Thursday, 10 October 2013

Is being less competitive going to make the England football team more competitive?

Is being less competitive going to make the England football team more competitive?

As a PE teacher of 6 years I have seen football players of all different abilities some that are now professional, some play local league and some will never kick a ball again. The one thing that they all have in common is that even in core PE lessons they would be desperate to win their game of football no matter how small or insignificant it was.

Why? What is it that is making them feel like this? Who has installed that winning every game is so important?

It isn’t the school as the pupils arrive to us already in this winning at all cost mode, it isn’t me as I am actively enhancing playing without scoring, it has to be something that youngsters pick up from everything they see around them. With this in mind I made notes of everything I saw around me over the next few days.

Firstly my own experience of playing Sunday football where my team I play for produced an excellent performance of passing football form back to front created 10-15 chances but somehow lost the game 1-2. After the match a heated discussion broke out, and very nearly a fight over why the game was lost between some of the players. Standing back I was delighted with how well we had played, how many times I had touched the football and how we worked so well to create chances.

But others saw the whole performance as a failure, blamed decisions made by the manager, and swore to never play again. Had we won 3-2 with 2 horrific goals from long throws that argument wouldn’t have taken place and those player would have left happy. They wouldn’t have been better players they wouldn’t be more likely to win their next game but they feel happier!! Ok so a Sunday league football players kick off after a defeat is hardly ground breaking stuff, but it got me thinking. Just 24 hours later my year 10 football would be playing a game against a team from Bournemouth in a ESFA 2nd cup game.

My team have some good player’s one extremely talented player whose touch and vision is an extremely high level. We are playing a big physical team but one who we are evenly matched with, their manager is also the manager of the Dorset school u15’s so I am expecting them to be well coached and to show a good knowledge of the game. After my team took an early lead it become clear their manager had no idea how to change the course of the game so took his frustration out on me as the referee at every available opportunity. Shouting, swearing, encroaching on the pitch as if it was the world cup final.

The game was stopped and the Manager was warned about his behaviour by me but still he continued, to the point where I felt every decision I made was the wrong one and slowly but surely more decisions were going to them. Firstly a penalty to make it 1-1 and then when they took the lead with 7 minutes I blew the final whistle their players erupted delighted with how they turned the game round and my players sunk to their knees.

Why did I stop the game early? Because the manager then got what he wanted; his team into the next round at all cost, they haven’t learnt how to turn a game round when you’re losing, they haven’t developed a great fighting spirit they had an old style manager who has shouted dare I say forced his way to victory. Will they win the competition? No chance! Could we of won the competition? No chance. But the key difference is that team left cheering without a word from the coach other than the ‘well done’ ‘well played’ generic stuff.

My team sat down and I offered them the chance to explain how we let a 1 goal lead slip. ‘We didn’t keep possession well sir’ ‘we had no attacking shape sir’ ‘we just panicked instead of passing the ball’ All good explanations I confirmed this and suggested going for a second goal would have of taken pressure off of our defence and killed the game off.

Despite the defeat the boys first questions were ‘when is the next game?’ not one asked ‘why did you give a penalty?’ ‘was there no time for us to even get a chance to get back in the game?’ What I have tried to install is their love for the game is greater than the need to win the game. They asked about our next opponents and were determined to go out and put into practice what they have learnt today.

The next day the boys informed me they have a Twitter page for the team where they all add comments, when we win I’ll normally place a match report up for the whole school to read. I assumed this defeat wouldn’t make great reading and when it wasn’t there the next morning players asked me why? I had no answer so quickly headed back to my laptop to start typing and get the report up before the end of day.

Defeat had not dampened their enthusiasm for the game, if anything it had enhanced it. They played a game and enjoyed it, learnt valuable lessons that will make them better players, and want to play even more. I like to think I have created a situation where I have developed this in the boys where there is no pressure on them to win only improve with each game and enjoy each other’s company.

Yes I had to swallow my pride and shake the hand of the other manager and say well done your team deserved it, and let him think he is a better coach, that he knows more about football than me, that his coaching is better than mine. But deep down I am doing the right thing for these boys, I am improving their knowledge of the game, making them think, making themselves set their own goals and challenges whilst keeping their love of the game as strong as ever.

If more managers/coaches/teachers could do this we would develop our youngsters better. With this in mind and having the luxury of teaching pupils every day I set out to experiment with pupils and their desire to win.

The next 3 PE lessons I had using football, and basketball, I offered the pupils the chance to play a whole game for the lesson but only after I had explained the scoring system I had produced, they all agreed.

