By John Cartwright

There’s a famous quotation;

You must stir it and stump it.

And blow your own trumpet,

Or trust me, you haven’t a chance.

So, I’m about to ‘blow my own trumpet’!

Leicester City FC, have just become Champions of the English Premier League. This, seemingly impossible 5000/1 against achievement, has brought joy and celebration to many followers of the game. Why is their success so important for the game in this country and in particular for me? Well, because Leicester City FC became champions because they played the game by combining British strengths with foreign ‘Trimmings’……in the way that I have been championing for decades!

Leicester City v Southampton - Barclays Premier League


Some 16 years ago I devised a coaching methodology called PREMIER SKILLS. I did this because football in England had created a playing style called Direct Play that, had in my opinion as well as in the opinion of most lovers of the game here, ‘overcooked’ the British passion for the game and had developed a ‘Fightball’ playing style. Liverpool Football club, in my opinion, were the club who had established a playing style contrary to the coaching dogma prioritised during this time and had outstanding success throughout this period…….they played a physical, British game combined with individual skills with effective, variable tactics.  The Premier Skills Coaching and Development method was established around the Liverpool formula with three important factors: (1) I visualised a suitable national playing style. (2) I created 5 Programs from junior to senior levels that were the ‘pathway’ towards the pre-visualised, variable playing style. (3) I introduced realism into all the practice/playing levels of development.

Due to the failure of England at all international levels since 1966, our football hierarchy continued to tinker with our game by introducing the game-styles of those nations who have been successful. Their latest attempt to find a suitable national playing style has been our copy-catting of the ‘Ticki-Tacki’ possession football of Spain – that seems more designed to satisfy statisticians than football lovers!


From the demise of the ‘Universities of the Street’ where the game was once played and learned, our national coaching and development methods have failed miserably to find a way to teach the game successfully. Unrealistic practice aligned with impractical playing stages have created an atmosphere that overlooks the importance of individualism and ‘camouflages’ mediocrity with boring simplicity. Leicester City, have it seems, shaken our football world by winning our major sporting competition by playing in a way that contained attacking variations combined with solidity in defence and spirit in the club……a British winning formula!

For those of you who have read the ‘Blogs’ I have written over several years will probably remember my criticism of Barcelona’s ‘Ticki-Tacki’ playing style even though at the time they were very successful. My opinion was founded on the belief that … nothing stays the same in life … including football, and that Barcelona, would have increasing problems unless they put more emphasis on a penetrative input in their game. I was proved right, and since then they have added more variations into their playing style making them an even better all-round team.

Leicester City’s, success must be scrutinised and not just accepted as a one-off occurrence; they have played the game in a British fashion with a combination of foreign qualities added to it. What they have achieved is so important for the future of the game here. Past and present coaching and development methods along with competitive playing levels have failed to produce high playing standards and more thought must be given to improving this problem by our coaching hierarchy in order to eradicate the boring sameness that has engulfed so much of our game. By forging a playing style that produces a continuous winning formula for the future we would become a powerful force in world football.

Well done Leicester City……..And well done John Cartwright….I was correct !!

20 thoughts on “I’M PROUD OF……..ME !

  1. Leicester City have caused such a huge surprise by winning the Premier League because their team has perfect balance and they play to their strengths. They are perfectly set up to play a counter-attacking game, particularly in having such a quick striker as Vardy who makes good, well timed runs into the back of the opponent’s defence.
    Their recruitment has been superb, because they have bought virtually unknown players from below the top tier of various countries, especially France. A number of these players, such as Mahrez and Kante , were spotted when the Leicester scout actually went to watch another player but shifted his attention to these two when their potential became clear. This keen eye for talent has also seen them get far more from English players who looked to have little, if any, future in the domestic game, like Albrighton, Vardy and Morgan.
    The playing mix has been almost perfect and they vary the pace of play well too. I have seen them criticised from time to time as being direct, but I think that they are actually good at varying the pace of the game. They often slow the pace of the game down and maintain possession, and then when a gap appears, they up the pace and get the ball in behind the defence to exploit Vardy’s lightening speed or they get one of their quick wide players away.
    I have read articles by a number of older football journalists, comparing them to the Nottingham Forest team of the late seventies. It seems to be an even split with those who consider the Forest team as superior and those who go for Leicester. I don’t really think you can compare because these are two totally different eras, with the amount of money in the game today totally dwarfing what there was 30 – 40 years ago. In that respect, some go for Leicester’s achievement as being greater, but I don’t see Leicester winning back to back Champions’ League Tournaments, as Forest did.
    I actually think that both that Forest team and Leicester have been built on similar foundations. Forest had a number of players who were considered to have no future and ready for the scrap heap, but a combination of brilliant man management and excellent coaching brought undreamed of success to both clubs.
    John’s comparison of Leicester to Liverpool of the eighties is very good too because they can mix the game styles, in the same way as that Liverpool team did, switching from a possession based game to a more direct style when they look for the early ball into the back of the defence or an aerial ball for the head of Ulloa, when they bring him on to exploit his height.
    The necessity to mix game styles will become even more crucial next season when they begin their Champions’ League matches and it will be very interesting to see how they perform. I feel that the central defenders, Morgan and Huth, may have some trouble against the movement and skill level of the best strikers on the continent, but they confidently dealt with everything that the Premier League strikers threw at them this season. They will need the protection, which they got this season, provided by the screening of the central midfield players.
    Leicester can build on what they have achieved this season and establish themselves as one of the country’s top clubs for many years to come.

