Fake Standards

By John Cartwright

The use of various adjectives to describe levels of performance in Association Football for both individual and teams’ has become alarmingly ‘over-hyped’— especially here in the UK.  For various reasons, but generally because of financial reasons (Media — Press and TV coverage) or low game understanding from general ‘watchers’ of football, descriptions of football have become ‘bloated’ with extravagant use of ‘FAKE STANDARDS’. Adjectives like the word ‘great’ are used too frequently when describing ‘basic’ playing qualities and have become words that merely ‘fly false flags’ on performance.

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The infiltration of ‘hype’ into football is camouflaging the true standards required for success. This deceitful use has become a serious cause for the extended failures we have suffered at senior levels of the game. ‘Simplicity’ is being hailed as ‘Greatness’ instead of it being recognised as a playing option. I am not suggesting that simple options in a game are not important—they are, but the use of high status adjectives like ‘Great’ should be used for high status actions not basic choices or ability.

By continuing to promote low playing standards by using over-hyped descriptive words, we make the teaching and learning of the game more difficult….how can ‘true greatness’ be achieved if ‘basic performance’ is recognised as the ‘pinnacle of performance’? This ‘fudged’ judgement of performance is easily recognisable in our game in which… English players lack individual skills… possession football lacks penetration…there is too much reliance on speed alone and not speed with skill and positive end products.

The recent World Cup in Russia, was an example of ‘hyped-false standards’. Yes, the general organisation and facilities of the Tournament deserve to be called ‘Great’, but can one truly say that the vast majority of the games played deserved the same high praise? I don’t think so! England’s performances have been applauded for what—coming fourth!  Having drawn a somewhat comfortable grouping followed by what should have been an equally comfortable ‘knock-out ‘ stages we failed to produce a single performance that deserved more than an OK..….they gave 100%…. but our 100% is full of just basic effort and lacks individual greatness. It certainly did not deserve a demand for ‘Black Waistcoats’ nor the ‘renaming of a Railway Station’!!

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Another sequel to ‘blusterings’ about performance has occurred with our younger teams having success recently in Euro and World Tournaments. Yes, there seems to be some talented young players in the squads but it is a long way from junior to senior football. These youngsters must go beyond the usual standards where for too long strength, speed and organisation have been the over-riding factors in our game. All very important, but to attain success and greatness, there must be the inclusion of skilful individualism, astute game understanding and a strong, determined mentality and character.

Whilst we allow Media ‘hype’ and not true quality performance to blind us into accepting false standards in our football, there is the inevitability that, ‘false words’ and not ‘positive actions’ will continue to direct the future of our game towards failure…. not success!

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45 thoughts on “Fake Standards

  1. As always, John, I am fascinated to read your opinions. I completely understand what you say and wholeheartedly agree with what has happened and been described over recent years ( about 40-odd with the occasional ‘blip’ !) as being anything other than ‘great’.
    However, I do think under Southgate there has been some progress and a movement towards a different way of playing. I personally think 4th is an indication of some progress and whilst possibly could be considered on the ‘easier’ side of the draw, is still better than I imagined would be our progress pre-tournament.
    What I think are positives is Southgate’s demeanour – certainly a better role model for all grass roots coaches than some other professional managers – and a movement towards a more imaginative, adventurous style of football than you or I have witnessed for many a long year, with a handful of exceptions since 1966. The biggest improvement though, for me, is the connection with the public and the recognition that an adventurous style of football is a little risky; it’s not an absolute science, but it’s more fun to play and more exciting to watch. And if Southgate and the England men’s team have taught the watching public, grassroots coaches and parents that recognition, the potential for our future player and game development is unbridled. Was the football “great”? – obviously, no, but it is motion towards and was a massive improvement over any major competition since 1996. Southgate is trying to develop a team and promote a philosophy that embraces a fear free environment and, I hope, a game that will become, in England, truly Football For The Brave.

  2. Steve. We came fourth after probably the easiest pathway to a World Cup final we could have had. In none of the games with the exception of the Panama ‘Pub.’ performance did we show anything of quality.
    We lack true greatness and keep camouflaging mediocracy with undeserved praise. We have no truly World-class players and with regards to Southgate’s tactics, those players who might have been creative were played in a formation that denied them the opportunities to play to the best of their ability—— such as Kane – Alli – Sterling in particular. The game against Croatia, was an example of tactical unawareness in allowing the opponents to control the game through the use of the wide spaces we provided them with. Our so-called possible match-winners were more involved in chasing out wide to defend than establishing attacking opportunities and openings.
    We must put an end now to the constant deception about our playing standards —- we are ordinary and will remain so whilst simplicity is recognised as greatness.

  3. A few days after the end of the 2018 World Cup Tournament in Russia, England were eliminated from the UEFA Under 19 Championship after a 5-0 hammering by France. It could have been ten, such was the difference in class of the two teams and the chances created by the French.
    England struggled to put more than two passes together during the whole match. It has to be said that England were missing some important players, like Man City’s very promising Phil Foden, who had travelled abroad with their clubs for pre-season tournaments. However, it was the old English failing which was apparent and has been the weak point in our game for generations – namely the inability and know how to play in tight areas and into the feet of marked colleagues. France had this ability and dominated every minute of the match.
    England also lost against Norway in a play off for qualification into the Under 20 World Cup next year and of which England are the present holders, after the much praised performance in South Korea last year. So, following the success of the various under age teams last summer and England’s progress into the semi finals of the World Cup this year, we have received a very sharp and timely wake-up call.
    France are clearly showing, at the moment, how player development, at both senior and junior level, should be done. They are worthy of the tag, World Champions, and many other countries, besides ourselves, will be looking at what they are doing to achieve their present dominance. I believe that, as John has said on many occasions, we are too happy to settle for mediocrity and this attitude must change.
    I think that we do have some talented young players at this present time, but the development methodology which is employed does not go far enough down the road in enabling our players to be comfortable and effective when playing in tight areas where space is at a premium.

