Google+ Blueprint for Football: January 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Value of Experience

As fans, it is always enjoyable when a rival club makes a mistake and is forced to pay for it.  That is why there was so much mirth at Chelsea spending £22 million on a player that they had sold for a fraction of that just a couple of years earlier.

This criticism might sting a bit those who run the club but it is unlikely that it will do much more than that.  The truth is that Chelsea have the financial wherewithal to make such mistakes.  This, after all, is a club that a year ago sold Daniel Sturridge for £12 million, effectively giving away a player who could easily have made redundant their need to try and chase players like Radamel Falcao, whom they were reportedly actively trying to sign for three times the amount that they got for Sturridge.

Again that sort of criticism is unlikely to bother Chelsea because another truth is that they’re working hard to ensure that they don’t make a similar mistake again. 

Vitesse Arnhem are battling with Ajax for the Dutch league title with a core of their team made up of players brought from Chelsea on loan (Bertrand Traore has just joined Christian Cuevas, Lucas Piazon, Christian Atsu and Patrick Van Aanholt in Holland).  Everton’s challenge for fourth spot in the Premier League has been equally boosted by the loan arrival of Romelu Lukaku.  Indeed, they currently have twenty three players out on loan.

Very few of those players will return to Chelsea but before any are let go, the club will be certain that none of them will come back to haunt them in a similar fashion to Matic.  With the added bonus that having these players gain experience will boost their transfer value, generating further funds to buy other prospects that can be loaned out, creating a self-funding practically failure-proof system of sieving through prospects.  For fairness’ sake it has to be pointed out that Chelsea are simply working on the blueprint that Italian clubs -particularly Juventus - have used (and perfected) for decades.  Why players would willingly accept to be a cog in such a wheel is, of course, another matter.

Away from Chelsea’s chosen player development strategy, it is interesting to look at Matic’s career for the truths that it reveals.

The first is that players need to play in order to develop.  This is particularly the case in certain positions where you need time and experience in order to fully appreciate the demands of the role.  Matic plays in a position – that of a defensive midfielder – where one needs not only the physical and technical wherewithal but also the tactical awareness of what needs to be done at different moments of the game.

This is not something that players are born with but something that needs to be developed with different experiences providing added layers to the knowledge.  Unless one comes across increasingly more challenging situations that will not happen which is a point missed by all those who seem to think that the Matic that Chelsea sold is the same one that they are buying: he is the player that he is today because of the experiences he has come across at Benfica.  Those experiences have shaped him and how he plays the game; without them he would be a different, probably much less imposing, player.

The other truth that can be taken away from Matic’s story is that different players mature at different ages.  There is a tendency to discard players if they aren’t playing regularly at first team level by the time that they are in their late teens and for many it truly is the case.

There are some players, however, who develop – physically or emotionally – at a later stage than others but who still get rejected.   For most, that initial rejection means the end of the road as they’ll be too disheartened to keep on working to improve.  It is why their stories often go untold.

Even so, the history of the game is littered with stories of players who are let go because ‘they are too small’ who go on to fulfill their potential at a club that was willing to give them the time that they needed.

This article was sent to subscribers of Blueprint for Football Extra on January 20th.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"We Offer the Best Coaching, Best Staff and Best Way to Develop Players"

Blueprint for Football Volume 1 and Volume 2 (US versions here and here) are two e-books that contain 13 interviews with coaches talking about their ideas for football coaching.  

Whenever there is a wave of despair that periodically seems to grip English football, particularly when the national team does poorly, the country’s youth system is proclaimed broken.  It is a knee jerk reaction that generates attention grabbing headlines but which doesn’t necessarily reflect reality.   Whilst the problems are highlighted, all the good that is being done is glossed over.

The big mistake made is that what is happening at certain big clubs is deemed as being symptomatic of what is happening all over the country.  Clearly, that isn’t the case.  Southampton are as good an example of a florid youth system as you’ll find all across Europe.  So too are Aston Villa and neighbours West Bromwich Albion.

And it is those clubs that Brentford are trying to emulate.

The man at the heart of their project is Ose Aibangee.  Appointed as head of the youth system three years ago, Aibangee had previously worked at Arsenal, Tottenham and Watford always in the youth sector.  Since joining Brentford he has helped re-shaped the club’s youth set-up so much that they are now category two academy whose facilities have been improved with further investment, in the form of indoor training pitches, readily available.

In short, this is a club that firmly sees their youth system as the best guarantee for future success and who are acting on that belief.