  2. Thank you to John for his fantastic piece on Leicester’s remarkable season. Jonathan Wilson has written a wonderful article too. In defence of playing styles there has been far too much obsession with a dogmatic adherence to a particular way of playing. Even Pep Guardiola himself hated the fixation with ‘Tiki Taka’ and the distilling of his playing philosophy down to this fixation with possession is both naive and disingenuous. What all top coaches value most is ‘balance’ and the ability to transition from defence to attack. Real Madrid (before and after Mourinho) and Man Utd have won many trophies without per se monopolising possession. The lack of depth in quality in the EPL has been evident over the past 3-4 seasons. The absence of Premier League representation in the UEFA Champions League latter stages is testament to this. Manchester City’s appearance in the semi-finals of the CL this year was mere coincidence and frankly an embarrassment..! Leicester City, like their predecessors (Chelsea 2014-15) have exploited the opportunity to play with freedom week in week out knowing that they have not had many other fixtures to contend with. [Liverpool FC by contrast will have played a third of a season more football due to their commendable exertions in the League Cup and Europa League.] Full credit to Ranieri and his coaching staff but any comparison to Clough’s and Taylor’s stupendous triumphs with Derby and Forest seem to me to be laughable.

  3. Hi Michael…I would be interested in the reasons why you don’t think there are any comparisons in Leicester’s achievement in winning the League in 2015/16 and Nottingham Forest in 1978/79.
    Both teams play in a counter-attacking style and the make up of both squads is of shrewd signings of relative ‘unknowns’ and other players thought ready for the ‘scrap heap’.

    • Sorry Steve. I didn’t mean to belittle Leicester’s astonishing achievement but I think your point 1977/78 partly sums it up? Forest won the League after coming up from Division 2 in third place, then immediately won the European Cup… Clough had already won the League with Derby. Wow!! I don’t think Clough should be dismissed as ‘counter-attacking’ as he played quite a lot of possession football. Football pitches were also less forgiving back then with 42 matches and a serious League Cup to actually compete in. Apologies again, it is probably a fallacy to try and compare different eras..!
      I am relatively young so did not witness the relative competitiveness of top flight football back then in the 1970s. (It is astonishing to think that Man Utd and Tottenham could be almost ‘mid table’ sides, the latter having been relegated.) For my generation Man Utd, Arsenal, and even Spurs had seemed to be ‘massive’ clubs along with Liverpool and Everton since the early 80s. However it was quite normal for the ‘smaller’ clubs e.g. Norwich, Crystal Palace, QPR, Wednesday (and Wimbledon) to ruffle some feathers. It was only after the absurd mega money came in just over a decade ago that Man Utd and Arsenal seemed to pull further away. Prior to the insane 2013-14 season, Premiership football seemed so have become so totally stale and predictable with the “big four” followed by Liverpool, Spurs and Everton scrapping over 5th place. Since then the hegemony seems to have been disrupted and Chelsea’s almost forgotten win last season could now be viewed as just as much an expression of the other big clubs’ weaknesses as Chelski’s brilliance. My suspicion of modern footballers is that they appear to lack real hunger; maybe due to the huge salaries now on offer. It seems that the extra 50-100K per week that these so called ‘stars’ earn above their peers is not enough for them to fight for a league title…