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  5. Hi Steve. The point you are making about our inability to produce players who are capable of playing in tight situations is all about INDIVIDUALISM. The development process through which players here are subjected to fails miserably generation after generation to teach SKILLS.
    Football’s a skilful game that demands individualism throughout a team. We should be concentrating on this as a priority. Once this has been completed the next phase in the development schedule should be the teaching of combining with other players when necessary.
    We are producing players who’s first thought on receipt of the ball is—- who can I pass it to and not can I see a possible individualistic opportunity? The whole development project from the teaching of the game by inexperienced ‘coaches’ to the playing structures produces fear and not fortitude. Simplicity is deemed great to often as weak-willed players under the guidance of result-conscious teachers prefer easy options as the skilled variety have not been acquired.
    France won the World Cup because they had several great players within a squad of very talented players. On the other hand, we have no great players and a squad of ‘hard workers’ only.
    Our thinking about the game is wrong and until we change our development methods where speed-strength-organisation are all we display, we can say bye, bye to success and buy more foreign skill in to camouflage our low performing ability.

  6. Hi all. I’m not surprised that this ‘blog’ has not received more replies— both for or against. The lack of comments may be a sign that there is an acceptance of the standards in our game and the general organisation of it both on and off the field.
    After our success in 1966 in which the players were ALL developed through the ACADEMY OF STREET FOOTBALL, we have followed numerous development models, none of which has been able to construct a suitable method that produces high levels of individualism along with astute game understanding——— individualism that can combine when necessary.
    Until we produce players along a properly devised development ‘pathway’ we will continue to rely on ‘work-horses’ and not skilled footballers.

    • John,

      First, I was v pleased to see another blog when I checked back on this site this week. It’s been a long time since your last post…

      I’m not sure if there is an an acceptance of [low] standards rather than a perceived lack of options and agency to arrest the decline. Individually and even collectively, how does one begin to mobilise a protest and a movement for change? If someone like you with your pedigree and coaching background is shouting in to the wind without getting any reward what hope is there for the rest of us against the marketing budget of, say, the Premier League?

      Unfortunately, street football is dead in most communities I observe, I think. This is due to town planning and a prevailing ‘NIMBY’ attitude by parents who would anyway rather have their kids indoors where they can ‘supervise them’ (i..e parental control – not free play – is how our kids play these days). No wonder we lack creativity and imagination in our football because these attitudes exist everywhere now in all spheres, it seems.

      In my view, the FA’s resources need to be re-directed away from building full size astros and they ought to be channelled in to building bespoke small sided play areas in parks where toddlers and primary school kids can learn how to manipulate a ball. I fear the will to deliver this is not shared across all agencies – both football and recreational – so the stagnation in performance will go on and on… I think. In one sense, though, this is a measure of our relative wealth and good living standards generally (i.e. I think our young people are generally comfortable enough with their games consoles and branded trainers to not need to think about/ have the determination/ will to win to break through the glass ceiling of the Premier League/ Champions League performances).

      Despite an initial flourish playing and watching football my kids are moving their attention on to other pursuits now. With that, my recent interest in football in the last decade is moving on, too. I love the game, still, but I don’t love the money that is ruining many people’s enjoyment of the game – including mine. I was hoping, for example, that I might see a way to help coaching with my kids’ local FA Charter Mark club, but even there the coaching vision I was hoping to convey – similar to what yours is, perhaps, albeit much more simplistic – has not been well received. Some people there think the idea of free play and street-style football is not what is required now. Personally, I was hoping to get some more direct experience of Practice Play coaching by attending some courses, but that never happened in the UK this year, as far as I know (Roger was thinking of delivering something, but I don’t think that happened. I don’t know of anyone else who has or might be thinking of doing some courses, either).

      I’m thinking of spending my time doing things other than thinking about football now. I haven’t listened to or watched a minute’s commentary this season… yet. It feels a bit like a death, but it’s a re-birth, too.

      I wish you and all those who check in on these pages the very best of luck in seeing England in a final one day.

      Football – bloody hell!

      Best regards,
      Peter
      http://www.1853Football.org

  7. Ok John, from what you witnessed of the World Cup, how far do the hyped-false standards apply to other countries?
    Were England that good in 1966? Maybe not even the best team at that World Cup!

  8. Hi Brazil. I don’t know what other nations reacted towards there national teams . What I do know is that there was little from most to
    cheer about. Even the usual top nations were poor and don’t forget that there was a number of normal World Cup National teams that failed to reach Russia.
    The England team that won in 1966 had a number of World-class players in the squad —- something that the present side does not have.
    France won the Cup because they were a team that included several world-class players combined within a talented squad — Croatia, also reached the heights because they also had several world-class players, although these were not recognised as ‘finishers’.
    The ‘hype’ we continually heap onto mediocre performances will only deliver failure, for success requires excellence not mediocrity and that’s where our game has been for decades and remains to this day.

  9. Hi Brazil 94….From conversations with football followers from other nations in Russia, I can tell you that most foreign fans like the Premier League. But they are not fooled, they know that it is not representative of English football, but a League of foreign players, playing under foreign managers/coaches, at clubs with foreign owners.
    However, as England made progress during the competition, there was an atmosphere of respect towards the team from many countries’ fans, who recognise England as the country that gave football to the world. They believe that we should therefore be at the forefront of the game but have put physical qualities and direct play before skill and intelligence for too long. They believe that we are turning a corner in that respect because they see a greater emphasis on playing the ball out from defence and through the team, rather than the constant long ball approach of the past. However, perceptive followers saw that Croatia’s coach turned the semi final round at half time with his switches and instructions and that the England bench failed to react correctly to take back charge of the game, as John has explained, in the wide areas. I find that the fan in other countries often questions the coach’s tactics, or lack of them, much more than we do.
    All tournaments these days are primarily television events. They are skilfully stage-managed so that we get exciting, dramatic matches, often producing unexpected results. This maintains interest and constantly builds up excitement through the month long tournament. Millions of euros flow into the FIFA account and that is the priority of the game’s rulers. Few fans of any nationality, recognise that the actual standard compares unfavourably with a genuinely great World Cup, such as the one in 1970.