“Fortunately, when I came here it was a blank sheet,” he says, talking of his experiences at Brentford.  “They pretty much said to me that I could run it how wanted to run it.  Naturally, I gave the board of directors an indication of what my ideas were, to let them know what I wanted to achieve and how to do it.”  

“In such an environment it is easy to work, because on a blank sheet you can write anything.  It took us 18 months to build a foundation from which to progress.  I’ve been in the post for three years and I think that we now have a solid foundation.”

“The time it takes to establish a way of playing and start producing concrete results depends on the situation and differs from club to club,” he continues.  “I think that at some clubs people do not appreciate what needs to go into getting to this point.  My belief is that it takes a minimum of five years to get there and I have a real impression that you need ten.”  

“In order to judge you have to look at the programme and start asking yourself ‘has it achieved the mid-term objectives?’ ‘And what about the long term objectives?’  However, within the first five years you have to make impression.”

Aibangee’s job at Brentford is all encompassing.  “Basically I’m responsible for the football at the academy from U7’s up till the U21’s.  This involves everything to do with development; training, scouting, everything.  It all leads to our main objective which is that of having players good enough to progress to the first team.”

This also involves setting a philosophy that rules everything which takes place at the academy.  “Our philosophy is based around maximising players' potential,” he explains.  “That means building on what the players are good at and developing the other areas.  We do that through a range of training drills with a lot of technical work, work on skills and practices to ensure that they keep on improving.”

One of the way with which Brentford are trying to improve their players’ technique is through futsal.  “We use it with all players as part of our technical programme,” Ose explains.   “Many years ago I went to Argentina looking at the coaching over there and one of the clubs that I visited was called Club Parque where a lot of their work was based on futsal.” 

“I spoke to coaches and directors there to understand why they were doing that.  The fact that you’re using a heavy ball in an indoor court with tight spaces means that you’re less inclined to kick the ball long and more likely to pass it over shorter distances.”  

“A lot of times, players are making mistakes but they have to do that to be successful.  With futsal you don't have to teach them to let them develop.  There are a lot of areas where it is of great benefit; the control, their short range passing, the improvised passing, their creative play.”  
“A lot of the work that they do has to be quick play and that is really important.  Used in the right way, the skills that they learn in futsal can be transferred to the bigger picture.”

Whilst the way that players are coached is important for them to progress, the key element in the whole process remains the person who is doing the coaching.

“It is important that we get the right coaches here,” Ose confirms.  “The coaches we have here understand children and understand how to communicate with children.  Knowledge of football is important but the vital aspect is whether they can connect and inspire the children.  Once they have got that then teaching the technical aspect becomes easy.”  

“A lot of coaches want to work in youth football.  Personally, I have no aspirations of working in first team football.  I’d like to think that the coaches see themselves as developing a career in youth development.  It takes right types of people to specialise in the right age range and coaches need to have an understanding of how to work in that age group.  It is important that they see a career in the age range.”

Yet the most impressive aspect of Brentford’s system relates to who carries out the coaching of their youngest age group.

“For us every coach is important just as every child is important and every age group is important.  That is why the person who coaches our 7 to 11 year olds is the head of our coaching programme; our senior coach.”    

That final comment is indicative of the pervasive attitude within Brentford’s academy; one which is aiming for excellence but on their own terms.  At most academies – not just in England but also around Europe – the most senior coach either coaches the oldest age group or else doesn’t coach at all.  That is, after all, the conventional wisdom: just look at educational systems in most countries where the most experienced and capable teachers work with older kids.

Not here, however.

In essence, what they’re doing is getting a university professor, someone who has an in-depth appreciation and knowledge about the subject, to teach Grade 1 kids.  It reflects both a powerful commitment to get the basics right and a strong belief in the way they do things.

That belief in their ability also comes through when the question as to how they handle the risk of players wanting to go to bigger academies is put to Ose.

“I don't see any bigger academies around us.  It is the people that make a big academy.  Playing in the Premier League or the Champions League doesn't make you big academy.  We offer the best coaching, best staff and best way to develop players.  I strongly believe that we're a big academy.” 

“Where the first team is playing has nothing to do with the academy, the academy is about people,” he reiterates.

Indeed, it eventually transpires that people – and the relationships with them – are another important (and differentiating) factor at Brentford’s academy.   “I think that it is important to be honest relationship.  We challenge each other, if something is good we say it is good and if something needs to be improved then we provide the direction how to do that.  Our entire relationship – between coaches, with players and their parents - is based on honesty.”

