Blurred Lines – The Coaches View

This was originally written last year for the first edition of Clear Cut Chance. But for now that has shut and we won’t be doing anymore editions in the foreseeable future. Some of the interviews we did were excellent and over the coming week will all be added to here with the other interviews already hosted on this site.

Realism is often bandied about when talking about Football Manager, but just how realistic are certain aspects of the game? We know the manager doesn’t stand on the touchline and say things like ‘Change mentality by 2 clicks to the left’ as that is just ridiculous.

But there must be some elements that are similar to how they are practised in real life. Whether it’s tactics, training, scouting or something else, we aim to explore these aspects every quarter and give you an insight into how people involved with football think and see if we can make comparisons with Football Manager.

The first of these sees us asking a few questions to youth coach, tactician and theorist Jed Davies. Jed was forced to retire from the game at a very early age due to serious injuries. This saw him take up a coaching role, and he soon fell in love with this side of the game. He has worked with and studied alongside some of the best coaches in England and abroad. Jed is also an author and has published many things, some of which can be found on the EPL Index and his own site

One of his current projects is the ‘Tika-Taka Handbook’ where he has researched clubs and interviewed coaches. He aims to provide managers and coaches with a source for tactical plans, training and coaching. As yet, there is no release date for this publication, as he is waiting for clubs to sort out legal issues associated with such a book to allow the use of certain quotes, all which takes time to resolve.

Cleon Hobson: You certainly seem to be busy and have a lot of other interests too. You are a great author and have had quite a lot of stuff published. I think you have a very unique writing style and seem to talk about the shape and the positional play of the players and translate that greatly in the things I have read so far. Does this stem from you being a footballer yourself or is that the coach in you and the things you seem to focus on when coaching?

Jed Davies: Much of my way of thinking is partially as a result of being a player. As a player I considered myself as a ‘playmaking centre back’, which as you can imagine, simply doesn’t exist in English football in reality (away from the elite environments). So in truth, I spent much of my time in a state of struggle, never being happy with playing central defence, I moved forward into central midfield, right-wing and then ended back in defence in my late teens, not because of my inability to play on the right or in central midfield, but simply because of a lack of central defensive cover. It was very much a case of ‘He has played central defence before, let’s put him back there’.

Like many ex-players out there, I have always been mindful to learn from my own experiences in terms of what was ‘bad practice’. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is a great example of someone who has taken this line of thought into his decision making post-playing in his role at Bayern Munich. As a player, he was a very physical striker who found success with his physical attributes – a never say die attitude – who post-playing has had a very close relationship with the technical side of the game.

Rummenigge employed Coerver coaches to come into Bayern and has even more recently turned to Pep Guardiola as a coach who can implement a very technical way of playing. It’s almost as if Rummenigge has identified where his own playing career could have benefitted and taken action to make sure that no players coming through now suffer in the ways he will say he did.

For me, I have learnt most by speaking with coaches, many of whom have also gone through similar struggles. Tim Lees who coaches at Wigan’s academy (and finished second in the 2004 World Nike Freestyle Competition with over 54,000 votes, losing out to the Brazilian champion from Rio de Janeiro), has a passion similar to mine in striving towards implementing a very technical game with his youth players. Chris Davies, who is at Liverpool, has a different story, but has clearly bought into Brendan Rodgers’ way of thinking.

In truth, the biggest influence on my way of thinking (aside from Cruyff’s tactical methods) has been the solutions of Roberto Martinez. He speaks of achieving overloads through the system but more than that, he identifies that developing one vs. one specialists and unique players (no two players to be the same).These are all facets of football development that I can really identify with.

Martinez will argue that 3-5-2 (in possession) is the most appropriate solution for British football because we are blessed with central defenders, we are blessed with out and out wingers (or at least we were) and we grow up as young players playing two up front; we therefore shouldn’t feel that 3-5-2 is beyond us and too complex.