After organising the teams I explained that the maximum points any team could win for the game was 30, 10 points available for each of the following categories - Goal orientated performance -Style performance -Ethics and values Very simply as the referee I said you would receive a score out of 10 for how effectively you scored points up to a maximum of 10 so if you scored 20 baskets your maximum points were still only 10. Style performance marks were awarded how well you passed the ball, how well you used the correct techniques and well you used all your team members again to a maximum of 10. The final category was ethics and values which included how well you kept your foul count down, showed sportsmanship in the game, and generally conducted yourself in the lesson e.g. challenging teacher decisions.

To my amazement the pupils completely understood the concept and after 2-3 minutes of the games, players were helping me as the referee ‘I touched that last sir, it’s their ball’ when they scored goals or baskets congratulating them on their good shot.

I was aware it was still completely an attempt to win the game but it was creating positive values in the pupils. With two minutes to go in the basketball match the score was 12-12 but the pupils were completely unaware of this and those players who were sub or just off at that time we screaming ‘get your style point up you haven’t passed to Josh much’ the other determined to foul so to keep the their ethics points high. We are into the last 30 seconds the tension is even higher than a normal game, the excitement double what it normally is.

There is was sign of the frantic over arm launching that is often seen at this point or fouling/cheating/doing what ever it takes to win. Pupils were thinking, using their brain to work out how best to score well, developing ways and learning from their mistakes. The final whistle goes pupils start shaking hands like James Corden at the Brits pretending to be everyone’s best friend in one last attempt to gain ethics points. After the game the pupils sat around and listened to my every word as I gave the points out for each of the categories. Never have pupils listened so intently, I asked them who they think won the goal orientated section only 3 pupils offered a score the others had no idea.

I gave out the scores and as per usual pupils erupted when finding out they had won in the overall scores. The difference was incredible, conversation broke out ‘we should of passed the ball more’ ‘ we gave away too many fouls’ all the reasons were correct and probably would have been the same things that would of let them down in a normal style game.

The main differences were that (1) They had passed the ball very well in the game but still felt they need to improve (2) They had clearly identified what they need to do next time (3) no blame was attached to any specific individuals and in one case an apology to a weaker player for not passing to him more.

Pupils that were bigger had to change their game to get style points this improving their game play, lesser players got more touches, pupils thought through the whole game and lastly the game was played in an excellent spirit. I am not claiming to have the answer and the thought of a Sunday league referee awarding style points to hangover men in their 40’s is unlikely.

But in schools and at junior level something has to change, we can’t have managers/coaches/parent slating the referee in an attempt to the win the game. The emphasis would change to being nice to referee and bring his or her attention to the excellent 8 pass move where the player’s team has kept possession.

I agree with those who say this will make football too subjective and give the referee too much power but anything has to be better than giving the parents/managers power. As a country we are producing less and lesser players to the required level where Spain and Belgium who have different systems in place have talent pools we could only dream off. The FA will say they have introduced smaller side games and smaller balls with more friendlies, but this is what other European countries were doing 10 years ago we are simply following others which never leads to success we have to take a risk and start something new.

Elliot Wheeler (Stoke) Nick Grosvenor (Aldershot) Anton Rodgers (Brighton) Grant Smith (Brighton) Jamal Branker (Southampton) Jason McCarthy (Southampton) are all in the pro game with many others playing at a good semi pro level and have all being taught by me and played for my school teams. It would be a bit far-fetched for me to take credit for their success and but am I starting to think that I might be doing something right, encouraging them to think more than others, promoting player development and not just team success.

That list of players spans over 6 years of teaching and the only year group I have had where I haven’t had a player who didn’t go on to becoming a pro was my New Forrest League and Hampshire Cup double winning team of 2 years ago. I put my own personal success and ego at the front of the queue not player development.

We played some horrible football, got bodies behind the ball and hit teams on the break 2-1, 1-0, were our common scores. The boys had fun don’t get me wrong and will always remember their school team that won and will have trophies but none of them reached their potential because I thought I was the José Mourinho of Totton and made them play in a way that was percentage football.

It was Wessex league football in an u15 league and stifled their ability to pass, think and develop.If you’re reading this lads I apologise I hope it’s not too late for you to make some money out of the game.

If you are a teacher, a coach, a parent, anyone involved in football just think about how things are being run at your club and ask yourself ‘is it promoting everything that is going to make my son/daughter a better player and better person?’

