as I like to set traps rather than a full court press, I have my own ways of attacking. Nevertheless, I haven’t been given the opportunity to call the shots as of yet, because I have always worked in a professional club. When I do work within the objectives of the clubs I have always given my opinion and stamped my ideas on them, but truth be told I haven’t been given that opportunity to make full decisions of a complete team. Something I could like the chance to do.
    If you were given the opportunity to implement your philosophy, how would you do it?
    I think if, let’s say, we were starting from pre season, the first thing I would look to do is get the players onside to the style we are looking to implement. I think explaining that is a critical part of the process, as well as getting feedback from the players on their opinions. I think because I believe I have a ‘brave’ style of play, you need to have that buy in from the players. So the psychological start of sharing ideas and getting that buy in, gives a vital link in terms of the belief system. I would explain that I am an honest person and I will tell you if I am happy or unhappy, but what I tell you is the truth and I won’t be telling another person something else. So that whole concept of the buy in is vital for me in the first few weeks.
    And when you get into the season?
    I work on a week to week basis. If we are doing a technical drill, it will always have a tactical theme to the real life situation of how we play the game on match day. So if I am talking about rotation with my 3 centre midfielders and on game day I play with one holding midfielder, that exercise will mirror that situation. So I am almost working backwards from game day to the technical practise.
    Something that I learned from Chris Ramsey was to build the sessions, so if we do a switch of play exercise, the movement of the neutral player, for example, would be the same. Then we would move on to a phase of play and that same players movement or pattern will be the same. So now, we are creating recognisable pictures for the players in the sessions to implement on game day. We are building and building the sessions, if we need to take a step back, we will. We are forming pictures and a solid foundation of play, in my case positional play, for future games.
    So everything is done for a purpose or reason in terms of game day?
    Absolutely! I think it has to be. I don’t do an exercise for an exercise. I design all my sessions, I never take a session from twitter. This is because it has to be real and based upon my principles of play. So if I am doing a crossing and finishing, and I play with 1 striker. I am only every going to have one striker, I am not going to have 2. So everything is based around the core belief of the play. I have taken sessions from other people in the past, but the problem I found was progressing from those sessions. As I have gained more knowledge and experience I have been able to do this. However, For me, if you’re not planning your own sessions based around your key principles of play, then you’re not coaching.
    You have been described on many social media outlets as the ‘Rondo Maestro’, can you tell us more about that?
    (Laughs) I am not sure about that. The biggest misconception of rondos are they are viewed as keep ball sessions, that is why I made that presentation you are eluding to. They are not at all keep ball sessions. When people say ‘look at Barcelona they are keeping the ball all the time in these Rondos that’s a great exercise’ it doesn’t work like that. Every Rondo has a tactical element, except maybe the fun Rondo at the beginning of a session, where there is a clear structure. So if you look at 4 vs 2 Rondo, it could focus on playing out of the back. So, the goalkeeper will be involved in that exercise with the 2 CBs and the DCM for example. Or maybe if you play 1-4-3-3 and you want to focus on the central areas, you would work with the DCM, 2 CMs and the striker. So, every rondo has a specific tactical reason. People often say, you can’t do Rondos for defending, that is incorrect, you absolutely can. So most rondos you change the players when you lose the ball, but if it is tactical you play for 90 seconds. But the 2 players would be a partnership, whether that be 2 centre backs or 2 strikers, but there is a defensive reasoning behind it. So one presses, one covers, etc.
    With what would coaches say is your stereotypical keep ball session in the UK, I can’t understand the benefit of that exercise. It has to be game specific, something as simple as playing to a direction, which is something I always do. Let me give you an example of something I saw when I came back to the UK and worked in an Academy club for a short while. We were trying to implement a position style of play. I won’t mention the club or the coach. So this coach came and said ‘we are going to work possession’. He also said ‘if you complete 14 passes, I’ll give you all a Mars bar’. This is an Academy. He then said ‘if you do it in a game, I’ll give you the Mars bar’. So the next game we went and we were winning about 6-0 I think. The coach is in now saying ‘get the Mars bar’. So that’s there motivation now, and they’re passing it between the CBs the GK going back etc, and they did it. In the middle of the game the players are asking for their Mars bar. I was lost for words with my head in my hands.
    I have seen this more than once in the UK, this type of incentive to keep possession. My main issue is not the Mars bar, though that is a very damning thing. It was more the concept of not understanding the possession and position based game and the reasoning behind why it works or why it is a style of play adopted by many top clubs and coaches. If you watch Barca, it doesn’t mean that you can play like Barca. You have to go to the smallest detail of why and how they do it. You basically need to understand the culture, mentality, abilities etc and work back to where your players are on that ladder, then progress from there.
    Do you think the coaching standard in the UK is poor?
    No not at all. That is another misconception of the contrary, that British coaches are bad. That is ridiculous and not true, we have fantastic talent in the UK. In fact, I think generally we have equal if not better coaches in the UK than in Spain. I think what we lack in the UK is tactical understanding of the game. Something that they learn from such a young age as a player and as a coach in Spain.
    We are very negative towards ourselves in the UK. Every day on Twitter, you can read so called experts saying what is wrong with the British Academies and everyone criticising what is happening in the UK. What people don’t realise is that this is a 20 year project and it won’t change over night. You can’t just write a philosophy and think it will work immediately, you have to implement it and go through trial and error.
    When we continue to be negative towards ourselves, we give licence to other nations to do the same and be critical of us. When I came to Spain I was told, British coaches are poor, lack knowledge, dinosaurs, only play 4-4-2, which by the way, is the most common formation used in Spanish football. I have had to work hard to disprove that, but when we continue to say Spain, Germany and Holland are better than England or Scotland etc, then guess what will happen? If we look at Rodgers at Liverpool, when he was going through a rough patch at the beginning of the season, we deemed him not good enough. We did the same with David Moyes, but when Louis Van Gaal or a foreigner comes in then we give him all the time he needs. Mark Hughes got sacked for less than what Pellegrini has done this season. We need to give people British coaches a chance.
    What advice would you give coaches?
    I don’t give too much advice on twitter, as there are enough people doing that I think. However if I was asked directly, I would say learn another language, as it opens you to so many channels of learning and new environments of football. I think going to another country to experience other cultures, whether it be Spain or even America, to learn different mentalities and ideas about the game and life, will broaden your education. I would also say, you need to take yourself out of your comfort zone. I do that ever day, and the experiences of this have been nothing but beneficial. Lastly, be yourself. Don’t try to copy a style or coach. Yes, borrow ideas, have influences and have mentors because I have had them, but always work towards your core beliefs and values.

