• The Last Post

    An Ideal For Living – Football and The Future Game

    ‘What’s your dream, son?’, Steadman Scott asks young players, as described by Mike Calvin in his book ‘No Hunger In Paradise’. This story was recently converted to a documentary on a Pay TV platform (how very football of you, Mike). I haven’t been involved in any organised football or coaching for over 30 years, but having returned to see the picture the essence of football hasn’t changed. Football at its best is still a simple, fun game.

    Football - the 2 things:

    1 - to play, try and beat your opponent and score a goal

    2 - to win, concede fewer than you score

    Next: do you have a system? Catenaccio, Up-Back-Through, Gegenpressing (aka high press): everyone talks about their ‘philosophy’ these days. Well..., here’s mine:

    LOOK forward: play forward (when you can)

    PLAY in triangles (unless there’s a better option)

    PLAY as a team - with style and confidence!

    My preferred game-style? A collaboration between Bob Paisley/ Rinus Michels/ Johann Cruyff & Pep Guardiola. What I find fascinating about Pep’s Man City this season is that there’s a number of English players who’ve been exceptional. So it can be done, then, this thing of England players playing well. What is it about Guardiola that coaxes him to extract more value from these players under his coaching direction than Gareth Southgate can (Dan)?

    Ay, there’s the rub! After England’s shameful performances at S Africa WC2010 it’s been a biennial tournament embarrassment ever since. I haven’t enjoyed watching England play tournament football since that Beckham-esqe game v Argentina in St Etienne (WC1998). Do you remember Michael Owen’s wonder goal? This is still my favourite football moment in the last 20 years. Maybe it’s because there seemed to be a growing sense of hope in that new dishy football era and a certain ratio in how the England team were playing during those early years of the Premier League.

    Since then and after WC2010 I’ve tried to understand why England struggle so much at tournament football. There have been moments of clarity, but I haven’t been able to consistently wire-tap intercept the EEngland Omnishambles (Omni-FAmbles?) - yet. England are unbearable to watch these days. And I've watched them ever since the ball skidded off Kevin Keegan's bubble perm for his goal in the 2-0 win v Italy in 1977.

    So, where are we now? England thinks it has a plan, but it’s looking in the wrong direction, from my viewpoint. The FA might argue that the England U17 & U20 World Cup wins are a clear sign of progress. Some might say that in the U17 semi-final the Venezuela players were superior in their individual skill performances. They seemed to have better skill acquisition and game understanding to adapt to the adult version of the professional game - under a coach who has a vision of what success and attractive football looks like (it ain't all about the money to start with homeboys!). Where, for example, are the Premier League teams and English coaches who are going to develop these young English players for the next 3-5 years? It’s all very well having a DNA, Dan, but don’t look back in anger at the structural governance issues any time soon, ok? How are you going to get our U17 & U20 World Cup development team winners in to the starting line-ups of the Premier League’s top half teams?

    At a local level, when my kids joined the nearest FA Charter Mark club I was curious to see how the FA were directing the coaching provision at grass roots level. I'm a coach-helper and not involved in the admin side or on any coaching committee for the club, but from my position I can only report what I see about the FA’s involvement - EPIC FAIL! If the England national team is to produce consistently good performances then we need to change the coaching structure – RIGHT NOW.

    One thing that concerns me most is the kids’ skill development. If the kids’ basic control, dribbling and passing is not developed well enough (6-9yrs) before they begin to get fewer touches at 7v7 then our next generation will not be at the level to compete. The kids are not getting the right guidance and direction at the right time to help their development. From the youngest age groups in the grass root pyramid the better players are segregated out, which denies others the opportunities to learn from them. Guess what? There is a parallel in adult life where our leading players are now so rich on their retirement that they don't have the motivation or desire to invest their skills and knowledge in to the next generation coming through. What kind of a business de-scopes and refuses to integrate the lessons learned process for the benefit of stakeholders?

    As a grass roots coach/ helper what can I do? I can try and convey to this small group what I believe are the skills and attributes needed for playing the game well from childhood through to the adult open-age game, perhaps. Some of these skills will be quantitative for static and dynamic ball control with both feet and body:


    Wide focus = ‘eyes up’, ‘scan’,‘decision’, ‘correct body shape’, ‘what are my team mates doing around me?’

    Narrow focus = correct skill decision in the moment (sole? Inside? Outside?, Instep?) Where do I put the ball with my first touch?

    And now: what is developing around me? (show how to shift the focus from narrow to wide/ wide to narrow, as required to position oneself to see as much as possible of the pitch, players and significant moments through 360 degrees at any one time).

    There’s a squad of qualitative attributes that professional players and top coaches seem to call character – whatever that means? In any event, there should be a quantitative and qualitative skills matrix that could be baselined, standardised and implemented across our grass roots football to enable young players to see where they are now and where they could go on the development journey. I don’t see that the FA is driving this at grass roots level. What are they doing?

