Monday, April 30, 2007
Planet Murray - update
Following some comments about the Asian adventures of Sydney FC and Adelaide United, Murray sees fit to point out, for about the 1,746th time, the immeasurable improvement that Sydney FC has undergone since Branko Culina took the reins. An improvement, incidentally, which I would be the last to deny, considering that Culina was the man I would have preferred in charge from day one.
And then there is the predictable, tawdry grumbling about Sydney's mediocre play last season - due, let's not forget, entirely to their coach and not to their players (let alone their frightening early-season injury list).
Let's take another trip to Planet Murray:
This was a major diversion for the players from Culina’s predecessor, Terry Butcher, who only ever told them to hoof it forward, get rid of it and ensure that the damn thing spent as little time as possible in ‘our back third’.
So Murray saw fit to attend every training session? What an industrious fellow he is.
Attitudes in the Bernabeu constellation are rather outmoded generally, it appears:
Contrary to the popular theory that route one, playing the ball forward relentlessly, with an economy of touches, is some kind of attacking, positive and ‘open’ tactical dogma, it can be the reverse.
...pub teams tend to do this all the time...
Let me slip off the comic mask now and speak frankly. The above remarks offend me, as I suspect they would many Australians involved in playing and coaching the game.
Does Murray seriously believe that most Australians are simply route-one addicts, fed on a diet of British tactics of the Stanley Cullis or Graham Taylor variety? That the majority of club players and coaches never even countenance the idea of ball to feet, playing your way out of defence, favouring the short pass? That, on the other hand, they see constant hoof-ball as an "open, positive" play?
It's insulting and, I believe, inaccurate.
My Well-Informed Covite friend, when discussing such bizarre pronouncements, never fails to remind me that he, even playing at a relatively modest level, was taught a passing-style game in his youth. Playing at an even lower level, I was always encouraged to do the same. Later, I played in what would probably be described as a pub team (a typical AA8 Sydney club side), packed with British expats. They played measured, intelligent football on the whole, with a judicious mix of short and long passing. Relentless hoof-ball was the very last way you would describe their style.
In reference to Terry Butcher, incidentally, credit where it's due: on being asked for his comments on Butcher's recent appointment at Brentford on Sunday's World Game show, Craig Foster was perfectly gracious.
On this occasion, Murray might, for once, have done well to take a leaf out of his sidekick's book, and let bygones be bygones.
...Does Murray seriously believe that most Australians are simply route-one addicts, fed on a diet of British tactics of the Stanley Cullis or Graham Taylor variety? That the majority of club players and coaches never even countenance the idea of ball to feet, playing your way out of defence, favouring the short pass? That, on the other hand, they see constant hoof-ball as an "open, positive" play?
It's insulting and, I believe, inaccurate.
My Well-Informed Covite friend, when discussing such bizarre pronouncements, never fails to remind me that he, even playing at a relatively modest level, was taught a passing-style game in his youth. Playing at an even lower level, I was always encouraged to do the same. Later, I played in what would probably be described as a pub team (a typical AA8 Sydney club side), packed with British expats. They played measured, intelligent football on the whole, with a judicious mix of short and long passing. Relentless hoof-ball was the very last way you would describe their style....
Mikey, I would've loved to have played in the teams you and your WICF grew up in. In the 12 years I've played I've been coached by:
- The typical under 6 dad, running more of a child care thing than a football team, but who was obviously a rugby league fan from his penchant for sending kids to the 'sin bin.' No tactics, had that until I was about 12
- The mate of one of our coaches, who while well-intentioned had a single tactic of getting the ball to the wingers who needed to have chalk on their feet.
- Various coaches with practically no guidance or knowledge of the game, and worst:
- A coach at school _first grade level_ who after playing for 25 years was entirely hoof and hope, had no understanding of the individual roles of players on the pitch, had never heard of anything but a 4-4-2, picked players entirely on athleticism when some had absolutely zero footballing ability, and resorted to bizarre tactics like "everyone kick the ball to the right hand corner every time and the strikers run to the right every time."
Indeed the only good coach I've had was an awesome coach because he was more concerned with using football as a means to developing the kids as people, and taught us all valuable lessons on and off the field. While not from a footballing background, he managed to be a decent coach by watching lots of football and picking up little things which he passed onto us. (Likewise my dad, who coaches my younger brother's team, didn't play as a kid but is constantly learning through watching and reading about football.)
Throughout this time I learnt what football was really about by immersing myself in it: I watched football on SBS whenever I could, became a huge CM/FM addict, started supporting LUFC and SFC, I often played for two or three teams in the same season, I went to tournaments like Kanga Cup and Friendship Games, and I played games in the park or the playground almost constantly. Now I consider myself quite well versed in the basics of how to knock the ball around and have fun playing football, as well as quite knowledgeable on a higher tactical plane, but not everyone is as into the sport as you or me or WICF and not everyone gets there.