    • Hi Dave. My reply to Kieran Smith’s comments. –I will reply to each
      question as asked in the article but i will have to send my replies in stages as they take up considerable space.

      Q1. How many hours (sessions) per week of practice with a club did the
      players receive?
      Where did the young players play when not involved with a club?
      Warm-ups don’t necessarily need opponents for them to be useful.
      Q2.Because there is a general game-style in Spain, coaching can follow a
      pre-designated ‘pathway’ in which individual skill and associated
      tactics can be practiced with realism introduced in gradual stages.
      Q3.The point about the over-emphasis in competitive play throughout the
      development levels in Spain is, in my opinion, a mistake. Competition
      should always be involved in practice, but it should be ‘administered’
      in a suitable and gradual way with games used as a proper ‘examination’ of the ability and understanding of players and not just as irrelevent ‘win at all cost’ situations for players as they proceed down their development ‘pathway’
      Q4. Same reply as in q1.
      Q5. It is mentioned that Spanish coaches ‘talk’ more to players during
      sessions. This is how info. should be provided. I did not read however,
      that coaches DEMONSTRATED what was required to their players.
      Q6. Culture differences are important, but good teaching in any
      circumstance should involve variations in how it is administered.
      Q7.This also confirms the need for variations in coaching —and don’t
      forgat the use of demonstrating what is required!
      Q8.We produce players of the same playing style or quality as the
      Spanish because they work towards producing types of player to suit
      their vision of football. We do the same, but our culture prefers to put
      more emphasis on the physical aspects of the game.
      Q9. competition is important, but it should be introduced carefully and
      in a suitable wat throughout the development years.
      I don’t believe a ‘jump’ from development to
      competitive stages is the cause of our problems, they stem from — poor
      teaching methods theat are ‘examined’ in a playing infrastructure
      that is not fit for purpose. All of this results in basic individual
      playing standards for a simplistic game style.
      Q10. The gradual ‘chaos’ learning that occured in the past throughout
      the football world has been replaced by ‘standardised’ coaching methods.
      players have become ‘procesed’ and individualism has been forsaken for
      organisation.

      • Hi Dave. here is the second stage of my reply.

