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An England Friendly with a Difference

Tuesday evening’s international friendly between England and Spain wasn’t the average England friendly. It was interesting, at times entertaining, and we could actually learn something from the game.

Gareth Southgate set his side up with a tactical plan that was working to perfection for 80 minutes. We got back into defensive shape when Spain had the spells of possession that you’d expect from them despite it not being their strongest XI. And on set triggers, the team pressed. When one player went to press an opponent, he was backed up with everyone behind him squeezing up and the front 4 looking to win it high up the pitch. We broke forward very well with the pace of Sterling, Vardy and Lingard complimenting the skill of Lallana.

Lallana

Liverpool’s Adam Lallana is fast becoming England’s best player. He added to a string of recent good performances for his country with an influential first half until injury forced his withdrawal. England missed his skill, vision and creativity in the second half as his influence on this England team grows. 

Playing out from the back

Southgate clearly wants his England team to play out from the back. At times Scotland forced errors when we tried to play out so Spain and their high press was a good test for a way of playing that is alien to England defenders of years gone by. I actually commend the new England for this and love to see John Stones calm under pressure. The problem is, there aren’t many others in the defensive third of the pitch on Stones’ level in possession. Cahill always looks panicked on the ball, Henderson is quite one dimensional and as much as I rate Dier, he’s no Busquets. When  Jagielka came on he made no effort to make angles to receive the ball and was hoping for someone to launch it long. Jagielka is not an international class defender anyway though so that’s not likely to be an issue going forward. 

The midfield need to work harder and have to want to get on the ball more than they do. A lot of the time Stones has the ball and looks for a pass into midfield. Dier would come short but he’s followed by a Spanish forward. He should then be looking to rotate out of that space for someone like Henderson to move into and receive the ball on the half-turn. And only Stones really sprints into a position to receive after the ball’s gone back to the goalkeeper. Several times in the game saw Cahill and Stones make a long pass back to the goalkeeper because they’re incapable of opening up and playing a simple pass with their left foot. I think we can learn to play out from the back, but we need some better technical players in the right areas.

Competing with the best

This game, along with the friendly away to Germany earlier in the year, gives at least a hint that this England side could be capable of doing OK against good opposition in major tournaments. The worry now is whether we can reach the stage in tournaments where we’ll get to play the traditionally bigger nations. Because recently it’s the smaller countries (Iceland) or the teams who just “park the bus” (Slovakia, Slovenia, Russia) who we struggle against. This is because even poor teams can now be well-organised and we have just ran out of ideas against these types of teams.

The Rooney Conundrum 

What this England performance showed is the effectiveness of pace and energy in the final third. Could England have pressed quickly with Rooney in the side? Possibly not. Could England have counter attacked so quickly and effectively with Rooney in the side. Definitely not. I maintain the view that there isn’t a place for Rooney in the current England side. He is not a midfielder. If he is to play it must be as a #9 or a #10. I’d say as the #9 really, because he doesn’t have the dynamism or spark to play as a #10 anymore. But with him as the focal point of the attack we wouldn’t break forward at pace like we did at times against Spain.

All in all, England actually looked and played like they had a tactical plan. Credit to Southgate for that. If we want to play out from the back we need better technical players in defence and midfield. Maybe the promising England youth sides will provide these players. And while Rooney is looking more like a bit-part player, Adam Lallana is emerging as the key talent.

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How Can We Develop Creative Players?

Every professional football team wants to have creative players.

In today’s world of football, there’s a trend currently for creative little no.10’s. Even the Premier League has followed this evolving trend and style, with Club’s taking note of the success of Barcelona and the Spanish national team between 2008-2012. English clubs have imported no.10’s including David Silva, Juan Mata, Mezut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Coutinho and Christian Eriksen, even if they aren’t always played in that specific role. Those six have all come to England in recent years as the Premier League evolves.

DavidSilva

In England we don’t typically produce that type of player. But why not? Scoring a goal is the hardest thing to do in football, so why aren’t we producing more of the type of player who can unlock a defence?

We have to start at grassroots football. Kids up and down the country are being shouted at when they’ve got the ball at their feet. Coaches and parents telling them to pass, who to pass to, to run with the ball, to cross, etc etc. And we wonder why we create robots who can’t cope at World Cups against teams that close us down quickly.

We have to allow children playing the game to think for themselves, become adaptable to different situations and able to find solutions on the pitch.

How do we do that? Can we coach creativity?