Regardless of how impressive the whole setup is – and it is very impressive – a lot still depends on the quality of players that you have.  What, then, do Brentford look out for when signing players?

“It all depends on the age group,” he explains.  “As a rule, for the young ages we look for kids who love football.  They must take a lot of enjoyment from playing and must show hunger; they’re not happy when game finishes and constantly talk about the game.  Naturally, they need some kind of attribute; awareness, physical or technical.  We look for some kind of positive attribute that lifts them above the novice player.”

“As they get older you look a little bit more at their understanding of the game.  You also look at their physical qualities and how they are developing.  We want players who can cope physically, who understand the game and who can deal with the ball in tight situations.”

“In the senior phase it is all about the mental approach; their desire, hunger and competitiveness.  Can they deal with failure and the pressure?  We look for those signs that are an important indicator if they’re going to make it.”

That final aspect is particularly important given all the talk that there is about players not handling the step between reserves and first team which has often led to discussions over the best way forward.  For Ose, however, there isn’t “one generic answer” to that problem.  

“It depends on the individual.  One 17 year-old may need to go on loan whilst another is ready for the first team.  You have to look at the individual.  Everyone has an individual learning assessment and part of that will involve how best to help them.  Does he go on loan, does he keep training with us, should he go on loan to a lower division club or on loan abroad?  We'll take a view based on the expertise, based on the solutions which will enable him to progress and become a professional footballer.”

That desire to have players progressing is what drives Ose and everyone else at the Brentford academy.  “Ultimately you want to be in a position where on an annual basis you get players in your first team.  In the next 2 to 3 years there will be players who will be supporting the first team in the squad and in the first eleven.  A by-product of that would be players in the national side.  We want them to go on and play at the highest level.  That is the objective and we know we will do that.”

Special thanks go to Michael Calvin, author of ‘The Nowhere Men’, for his help in the setting up of this interview.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Learning from Tragedy

Sometimes (although, in truth, it happens more often than I would like to admit) I come across a book that I feel I must buy only to then leave it unread on my bookshelf.  Not because I don’t like the book but because I simply have too much to read and not enough time to do so.  That was the case with Ronald Reng’s ‘A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke’ which I got whilst on holiday only to barely touch it in the following months.

Over Christmas, however, I decided that I had to power through it and I did.  Yet doing that proved to be much more difficult than I imagined because, whilst the book is beautiful and wonderfully written, the subject makes it very hard to read.

For those who have never heard of this book,  ‘A Life Too Short’ is the biography of Robert Enke, the goalkeeper who was due to be Germany’s Number 1 at the 2008 World Cup but who committed suicide a few months before that competition was due to start.  It is the kind of story that fills you with dread the more you read because Enke was a really likeable person for whom you want a happy ending but you know that it won’t be the case.  The final couple of chapters are simply heart-breaking.

Away from the specifics of the story itself, this is a very powerful book.  To practically anyone bar a few people who were very close to him, Enke was a very confident man who had managed to rebuild his career after a move to Barcelona had turned sour.  Yet it wasn’t the case.  Every mistake – perceived or actual - or criticism was replayed in his head countless times, preventing him from leading a normal life.

It is a brutal examination of the world of football, of how little the people who are involved in the game think about the human aspect.  Many are too self-absorbed to worry about the impact to those around them whilst others think that they know everything about the game and want to impose their beliefs on everyone else.

It is also a book that should shame any fan (or writer) who has excessively criticised a player after a few negative performances; or those who turn on players for perceived slights on their club.

Of course, football at the highest level is a highly competitive sport where a certain degree of mental strength is required in order to succeed.  This, however, does not mean that it makes sense for coaches to be blind to the emotional needs of their players.  And, certainly more should be done to break down the corrosive belief that a player who talks about depression is one who will never be able to play at the highest level; a fear that kept Enke from going public with his illness and, to an extent, stopped him from seeking the help he needed.

For any other level of football – particularly youth football - there is simply no excuse.  Coaches have to be aware of the mental state of their players, they have to be able to gauge how much pressure they can handle and be aware of the damage that they might be doing by exposing them to too much pressure without giving them the tools to handle it.  Above all, there has to be an environment which provides players with an outlet to talk if there is something that doesn’t feel right for them.

That also applies to parents.  It is easy for a child to start believing that they are only worth something in the eyes of their parents if they are doing well in a sport, especially if that parent happens to be football mad.  If the only praise that they get comes when they do well it is unlikely that they will have any other belief.  Such situations trap them into staying in a sport even if something is wrong, or to do things that they wouldn’t normally do in order to keep the illusion that they are doing well.