      • Hi Michael.I agree with much of what you have said regarding the performances of Derby and several other teams prior to the emergence of the Premier League. Steve, has mentioned the poor quality of the surfaces that made passing the ball on the ground often difficult or impossible; this meant more direct football was essential with wide players who ‘patrolled’ the less wide muddy zones such important players in the game.
        I tend to disagree with your point about — a lack of hunger with players today. I see games at all levels and am impressed with the physical qualities displayed by players. Fitness levels are far higher than in the past and i see lots of fight and passion in games; what i don’t see anywhere enough of is playing ability and game understanding! There is a lack of individualism and the overuse and mis-appreciation of the real object of ball possession is painfully obvious.
        Leicester City’s success must be analysed to recognise the use of variations within their playing style. The obvious speed of counter-attacks was not the singular reason for their success; solidy in defence and their correct use of ball possession when attacking penetration was unavailable was an important aspect of their ‘winning formula’.

  4. It will be an interesting euro 2016, as UEFA point out the ‘declining effectiveness of the counter’: in Euro 2008,
    46% of the open play goals were from counters, but in Euro 2012 only 25% of
    goals from open play were derived from counters

  5. Hi Dirk. The reason for the reduction of goals from countr-attack is due to the ‘overuse’ of possession tactics in the game. Spain’s influence with their Barcelona approach to the game has meant a reduction of fast, penetrative football. Barcelona, found increasing problems with their lack of variations in attacking play and have only overcome the problem with the introduction of Suarez who adds more penetrative options for them.
    Leicester displayed a game-style that contained a mixture of attacking and defensive qualities not seen since the great Liverpool squads of the 1970-80’s. Few clubs have managed to successfully combine Brish force with foreign finesse, those that did have won silverware and the admiration of the football public.

  6. Hi Michael…… I think that the last three lines of your post give food for thought: “My suspicion of modern footballers is that they appear to lack real hunger. Perhaps due to the huge salaries now on offer. It seems that the 50-100K a week that these so-called ‘stars’ earn above their peers is not enough for them to fight for a league title…”
    When you look at the performances this season of Vardy (Leicester) and Antonio (West Ham) then it makes you wonder about the effectiveness of the Academy System. Vardy’s background has been well documented but also Antonio cut his teeth in the semi-pro game and was spotted by Nottingham Forest playing for Tooting & Mitcham in the Rymans League. I have mentioned before about the considerable promise displayed by 18 year old Ademola Lookman for Charlton Athletic and would expect him to be snapped up by a Premier League club before very long. He came into the Academy late and was spotted in local amateur football.
    I think that these players display real “hunger” and that quality has had a great effect on Leicester this season, together with their other players who came out of relative obscurity. Of course, there never is any substitute for skill but these players have that as well as a great desire to play well and fight (i.e. “for the right to play”).

  7. Fantastic debate. Thank you to John and Steve for your erudite contributions. I agree that there is plenty of passion and fight in the EPL although I did not really see it in the eyes of many ‘top’ players this season. I suspect that the Euro 2016 tournament has been weighing at the back of some players’ minds… The lack of game understanding especially amongst English bred footballers is a massive issue. The Spanish League is ridiculed by some but even Michael Owen is admitting that there is massive strength in game understanding and technical ability throughout La Liga, as evidenced by their recurrent dominance of the Europa League. They may not have the physical attributes in the lower half of La Liga compared to the Premiership or the Bundesliga but they easily make up for this in technical knowledge and tactical awareness. Physical fitness and speed are sadly misunderstood by many to equate to ‘hunger’ when in reality they just represent an obsession with a neuro-endocrine process which is similar to addiction! The real hunger I am referring to is the slavish dedication to self improvement and tactical mastery shown by Cruyff’s Ajax players, Sacchi’s Milan team, Ferguson’s “Class of 92″(four of whom appeared to have average ability), Klopp’s Dortmund team and Diego Simeone’s current side. These clubs all had very classy players but they worked (and Atlético still work) obscenely hard to be better. I don’t see this level of drive in the current English Premiership…

  8. Hi Michael…I get the impression that the training is more demanding abroad because the clubs have more training sessions. I understand that two, and sometimes three, sessions in a day is quite normal. British professionals often object to having to train more than once a day and frequently have days off during the week.
    We have always played an excessive amount of matches in England, ever since the introduction of the Football League Cup. But the British player has always said that he would rather play matches than train. This has hindered the development of many young players and prevented teams from properly sorting out tactical problems because insufficient lengths of time are spent on the training pitch. It was noticeable last night during his TV interview, that Jurgen Klopp appeared to overcome the disappointment of Liverpool’s Europa League Final defeat and exclusion from European competition next season, by promising the Liverpool supporters that they will see an unmistakable improvement in their team’s play next season, as a result of increased time spent on the training ground. It would be interesting to know if the way in which Liverpool allowed Sevilla to take command in the second half was due to a lack of understanding on the part of Liverpool’s defenders. By playing a higher defensive line they conceded more space behind the defence which was exploited by Gameiro with his pace and ability to play on the shoulder of the last defender. Were they playing on Klopp’s instructions or just getting it wrong through insufficient work in training? They had defended deeper in the first half and Gameiro had not been so effective.

