Sunday, May 13, 2007


Horses and Jockeys

Most people with an interest in football have, by now, read the recent comments by Jorge Valdano on the Liverpool v. Chelsea Champions' League semi-final.

Valdano, who has long been football's self-appointed poet laureate, may have a point about the football that these two clubs produced. And he is certainly not alone in his distaste for Jose Mourinho.

But to state that their approach stems from their lack of success as players is, I believe, an oversimplification (at best). Nevertheless, this tendentious claim has been leapt on by plenty of axe-to-grind pundits...including, erm, guess who.

To deal with my old friend first:

The reality is that a playing career at the top is a significant advantage in becoming a successful coach, a point that Australia needs to recognise and enshrine in our coaching systems.

Craig, it already has been. Once again, a smidgen of research would have helped.

In passing, I wonder how he manages to square the following statement:

...our own coaching culture has never valued the top level playing career as a precursor to a high-level coaching one...

...with the fact that both our current national coach and three A-League coaches are former Socceroos. But I digress.

The question of whether it is necessary to have been a player of consequence in order to coach effectively at a high level is an old one. Certainly, experience at a professional level as a player is a huge advantage. But there have been enough examples over the years of coaches without a significant playing CV to show that it is not essential. But that is not really Valdano's point; he claims, rather, that these theorist coaches demand rigid tactical discipline and lack of imagination because of their thirst for vicarious glory.

I don't buy it.

Arsène Wenger is a shining counter-example. Both at Monaco and at Arsenal, he has favoured positive, progressive football, and given plenty of licence to genuinely creative players, such as Glenn Hoddle and Dennis Bergkamp. Wenger, of course, never made it big as a professional player.

Who was it who gave Italian football a shot in the arm in the late eighties, encouraging Dutch-style pressing tactics and entertaining football? Former shoe salesman Arrigo Sacchi, who famously replied to an interviewer who questioned his credentials as a coach, "You don't have to have been a horse to be a jockey."

Even further back in history, the man who, some would say, laid the groundwork for continental (as opposed to British) football as a whole, was never a professional. Hugo Meisl, coach of the great Austrian national team of the thirties, and pioneer of the short-passing game, was a bank clerk before becoming involved in football administration (and later coaching).

On the other hand, there are the Mourinhos of the world. And the Helenio Herreras. But there are also the ex-player managers who rely heavily on organisation and control. Such as one of Valdano's former team-mates, Daniel Passarella, and another World Cup-winning player, Jackie Charlton.

There's enough room in football for the jockeys. Especially those who are kind to their horses.

Nice piece mikey. I don't really have anything else to say but it's good to have an Oz football (blogger!) pundit who can easily show up Fozztah's drivel for what it is just by using a good, fair knowledge of the history of the game. Even the good and the great here who, for instance, might know who Hugo Meisl is and what he did are likely to still look at international football and the history of it quite parachially, allowing for selective memories.
Cheers Mikey, I miss those old Wednesday kickabouts. I hope you are still running around. Anyway, my comment; After spluttering into my weetbix yet again after reading another of Foster's error prone agenda driven diatribes, it was a profound relief to read your, as always, measured and thoughtful comments. Foster frustrates in so many ways but mostly, I think, whatever good points he makes gets submerged in his deplorable journalism. For instance, I agree whole heartedly Mourinho and Benetez are terrible for the game but, as you point out with your Wenger and Sacchi examples, it has bugger all to do with with their less than lofty playing careers. Of course, that doesn't fit in with Foster's narrow minded views so he conveniently omits to mention them. This is something he seems to do with every article and I have reached the point now where for the sake of my blood pressure, I won't be reading any more of his rubbish. Foster has to go. Care to replace him?
The other question I ask myself - just what is a high enough level?

Wenger is held up as the player who did nothing and went on to be a great coach, but he did make the squad of a club that won the French league title. Sure that's not world-beating credentials, but it surely means you're no donkey either.
...Cheers Mikey,...

G'day Phil! Good to hear from you.

...I miss those old Wednesday kickabouts. I hope you are still running around....

Really miss those Wednesday nights myself. Not running around much this winter (I decided not to do the Loko Cove thing in the end, which probably wasn't a bad move as my back and right knee probably wouldn't have coped with a full season), but am reffing the school games as usual, which is a nice power trip in the meantime.

...Foster has to go. Care to replace him?...

Thanks, but two problems:

(1) I don't have any cred as a former player or any experience as a journo,
(2) I quite enjoy my current job. :-)

And, for all my criticisms of Foster, I'll say this for him: at least he generates debate.

...Wenger is held up as the player who did nothing and went on to be a great coach, but he did make the squad of a club that won the French league title....

From memory he only played a few games for them though...and he got into coaching at a pretty young age, to the best of my knowledge. Similar story with Hiddink, IIRC.
Fozzie posed the question to Kewell today on the TWG show about Valdano's comments. Kewell pretty much said that anybody who thinks that Benitez encourages boring football is a joke........ and then it was swiftly onto the next question. :p
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?