All of this does not mean that it is possible to get to a situation where illnesses like depression can be eliminated  Nor does it mean that there must be some individual to blame when someone falls victim to it.

What it means, and what anyone involved in football should be working for, is that there should be awareness of what can heighten the illness and that people who are depressed should be able to get the help that is needed without being ostracised.

This article formed part of the Blueprint for Football Extra series.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Secrets of Tiki-Taka

The first part of this interview, where Jed talks about his formation as a coach, can be read here whilst the second part of the interview, where he talks about how to establish a style of play, can be found here.

If you enjoy interviews like this one, then you should check out Blueprint According To...Volume 1.

When the World Cup comes over next June, you can rest assured that one of the most commonly used phrases whenever Spain are playing will be tiki-taka.  It is somewhat inevitable, given that they’ve come to dominate world football with that style of play.

The overuse of this phrase, however, doesn’t guarantee that what this style really encapsulates is widely understood.  Trying to explain in detail how this system has evolved, and how it is played, is what Jed Davies has done in his book “Coaching the Tiki Taka style of Play” and what he talks about in the final part of his interview with Blueprint for Football.

People see tiki-taka as the Spanish term for a passing game.  But it isn't only that, is it?
Just like Rinus Michels not liking the term Total Football (he preferred the term pressing football), I actually don’t particularly like the term ‘tiki-taka’ to describe the pressing-possession philosophy. Strictly speaking, the term ‘tiki-taka’ was a reference made to the quick one touch passing in a game of football that we commonly see in the Rondo exercises. However, it’s since been popularised as the overall philosophy term by the media and I think most in the media look past the other components that make up the philosophy. 

The philosophy has so many details within it: aggressive pressing, possession, a strict and disciplined fluid positional system that supports it’s own playing principles and of course, the way it treats each of it’s transitional moments. You really cannot isolate any one of those aspects of the game and reproduce the same style of play that Barcelona and Spain use. 

What attracted your attention to this system of play?  And how did you decide to write a book about it?
Barcelona and Spain have achieved everything over this last decade and that isn’t a result of a God passing down talent to those players involved. 

It was that thought that left me wanting to not only analyse their tactical models but dig a lot deeper and find out everything about the philosophy known as ‘tiki-taka’. I’ve always been fascinated with how you can take an idea and translate that through to players or a single player onto a football field as I mentioned in question one, but what Barcelona and Spain were doing was something far greater than that. The more I dug into what this philosophy might encompass, the more I realised I didn’t know! 

I wasn’t making notes and speaking to coaches involved in the professional game with the direct intention of writing a book from the very beginnings, it was more a two year long self-directed research project that involved various club visits and interviews. However, the larger my collection of notepads became the more I felt that these were studies worth sharing. After recommendations from friends I got in touch with a few publishers and fortunately Ltd and two others got back to me offering different deals as it were. It wasn’t a question of who could offer me the most money, it was a question of how I could get this out to the most people possible and SoccerTutor offered me  the opportunity to get my book out there on a global scale and thankfully no promises have been broken, they’ve been true to their word and helped me achieve that. 

What have you tried to achieve with the book?  What do you hope those who read it get from it?
So for me it was always about finding a way of sharing the research I had done with as many like minded people as possible but also to find a way to connect with these people who were on the same journey through rediscovering football as it were. 

I’m glad I went ahead and through all the troubles involved with getting a book published as it has allowed me to get in touch with the people I speak to on a regular basis and in turn, helped me grow as a young coach. 

I’m hoping that those that read the book will read something in there that sends them off onto a completely different approach to how they view football or an aspect of it at least. I’ve had some fantastic responses from the book - people who work for the national U21 side in Wales, England Women’s manager (Mark Sampson) and guys like Louis Lancaster reading it - that for me is everything I could have wanted and more. The book wasn’t ever meant to be my opinion about ‘x or y’, but a collection of opinion’s from those who have a substantial experience in the area of football I was looking into and could offer a breadth of knowledge on different areas within that. 

You can buy Jed’s book from Soccer Tutor and more information about Jed’s football coaching is available at Inspire Football Events.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why A Philosophy is Vital in Football

The first part of this series of three interview, where Jed talks about his formation as a coach, can be read here.  If you want more interviews like this one, then check out Volume 1 of Blueprint According To... .

Philosophy.  These days it seems that every coach is analysed and distilled in order to get to his philosophy; that defining characteristic which he tries to instill into all his teams.