  9. Thank you Steve. I have always been surprised by the knowledge that training has historically been more thorough abroad than in the UK. I don’t have specific knowledge but surely the gap has narrowed with the influx of foreign managers and more and more foreign stars having risen to prominence in the EPL… Do you have any data to back up our assertion that the majority of EPL teams do not have sufficient training time and also that players still “object to having to train more than once a day and frequently have days off during the week” ?
    I fully agree with Klopp’s premise of greater training time every week and have seen this rationale cited as the basis behind Liverpool’s great performance in 2013-14 and Leicester City’s remarkable triumph this season. In fact I have been rather frustrated by the lack of attention in the media paid to what seems a very obvious principle i.e. study and time spent practising making you better at your job/hobby!
    You may be aware of The Tomkins Times website which frequently provides very healthy and high level debate on all things associated with Liverpool FC. The concept of tactical naivety has often been discussed on this Liverpool website and I recommend it even to non-Liverpool fans who are interested in tactical strategies and analysis. The other rather interesting website is the German Spielverlargerung of which I have not seen a better English equivalent.

  10. Hi Michael…Well I should have said that a very good coach with sufficient time to work with his players on the training ground, will achieve a considerable improvement in playing standards than is the case when teams are regularly paying weekend and midweek matches for a large part of the season. Jurgen Klopp now has that opportunity in 2016/17 with Liverpool having failed to qualify for any of the European competitions.
    I think the problem goes deeper, however. After all, Sevilla have won the Europa League for three successive seasons, with all the Thursday night matches that entails, and in the early part of 2015/16 they were also in the Champions’ League, but failed to qualify from their group and so dropped into the Europa League. But, despite the workload we saw their quality on Wednesday evening and they are a team which does not appear to have a serious chance of threatening the big guns at the top of La Liga. But they have quality and game intelligence – which comes from the training ground through the work of their very good coach.
    Despite what I said in my previous post, I don’t actually think that the number of matches played by Premier League teams these days differs very greatly from the number played by teams playing in most of the leading leagues in Europe. In Spain, in their equivalent of the FA Cup, the Copa del Rey, all ties are played over two legs, from the first round right through to the Final. I think that the decisive factor is the variation in pace that is more noticeable in Leagues abroad, such as La Liga. The often unrelenting pace of the Premier League takes its toll, as it has done for years, and so we see the result of this, as we did on Wednesday night, in the closing stages of the European Club Competitions and quite possibly again when Euro2016 gets under way. Sevilla, and the other clubs at present dominating the European club competitions, are better at ‘resting’ in possession of the ball and using parts of the match to regain their breath for periods of explosive pace when the opportunities arise. This is a quality which we have never mastered in England, partly due to the demands of the spectators, as has been discussed on this blog before, and until we really face up to it then I don’t think that we shall ever raise the standard of our League.
    As John said on this blog a little while ago, we do have, and have always had, some very good English/British coaches working in the League. But various factors have always hamstrung them, and at the moment the financial rewards and demands of the Premier League, may make millionaires out of some who are involved but it is not having the beneficial effect on the quality of our football and player development, as it should do.
    I have seen a little of The Tomkins Times website which you mention and I agree that it produces some very interesting work. I shall have a look at the German site which you mention.

  11. It has been all-documented that Liverpool in their heyday of winning European Cups varied their style between the domestic First Division and the Old Europen Cup. Quicker more-often in the former, but more considered, less direct against the best of the continent – a mixing of game styles ( holding on to their Englishness) and this with a British side; accepting the Rep of Iteland players obviously!

    Now if they could do it…

    However, the rub seems to be that Liverpool, coaching in their own way, had turned their back on the FA WAY…. good for them …. John and Steve. Agree??