Our LCFC Team, Team Fyfe, somehow manages to have about half a squad who could not get into a free position, take a touch and find a man even 20 or 30% of the time. It is very evident to me that despite the huge participation base, those who are not from football families or do not love the game in their own right can go through a whole junior system without ever developing the basic collective skills. Often even the very good footballers get stuck playing as individuals due to the inability of the players around them (and rep teams get stuck having to drill individual tendencies and egos out of young talented kids). In the end, not too many players last beyond about 15 or 16 because it's just not that fun.
Certainly many pub teams fall more into the mould of the footballing team than the hoof and hope team, because they are naturally filled with people who like the game, know the game and want to enjoy the game. But there are some (such as, I'm sure, the one my school coach plays for) who would still be found severely lacking.
It's funny, because you know what I'm about to do? Endorse SBS's whole revamp of the youth system agenda which somehow Les has departed for this article. That's what we need, more simple football education at a grass roots level to ensure EVERYONE who plays learns to play the right way. I think we could do well worse than follow Fozzie's usual suggestions of supporting coaches, encouraging futsal, playing on smaller fields at young ages and not playing competitively until a later age, because these ARE the ways in which basic skills are developed
All is not rosy, Australian football has a long way to go to create the depth needed to produce more highest-level players.
(footnote: this is starting to happen at various levels that I've seen, mainly through the private school system where football is becoming as important, well-run and well-coached as rugby, even if the private representative teams still get constantly beaten by state schools drawing on talent from the country, the west and especially sports high schools. Good start, but sadly isn't going to occur on its own everywhere.)
But I do see your point as well Mike, and I too am a bit bewildered by the straw man Murray insists upon, of a general culture of long-ball.
For junior coaching (I'm the assistant coach of an under 12s team), we are constantly encouraging the kids to play from the back, find the passing option, even if it means passing back, and maintain possession. We didn't get this from Murray, but from our own observations and experience, and, if you like (for my part) from the junior coaching book and DVD I got when I did a basic coaching course. It seems to be very broadly recognised that this is the way to produce good players and good teams, even at a junior level, so Murray is being a little disingenious.
But Mike, leaving Murray's sophistry aside, it did appear to be Butcher's strategy to play long balls from the back much more than was necessary. I watched those games, and Sydney did appear to play a game much less sophisticated than the players were capable of.
That's just my view. Cheers.
My limited experience so far indicates that kids are pretty smart, and that they quickly appreciate and respond to coaches taking the task of building them as players seriously. In the end, despite all the "winning isn't everything" rhetoric of the oh-so-philosophical adults, kids do want to win. It's their greatest pleasure, and to deny that is to betray them, in my opinion. And they know a good source of help (to win) when they see it, and they respond, and the improvements are visible very quickly.
Firstly, commiserations for your experiences. Now, to make a few points:
(1) The idea that EVERYONE at grassroots level can be educated to coach in approved technical 'n' tactical style is, to my mind, a complete chimera.
In my experience, these folks for the most part are community-minded dads (and occasionally mums) squeezing in some precious time on a weekend to help out the kids. They often have other kids, they have their jobs, they have the remainder of their family life, and they see the football as simply a good way of getting the kids to run around, keep fit and make some new friends. A few of them might try to educate themselves a bit about the game beyond the basics, but time constraints will work against this for the majority, and if you try to force them, then you're likely to lose some of your precious volunteer brigade - which is what keeps the sport (and other sports) chugging along in this country.
There will also be, on occasion, the egomaniacs who use community spirit as a pretext for playing God with a bunch of impressionable young kiddies. With this type you can do nothing at all, and because of the usual chronic lack of volunteers in junior football, they tend to be very hard to shift.
(2) In the context of the SBS position, the capacity of the LCFC AA6 to control, pass, move etc. is irrelevant. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but it is.
If any of your guys who can't play simple passes had been in rep teams, I'd be worried. If the sort of coaching you mentioned initially went on at rep level, again, I'd be worried. But all I've heard from guys who either are or have been in rep teams suggests that the coaches there are not like your school first-grade man. They know something about the game.
(3) A personal view of mine: detailed instruction in tactics (NB. not technique, although there should be limits to that as well IMO) before the age of about nine or ten is not just useless, it is positively counter-productive, especially in Australia. We don't face the sort of struggle in participation rates that some other sports do, but there is always the danger that we may slip behind. At a young age the game should still be, first and foremost, FUN. Constant instructions and too much necessity to stop and think at an age where they may be wavering between a number of sports would lose us a number of potentially fine athletes to other sports, I feel.
I don't think there's any argument that our youth development has room for improvement (from the little I know about it, the chief problem at the moment seems to be different systems for different states, but that's a chronic Australian problem in just about all walks of life). But what always irks me about the SBS onslaughts is that (a) the constant implication is that there is some sort of desperate crisis, (b) there seems to be this assumption of total ignorance among coaches even at semi-decent levels. I often feel that Les and Foz confuse the ranting Under 7 dad with the rep coach or the Under 15 coach at a Manly United or Sydney Olympic.
"It is very evident to me that despite the huge participation base, those who are not from football families or do not love the game in their own right can go through a whole junior system without ever developing the basic collective skills."
That's true, I'm finding certain things a huge learning curve atm.
