I was at a recent game. An academy set up U16's & U18's both good clubs. I have never worked for either. So watching independent I started with the 16's. This club is typical of many that have this ultimate football philosophy which includes playing out from the back and they have developed some very good players. But following the kick off they had conceded a goal quicker than I could find a bin for my cup of tea. That was followed up by a good number of goals to follow.
They get the ball off the keeper to the CB's or CM, other team press, win it back and score. This provoked sparks of thoughts in my head as I stood and watched this very strange 'football' match. Its completely unrealistic in my view and actually is it good for the lads? What are they learning?
After the game I heard a coach proudly promote the 'product' he had just displayed. "you can see how we do things here". Good guy and all that but in my head i'm thinking, hang on, am I going mad here? 16s & 18's have just conceded well into double figures combined but your happy? I'm not saying hes wrong, im just saying, im intrigued. Im also not suggesting the boys should now be in the wrong end of a John Sitton team talk. Actually its not there 'fault' kids at all ages in my experience don't go out to lose, but it is my view that some academy clubs are setting them up for that very outcome and im asking, is that good for development?
Now, let me make something clear before the FA send round the Youth Module Police to confiscate my coaching qualifications. My view of 'little' football and competitiveness hasn't changed. In foundation phase for example you should absolutely want the kids to get on the ball in tight areas as much as possible and that could absolutely cost you goals. two main things here for clarity. There are 'ways' to win little football matches. For example boot the ball up the pitch and the big kid shoulders the little kid out the way and scores. Secondly, certainly in grass roots, the issues isnt on the pitch its off the pitch. Thats where league tables cause us the problems they did and I get it and fully support everything Nick Levett worked so hard to put in place. But this is not my discussion point. Im talking when players get to say 14+. Certainly 16's, should they now not be learning 'all' aspects of the game. After all, most will be released and be looking for a career somewhere in the game outside of the premier league and vast majority lower than that. Or worse still, there not even getting set up for the top jobs in premier league level?
So, this game then, it was very simple to me. One team looks a threat every 2-4 minutes. The other has created only 2-4 chances in the whole game. Why? Simple, the so called 'football' team cannot get out. Watching I cant figure out why they don't 'clip' a pass. To me, if someone high presses and I clip it to the next man, the defending team might think twice about that press. Plus I don't see any top defenders and goalkeepers playing like that. They would clip it over or round. So, in modern football is a chipped, clipped or lofted ball now not a 'pass'? Is a pass now only a Barcelona 4 yard clever one/two with the outside of the foot and a trick? Is that now the definition? When we did a turn, it was Cruyff, when we dribbled past players it was Maradona or Gascoigne. Well, weve all played the game and hit that worldy long pass and heard "My word, Glen Hoddle". So, is that now not a 'pass' any-more? That's art in my view.
Scholes said on his rare TV pundit role the other day against Man City, "If it were me I would be getting the ball in behind them" For all you happy clappers, that's PAUL SCHOLES. Who Zidane described as the worlds best by the way!
So, in this game, the passing team (by the way that's a bit of an insult to the other academy who were winning and still passing) would pass pass pass. But to a point where they can't progress. There is a wall to where they could go. When they did this, for me the other team could simply watch and press and be patient. The game was always in front of them so was rarely a problem. Then they would win it and explode with pace and quickly have 2v1's in wide areas. Suddenly the 'football' team are facing there own goal again and facing a problem and regular efforts on goal. I also noted that the 'football' team do not react to losing the ball. The 3/4 more attacking player acted like they were in a designated zone and therefore could not drop in and be compact, narrow, goal side. Im watching thinking, any first team manager at all five levels of pro football would not entertain that in a million years. So these poor lads, for me, will never make it.
So, if this is all part of learning, then what about the so called 'holistic' approach were all sold. Its in all the books, the folders, little cards etc. everywhere we look in the system 'Technical, Tactical, Physical, Psychological/Social. So, this approach is only ticking one box. That cant be right can it? I actually do believe that players need a lot of the 'four corners' but we are not teaching them properly. Where is the tactical development? More importantly, these kids are looking completely devoid of confidence and even look embarrassed. The poor keeper looks demolished, where is the development for him?
In terms of the Goalkeeper, are we preparing him for real football? are we giving him the tools to go and play in the football league? Well not according to an ex international goalkeeper who told me that he thinks we stifle keeper development because its too focused on the development of the outfield player resulting in the keeper playing a style which is completely unrealistic. I have to agree with him. I also think they are too isolated in training but that's another story.
At a previous club I was also on the wrong end of a 'cricket' score. against Arsenal. They were actually ruthless and just kept going. But we were set up for failure that day also. They way were told to play, the risks. To be honest even the players that were asked to play. We conceded over 20 goals. That's an academy. 'Elite Football' 20 goals in a game and never had a shot. The defenders and goalkeeper were distraught. It was humiliating for them. That doesn't even happen in grass roots any more. Yet these are 14 year old's, playing a completely unrealistic game of football and before we blink they will be knocking on all the clubs doors asking for an opportunity as a scholar. But they wont get it because we never showed them the real deal. As it happens, 3 teams had conceded over 60 goals that day and after the game, just like recently a key coaching staff member stood in from of the lads and said "look how far we've come" This being because the club had changed completely under EPPP. Well, they might be 14 but they are not stupid. The looks said it all. They didn't feel like they had come along way at all. They were hurting, there sports people. There natural athletes and they don't like losing but were trying to convince them its OK. Plus, as a coach I was even less convinced. We had gone to Arsenal the previous year as a proper football team with structure, still played good football but had ways to attack them also and create chances. We were defeated by a single late goal and the year before the same age group had drawn in a well balanced game. So I struggled to be convinced.
Im not embarrassed to say that ive always wanted my teams to win. Not for my sake but for the players and certainly not at all cost. But in 'little' football i certainly sacrificed that for development and rightly so. I've never been jumping, punching the air or barking instructions shouting like im at a greyhound track. I hate everything about that. But I think as the kids get older they need to be encouraged and allowed to win. They need to be shown how to defend properly, the keeper needs to know how to play the game realistically. They players need tactical knowledge to manage a game effectively in and out of possession. Football is competitive and certainly at 16 the lads should feel that edge to it and joys of hard work. Teams should be set up with a good balance of players in a realistic football environment by the time they hit 16.
We've all had that phone call, travelling back from football in academies? Its the boss, What was the Sco....sorry I mean how did we get on? Brilliant, typical English, now we've gone completely the other end of the scale. We are now too frightened to even ask the score.
Well the way we are going, its a good job. Because there is a world cup coming up and let me remind you. These 16 year olds will be the one's with that expectation on their shoulder's in the next one!