As often happens when a word becomes so frequently used, its meaning becomes blurred and people start attributing different values to it.  What is it, then that defines a philosophy, how can it be developed and why is it important?

Those questions were put to Jed Davies, a coach who has researched this topic and spoken with a number of people at the highest level of the game in order to get a better understanding of it.

Why is a playing philosophy so important?
For me, having a singular team objective in the way that they want to play is essential to achieving success on a football field and it always has been, right back to the late 1800’s when Scotland decided they would keep possession against a much stronger, quicker and more skilful English side. Possession was a defensive ploy to keep the ball away from the English and look to collectively beat the individuals of England in the late 1800’s.

I remember Chris Davies saying to me at Melwood that he saw clear and identifiable philosophies in every single Championship and Premier League team back in November 2012. That is to say that all teams look to meet the objectives of a philosophy, whether that be to play long-ball, possession football, a high pressing game or a combination of all the options we can have on a football field.

The alternative is to send eleven players out onto a football field and hope that the eleven different minds come together to compliment one another in how they perceive the game of football and like eleven different artists, I really see this as a highly unlikely situation. However, at the same time, I believe our philosophies should certainly find place within them to allow for each of the eleven different understandings of the game to make their mark on a game of football - it’s a ongoing and cyclical relationship.

Is developing a philosophy or style of play simply down to what you do on the training ground and how much of the philosophy dictated by the players you have available?
My formal education is in Architecture and Planning and I credit a number of different implementation models taught to me on some of the modules during the course of reading that degree. One in particular was as a result of work by Pressman and Wildavsky (1973) that looked at the planning process and the process of going from having a plan to seeing it in action. You can probably see where my mind was wondering off to in the lecture theatre during this module - in a footballing context, this may relate to having a set of tactics or a philosophy and seeing them come to fruition. Well P&W (1973) came to the understanding that the planning implementation model was not linear; it was not a case of setting an agenda, formulating a plan and implementing it - there was something far more complex involved. P&W instead proposed that planning was cyclical and the model was completed with a series of refinement, adjustment and reform stages.

Something P&W and a number of authors came to realise was that perfect implementation of plans was impossible and that “perfect implementation” simply couldn’t and didn’t exist due to eight listed factors that a number of authors have extensively written about over the years (we’ll save the rest of that lecture's content for another time).

Going back to a footballing context however, I have come to understand football tactics and football philosophy to fit within the following implementation model that I have adapted from the policy planning theory:

So going back to your question, how much is influenced by the players, the training ground and other aspects? Well everything influences your philosophy: your resources (time, facilities, quality and quantity of coaches etc), players, your training methodologies and the ability to review and reform your philosophy and tactics. It’s an ongoing process that will never have an ending and a process you are to manage as a manager and/or coach. It is for these reasons that I go far beyond just the tactics or just the training methodology in my book and delve into the tactical history and development theory of players and club philosophies.
I’ll always credit my formal education for my understanding of football and I am extremely grateful for parts of it, but what I want to tell those who aren’t reading a degree in sport is that people like myself and Crewe Alexandra coach Michael Jolley (who read Economics at Cambridge University) and others have tapped into one of the most overlooked benefits from an education outside of football alongside a continued footballing education: cross disciplinary learning. There is so much that football is yet to understand and I feel that sometimes, our answers come from the most unlikely aspects of life; so don’t feel that just because you haven’t studied Sports Science at University, that you’d not be fit for a career in sport because alongside the coaching qualifications (that I do feel are necessary) it is possible that you can benefit from a seemingly totally unrelated field of study.

I see myself as a coach on that cyclical diagram, consistently adjusting, refining and reforming my ideas and own philosophy. It’s about time more took a similar approach in my own opinion and avoid getting stuck in old mindsets.

You've spoken to a lot of coaches in developing your ideas: why have you taken this approach?  Do you find that you learn more by talking to coaches?
There are three ways I find myself learning in football: match and training analysis (both of professional clubs and my own), getting into the mindsets of other coaches and trying new things out in training sessions that quite often fail. Getting into the mindset of another coach is a big part of that learning process because it allows you to change the lenses of which you view the game for a moment and question everything you do from a different mindset.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m fortunate enough to have formed some good friendships with some great coaches inside the game and every single day I’ll fixate over some minor detail - whether that be a pressing trigger, passing pattern or rotation pattern of positioning etc - that sometimes it’s easy to over analyse parts of the game - it’s great to be able to turn to someone who is on a similar wavelength to you and has already considered the things you’re trying to find the answers for.