        Q11. The problems in our game are not necessarily about money, but more about the poor long-term development of players. Managers, will select players to do the jobs required and because of the lack of ‘home-bred’ playing talent here they have had to either look abroad or bring experienced ‘oldies’ in to fill the spaces.
        Q12. The EPPP(designed by ?) does not comply with a national playing style and therefore, there is no obvious ‘pathway’ for the development of coaches and players from junior to senior levels and so produce the quality required.
        Q13. The over-emphasis by Spain on ‘Ticki-Tacki’ football came to an end at both national and club levels when opposing teams began to offer defensive tactics that curtailed the influence of possession football. Because of this, Spanish football has had to introduce variations to their game-style and more penetrative tactics have been the result.
        Q14.Coaching is an art and the thoughtful coach is one who is able to connect his players to a suitable playing system that they can understand and play with success.
        Q15. Working week to week, a coach must commit himself to erradicating any of problems arising from present games and then be prepared to move his squad of players further forward along his playing ‘pathway’.
        Q16. There must be a working continuity; immediate concerns must be dealt with but the playing style must be enhanced with the players’ game understanding and ability gradually extended.
        Q17. ‘Rondo’ football is spanish for ‘Rotational ‘ football. This style of play was introduced by Rinus Michels into Dutch and then Spanish football. It requires players of high individual quality to play it well as these players must be able to satisfy the playing requirements in various positions they take up during a game. We have neither the playing talent nor game understanding to play in this way ….coaches can’t deliver the tactics….players can’t deliver the skills….spectators don’t appreciate a possession-based game-style.
        Q18. English coaches are not bad, their problem is that they have not received a satisfactory football education and rely on an uncreative, unrealistic coaching ‘dogma’ too much.
        Q19. Coaches here must be given a better development program. The receiving of a ‘coaching certificate’ does not prove coaching competence, it is just the start not the finsh of their coaching ‘journey’ . Our coaches have become too organised in their approach to development methods. This over-structured coaching mentality has ‘spilled-over’ into the development of players leading to a ‘simplistic’ way of playing. The game of football is constantly changing and great coaches must be produced who, through a development system that embraces individualism, creativity and the courage to bring new ideas and success into our game.
        Dave, I hope i have given honest replies to the article you sent and that they are useful to all who take the time to read them……………… John.

  6. Hi Dave… A very interesting interview. I think a key point that is made is that young Spanish players are coached to play under pressure in tight areas from a young age. I think that in this country coaches often fail to increase the opposition and decrease the area size to increase the pressure.
    It’s also noticeable that they like to win in youth football in Spain just as they do in England, which does not surprise me. I remember visiting Bayern Munich’s training ground 23 years ago and I saw the results and league tables of some of their junior teams pinned up on the notice board, They were playing in the same leagues as local amateur clubs and often winning by cricket scores.

    • Hi Steve, An important question comes to mind; how many more highly talented players might have developed in Spain if they had progressed through a more subtle learning method? The point you make regarding the use of gradual space reduction and opposition increase is what the Premier Skills Method for player development is built on. This changes however, when players reach a higher playing status (levels 4-5 in the development program) for then, the use of OVERLOADING in practices can be gradually and suitably adjusted to UNDERLOADING (more opponents than attackers) in practices in order to create the advanced reality necessary for success in senior playing situations.

  7. First of all, good for him going abroad
    2 years in Spain and he didnt investigate futsal, thats where spanish/portuguese speaking learn their skills in tight spaces with opposition.
    Good to see my adopted country has impemented many of the traits of spanish/dutch training in the curriculum that is adopted from grass roots to elite.
    The vision and playing style is the starting point and that all of football (grass rooots upwards) shares this vision , with coaching programs underwriting the vision and playing style. Plus it helps to have a Football federation that actually controls football.