  10. Hi Steve. Thanks for your interesting reply.
    From what you have said it seems that the foreign football public have sympathy for us about the way we play the game.
    I tend to agree with them!

  11. In view of the way in which Croatia’s coach, Zlatko Dalic, out-thought his English counterpart in the World Cup semi final, I think the FA’s Coaching Department should be prioritising the search for young coaches who read the game well and can quickly make adjustments when events on the field start to go against their team.
    In recent months, on the occasions I have seen his team play, I have been impressed with the work being done from the touchline during matches, by Charlton Athletic’s Lee Bowyer, who is in his first Manager/Coach position. He is always pro-active and does not wait for his team to go behind before making substitutions or positional switches. He does not make the regular ‘like for like’ substitutions which many managers do, but attempts to influence the play by creating advantageous situations on the pitch from his observations. Last Saturday, with the half time score 0-0 against Shrewsbury Town, Bowyer changed the formation, switched the positions of a number of players and made an effective substitution, all of which led to a 2-1 victory.
    The three points, which got Charlton up and running for the season, were entirely due to Lee Bowyer’s work in the dressing room at half time, just as Croatia’s place in the World Cup Final was thanks to Zlatko Dalic.
    We need more coaches with this kind of perception and ability to read the game.

    • Hi Steve,

      Can you imagine Bowyer ever getting a gig at the FA?

      The blazers would never be able to see beyond what happened outside the Majestic nightclub in Leeds all those years ago. People who show contrition and reform should be given another chance, but unfortunately in England the class system is alive and (un)well, which holds us as a country back in so many ways, imo.

  12. Hi John and Steve,
    I ran out of time but I want to say a little more, if you please… First and foremost I just DON’T GET THE FA because many in that coaching body must know that their system has fundamental problems…in quiet conversations I am sure John that eye-opening comments have been made to you, and in your circles also Steve!

    It is now of historical record that the Academy of Street football has played arguably the most important role in producing great players… the street – without coaching controls – has always seen the BEST INDIVIDUALS DOMINATE IN INDIVIDUALISTIC WAYS… and develop THEIR INDIVIDUALISM.

    The problem is that the FA has PUBLICALLY failed to state this – though many within their organisation must agree privately…and of course they won’t admit they are wrong…Too much influence and vested interests at stake.

    The FA Coaching Scheme and its number of World wide copiers – mainly English speakers – have failed young footballers. More-so-often where the street is not prevalent. This failure is because their development models are miles away from the street!

    And on a further thought John, while YOU ARE HIGHLY RESPECTED WORLD WIDE, the FA won’t countenance your views because they are coming from you …. and they see you as a pariah!

  13. Hi Brazil. Street Football, contained important aspects of learning— huge amount of practice time — usually. In confined space. Realistic competition against a range of age groups. The chance to try a skill and fail and to modify it and try again and again to perfect it without fear of a negative comment from a so-called ‘coach’ — Recognition of regular occuring situations and being prepared to deal with them (watch Messi) — Constant movement from forward positions to being a ‘Rush Goalkeeper’ .— The games played in small numbers meant more touches of the ball and more decision-making. Usually games were played on hard surfaces where balance was vital. Don’t forget the ‘bald’ tennis ball that was the common ball in use. Etc etc . But the most important thing was the enjoyment.
    All of these points and more were taken onto match day games for school or youth club — all competitive but we’re times to display realistic street game learning in formal games. Now disciplined performance aligned with inadequate practice time has created ‘Robotic’ football from inadequately prepared players.
    Better An honest Pariah than a weak ‘follower of simplistic destruction of the game.

  14. Watching Manchester United’s limp and lifeless display against Brighton, following a poor preseason build up, serves as an insight into the change in direction in which modern football management seems to have taken.
    All we hear from managers these days, when they are having a difficult time, is to complain that they can’t get players into the club from the transfer market who they want. It makes me wonder if the people at the top of the club are aware of, or even understand, the history of their own club. My memory goes back to 1958, when the heart was ripped out of Manchester United, following the tragedy of the Munich air crash. In spite of losing the nucleus of their team, United continued to battle on bravely in the First Division and European Cup and even reached the Final of the FA Cup. Their patched up team was made up of Munich survivors, playing little more than a week after that horrific crash, cheap buys on the transfer market and young players from their own Reserves and Youth Teams.
    During United’s preseason overseas tour, Jose Mourinho was constantly moaning that the friendlies they were playing were a waste of time because he was fielding a team that bore no resemblance to what he wanted to put out when the season started. But in the past, injuries, not getting what you want from the transfer market and players absent due to their involvement in the World Cup, were all part of football. Players in the Reserves and Youth Teams, were always itching for a chance to prove themselves if that first team opportunity came along. Mourinho should have taken a plane load of youth players on the tour, if he was that short of senior players, and announced that they were all playing for a first team shirt in the opening weeks of the season.
    In my opinion, Mourinho would have gained far more respect if he had taken that stance and the young players would have been filled with pride and ambition. Even if the results had gone as disappointingly as they have done, then Mourinho’s message to the Old Trafford hierarchy would have been aimed with far greater incisiveness than just moaning and complaining. I also think he would have got the United fans on his side because there is nothing a fan likes more than to see “one of our own” get his first team chance.
    I think that this attitude has gone out of English football in recent years and is part of a disconnect in the game which needs to come back.

  15. This summer I dragged our caravan and my family through Belgium and the Netherlands. When we were in Amsterdam I was curious to survey the Cruyff court at Betandorp – the district where Johan grew up and where he was most keen to leave a legacy for future young players. Two young people were shooting hoops in the adjacent basketball space, but the football ‘astro court’ at Betandorp was empty. It made me feel a bit sad. All my life I have loved Dutch football, but I wonder if they are now a bit lost…, like England?

    I was dismayed at the WC2010 final when the Dutch traded skill for savagery (though the Spanish game was thrilling, I know) and I have wondered since how small nations like Uruguay can continue to produce great footballers and teams capable of doing something beyond expectations. I think climate and poverty are key elements for their kids. Maybe the Dutch and the English/ British kids are too cosy by comparison..?