Recently I was watching back the footage of the Oxford Centaurs team and trying to figure out that if in a double team situation (where you’ve got two players on the opponent who has the ball) where the third man (support) should be best placed to receive the ball that pops out. “Is there a high probability that the ball will pop out here given factors a or b?” and so on - these are the questions I was running through the game with. Given that the analysis I was doing was on just one game, I’m yet to arrive at any meaningful conclusion - it is of course, highly possible that I’m looking into something ‘too much’ and that I’m heading nowhere with this, but I’m prepared to be completely wrong with any assumption I’ve made and I guess that’s the sort of person you need to be if you’re going to start asking questions like this.
There are coaches out there who’ve done similar types of research and it’s likely that they wouldn’t be prepared to share it openly as football is such a competitive environment that any information like this would be beneficial to your team if no one else knows the information. A few coaches I’ve spoken to in the past have conducted experiments not too dissimilar and come up with concrete evidence to back up any theories. I’m not saying that you should hunt down these coaches and I probably wouldn’t give out any such information myself but it’s invaluable that you can get into the same mindset as coaches who are analysing the game and training methods in these ways. I’ve learnt through speaking with coaches just how much detail, preparation, knowledge and your approach to development can amount to everything you want to become.

One person that you've spoken a lot to is Liverpool's Chris Davies.  Who is he and why has he left such an impression on you?
Chris is an immensely talented coach with a fantastic perception of the game who used to play under Brendan Rodgers as a Reading Academy player. After not ‘making it’ as a professional football player he went to on to study Sports Science at Loughborough University and then fortunately had that contact of Brendan Rodgers within the game. Rodgers by now was the Swansea Manager and invited Chris to be a part of his analysis team at Swansea. Chris later moved with Rodgers, Pascoe and others over the border to Liverpool and now works as the opposition analysis scout for Liverpool FC.

What impressed me just as much was the way in which every single Liverpool player made the effort to acknowledge Chris (and interrupt him) as they walked through the room we were speaking in on their way to lunch in the cafeteria at Melwood. He clearly works closely with the players, feeding in important pieces of information to the players before games and Brendan Rodgers has complete trust in Chris’ ability as someone who understands the game tactically and analytically.

I remember having a list of tactical scenario’s that I wanted to get Chris’ opinion on in terms of ‘what would you do if…’ and I don’t think there was ever a second’s pause between my question and his answer or further questions to clarify the scenario - he is that passionate about tactical problems! For what I had planned ten or twenty minutes to talk about ended up lasted over an hour and he’d skipped his lunch break to finish off the answers to each scenario. There’s an air of passion and confidence in his voice on my recordings of our conversation that allowed me to have an insight into why coaching problems can be so enjoyable, you just have to learn to love a coaching problem - otherwise they really do become a problem, rather than a tactical, technical or training scenario with a multitude of answers.

Talking of Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers is someone who came in talking about possession football and philosophies but hasn't been completely faithful to what he said.  Is that a case of a manager adapting to what he has available or am I reading the games wrong?
It’s no secret that Rodgers is a bit of a ‘coaching academic’ and is one that believes not only in player development, but coaching and personal development too. My own interpretation is that the latest solution to Liverpool’s tactical set up is as a result of ‘tactical problems’ and this idea of feedback, refinement and reform that we’ve spoken about in the last few questions.

While I believe that Rodgers does have his favourite game model, the 4-3-3 with one controller, a number of factors have led to an adapted model being used at Liverpool. In all cases though, the same principles have stood - overloading central areas and attempting to isolate in wide areas, coupled with a high and aggressive pressing method where possible. I think that having possession was set in Rodgers’ mind as an absolute necessity a year or two a go and nowadays I think Rodgers is set on allowing for the counter attack to be part of his tactical make up given his team of players and the league they play in (I am sure there are many factors to this) and as a result we’re seeing two outlets in advance roles in the form of Suarez and Sturridge and in a sense, a more ‘effective’ game plan that fits all the factors that influence the game model and philosophy. 

I’m still not convinced however, that if Rodgers were to be managing elsewhere in five or six years time that he’d stick with what we’re seeing right now. I think the way you’ve worded this question might suggest that you feel he’s done something negative by not sticking by the style of play he announced so passionately last summer, but I really do think this is a case of understanding that sometimes not everything is decided by the manager’s ideals - it’s a team effort and the manager, the resources, the rest of the coaching staff and the playing squad all make up the end product. If more managers were to realise this at the grassroots level of the game, then perhaps we’d see progress at that level, not everyone is Mourinho and should be dictating every minor detail within a club. The planning implementation module and it’s theory allowed me to realise this and a deep understanding of the complex phenomena of tactical philosophy-implementation is essential to be successful as a manager in my own view.

