Google+ Blueprint for Football: The Blueprint According To...Kevin Graham

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Blueprint According To...Kevin Graham

After making over 200 appearances for a number of clubs in the upper reaches of the non-league pyramid - Whitby Town, Guiseley AFC and Goole AFC - Kevin Graham ended his career playing for St Martins AFC and the Guernsey's national team having returned to the Channel Islands where he had grown up.

Once that career had come to an end, he took on new roles helping out in managing Guernsey Athletic FC as well as scouting for a number of non league teams.

His most significant appointment, however, came in February of 2012 when he was appointed as manager of the Guernsey national team and this year led them to a win in the Muratti vase.

Blueprint for Football: Let's start with the basics: what got you into coaching and how long was that?
Kevin Graham: As a player I was always the one with the mouth, the centre half who pumped his fist and gave out the instructions. As a result, from a fairly early age I was often asked to take responsibility beyond that of just simply playing.

When I moved back to Guernsey after playing in the UK for sides like Whitby Town, Guiseley and Goole, I was immediately given the chance to share what I'd learned with lads playing locally and that was formalised when I finished playing. Tony Vance asked me to assist with the preparation of the Guernsey side that competed in the Island Games in Aland nr Sweden in 2009, focussing on the defensive side of the game particularly, and I've been involved in coaching and management pretty much ever since.

It's fair to say that I have been afforded opportunities because I'd played at a decent level which I otherwise would probably have had to wait for.

BfF: Have you had any mentors in your career?
KG: I have been lucky to work with some great managers and coaches I've the years and have learnt from each of them. Colin Fallaize, Guernsey FC's assistant coach, has been the most inspirational gaffer to work with and play for. His approach to man management and physical conditioning/preparation is incredible and he's a man mountain of a man for me. I learnt a lot as a player from Harry Dunn, one of the most experienced gaffers in non league football and my gaffer at Whitby, and Steve Richards who was my boss at Goole. Ricko played quite a lot of football for Neil Warnock and having seen a lot footage of Warnock, I feel like I know his methods pretty well as a result of my time under Ricko! The game has moved on but some old school methods still work, particularly when it comes to man management.

I have learned a lot from working with Steve Sharman my assistant in the Guernsey job and the best technical coach I've ever worked with, and I have a close relationship with Tony Vance still - he's a fantastic young manager. I learn from working closely with him and if he lived in the UK, I’m quite certain he would go a long way in the game.

BfF: What is your coaching philosophy?
KG: I think having a rigid coaching philosophy can be the downfall of some coaches - for me the key is to ensure you are capable of adapting to the circumstances. 

Ideally I like to develop an understanding in a group of players that means they are comfortable with a number of different styles of play.

I also think that simplicity is important - there is a lot of information in the coaching domain but you have to identify the most important stuff and ensure your players focus on that and never lose sight of it.

BfF: Is winning important for you?
KG: Absolutely - I am very much results driven. Winning isn't just about trophies though. If I sat down with my Chairman and we agreed that, for argument's sake, a top 10 finish represents progress, then achieving that is winning for me.

Development of players and groups of players is the best way to win, and the most satisfying. Modern football at all levels is full of unrealistic targets and timescales. I intend to manage in the UK in the future but I would only do so at club where I felt the Chairman and I both bought into a realistic goal.

Muratti football is all about winning - nobody cares about development for the 90 or 120 mins against Jersey, but even then we always have a plan to get to that ultimate goal, albeit in a relatively short period of preparation time. 

BfF: Guernsey had a good enough record in the Muratti base before you took over.  Was it difficult to win over the players? What advice would you give to coaches who are going into a new dressing room?
KG: It's an interesting dynamic - the vast majority of the boys are used to doing things a certain way with Guernsey FC and then they have a week or two at a time with us.

Having played with or coached most of the lads before, I didn't have to worry about winning them over - there's respect established already, and it goes both ways.

I think with a new group of players you need to set out your basic expectations and ask them to buy into that. Once that's done, you need to listen and learn about them just as much as you need to communicate to them. Know your players! If you are good at what you do, you'll win them over if any of them have doubts. If one or two don't buy into the concept of team, which means respect going both ways, then they should know where the door is. Team is everything for me.

BfF: What do you prefer: a talented player who doesn't value work or a hard-working but not as talented player?
KG: Definitely the latter. If you watch the world's very best players, their focus and work rate are what make them truly great. Ronaldo learnt that from Sir Alex Ferguson, and then became one of the best because he was involved in the game for 85 minutes instead of 55 minutes, so he produced the goods on a more consistent basis.

I accept that exceptional ability will get you a goal out of nothing and you need that ingredient in your team if you can get it - hard work and organisation only gets you so far.

Improving the team by 10% because they all work hard in and out of possession is better than bringing one player in who is 10% better than his team mates. There are enough talented lads with a decent attitude out there - those who don't work hard may find another manager who'll accept that but I won't.

BfF: If you could change one thing about football in your country (either UK in general, the Channel Islands or a combination), what would that be?
KG: In the UK, it's got to be the way we bring kids through the system. Parents and coaches who want the 10 yr old to win at all costs are damaging their technical development. We need footballers who are adaptable to different styles and that simply isn't visible to me. The technique of some supposedly elite footballers I come across is really disappointing.

In Guernsey, a bridge between the island and the UK (or France I suppose)! The talent on the island is considerable considering the size and population but the mental conditioning is not there because of the size, culture and lifestyle. Guernsey FC has given the elite players a great opportunity and the resultant development in the players' performance has been clear for all to see. The bridge idea may not be realistic but more focus on giving young Guernsey based players exposure to football outside the island will reap rewards I'm sure.

Kevin Graham writes about football for the Huffington Post and can be followed on Twitter.

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