    I fear that this summer was a generational moment for English football. Yes, I like Gareth Southgate’s team ethic and the way in which the players have conducted themselves humbly and with a degree of modesty: this has been very welcome after the last decade or two. This summer, though, was a perfect storm of a reluctant leader who rose up unexpectedly and had a deep understanding of playing under Venables and Hoddle and yet still exposed when needing to adapt and try and stop Croatia from running away with the game. Modric and co were gaining momentum almost from the moment England scored and I was surprised and exasperated watching the game and seeing it slipping away. Southgate had no answer for this from a coaching and tactical perspective, but the players were lacking in individual skill, game understanding and strategy, too

    In my view, England will never get close to a final again during my lifetime in a major tournament unless we re-plan our public spaces for young people to acquire physical literacy including agility, balance and coordination across a range of sports through primary school. These should be free at the point of access – there needs to be more access to spaces for free, spontaneous play. This will enable young kids to acquire the general physicality and fluid motor functions as a base before moving on to the specificity required for football skills and agility as they develop, grow and learn how to play within a team structure. If this seems obvious to someone like me who isn’t involved in the football industry why don’t those working within it see it and do something about this to coordinate a multi-agency approach to deliver the space and conditions for success?

    This is depressing.

  16. Hi Peter…. I agree with a lot you say with regard to England’s performance in Russia and the size of the obstacles still in our way as we try to work our way to somewhere near the top of the international football tree.
    I share your considerable disappointment with the state of Dutch football and their demise certainly should sound alarm bells in English ears as well. I have been visiting Holland on Coach Education Tours on several occasions during the last few years and the drop in standards from what we remember of Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and others is considerable. When you consider that the Dutch National Team were runners up in the 2010 World Cup and then claimed Third Place in 2014, then our purple patch this year should cause no one to sit on their laurels. We could topple from the dizzy heights of Fourth Place to ‘also rans’ in the 2020 Euros.
    The problems caused by the Premier League are as acute as ever. It has been reported in the press that during the opening weeks of the season the number of English born players having played in the top tier has dropped even lower. I believe that there is talent there but it needs to be developed and encouraged. Last weekend the Dortmund-Leipzig televised Bundesliga fixture gave a 15 minute cameo of Jadon Sancho coming off the bench for Dortmund. He laid on the fourth goal with a perfectly weighted pass and his other contributions were full of class. But Manchester City have deemed fit to actually transfer him, not loan him, to the German club. He should be playing in our League and coached at an English club. I understand that there is a five year residency rule which says that once a player has lived and played in a country for that length of time and has not played for the senior team of his country of birth, then he becomes eligible for the national team of his ‘adopted’ country. Hence Diego Costa plays for Spain in international football and not Brazil where he was born and first played, before transferring to Atletico Madrid (twice). So we must be careful we don’t lose Sancho.
    This week the young West Ham midfield player, Josh Cullen, moved on loan to League 1 Charlton Athletic. But Cullen has had a number of loan moves to lower division clubs already. He is a good player and he should now be in and around the West Ham first team. But instead West Ham have spent millions on new players and are bottom of the League. The club’s owners like to say they are lifelong fans and cherish the West Ham tradition as the Academy of Football. But the way they run the club shows little evidence of that.
    I’m sure that Gareth Southgate is fully aware of the problems but it is vital that he and the other top people at the FA stand up to the Premier League, or else the progress that appears to have been made will have been in vain.

    • Hi Steve,

      There was a piece in the press over the weekend discussing selection options (i.e. Foden or Sancho – or both – or none) for the next Nations League games. The comments section is an interesting angle on this debate and there is some strong arguments for Sancho. similar to what you were saying recently (above). The piece is as below:

      https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2018/sep/30/gareth-southgate-phil-foden-england

      I’m not sure where I stand on the ‘…has to play in the first team to be picked for England debate’. When you stop and think about it this is a more complex issue than it appears at face value. In any event, these next 3 competitive games will offer an interesting bookend to what has been a fascinating international calendar year.

  17. Hi Steve,

    I saw Josh Cullen at Bradford many times a couple of seasons ago. He was generally excellent at League One level and showed a lot of potential, although his play in the last third including finishing needed considerable improvement. It’s a shame that he’s another player whose pathway in to the top end of the game appears to have stalled. Bradford City themselves are almost a test case on the problems for contemporary football in England and Britain.

    I’ve watched the local interest in the team and club grow in recent years as their relative success has been admired by local and national football fans. Parkinson and Parkin really grew the pride in the club and Stuart McCall’s football two seasons ago was truly sensational for many reasons. It was a pleasure to have a season ticket watching his team and the fans’ reaction to his style of play there.

    Then the club changed hands and the local pride dissipated as Edin Rahic has now eroded nearly all of the goodwill built up in recent years. January was a terrible month for Bradford, but the club’s owner fancied he knew better than Stuart about what was required at Valley Parade. Rahic should have changed the playing surface rather than the manager & I bet McCall will have the last laugh in this affair.

    The Nations League is disappointing for me on two counts:

    First, I’ve really enjoyed watching Southgate achieve things this year because he seems a very decent and likable guy who befits the office in his general demeanor and grasp of requirements, but in my opinion he is heading for a downturn in fortunes with this new round of qualifying games.

    Second, taking England off free-to-air TV is going to turn people off the idea of the national football team, I think. As a school kid, I loved watching Botham’s 1981 Headingley knock and was thrilled by cricket then, but as soon as it went on to pay TV my interest was knocked clean out of the ground. And so it is with football now, it seems. Platini dreamt up the idea of the Nations League to steal market share and serve up a dish for those at his football table, but he’s got his just deserts now.

    And on Saturday England will get a taste of things to come, too, I think. I won’t be watching not only because I can’t (‘access denied’), but also because I’ve got nothing left in the tank for this unpleasant football business.