I don’t think creativity is something you can coach, as such. I’d describe it as something we can help children develop by setting up the right environment. Maybe it depends on your coaching philosophy though because that’s actually partly how I’d describe the role of a coach.

Set up games where children are forced to figure out ways to solve a problem. Games that reflect the real game and situations they may be faced with in a match. Games where they’ll have to make decisions.

Create an environment where kids aren’t scared to try something new, to try a trick/skill or to try that ball through a tight gap that might send a team-mate through on goal. If they’re afraid of taking risks and trying things when they’re young, it’s unlikely they’ll grow out of that. Ask why they have this fear? Do parents moan at them if they try something and it doesn’t come off? Does the Coach criticise them or tell them not to try it again? I often hear Coaches telling kids to “keep it simple”. They could potentially be stifling great creative talents by making them keep it simple and not do extraordinary things they could be capable of.

As a Coach, you’ll need to get the parents of your players to buy into what you’re doing. Even if they’re not an influence during the games, they can be an influence on the player for the rest of the week. So explain and set out to your group of parents what you’ll be doing, how you’re going to achieve it and how they can help you.

Kids are the most creative and imaginative people in the world. They just have it battered out of them by the time they reach adulthood from people telling them they can’t do this and they can’t do that. Football offers a chance to retain some of that imagination that children possess. Or at least it should be able to in the right environment.

Just let kids play the game and you’ll be surprised by how creative they can be. Probably straight away, but then especially over time as a result of practising being able to think, problem-solve and make decisions for themselves.

Praise players for having courage to try things even when they don’t come off. Be positive as a Coach to try and ensure your players are positive.

Allow kids of a young age to dribble and try risky or creative things anywhere on the pitch. Don’t tell them they can’t do it the first time they lose the ball and you concede a goal from it. Who cares if you concede a goal in an u7 match? You’re developing players for when they get to 16/18, not for the sake of winning an u7 match that nobody will remember in 10 years.

It’s an “old-school” view that players shouldn’t do any tricks or anything risky in their own half. Why not? Has this stance helped us develop players capable of winning a World Cup in the last 50-odd years? With u7-u8 mini-soccer now being a 5v5 format, there are constantly 1v1 and 1v2 opportunities for kids all over the pitch. Let them try to solve those problems without anyone trying to tell them what to do. They’ll learn as they get older to only risk the ball if there’s cover behind them.

“The person that never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

This quote is as relevant in football as it is in life. Kids will make mistakes. Adults make mistakes too. But don’t expect the same sort of decision-making from kids as you would from adults. We learn from mistakes so be positive about it. You can always speak with the player later. Ask them what they could have done differently, what else they might have chosen to do instead or how they could tweak what they did to ensure it’d work next time.

But just let them play. As said above, they’ll probably surprise you with what they’re capable of and what they come up with if they’re left to it. Don’t stifle their natural instinctive imagination. And in training, have games so they can  develop and channel that imagination into football creativity but again, don’t instruct them on what they have to do.

As always, the message is simple – #letthemplay

Let Our Kids Dribble

I’m going to start this post by sharing a couple of videos I’ve recently seen being shared around the coaching community on Twitter.

This first link is to a video of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, with some clips of him as a 9 year old:

Some great individual skill shown by the young Messi, but nothing so outstanding that you couldn’t see play like that in your local park.

To show there is ability like that in the UK, here’s a link to a video of an 8 year old young footballer in the Chelsea set-up:

Messi, and others like him, didnt learn to dribble like that by having his coach making him pass it all the time at age 9.

We don’t need young kids, especially those under 10, to be passing it about like an professional adults team.

I wouldn’t go as far as to tell them not to pass, obviously, but young kids should be encouraged to keep the ball for themselves and be brave enough to take risks.

Help your kids to love the ball and give them the confidence to be able to keep it.

Kids at this young age are naturally more selfish anyway, so they’ll naturally want to keep the ball to themselves. Why should we fight this early-years instinct?

If they’re naturally going to want to dribble and keep the ball, let’s embrace this as Coaches/parents. Let them love having the ball. Let them practice the art of dribbling during the years when they’ll want to do it anyway.

Most teams in the u7-u10 age groups I’ve seen play in the last few years seem to want their kids to pass the ball every time they get it. We must remember that the whole “pass and move” idea is one that originated from, and really applies to, the adult game.