You can buy Jed’s book from Soccer Tutor and more information about Jed’s football coaching is available at Inspire Football Events.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How Match Magazine Inspired a Life in Coaching

This is the first installment in a three part interview.

Most boys grow up hoping to play for their favourite team or become a top player.  Jed Davies wasn’t any different in that respect; he too spent hours playing his favourite game constantly looking to improve.

What made him different is that he also started focusing on coaching from an early age.  At first it was simply looking at magazines in order to find ways of improving his own technique, then it was by coaching his coaching his younger brother and eventually a proper team.

In this first installment of a three part interview, Jed talks about the path that led him to coaching, his inspirations and aspirations.

First off, what is your story?  What is your background to coaching?
I remember buying Match Magazine as a ten year old just to find out what skills were going to be detailed about midway through the magazine. There used to be this small section offering tips for the reader to go and practice a particular skill involved in the game and it was Match Magazine’s detailing of how to swerve the ball with the outside of the foot like Roberto Carlos that set me off as a player who would consider the smaller details in the game. So this article explained how I should look to follow through with my leg and bring the leg up to my arm after kicking the ball, the next thing I know I’m getting so much swerve on the ball (after smashing a few of my neighbours’ green houses) I wanted to show everyone how I was doing it! 

Where I grew up we had a group of boys, probably six or seven of us, who would get home from school and play football until it was too dark to see out behind our back gardens (where all the greenhouses used to be) in this shared back green that conveniently had two trees perfectly placed at either end of the field to form a sort of six-a-side size football field! We played so much that the street in the village we grew up on actually had community meetings to discuss where they could move us to as were becoming a nuisance (“too loud, too often, too late during the summer, too many greenhouses smashed!”). 

From then onwards really, my younger brother (four years my junior) would spend hours out the back going through my tutorials - we’d spend hours running through these self-designed training sessions. I remember the first thing I taught him was how to do something we called “the italian shot” - which was essentially a scaled-down thirty yard first time shot driven in the bottom corner of the net that we’d observed on Football Italia and believe it or not, the very next game he scored a goal with this exact method - the ball rolled back to him, he got his head and body right over the ball and just put his laces through it. It went straight through the crowd of bodies in front of him and into the bottom corner. Just like we’d seen on Football Italia before! It was fantastic to see something like that come to fruition and without knowing it I’d fallen in love with the idea of coaching. I mean I’ve scored a few “long rangers” in my time for a number of really good clubs (before a few knee operations), but none felt as good as seeing my younger brother reap the rewards of something I’d designed a training session for (although I am sure he wouldn’t give me any credit whatsoever these days!). 

The first time I was ever really employed in a role that allowed me to coach football was in Belgium at a language school that I worked at for five years to a group of Spanish, Russian, Dutch, Belgian and German students and even at that age (10-18) there are clear cultural differences in the way that each of those nationalities perceive the game of football. This was really a high pressure coaching role and all the pressure was from the students who just wanted to play a game! The trick was always to make what you were doing to be fun and discreet in how you were coaching - there were very few drills or lines out on those fields in the Ardennes! It was all about setting the scene or rules to encourage an outcome you wanted - through this I learnt what worked and what didn’t to a certain extent. 

From there I’ve worked for Socatots (18 months to 6 years of age), a sort of pre-Brazilian Soccer School’s coaching company where at the earliest of ages it was all about making sure you didn’t scare the kid and make him cry (which actually happened during my first ever session!). While still in Bristol, I helped Patrick Williams out at Bristol Inner City Advanced Development Centre, my first real experience in a more elite environment as a coach where we played against a number of top academies in England such as Cardiff, Millwall, Bolton and many others. BICADC are one of the most ambitious clubs I’ve worked with and they’ve an excellent curriculum that former-Southampton coach Chris Palmer drew up with Patrick. 

Finally I’ve found myself coaching at Oxford University in adult football with fantastic facilities, I like to think (rather dreamingly) that I’m following in the great shoes of Vic Buckingham as he too once coached at Oxford University before moving across to Ajax and setting all the foundations for Total Football to develop. At Oxford, I’m working with Jon Collins (a former Reading skills coach) and taking everything on board. Jon is a coach with an expertise in Spanish training methodology and I’m amazed with the amount of planning that goes into his sessions. 