  18. Hi Peter….I find myself agreeing with most of your sentiments again.
    Did Bradford City take Reece Burke of West Ham on loan for a time during the last year or two? It seems to run in my mind that he went there after a loan spell at Wigan Athletic. He was another young player who was promoted to his Premier League club’s first team a few years ago, showed some promise but then went out on loan without going back into his registered club’s first team to establish himself. Instead, his club spends millions, most of it wasted, on ‘quick fixes’ and forgets the home-grown talent which could be developed.
    Your fears for England’s weaknesses being shown up by Spain proved correct. It is significant that England produced a similar performance to the one when losing to Croatia in the World Cup semi final. That is, they did not play badly, but were unable to adapt tactically to opponents who outnumbered them in midfield by forcing our wing backs into a five man back-line. The space and freedom which was allowed to Spain’s full backs was exactly the same as that allowed to those of Croatia in Moscow.
    Our lack of flexibility in failing to adapt our tactics or formation against clever opposition will prevent us building on the progress shown against weaker teams in Russia. Unless our players can improve in this aspect, then our best World Cup performance for 28 years will be remembered as being due to a favourable draw allowing a passage to the semi finals.
    To be fair to Gareth Southgate, in interviews he does seem aware of the problems but it is to be seen if he is the man who can take the players on to the next step in order for them to be serious challengers against the world’s best.

    • Hi Steve,

      Bradford did take Reece Burke and he won player of the season. It was the 2015-16 season – before I started going regularly to Bradford – so I never saw him play. Friends here who did see him reported a great player. He followed Parkinson to Bolton and is now at Hull City. I liked Josh Cullen a lot at Bradford and since he left the midfield hasn’t really recovered.

      This is the problem for me with the loan system and contemporary football: the churn of playing staff. I’m down to the midlands for a family gathering today, but would have liked to go to Valley Parade to watch Charlton (return of one or two ex-City players who I watched and liked) and also Bradford, whose team is already unrecognisable from that of last season. Despite being in the same league and same state (i.e. poor end last season and poor at the start of this one) there’s a wholly new look to the Bradford playing staff. Yes, it’s right to bring in a few players to freshen things up, but when the whole team changes it weakens the bond between fans and clubs, in my view. And the next new manager has little or no chance to blend the squad when there are more matches than training sessions at this level.

      To stick up for the players a bit, who aren’t earning the fortunes on offer at PL & CL level, I know there is a flexible workforce in every industry, but when the clubs try and put players on inferior terms even when they’ve played well in League One (i.e. GK Doyle is suspected to have suffered from this, as I understand it) it forces these players to look for other clubs causing disruption for the players’ families and children and a diminution of the bond that used to exist between a fan and his or her club.

      Work migration has meant that post-war bonds between fans and clubs has weakened each generation as many sons and grandsons now live far from what might be termed ‘home’. Info Technology now means that there are ever more elaborate ways for fans to be exploited and many do not have the time to stop and think about the consequences.

      The machine is rinsing fans of their cash as fast as possible and meanwhile the English football industry dictates a pay to play grassroots coaching culture that produces the ‘robotic’ footballers that so incense John C and others.

      Football – BLOODY HELL!

  19. The recent UEFA Nations League matches seem to have restored international football to its natural order. Spain appear to be the main challengers to France’s number one position in the world and their poor World Cup performances were almost certainly due to the upheaval behind the scenes caused by the manager’s dismissal on the eve of the tournament. Croatia have a lot of work to do if they want to be regarded as the world’s number two team.
    As many suspected,England’s surprising advancement in the World Cup to the semi finals looks more and more due to the relatively easy path they got as the tournament unfolded. Last weekend England were comfortably beaten by an impressive Spain team. In the first half against the Swiss on Tuesday, England again revealed the problems in their midfield which the use of the the 3-5-2 system gives them. England were lucky to go in at half time with a goalless scoreline because even Switzerland outnumbered them in midfield when England’s full backs were again forced back into defence, just as they had been at Wembley the previous Saturday. But this time the England coach seems to have done his job at half time. Walker and Maguire, the right and left centre backs, pushed ahead of Stones in the centre of the defence, when he came on, and so England asserted themselves much more. I noticed also that Rashford a number of times dropped back from his forward position when England were out of possession and so got an extra man in midfield, leaving first Welbeck and then Kane, when he came on, on their own on occasions but with the ability to hold the ball up until support arrived.
    The real test for England on whether they have to know how and ability to regain the midfield control with this present system, will come with the forthcoming away matches in Croatia and Spain. We shall see how good England are then and if our players have the flexibility and imagination to adjust to the circumstances.

    • Yes, I’m curious to know this, too.

      For example, based on the WC2018 squad what would have been the optimal starting line up and shape against Croatia and how might you have changed things mid game (in-game management)? Also, were there players not taken to the WC this year that might have offered a better solution for the Croatia game, in your view?

      More generally, I would be interested in running a webinar like session where I could (with the right license) play back a game online where like minded people could comment on the game in a chat bar at the side and this could then be sent out as a transcript with follow up online meetings, maybe, to discuss specific moments in the game aligned to coaching and development.

      Is there any appetite for this from anyone…?

  20. Another impressive performance from Jadon Sancho last Friday when he came off the Dortmund bench for the last half hour and set up the second and third goals in the 3-1 win against Schalke. He has good acceleration, quick feet, good ball control and takes up good positions to receive the ball. He picks out team mates quickly with good passing. It can’t be long before he gets in Dortmund’s starting eleven.
    Hi Peter…. I’m interested in your idea for a webinar session. I’m not very computer-minded but if it is something that is easily set up then i would be pleased to take part.