Kids under 10 don’t need to be told to get rid of the ball and pass it as soon as they get it. It’ll soon become a robotic reaction if that’s all they’re taught to do. First of all, LET THEM PLAY, don’t tell them what to do in the first place. Second of all, allow them to practice dribbling in games if they want to. In later years they’ll share the ball by passing it as they mature and their head comes up through being comfortable with the ball. And then it’s all about decision-making. But don’t force them to miss out on being able to dribble in these early years and mastering how to control and manipulate the ball.

Don’t criticise kids who try a dribble and lose the ball. Too much of that and you’ll put them off it forever and restrict their creative ability. If anything, guide them on choosing when to dribble and help give them the tools to make sure they are more successful dribblers.

Love the ball and don’t be afraid to keep it to yourself kids!

AFC Waltham 2-1 Kings Head XI

AFC Waltham successfully defended the Jim Ainley Cup against a Kings Head XI at Mount Pleasant in an entertaining game. The Division Six side retained the trophy in the charity fundraising fixture that has become an annual event.

The AFC Waltham starting line up against Kings Head XI

Waltham lined up as above in a 4-4-2 formation, but with rolling substitutions permitted, it was a good chance to give every available player some time on the pitch. The big team news was that player-manager Paul Thompson started himself at centre-back. And he was looking comfortable until a lack of match fitness saw him substitute himself after 25 minutes, with Kent Bennett coming on at left back and Karl Wright slotting in alongside Lidgard at centre-back. Before leaving the pitch though, the Waltham boss was kind enough to let the centre-forward he was marking back out of his pocket.

Waltham started the game on the front foot and the first half saw them create several chances, only for wasteful finishing to let them down. Early in the game Dan Moore found Bryan on the left who skipped past a defender and fired inches wide of the post. As the game progressed, Stoneman at right-back was finding himself in possession more and more, and linked up well with winger James Leshone. And it was after good work down Waltham’s right that the opening goal of the game was created. Leshone bent in a Beckham-like cross from near the touchline and Moore rose like a salmon to head home perfectly into the far corner to make it 1-0.

Waltham seemed to settle into the game with some spells of possession after the goal, with Keil Thompson and Aaron Roberts pulling the strings in midfield. Waltham then made a few changes, with James Watkin coming on to play left midfield, Ceclich coming on in an unfamiliar right midfield role and Jordan Hobbins sent on up front. Hobbins soon had a chance to score after midfield playmaker Keil Thompson played a great through ball for the striker to run onto after brilliantly bending his run to beat the offside trap. Hobbins carried it towards goal and smashed it from a tight angle only for it to come back off the near post and go behind for a goal kick. Hobbins had another chance minutes later when Ceclich fed Smith who, with his back to goal, played a Zidane-esque back-flick to put Hobbins through again. This time he took his shot early and could only scoop it into the ‘keepers hands. The referee, strangely wearing gloves, blew the whistle for half time with Waltham 1-0 ahead.

Second Half

The second half began in the same way the first had ended. With Waltham shading the play but having to work hard for it with the Kings Head XI putting in a real shift and having quality in the middle of the park with Rising and Mikey Wright. Midfield general Rob Saxby came on at half time sporting a black-eye as a result of a rumoured punch-up with Mario Balotelli on a recent night out in Cleethorpes. Saxby showed several good touches as well as getting away with a few attempted assaults on ex-Waltham man Mikey Wright in the Kings Head midfield.

AFC Waltham’s all-time record post-war goalscorer Ian Ceclich made a great chance for himself as he sprinted clear of the Kings Head defence, only for the goalkeeper to save brilliantly with his feet. James Leshone was looking for his first AFC Waltham goal and hit a free kick “just” (he said afterwards) over the bar. Midway through the second half Steve Smith thought he had found his side a second goal. Sadly for Smith, strike-partner Jordan Hobbins temporarily thought he was Vincent Kompany and he cleared Smith’s effort off the line and over the bar with a brilliant defensive clearance. Soon after, James Phillipson was sent on up front after passing a late fitness test. Phillipson made a nuisance of himself and was like a young Steve Livingstone winning headers and putting himself about.

A second goal did eventually come for Waltham. A Smith corner from the right caused panic in the box and as the ball came out to Saxby 20 yards out, he steadied himself and hit a wonderfully placed volley that bounced 17 times before nestling in the bottom corner of the net. More substitutions followed and Roberts was rested for the final period of the game after a good performance in which he was often the driving force of Waltham going forward. Manager Paul Thompson went back on at centre back alongside the faultless Lidgard. There seemed to be a different Paul Thompson on the field this time though. The Baresi-like defending of the first half was nowhere to be seen as he became an attack-minded centre-back, twisting and turning like David Luiz in his own half with mixed results.