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Try before you buy

After successfully telling you that Harry wouldn't have an immediate impact at QPR I hope to back that up by assessing the likely impact of buying and loaning players in the transfer window.
As January approaches fans start to get excited about the prospect of the transfer window opening and their club spending millions to save their season by bring a new hero.
They are fed up with the current strikers drought in front of goal, the midfielders lack of creativity and the leaky defence. The only option is to pressure the board and manager to throw money at the situation in a desperate attempt to make everything better.
The 2011 January transfer window have saw some big money signings who have failed to make the desired impact in their first 5 months. Examples include:
Fernando Torres £ 50 million yet took him 903 minutes to score his first goal
Andy Carroll £ 35 million two goals in his first half a season at Liverpool
David Luiz £ 18 million and struggled to come to terms with defending the premiership
Steven Pienaar £ 3 million move to spurs didn’t work and he found himself out of the team for the most part of his time there.
Edin Dzeko £ 27 million which led to 2 goals in his first 15 premiership games and made his new fans wait until the 25th of April to score his first premier league goal
Stephane Sessegnon £ 6 million and another who made the fans wait until the 23rd of April before scoring a goal for his new team.
This this is not to say these players haven't gone on to be successful for their club but simply they didn't make the impact in the season they were brought, other big money signing included Luis Suarez £23 million who managed 4 goals in 13 games and some great performances and Darren Bent £ 18 million to Villa which yielded 9 goals in 16 games. You could argue they did make decent impacts but in the main it seems clubs have learnt from this and used the January window far more wisely. The following season saw a big change in the type of deals that were done with the emphasis being on loan deals and even free transfers.
Arsenal brought in Thierry Hendry (loan)
Aston Villa brought in Robbie Keane (loan)
Everton recalled Landon Donavan for a second loan spell and brought back Steven Pienaar for six months.
Swansea managed to loan Gylfi Sigurdsson
Man United resigned Paul Scholes
Spurs captured Louis Saha on a free transfer
The 2012 signings had a more desired impact and perhaps a psychological view that is more familiar to us will help us to relate to what the transfer window must be like.
Scenario 1-Big money transfer
You arrive back to work in January still slightly hungover when your boss informs you that he has employed someone to do your job with you. He maintains your job is not at risk and both of you could work well together. You find out that the boss has paid a lot of money to get this new worker to the company, you don't know how much he is getting paid but you suspect it’s more than you. The new worker is treated like royalty in his first few days and there is an important meeting coming up, your boss explains that you can't both go to the meeting and as he is new it's vital that he goes to get used to the company. Regardless of how the meeting goes your boss knows he has shed out lots of money for this guy so they give him another go. The new worker is struggling to make impact at this company as it runs differently to his old company and he is feeling the pressure, you are de-motivated as you seem to be playing second fiddle to a worker who isn’t producing the goods. Not exactly the ideal situation for workers to be performing at their best .....
Scenario 2- Loan player
You arrive back in at work and your manager tells you that because you have been finding things hard going he has employed a temp to help you out for 3-4 months. The boss has explained that the temp is here to ease the work load and allow you a couple of half days on a Wednesday so you can go home and see the family. The temp is unlikely to stay here full time and will go back to the agency when his time is up hopefully with a good reference and some useful experience under their belt. You don't know what the temp is getting paid but you’re not too bothered as he doesn't even have a full time contract. There is an important meeting and your boss explains he would like both of you to go into the meeting and if (Tommy the temp) can help out in anyway then so be it. Tommy has been making some useful suggestions in the meetings and seems to think he is adding to the company if by the off chance he talks rubbish it doesn't matter as he will be gone soon. You find that you are managing the work load better since Tommy's arrival and your morale has improved the company seems to be back on track and Tommy knows he is only here for a short time so feels no pressure on him to perform and is making crazy suggestions that are going down well.
This is potentially why loan signings have been more successful in the recent years as players are far more welcoming to a loan player than a big signing. Combined with the pressure of being a big signing it is hardly surprising that many big signings succeed in their second season/first full season. With this in mind I have come up with the top 10 loan signings for this transfer window.
Kaka- barely get's a game at Real madrid
David Beckham- No club
Landon Donavon- LA Galaxy 
Didier Drogba- Shanghai Shenhua
Brad Freidel - Tottenham no point being a reserve keeper when you 40
Darren Bent- Aston Villa 
Royston Drenthe- Alania Vladikavkas
Fernado Llorente - Athletic Bilboa 
Tim Cahill - New York Red Bull  
Joe Cole - Liverpool
Let's see if over the coming month any of these players are snapped up, please feel free to add to my top 10 list.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Vote of confidence