    When I was a spotty 16 year old sat on a bus with the young Manchester City stars that went on to beat Manchester United 5-1 (‘The Massacre of Main Road’) I didn’t think that my game was at the level to be successful against these players and the likes of AC Milan & Ajax. Football - bloody hell: you can have all the skills in your kitbag (I didn’t – some have), but if you don’t have the confidence to truly believe that you belong in certain situations you’ll end up talking yourself out of success on and off the pitch. This is what happens to England now, I think. They don't believe they deserve their wages (Seth Johnson Syndrome?). When it comes to tournament football which brings little recovery time along with 'park-the-bus' tight spaces requiring greater skill and improvisation our players seem to run out of different ways to play. Our energetic kick and rush style won’t cut it in tournament conditions so we have tried to copy other nations instead of building on our own football strengths and heritage (DNA Dan - the copy-cat man?). We haven't developed our own game-style that is 'of us' where we can play our way to success: so biennial summertimes we need artists (style and confidence) - not engines!

    You will no doubt have other things that drive you to distraction about this simple, but beautiful game (e.g. another of mine being why are school astroturf pitches closed most of the weekend when so many of our games scheduled on grass are called off with bad weather?). When we return to the focus of what grass roots football should be about - nurturing a love of the game and giving kids a chance to have a lot of fun – the central message of Mike Calvin’s No Hunger in Paradise shrieks out at me like a goal-scoring stadium tannoy. Do parents truly understand the 'opportunity cost' of chasing this football dream?

    As a kid I had some early misplaced confidence in my ability, which affected my general attitude as a teenager. Some poor guidance followed and I left home at 16 to live in a football club house. I didn’t even imagine or believe that I was going to be a footballer. I only agreed to sign as an apprentice because it seemed a cool thing to do and I’d been too stupid to prepare myself for any other options or plan B at that time. So, due to my own stupidity and creeping like snail I found the transmission to my own crisis. The opportunity cost to me was that I staggered in to adult life completely ill-equipped to cope. I ended up on the streets for a while. Football seemed to slide away.

    The premise of No Hunger in Paradise is that 180 boys of circa 1,500,000 playing across this green and pleasant land go on to play in the Premier League. That’s 0.00012%. They are terrible odds. Of course, sustaining a professional career in any level of football must be amazing, but the odds are still heavily stacked against all the boys that you have ever watched play - including your own. Can you afford to take these risks? At what cost?

    These odds prove that any notions of professional careers for kids who haven’t left school - never mind primary school - are audacious. Last year, one of my kids was playing in an inter-school primary football competition in West Yorkshire. One of these Yorkshire primary schools had their team in a full Man City kit. A number of these kids were supposedly ‘on the books’ at Man City with one boy in particular who was already on a four figure inducement, according to the word on the wing. Thousand(s)? Weekly? That can’t be right, for a primary school boy, can it? These inducements will and do skew parents' decision making - never mind the kids... This is happening all over the country and is actively encouraged at the behest of rogue agents who have been let loose by deregulation from our friends at Fifa.

    The next generation of kids coming through these academy and football systems now can't cite Brexit (whoops - sorry) to get on the party bus to the good life. They might have been told (again) that they are the best in the business since the last time they made the cut, but have they checked the hunger in the eyes of the boys coming out of Africa and South America? We need to re-boot our football ambitions here and re-frame the player and coaching pathways if we want to compete with the best. We are miles off it now, but there are people amongst this football joy division who are desperate for English football to be a success. To be clear, forget the showbiz ceremony that is the Premier League. It doesn't represent English football. Richard Scudamore treats English and British football fans with contempt. If the FA won’t or can’t do more to help us and we want the English football system to work and to be respected internationally then we need to think of another solution now – RIGHT NOW!

    Meanwhile, we await another tournament procession and live in vain hope that we might perform better this time.

    Well..., I've read the books. I've got the T-shirts. I've even listened to talkSPORT round the clock for nearly a decade & I'm done with that, too. This is my last post on this website before I close it. I haven't achieved what I'd hoped (who does?). I'd hoped to create the mandate for change for English football success. That was evidently preposterous. Until everyone including the Premier League gets together and decides to collaborate on a new plan for English football success then the 'Route to Green' is a 'No Go' decision.

    So I'm off - this game is 'all played out'. Definitely Maybe.

    Can DNA DAN do the fan django..?

    Gareth – over to you. I hope you’ve enjoyed your winter break.

    Good luck!


You are viewing the text version of this site.

To view the full version please install the Adobe Flash Player and ensure your web browser has JavaScript enabled.

Need help? check the requirements page.

Get Flash Player