Kings Head XI got a goal back in the last 10 minutes when captain Rising floated a free kick over the Waltham defence and Mikey Wright was at the back post to power a header past Harrison to make it 2-1. The Kings Head threw bodies forward in an attempt to force an equaliser and caused problems from a few set pieces. But Waltham held out to see the game out and retain their trophy. Special mention has to go to Paul Lidgard for keeping his name out of the referee’s book for the full 90 minutes.

Why Chelsea Need To End Reign Of Player Power

When Andre Villas-Boas took over as Chelsea Manager in June 2011, he probably didn’t envisage the club’s dressing room being his biggest problem during his first season in English football. A dressing room filled with international footballers and seasoned professionals would surely have been an attraction for any potential Chelsea manager following the ruthless sacking of Carlo Ancelotti. The unfortunate truth is that ever since Jose Mourinho left the club in 2007, ‘player power’ has grown to the extent that it is now too powerful at a club where it is clear to see that senior players have an influence on the rich Russian who writes the cheques.

Only the players within the club will know how it has developed to the stage that it is now at. It appears the Chelsea players, as a collective, became victims of their own success under Mourinho. The success they enjoyed on the pitch under his leadership became a new level of expectancy that had to be replicated and surpassed on a yearly basis. Since Mourinho departed, the Chelsea players have been the architects of their own downfall, seemingly clinging to the idea that the only way they can be that successful again is to do it ‘the Mourinho way’.

The Exceptions Explained

‘Player power’ at Chelsea saw an end to Felipe Scolari’s attempts at transforming the team into a more fluid, attack-minded team and the same problem seems to be rearing its ugly head again this season as Villas-Boas attempts to rebuild the side by altering its character, mentality and style. The only managers to have enjoyed any success since ‘The Special One’ are Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti. Hiddink lead the club to FA Cup glory in 2009, and Ancelotti lead The Blues to a domestic League and Cup double in 2010. But when you look back, the changes these managers made to the set-up of the team were minimal. Hiddink was only ever intended to be in charge for a short time following Scolari’s short reign and so just used the system best suited to the squad of players he inherited – which was Mourinho’s 4-3-3 system with generally the same game plan. Ancelotti’s Chelsea generally also played a 4-3-3, with Anelka forced to operate from a wider starting position, although the Italian would often use the narrow diamond midfield in a 4-4-2 that he had success at Milan with. But the temperament and approach to games of his Chelsea team consisted of the same deep defensive line, a strong spine of the team that didn’t venture out of position and counter-attacking style that typified Mourinho’s Chelsea. So the influential Chelsea players were ‘on board’ with the Italian.

Change of Style

Scolari looked to play a quicker, shorter passing style and be much more open in terms of fluidity and movement. Unfortunately he was trying to do it with what was still predominantly the Mourinho squad. A squad full of players with different capabilities and attributes compared to the Brazil and Portugal national sides that he had previously managed. Ultimately he wasn’t afforded the time needed to implement such drastic changes successfully and rumours of player revolts and key players being unhappy with the Brazilian’s plan lead to his dismissal.

http://www.chelseatalk.co.uk/

Villas-Boas is now attempting something similar all over again. He wants his team to defend higher up the pitch, press the opposition, move the ball quicker and be better in possession. As with most managers post-Mourinho, he has not had the funds to buy enough players to implement this successfully immediately. He does, however, have first-hand experience of the squad having previously worked as Mourinho’s assistant at the club. I’m sure he would love to have the same £120million transfer budget that was afforded to Claudio Ranieri in 2003 to be able to transform the squad. Unfortunately for the Portuguese, Mr Abramovich doesn’t appear to want to throw such huge sums of money around in transfer fees in support of a Manager any more (not counting the 2011 transfers of Luiz and Torres which did not appear to be signings that the manager at the time had asked for). This forces Villas-Boas, as it did Scolari before him, to do it gradually over time, possibly having to take one step backwards in order to later make larger strides forward.

Players Resisting Change?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/mihirbose/2008/05/final_proves_premier_league_cl.html

Reports of a row between players and manager in the wake of a recent defeat at Everton and the ever-growing rumours of unhappy players and the manager ‘losing the dressing room’ all suggest that ‘player-power’ at Chelsea could be about to see to another manager trying to bring change being sacked before being given a fair opportunity to do it. Maybe questions should be asked why this ‘player power’ tries to resist change. Is it because the slower-paced players such as Terry, Lampard, Mikel, Ivanovic and an ageing Drogba fear that such a change in style will result in them being shown the door? They would struggle to get a salary equal to their current contracts elsewhere after all. Or is that too cynical a suggestion? Either way, Abramovich paid FC Porto £13million in the summer to acquire his services. The least he should do now is back him, both publicly and in a meeting with the key Chelsea players who have come to believe that they are bigger than any manager of the club.