But I think we need to put some perspective in this. Certain sections of the media label this the fault of the 'British coaching mafia' and an undue emphasis on a very out dated British football tactic. (Let's not forget that Wimbledon winning the FA Cup in 1988 was a last gasp prize for a tactic that just was relevant anymore).
Whether our main influences came from England, Brasil, Holland, France or outer Mongolia, if we're just getting the disinterested (or entirely stupid) dad to coach, the result will be the same.
To go down the path you suggest we need a willingness and passion to participate from parents, coaches and players.
It's all very well to have all these things that we think work so well, but if it annoys the participants and they all piss off pack to league, is it worth it?
...Firstly, I'm still sort of warm to Les Murray, and the things you mentioned weren't the primary thrust of his article. The main thrust seemed to be, "be wary and respectful of the Asian comp," and the point was well enough made....
It wasn't the primary thrust of the article, but he can never resist putting it in. It's the slight at the football knowledge of the average Australian coach that irks me.
I'm warm to Les myself, by the way...did you see my comment a while ago after I ran into him at a Sydney Olympic match? He was a charmer. He also very fully and generously answered a query of mine that I sent to SBS. I like him personally, but find some of his views way off-beam, and sometimes offensive.
...For junior coaching (I'm the assistant coach of an under 12s team), we are constantly encouraging the kids to play from the back, find the passing option, even if it means passing back, and maintain possession. We didn't get this from Murray, but from our own observations and experience, and, if you like (for my part) from the junior coaching book and DVD I got when I did a basic coaching course. It seems to be very broadly recognised that this is the way to produce good players and good teams, even at a junior level, so Murray is being a little disingenious....
Exactly. If Les and Foz can find a coaching DVD that encourages coaches to tell their kids to just hoof it to the tall centre-forward all the time, they can have the key to my house.
Incidentally, I get a new team of Under 14s or Under 15s every year, and someone like Foz would (probably) be proud of the way I coach them. I always encourage ball to feet, trying to play your way out of trouble if you can, and most important of all (a factor that Foz rarely talks about explicitly) movement off the ball, which I reckon is a much ignored facet of the game at youth level.
I wish I could say I've been more successful than I actually have...
...But Mike, leaving Murray's sophistry aside, it did appear to be Butcher's strategy to play long balls from the back much more than was necessary. I watched those games, and Sydney did appear to play a game much less sophisticated than the players were capable of....
Up to a point, I won't argue with you. I think towards the beginning of the season this was definitely the case, and that modus operandi reached its nadir in the New Zealand game (Round 5), which was unwatchable. But once the full roster came back and we went on that nine-game unbeaten streak, I thought we played some nice stuff at times. Towards the end of the season we did lapse into hoof and hope in the second half, but that had more to do with the players' (lack of) fitness than anything else, I believe.
A little vignette, by the way: during one of those dismal second halves towards the end of the season, the Fox cameras cut away to Butcher on the sidelines. You know what he was shouting?
Agree also on the SBS thing, there's a constant problem though with the SBS agenda and an inability for Les/Fozzie/etc to properly articulate which levels and what reforms they are proposing, which is a big reason people turn against them.
Honoured also for team Fyfe to be mentioned in any sentence with that immortal commentary line. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I am.
Also agree on no tactics at an early age. The fact is that by playing a game in the park a kid will learn a lot more about the game than being told what to do. I've never played sweeper in an organised system but always enjoyed sitting behind the rest and picking up the loose ball in a little kickaround. This season I've put myself at sweeper and am very happy with how I'm going there. There's a reason five a side is so useful and so fun, and it's in part because there are no real set positions and everyone does a bit of everything.
Also let's not forget TWIC's point about the inverse pyramid financial structure of the game, because the fact is that participation rates would be boosted by less fees, that there would be an ability to provide more consistently better coaching at all levels (eg with guys from youth leagues coming and coaching the kids), there'd be a lower drop-out rate, higher adult participation etc. etc.
Maybe (definitely) I just dream of a country where we all grew up on football.
Wait till I'm PM ;)
1 - The more I learn about Oz football, the more I think we would have benefited more from producing plenty of Filippo Inzaghis (ideally without the diving) than dramatically improving our "technical and tactical" standards.
2 - I've yet to be convinced that our T & T standards are all that bad considering our population/football's popularity/other significant factors, and I don't think a lot of people take into the account the T & T developments Oz football has IMHO made in the last 20-25 years (considering the players we've produced in that time and continue to produce). FWIW, I'm not saying there isn't room to improve here or that it's not worthwhile.
3 - As a neutral, I found Littbarski just as (if not more) frustrating than Butcher. But the former didn't receive a quarter of the criticism given to the latter. And it's not because Littbarski won the GF. I remember that he wasn't being criticised throughout his season here anywhere near as much as Butcher was either.
Heartily agreed, this is a serious problem which I hope Rob Baan does something to address in his TD role.
....As a neutral, I found Littbarski just as (if not more) frustrating than Butcher. But the former didn't receive a quarter of the criticism given to the latter. And it's not because Littbarski won the GF. I remember that he wasn't being criticised throughout his season here anywhere near as much as Butcher was either....
Litti did actually cop a fair bit of criticism during Season 1, but it was pretty covert. And of course it's all long-forgotten now.