  12. During the long period back in the 80’s and 90’s at the yearly Refresher Coaching Courses held at Lilleshall, all the well-known Managers and Coaches of that time were regular attenders ….. Members of Liverpool FC were regular absentees ! They had formulated their own playing method and stuck to it with great success.
    I was an admirer of the Liverpool game-style and watched them regularly over many years. Today, although they have an interesting squad and a foreign Manager, they lack the British with foreign ‘trimmings’ approach to the game that their squads had throughout the club’ s most successful period. This playing ‘pedigree’ has been taken up by Leicester City……… I hope they and our football public generally realise it and it does not become a ‘flash in the pan’ occurrence.

  13. The achievement by Ranieri is monumental, I agree but I do not believe that it is a replica of the old Liverpool philosophy…. That club dominated and revolutionised the game for nearly two decades. The Italian has moulded elements of Sacchi, Mourinho and traditional English brawn. There does appear to be a little of Klopp and Simeone’s Atlético Madrid too. It is a very interesting debate. However, the declaration that this Leicester team is a blueprint for future dominance and British success is premature.

    • Leicester’s domination of the Premier League this season that developed from battle to avoid relegation the previous season needs a thorough analysis.
      I watched Liverpool during their ‘heydays’ and the similarity between the playing styles of the two clubs is extremely close.
      The issue that may cause Leicester to not reach the same extensive success might be the curse of MONEY !

  14. It seems a little difficult at the moment to be clear on what aspects of Leicester’s performance this season are really down to Ranieri. It has been reported that when Ranieri held his first team meeting with the players before the start of the season, he outlined his ideas on tactics and how he wanted the team to play. However, the players made it clear to the Italian that their run of good results towards the end of the previous season, which helped them to avoid relegation, had been solely due to the methods of the previous manager, Nigel Pearson, and they felt strongly that those methods and approach should remain in place. Ranieri was sensible and shrewd enough to realise that all the players had thoroughly bought in to Pearson’s methods and agreed to leave that approach in place.
    Also, it has been said that Leicester have an exceptionally good coach on the training field in Craig Shakespeare, who also worked under Pearson and who takes most of the training. Together with Ranieri’s Assistant Manager, Steve Walsh, who is a master at spotting unknown talent and responsible for the acquisition of previous unknowns, like Mahrez, Vardy and Kante, and it can be seen that Ranieri has a top class backroom staff.
    I do not wish to downplay Ranieri’s work in any way and of course he has an understated manner, which seemed to have a calming influence on the players in the closing weeks of the season, as they saw the big prize in sight. Like the Liverpool team of managers such as Shankly and Paisley, it illustrated that the success was built on the work of number of coaches/trainers/scouts in the background as well as the man at the top who is the one most in the public eye.

  15. Hi John…The writing appears to be on the wall with press gossip of certain big clubs ready to table offers for members of Leicester’s squad. But one of the reasons that Leicester took the Premier League by storm last season, against all expectations, was perhaps revealed by Ranieri’s reported reaction to the transfer speculation. He immediately made it clear that if any player was unhappy with his treatment at Leicester, whether financial or otherwise, then he would be allowed to leave immediately, because on no account did he want unhappy players. So, hopefully, no unseemly transfer sagas, with wages sounding like telephone numbers.
    Although this is not connected to a similarity in playing styles with the 1970s/1980s Liverpool, it is the same attitude and mindset. Whether it can still work in 2016, only time will tell.

  16. Watching the BBC TV programme last night, in which Alan Shearer reminisced on England’s progress to the semi final in the Euro96 Tournament, and eventual defeat to Germany on penalties, it was noticeable how many strong characters England had in the team: Adams, Pearce, Shearer, Ince, Gascoigne, Sheringham, Neville, among others. Our National Team seems to have missed players of similar character and leadership qualities since then and on no other subsequent occcasion have England looked capable of reaching the closing stages of a tournament though, admittedly, Euro96 was on English soil.
    Those qualities were present in the Liverpool team of the 1980s and similarly I think they were an essential ingredient in the make-up of Leicester City during the past season. As well as the natural English spirit and fighting qualities, there is also the positive influence coming from the leader at the top, (Venables with England in 1996, Radnieri with Leicester last season), and this instils a belief in the whole squad of players and they feed off the positive vibes from each other.
    I have read that England will have the lowest average age of any nation competing in France this year. The Tournament will tell us where we are in terms of technical ability and game intelligence, but also how high our players stand in terms of mental strength and who the strong leaders are. Leicester revealed their leaders, now England must reveal theirs.

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