A Stronger Abramovich Needed?

Abramovich needs to be stronger. He is unquestionably a hugely successful man having amassed the personal fortune he has in business. So there is no suggestion he is a pushover or easily swayed by others. But there should be serious questions asked of him why he has previously expressed a desire for Chelsea to play a more expansive and entertaining game, yet sacked the first manager he employed to execute that and is in danger of allowing the second attempt to become an equally short affair.

The Russian billionaire should tell the Chelsea players in no uncertain terms that Villas-Boas is there for the long haul, and that they can work hard to adapt and play the way he wants them to play, or be replaced. To reinforce that support I believe he should then provide substantial funds for Villas-Boas to go out and buy a few players of similar ilk to Juan Mata in the summer.

The bottom line for me is that no group of players should ever become more important, or believe that they’re more of an indispensable commodity, than the manager. It simply isn’t a recipe for success and until Chelsea sort out their internal problems and inevitably begin to replace some of the ‘old guard’, they will struggle to move forward to the level Abramovich demands.

Written February 20th, 2012.

FA fail Fabio as Capello Quits

After the recent media frenzy surrounding the news of John Terry being stripped of the England captaincy, the last thing the nation needed was a further destabilising setback just four months before the European Championships 2012 gets underway. Yet Wednesday evening’s announcement that Fabio Capello’s resignation as Manager had been accepted has sent the country’s preparations for Euro 2012 back to square one.

Record

Firstly, Capello’s record as England Manager is not as bad as the British tabloids would have you believe. Fans that are capable of forming their own opinion should look to the facts. England qualified for both major tournaments that were entered under Capello’s reign.  To ensure a little perspective, this came immediately after Steve McClaren failed to ensure England qualified for Euro 2008. In 42 games in charge of England, Capello’s team won 28, drew 8 and lost 6. His England side qualified for the World Cup in 2010 with 9 straight wins followed by a 1-0 defeat to Ukraine once qualification was already assured. The team didn’t look comfortable at the main event in South Africa, with the poor form of talisman Wayne Rooney one of several reasons for England’s unconvincing performances, culminating in an emphatic 4-1 defeat at the hands of what I consider the best Germany team since their 1990 World Cup winners. Back to another qualification campaign, Capello’s England remained undefeated throughout qualifying for Euro2012 and finished top of the group again. He also masterminded a 1-0 win over world champions Spain in November 2011. So all things considered, I fail to see why the tabloid newspapers seem to have started their usual England Manager witch-hunt over the last few months.

Intervention

Capello’s frustration is perfectly understandable. As Manager of the team he should have had the final say on team decisions, including who is the captain of his team. The FA recklessly intervened and in doing so arguably undermined Capello’s authority. Capello’s comments to the Italian media where hardly offensive towards his employers. He disagreed with the decision but didn’t criticise the FA. He spoke of the common concept of “innocent until proven guilty”, which the FA ignored when deciding Terry would no longer captain England. If Terry is deemed fit and available to play for the national team, then he should be able to wear the armband too. Whenever a team goes out on the field representing England (or any nation for that matter) they should all be leaders once they cross the white line. And no doubt Terry would have continued to be a vocal leader of the team after the inevitable support that Capello would have given him going into the Euro’s this summer.

My own view is that Terry shouldn’t be in England’s starting eleven. But that is based solely on his form for Chelsea this season – his deteriorating ability to physically dominate opposing centre-forwards and his lack of pace being exploited more and more frequently as time goes on. That said, I suspect Capello was more than happy to be going into the France game to kick off England’s tournament in June with John Terry as his captain, his first-choice centre-back and his leader on the pitch. For the FA to be paying Capello a reported £6million per year salary, and then go over his head to make a decision like this that directly influences his ability to prepare what would have been his squad going into a major tournament, is absolutely ridiculous. And sadly, it encapsulates all that is wrong with the Football Association in this country.

 Change Needed

I fear that until big changes are made at the top of the organisation that runs our national game, further untimely mistakes like this will only be repeated. More respected figures, perhaps former players, that understand the game and have experience of how football works, are clearly needed and such figures need to be involved in key decision-making if future disasters like this are to be avoided.