  21. If we are to believe what we read in the press, then Jose Mourinho is heading for the sack at Manchester United. If the axe finally falls then could he be another Manager/Coach who has enjoyed great success, only to inexplicably appear to lose his touch as the years roll by?
    But has he really lost that ability to coach and motivate a team to win trophies and championships? His team selection, tactics and his handling of highly paid and temperamental players, have all been questioned. But what has not received much focus has been the loss of his right hand man before the season started – fellow Portuguese, Rui Faria. He started as Mourinho’s keenest student but rose to be his most important assistant, invaluable in his knowledge of Mourinho’s coaching methods and with the greatest appreciation of what his boss looks for when scouting a player. Faria was said to have the sharpest eye when studying future opponents and picking out their weaknesses, and so the reports he prepared as a result of this observation were invaluable and must have played a massive part in Mourinho’s coaching success at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
    Down the years, many outstanding Coaches and Managers have suffered a severe reversal in their powers when their chief assistant, usually a friend or colleague from their earliest playing days, have been lost to them for a variety of reasons. Brian Clough’s greatest successes at Derby County and Nottingham Forest were when he had Peter Taylor at his side, who was also responsible for spotting so many previously unrated players, often dismissed as ‘wasters’ or drunkards, but who became European Champions once Clough had them under his wing. Taylor was eventually tempted to try his hand as a manager himself but failed to make any impression. Without his assistant, Clough never recaptured the glory days as his career slowly and sadly unwound.
    During the sixties, Malcolm Allison coached Manchester City from being a struggling second division club going nowhere, into winning the Second Division Championship, and then in successive years, the League Championship, the FA Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. But Allison was strictly the Coach. The Manager was Joe Mercer, a much older man, but he left the coaching to Allison and the partnership, though made up of two men of entirely different characteristics, worked perfectly until Mercer relinquished his position and his assistant became the Number One. Until they received the massive funding of recent years, Manchester City never seriously challenged the big guns after that. I always thought that Allison was much more effective as a coach without the additional commitments of club management.
    I once heard Ron Greenwood say, during his time as West Ham’s boss, that football management today is a two man job. This was just after he had promoted John Lyall from Youth Team Coach to be his assistant with the First Team on match days and in training during the week. He actually wanted to groom John Lyall to succeed him as West Ham’s manager and this is what happened after two years and he moved aside to allow the younger man to take over and assume full control. For his part, John Lyall had former player Ron Boyce as his trusted confidant and chief assistant throughout the entire 15 years that he was West Ham’s manager.
    It is with these considerations that I wonder if Jose Mourinho’s problems at Old Trafford have at least partly arisen from the loss of Rui Faria.

  22. Perhaps Steve… You make some good points however I think that the excessively self indulgent decent players are under performing and Pogba is a major problem… They should. Must support Mourinho and get rid of the bums and give him the funds to rebuild…do if that means of loading asap
    The French prima donna, sanchez, martial, the centre backs, and so on. Then so be it. I have no sentiment for them.

  23. Hi Peter….Jadon Sancho has had more first team game time at Dortmund than Phil Foden has had at Manchester City. He has been impressive each time I have seen him for Dortmund, usually coming off the bench. Foden’s appearances are much more limited, but I think it is worth putting both of them in the England squad.
    On the ‘Guardian’ web page which you refer to, someone says that there was a clamour for Joe Cole to go into the England squad as soon as he showed his great potential for West Ham about twenty years ago. This reader maintains that these demands fell on deaf ears and Cole had to wait for his chance. The reader maintains that this wait did not do him any harm but I would disagree with that assertion. Joe Cole was so good that the England team could have been built around him. But depressingly, once he had established himself in West Ham’s first team and then had a big money transfer to Chelsea, Cole was moved out to the left hand side of the team where he was required to chase back and defend for long periods, instead of applying all his creative ability and football skill in attacking play. When he eventually won his place in the England team, then it was in that left sided position – as a work horse and not a number 10 as he had been as a Youth Team player.
    I am not suggesting that either Sancho or Foden would suffer a similar fate, bearing in mind that their club coaches are Favre and Guardiola respectively. However, the Joe Cole situation must never arise again and Gareth Southgate must ensure as far as he can, that the potential of all talented players is fully developed. If that means including them in senior England squads earlier than previously thought necessary, then so be it.

  24. There still seems to be a lot of early positionalising in junior football. Children as young as 7 are convinced that there is only one position in which they can play. Often this state of mind arises from team managers or parents hitting on the right combination of players in certain roles, often taking advantage of their present physical attributes, and a succession of victories leads them to keep their young players exclusively in those positions. The weeks and months often extend into years and many junior players reach their mid teens having had very limited experience of all roles and responsibilities which the game demands in its array of positions.
    Young players playing matches in the various team numbers up to the age of 13, when I believe it becomes 11-a-side, should play in a different position each week. This positional education should still continue in the 11-a-side game but now the children should become aware of rotating positions so that if, say, a defender has moved forward to support an attack, then a midfield player close at hand drops to fill in for him until he returns to his defensive position. So a player who is nominally a centre half must have the skills and game understanding to play as a centre forward. A player who lines up at left back must be comfortable in a central midfield position with the passing range and vision which that role demands.
    There is nothing new in this requirement and it was chronicled in print 65 years ago, in a book entitled ‘Soccer Revolution’ by Willy Meisl, when Hungary inflicted the first home defeat on England by a foreign team. As long ago as 1953 the Hungarians were well down the road to playing a game based on multi-functional players. Unfortunately, Hungary is a country which has regressed badly in football, but we have never taken the initiative to go down the route which they set. It must start, however, with young players at all levels.

  25. England showed in their two recent away matches, against Croatia and Spain, that although their progress to the semi finals of the World Cup in Russia owed a lot to a favourable draw, nevertheless we do have some talented players emerging at this time. It is often said that football moves in cycles and teams have their purple patches as a group of promising players comes to maturity at the same time. The same could be said of Belgium although they are continuing to stumble in tournaments as the finishing line appears. Holland in the seventies and on various occasions since then, have had groups of outstanding players playing great football and twice just failing to win the World Cup, in 1974 and 1978. Finally they won the European Championship in 1988. In my opinion they should have been in the World Cup Final in 1998, but lost unluckily to Brazil in the semi final on penalties.
    The next 18 months in the build up to Euro 2020 will tell us whether Rashford, Sterling, Pickford, Kane, Sancho and the rest, can turn potential into world class performance. With a number of the matches of that Tournament, which is being spread across Europe, apparently being scheduled for Wembley, then England could have a real chance of success.
    We were told that we had the ‘Golden Generation’ in the late nineties and early 2000s, but the promise was never fulfilled. In my opinion those players did not quite make the final step up in their development to challenge the very best and the coaching talents of Venables and Hoddle were wasted when the FA failed to give them the necessary backing.
    Can it be different this time? It could be but perhaps the 2022 World Cup is a more realistic target, allowing two more years for development. Unfortunately, the climatic conditions in Qatar will make it particularly difficult for any north European team to lift the trophy.