  8. Hi Kramekosum….Yes, I agree with you about Rio Ferdinand. When he was a young player at West Ham I remember him moving forward from the back with the ball to join in with the attacking play. I remember that when he made his England debut at Wembley against Cameroon, he almost scored from just inside the Cameroon penalty area, after joining in the attack all the way down the field from his defensive position.
    Did you see the re-run on Sky Sports earlier in the week of the 1966 World Cup Final? This was Bobby Moore at his majestic best. He was constantly moving forward to support the play in midfield and attack. His anticipation, his reading of the game, were second to none. But in the beginning it was down to the encouragement of Ron Greenwood and the coaching that he gave the West Ham and England captain.
    In that era there were often a contrasting pair of centre backs – one rugged and an uncompromising tackler and the other who was quite good on the ball and whose defensive qualities relied more on anticipating situations and playing good passes into midfield and then moving forward to create overload opportunities. I recall Colin Todd at Derby County and Alan Oakes at Man City as being good in these situations.
    English football, I feel, became over-reliant on full backs supplementing attacks and leaving both centre backs in defensive positions. The attacking fullbacks helped in getting players round the back of opposing defences but this mainly resulted in a stream of high crosses which became the hallmark of English teams for too long.
    I don’t know why Sky Sports found it necessary to use their gadgetry to produce the heat map which showed the field positions of Moore during the 1966 Final. From just watching the game you saw the immense effect Moore had on proceedings. It is a sobering thought to realise that West Germany had a young player in their midfield that day who a few years later would be converted by both club and country into the libero role, but with full licence to join in the attacking play at every opportunity, which he did with devastating effect. That player, of course, was Franz Beckenbauer, and we began to become second rate at our own game.

  9. Hi Steve. Rio Ferdinand, started as a front player at West Ham as a youth and was converted to a central defensive position. He was comfortable on the ball and broke forward from his defensive position in games. He used to do this at the higher levels in his earlier days but didn’t seem to do so too frequently at Man.Utd or for England……i wonder why?

  10. When the offside law stipulated that you had to have three defending players between the attacking player receiving the ball and the goal to be onside, then the centre half was the most creative player in the team. Defences lined up as the two full backs and the keeper. The centre half was, in essence, the central midfield player between the two wing halves. When the law was changed to just two defending players between the attacker and the goal to be onside, then the centre half was withdrawn deeper to a position between the two full backs, now becoming a centre- BACK. His role changed over night and he became a purely negative player and much less creative.
    However, there have been great examples of Moore, Ferdinand (as a young player), Beckenbauer, Pique and others who have shown that with imagination and good coaching in rotation, the central defender can be the starting point for attacking play. Down the years in England we have had good, ball playing centre halves from time to time rather than just big players who kick the ball as far down the field as possible whenever the ball comes to them. We should make it a condition of our Coaching Scheme that all young central defenders are coached to not only play out from the back, but continue their forays into midfield and beyond in the initiation and development of the attacks.

  11. HI all. As you all probably know by now, i believe that practice/playing time in the past was the fundamental learning process for players of the past andIt still is in economically underdeveloped countries today. With economic improvement, the regular playing spaces become developed for one thing or another and practice/playing time is seriously curtailed.
    The long-learning of the game in this way has been lost, only to be replaced by short periods of ‘structured’ learning methods. The latest example of how economic influence over player development effects playing ability was clearly displayed with the extremely poor quality of Brazil in the last World Cup; from the World’s most respected football nation they failed to reach the secondary stages of the competition. Their players, like so many around the globe have become ‘standardised’ versions of the true Brazilian playing quality of bygone years. They, like so many before them have failed to recognise the importance of realistic practice and the thousands of hours that their ‘stars’ of the past had been involved in . It has become a regular and alarming pattern of failure in football —- as countries become economically richer, so their football becomes alarmingly, — technically and tactically poorer!
    Spain, at present. are bearing the ‘football fruit’ of years of low financial growth and their football, at domestic and national levels (in the main displayed by players from a limited number of clubs) is benefitting from this today; but will tomorrow, as Spain gradually emerges from being a low-growth nation, produce more young, Spanish players who can retain their high playing level and interrupt the influence of foreign ‘imports’ into their game?

  12. Hi John….It seems that as a country’s economic recovery causes it to lose its football education element from the street, then it becomes more structured in its teaching methodology, with the academics taking over and producing a simplistic, drill-orientated approach. The result is faceless, dull players with a sameness in playing style and a clockwork, functional approach to problem solving instead of imagination and creativity.
    It is pitiful to see Brazil turning out players at the moment as if they were cars coming off a conveyor belt: mass produced, manufactured all the same, all moving and operating in the same way. The odd one or two a bit different but not many, and not different enough.
    It is to be hoped that Spain does not go down the same road as their economy recovers. I think the one thing that helps with them is the habit their spectators have of waving white handkerchiefs when the football is of poor quality. This is not necessarily performed when the team is losing, but purely the quality, or lack of it, of the football. I am confident that Barcelona supporters will be waving their handkerchiefs at poor football, whether their team is top or bottom of the league.
    So this gives hope at least for Spanish football.

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