In a week where Premier League chairmen have been extremely busy hiring and firing it has led me to think what is the optimum amount of success a manager should have in their first season?
Let's take the two managers who have lost their jobs this week as examples; firstly Mark Hughes after coming in and doing a good job to keep QPR in the Premier League. Mark then went and embarked on a spending spree to strengthen his team with the aim to be an established Premier League squad in a comfortable mid table position. His wild policy of buying any decent players that would come to the club regardless of what position they play in reminded me of my early days playing championship manager 01/02 where I would often have 12 attacking central midfield players but no left back. His decision to bring in so many players appeared to have an effect on team cohesion and morale, the results and performances that followed really were poor. Home games against the 3 promoted teams and one of the perceived weakest teams in the division in Swansea yielded only 1 point, combined with the inability to pick up points on the road something which they struggled to do last season as well meant the board had no choice but to replace Mark Hughes. He had ran out of excuses in the end no longer could he blame last year’s squad, inheriting a losing team, tough early fixtures, or my favourite " we need time to gel" the only surprise was that the board gave him so many games.

Roberto di Matteo however seems somewhat unfortunate to lose his job, yes Chelsea were going through a sticky patch but they were hardly a team in decline, or a team where you simply couldn't see where the next win was going to come from. When RDM took over they were 5th in the Premier League, 5 points away from 4th place and virtually out of the of the champions league trailing Napoli 3-1. If you pretend he never won the FA cup and Champions League RDM has left Chelsea 3rd in the table 4 points off the top of the table. Admittedly their position in the Champions League is in the balance but progression is not impossible if Shakhtar can win their game. From a progress point of view you would say in the six months he has been in charge Chelsea's league position has improved and the squad has a younger fresher look to it with the introduction of some fantastic young players who will only get better. He has had to cope with the departure of the clubs best ever player and goal scorer depriving him of playing a direct style of football that can grind out results. Now if we stop pretending for a second and remind ourselves that he did win the FA Cup and Champions League it simply beggar’s belief that he could be sacked. Winning those trophies created a fault position where Chelsea’s fans and chairman now expect this success every season, which simply won't happen. If the Barcelona team of the last 4 years hasn’t managed to retain the Champions League then no one will.
My question to everyone then is if RDM hadn't won any trophies last season would he still have a job now? He isn't the first and won't be the last manager that has achieved plenty in their first season only to be judged on that success and then sacked. Living in Hampshire I have had the dis-pleasure of Southampton fans telling me how they want Nigel Atkins sacked and that he doesn't have a clue?? You suspect if they had finished just outside the play-offs last season and were currently 9th in the Championship his job would be completely safe?
I have had the great pleasure of managing a school U15 team in my job and in my first season won both the league and county cup which for a decent yet unspectacular team that hadn't won ever won anything was a great achievement. My second season resulted in us finishing third in the league and getting knocked out of the cup we won in the first round. In the football world I simply would be collecting my P45 and sending out my CV in the hope of a new job. Luckily I am not a judge on the success of the school football team.
So this brings me to my next question do the top managers try to get gradual success?
If we take Harry Redknapp for instance, he is always viewed as a manager that has an 'instant impact' but a closer look at Harry's first six games in charge of his last four jobs would suggest differently.
When taking over at Portsmouth in 2002 he managed no wins from his first five games, but subsequently won them the league the following season, he then joined Southampton in November 2004 and took eight games before he got his first win and narrowly missed out on saving them from relegation. His second spell in charge of Portsmouth started terribly with only two wins from his first thirteen games before going on to take the club into Europe and win the FA cup and although making a better impact when arriving at Spurs in October 2008 he still only managed five wins from the first fourteen games before taking them to the quarter finals of the Champions League.
Despite history showing us that Harry Redknapp doesn't have an instant impact, I wonder how many of you reading this will still be putting £5 on a QPR away win to Sunderland on Tuesday night? 
Sir Alex Ferguson was famously one game from the sack before guiding Manchester United to the FA Cup and subsequently multiple trophies but it would be unthinkable to suggest both Sir Alex and Harry believed a slow start may be better for them in the long run but it does beg the question in your first year of management how much success should you achieve?

Over the next few months I am going to watch very closely the changing attitude of the media and fans towards Brendan Rodgers, Steve Clarke and Paul Lambert. Predictions as to their success or lack of it are very welcome.