  26. Hi John
    The blog has slowed to a dribble over recent months. And is has been for so long the most important football comment across the whole internet. Steve H does try to get in going… But no new blog topics?

  27. Pep Guardiola was recently quoted in the press saying that rugby has been an inspiration to him because the object was for the players to pass the ball backwards but they are always looking forward. That was also his philosophy.
    In other words, they have to pass the ball backwards in order to go forward. This quote in actual fact, is also in Johann Cruyff’s autobiography, “My Turn”, when it is attributed to the former great Dutch player. It is well known that Cruyff had a great influence on Guardiola and he points out that this law in rugby meant that the players always had an overview of the game.
    When coaching inexperienced players in football, I find that it is often a problem to stop them trying to force the ball forwards at every opportunity when their way is blocked and they are simply relying on strength and power to make progress. Coming back to go forward is often the answer. Many players are reluctant to do this, until they recognise where the space is and they start to play away from pressure. In England we have too often tried to meet the opposition’s challenge head on, but now perhaps we are learning that is not the best way.

    • Hi Steve, hope you are well, always good to read your comments. This is why the Premier Skills Practice Play methodology is so good for developing players. With early foundations focussing on individuality and combining through use if holding space and the home base, it helps teach players patience and when to recognise to go forward and when not.

  28. There are so many DVDs and Youtube films at hand these days that young players can study them and then practice the skills which made their heroes famous. The problem is that the youngsters are practicing in unrealistic situations, in wide open areas with no opposition. In past generations, these were practiced in tight areas of bumpy ground with opposition always at hand. Decision making and careful protection of the ball were all important. So many of our players acquire technique but, as John Cartwright has said many times, football is played with skill, not technique, and skill is the action of a technique with interference.
    If this were not true then the free-stylers (ball jugglers) who sometimes come on the pitch at half time to entertain the crowd with their tricks, would be earning a living from playing the game. I can only remember one of these ball-jugglers I had ever previously heard of and that was Dave Burnside, (West Brom, Southampton and a few England caps), who sometimes put on a half time exhibition during the fifties and sixties.
    I have been reminded about how we have continually disregarded many fine English coaches when i recently read about Jimmy Hogan who is credited with developing the great Hungarian team of 1950 – 1954. He coached in Hungary, as well as many other countries, before and after the Second World War. To this day, everyone in Hungary credits him with the great 6-3 victory over England at Wembley in 1953. Such is the respect in which Hogan is held in that country, that every year in Hungary there is a national holiday on the anniversary of that match and it is known as the “Jimmy Hogan Day”. Everyone in Hungary knows the name but if you questioned every spectator leaving a football ground in England this Saturday, then I would be surprised if any more than a handful would have ever heard of Jimmy Hogan’s name.

  29. I have thought for some time that it is a pity that so many ex-players, when they retire from playing, elect to stay in the game as TV pundits rather than using their knowledge to become coaches and managers. In the past this was the usual path trodden, from player to manager/coach, by the majority of retired players but I suspect that today’s generation have seen the the stresses and strains imposed on the bosses they have played under, and since many of these players, especially when they have spent most of their career in the Premier League, have sufficient financial provision to make a tough job in either coaching or management unnecessary.
    However, a little while ago, the former Tottenham manager, David Pleat, made the point in a talk given to coaches, that whilst there was no disputing the knowledge and playing experience of the many old players, now turned football TV critics, who are around today, there was nevertheless a weakness in their capacity to judge or make criticisms of current managers/coaches. This revolves around the fact that the majority of pundits never answer the question – “why”.
    This is because when a manager is explaining to a player how a particular course of action should be taken, he must also explain the reason why. Without the experience of managing/coaching a group of players the old player on TV does not have the capacity or know how to answer the question “why”.
    David Pleat did exempt from criticism the case of Graeme Souness because the former Liverpool player, when he hung up his boots, took management and coaching roles at a number of clubs, including Liverpool, in both this country and abroad. Pleat therefore considered Souness’s views and opinions always well worth listening too.
    It was with this in mind that I listened to Souness’s views made on Sky Sports following the Manchester City – Manchester United league match earlier this evening. During a lively debate, and differing opinions, on Man Utd’s problems and weaknesses, Souness pointedly asked his fellow pundit , Gary Neville, what the former United player would do were he suddenly given the job of Manager at Old Trafford. Neville suddenly became uncharacteristically non-committal and unwilling to go down that path. But Souness himself had no doubts about his immediate action were he in that same position. He would straight away call a meeting with the players and order the midfield players to play one-touch and two-touch. He considered this to be a huge weakness in the team with the ball being moved much too slowly up the field and allowing no chance for Sanchis, Lingard and Rashford to cause any damage to the City defence with their darting runs. A midfield of Herrera, Matic and Fellaini gave no rapid circulation of the ball whatsoever.
    So Souness’s sharp and succinct analysis of the problems, and the remedy, could be attributed to his background and experience in managing and coaching as opposed to someone who moved mainly straight from player to pundit.

  30. One of the most pleasing aspects of this season so far has been the resurgence of Holland in international football. Following their 2 – 0 win over World Champions France in Rotterdam last night, the Dutch have a great chance of progress in the UEFA Nations League, as well as qualification for the 2020 Euro.
    Their football has all the hallmarks of great Dutch football of the past – exciting attacking play produced by fluid movements and outstanding individualism. But for French keeper Hugo Loris, their margin of victory would have been much greater. There is nothing new or radical in their play. Their full backs get forward down the flanks at every opportunity and midfield players break through the middle regularly on third man runs. Third man running was always an integral part of their football and they intentionally arranged their formations in triangles in order to produce this movement. Players who looked never destined to fulfil early promise, like Depay and Babel, have taken on a new lease of life and worried the life out of the French defence.
    It would be interesting to know who, if anyone, has been responsible for this rebirth of Dutch football. National coach, Ronald Koeman, could have had a very big hand in it. I have a feeling that some of the old guard, like him, have reminded the KNVB, (Dutch FA), about the characteristics of “the Orange” and everyone who remembers their teams of 1974, 1978, 1988 and 1998 will hope they are on the way back.