I honestly couldn’t be enjoying the transition from youth football to the adult game anymore than I am right now. I’m just about to start managing the development squad and being the University’s development officer (the University is effectively it’s own FA due to it’s long history in football - we won the FA Cup once!) as well as coaching with Jon too - I really can’t wait to see what we can do and I’ve got some fantastic ideas of how to go about working through our microcycles of coaching areas. It’s an exciting time for me and I’m looking forward to my new responsibilities, but nothing will stop me looking to coach my youngest brother (15 years my junior) and it’s amazing how you’re attitude changes when it’s a family member you’re
coaching!   Fortunately for him, he’s just moved with the rest of my family to West Wales and is enjoying playing for Carmarthen Academy. I’m looking forward to getting home for Christmas and taking him on again in our one vs. one drill that got a bit competitive during the summer when he pulled the roulette out on me!

Who have been the coaches who have inspired you the most? 
There are a number of coaches that have had and continue to have a profound impact on the way I coach and perceive the game. Louis Lancaster (Watford), Tim Lees (Wigan), James Nash (MK Dons), Chris Davies (Liverpool) and Jon Collins (Oxford University) are probably those I owe most to. I speak with most of those on a regular basis and I am consistently trying things out on the training field that Louis, James or Tim will speak to me about and I really couldn’t ask for more from these guys. 

That said, Jon Collins is the coach who has had the biggest impact on the way I coach as I work closest with Jon. From his pre-match and training session team talks right through the training methodology itself, I’ve made so many notes over the last few months that probably wouldn’t make much sense to anyone who found them - I’ve even written down a few phrases he’s come out with during training or half time team talks - it’s almost like everything has it’s own artistry and everything is as calculated and planned as the next. 

So to answer your question, it’s too difficult to isolate any one of those five coaches but my own coaching style is certainly something that has formed as a result of their influences. Fabio Capello said that all “the best coaches were the greatest of thieves” and by that I think meant that the best coaches shouldn’t look to copy other coaches, but directly steal ideas from them and take ownership of them and that’s exactly what I’m doing! It was great to hear that Louis Lancaster ran a training session with his Watford boys recently that allowed him to test Arrigo Sacchi’s famous “organised defence against an unorganised attack” quote that he read to the players directly from my book in his session. I believe Louis’ approach to training is to allow young players to come to their own understanding of what football means and takes the role of an exploratory professor with his players. He’ll like that, ‘the professor’, it’s probably best that doesn’t reach him having said that!

By taking ownership of such ideas or training methods, you begin to form your own understanding of an idea or how something might work and my advice to young and aspiring coaches wouldn’t be too far away from that - don’t mindlessly copy or imitate. Steal, take ownership and understand the ideas inside out!  So the next time a coach talks through a coaching development or tactical idea, listen intensively but then go away and question every single facet in a practical environment - training sessions should allow for the coach to learn as well as players!

Finally, what are your own aspirations?
I’m hoping that over the next six months I can get as much progressive learning done as possible in my roles as a manager, assistant manager, youth coach and Oxford University FA development officer and from my planned trips to Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as our next Inspire! Football Event in April. 

I always find it difficult when making long term plans, but I think it goes without saying that I would love to move from employment in the amateur game across to the professional game in the next year or two. In what capacity and the location are two uncertainties that I am fine with for now but I’m open to a variety of career paths within the professional game. 

I’m still only 25 and I’m enjoying connecting with other young aspiring and talented coaches in world football like Stevie Grieve who is out in India and dozens of others who are creating fantastic careers for themselves elsewhere. I’m a big believer the saying that “if an opportunity doesn’t knock, build your own door” - do something that you believe strongly in and you feel is worth your time, everything else will come when the time is right if you do it really well. It’s for these reasons that I am confident that my company will continue to be a great success - we’re introducing aspiring young coaches to the likes of Dick Bate and our highest qualified and most innovative coaches this country has. 

We’ve just ran our first event and I can tell you now, there were a few UEFA A level coaches who went away from that event off of the back of talks from Dick Bate, Nick Levett, Matthew Whitehouse, Dan Abrahams, Michael Jolley, Louis Lancaster, Tim Lees and myself with a different mindset and approach to coaching as they did before. We’re running our next one in Liverpool next April and I really can’t wait to finally reveal who we have signed up to speak at that event, it’ll certainly turn a few heads let’s just say that much!

You can buy Jed’s book from Soccer Tutor and more information about Jed’s football coaching is available at Inspire Football Events.