  31. I thought that Bournemouth striker, Callum Wilson, did very well on his England debut against the USA at Wembley on Thursday night. The opposition was very moderate and not everything he tried came off. But he kept on making his runs and eventually his luck turned. He looks a well coached player to me and provides evidence of the good work being done at his club by Eddie Howe and his coaching team.
    So I was a bit disappointed when he was left on the bench for all 90 minutes of the next match against Croatia, in the UEFA Nations League The opposition was now much stronger but in the second half, when they went a goal behind, England’s play became rather desperate. They eventually prevailed with two late goals but I would like to have seen if his well timed runs across the front of defenders that he had produced against the Americans, would have been as effective against the superior skills and know how of the Croat defence. England, in my opinion, turned the 0 – 1 deficit into victory by fighting spirit, which we know we have. This time it got the win but it didn’t in the World Cup semi final in Moscow.
    The kind of runs which Wilson produces, pulling away from defenders and then checking to go back across the inside of them, remain a rarity among English strikers. Even Harry Kane is lacking in that respect. I understand that Wilson came later into the professional game, having worked his way up from non-league football and did not come directly through from an Academy.
    He has learnt the game later in his career and provides an example that even older players can improve considerably with the right coaching. But we must develop more of this type of striker because banging away at a reinforced defence like that of Croatia’s, will rarely prove effective as it did on this occasion.

  32. I am always pleased when I see a team from the lower grades of football displaying skilful, intelligent play, rather than a physical approach with an over emphasis on pace and power. So I should like to commend the performance of Eastbourne Borough in the FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round Replay at Dartford on November 27th.
    Eastbourne were well set up to play out from defence. The centre halves split to the top corners of the penalty area when their keeper had the ball with the two full backs pushed high. The central midfield player dropped back into the space between the two centre halves and this shape produced good possession which they used to regularly work the ball out from defence and through the team with well co-ordinated attacks. There was intelligent movement from the attacking players as they made good runs into space and the game should really have been over by half time if the finishing had matched the approach play. As it was, Eastbourne only led by a single goal and in the second half Dartford imposed their more direct and physical style on the match. Nevertheless, a second Eastbourne goal looked to have settled the replay but in a furious finish, Dartford scored twice to draw level before Eastbourne deservedly won it in the last minute with a centre half’s header from a corner.
    It was significant that Eastbourne’s winner was scored in this fashion. By now the game had become a battle, with their second half play never matching that of the first. However, I hope that they persist with the style they produced in the earlier part of the match. It was proof that it is possible to play good football in the game’s lower levels and with English semi-pro players, though I must add I am aware that Eastbourne have Argentinian Sergio Gomes in their ranks.

  33. Neil Warnock is credited, in boxing terms, with Cardiff City FC punching above their weight. He deserves praise for getting very ordinary teams into the top flight and then, once there, making a fight of it to retain their higher status against teams of far superior talent and quality.
    But their match at West Ham this week illustrated why it will always be a struggle for his teams at Premier League level. Whenever the ball went back to their keeper, this was the signal for everyone to push forward as high up the pitch as was considered possible for the long kick down the field. There were no other options and for most of the match West Ham were picking off these long, hopeful kicks time after time. By contrast, the Hammers dispersed in various directions and angles so their keeper, or central defenders, had a multitude of choices, some short, some long, every time they distributed the ball.
    Cardiff do have some useful players of promise in attacking positions, particularly Junior Hoilett and Josh Murphy, but their game style is too predictable and without any imagination or subtlety. Of course it is difficult to bridge the gap between Championship and Premier League, but almost every week Bournemouth, who not too long ago were facing relegation from the Football League, are proving at least the equals of 75% of the other teams in terms of tactical awareness and game understanding.Manager/Coach Eddie Howe has taken a long term of view of the club’s development and progress and so the foundations have been laid with good coaching on the field and financial security and good sense off it.

  34. When watching the recording of a match played in 1970, West Ham v Wolves, the difference in football played now and that played nearly fifty years ago, was crystal clear. The two teams played out a thrilling 3-3 draw of non stop action in a game of defensive slackness and attacking verve. Being in mid season, the pitch cut up from the first few minutes but this did not hinder the skill of Moore, Hurst and Clyde Best for West Ham and Wagstaffe, Curran and Parkin for Wolves.
    But the factor which made all the difference to the quality and entertainment on show was the commitment of both teams to making forward passes whenever possible. It was clear that the priority of both sets of players was to make the first pass a forward pass. This contrasts with the modern belief of keeping possession, so often for possession’s sake. Hurst and Best made numerous runs into space, spinning off the backs of defenders with impeccable timing in the knowledge that there would be a very good chance that the ball would arrive in the space where they wanted it. You wonder how they would fare in today’s game when so many runs are made unproductively, as passes are made squarely and backwards in midfield.Possession percentages may have rocketed but goals and dangerous attacks can only be achieved by penetration.
    The success of Barcelona a few years ago was commonly attributed to their possession football but they had brilliant players in every position. They used their possession game to cut open the opponents but many who have copied them have simply counted the number of consecutive passes to measure their own supposed improvement. In the West Ham-Wolves match no one stood out more than Bobby Moore. By those who never saw him play, he is commonly believed to have been a defensive stopper. But here he displays a full range of his superb passing ability, anticipation and game reading. Almost every one of his passes picks out the intelligent run of a West Ham forward as he surveys the pitch from his deep defensive position. When it’s on, he moves forward with the ball to have the Wolves defence in a panic with a defence splitting pass.
    We need players with this superb all-round technical ability to provide the type of football which we all want to coach, play, watch and enjoy. We would do well to remember that bonus goals are not awarded for moves comprising a high number of passes.

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