Instead we should see that this formation is one that would allow us to play through the thirds with the resources we possess. In a 4-3-2-1 or any other variation, we are then looking towards possessing players who can play under pressure, players who can receive the ball when marked, which is something we simply aren’t producing at the moment,- whereas Spain, Germany and Brazil are.

Unfortunately, most are likely to turn towards the world’s best performing teams and say ‘Hey, let’s copy them’. The FA however, has made significant changes in recent years under Nick Levett, and change is certainly on its way, despite the masses of negativity towards coaching in this country.

CH: You believe football is not about possession or pressing alone, but about using the processes of football as tools to control the game and your opponent, both with and without the ball. How hard is it to translate this to the players?

JD: Simply put, I feel that structure is good for young players.  How many of you often felt lost in what you should be doing at a particular point of the game or not understood why other players are blaming you for a mistake you haven’t realised you’ve made?

However you decide to transfer these ideas (structuring play), you always have to be mindful that it is age appropriate and that you aren’t taking the fun out of the game.

I was told recently by a Premier League coach about a video analysis session with a Premier League U21 side where only FIVE players turned up! Unprofessional players? No, this was a case of coaches boring players to death. They’d turn up and have to sit through three hours of analysis, much of which was specific and offered information that really wasn’t useful in terms of walking out of that room having learnt something.

Instead, these analysis videos should be kept very short and sweet, picking on one or two particular themes,  looking to get messages across this way  rather than analysing the whole game! Themes could include overloading in central areas (support in behind, the side and in front), team movement etc. These should be done with wide lens cameras sometimes and offer something that players couldn’t get from a regular view of football.

I will break things down really simply. For example, when in possession we will play 3-5-2 (with wingers pushing up against their full backs) and then out of possession we will play 5-3-2. Then I will introduce transition rules that will look to aid these changes – which at first, may not be the long term goal ‘rules’ in terms of what we will want to achieve.

I know that at a particular Premier League club, the manager demands younger age groups must see fifty passes from the defensive third to the middle third, which in an 80 minute game is a lot of one-twos when you think about it! However, this schedule isn’t designed to produce the same end result in games, instead it is something that will look to help the team understand how the processes work and how the picture of the game should begin to look.

Players will then be taught how to delay, how to press etc. It’ll probably take most of the season to get this right with young players before you get games that really do look how the theory suggests.

CH: Many newbies to both FM and football struggle to diagnose the problems their team are suffering. What do you think the main things to look for are in a match?

JD: I actually played FM or CM religiously growing up and my biggest complaint has been the omission of what we have just been speaking about.

A lot of football fans don’t split the game up into these four moments (possession, out of possession, attacking transition, defensive transition) and in reality that is how football is split up at the top of the game (some will split the game up further still into the deep defensive block, a medium block; playing out from the back and then playing in the attacking third) and each moment requires a different ‘formation’ or attitude from the players.

FM currently offers you the opportunity to put your players into formation, one formation, and then allows you to draw on arrows of movement etc. This, for me, is still ignorant of the depth of the four moments in the game. There is so much more to that than the game allows. The latest version of FM however, I’m told takes many months before players get into the flow of complex systems, which at the elite levels is realistic if the system truly is complex.

You need to understand that the best team is very rarely made up of the best players and this is something a lot of true FM players will know, what they may not know is which attributes will lend themselves towards playing a particular style of football or which attributes benefit another player etc.

In a match you should really be looking to see if your game plan is happening. If you have a central defender who doesn’t play the ball through the middle third or a midfielder who keeps shooting from range,then you may not have players that allow conducive progress towards a possession team that will play through the third.

CH: Is FM trusted as a reliable representation of football in the coaching community?

JD: I’d be surprised if a coach turns around and says he has never played it. But there needs to be further emphasis on the training methods, the importance of the coaches you hire and the four moments of the game for me to look at the game as a realistic representation of the game itself from a coaching perspective. From a fans perspective, the game is heading towards perfection, which I guess is the real market for FM.

The scouting system on FM is however, used every now and again for initial research at the top of the game believe it or not. Jose Mourinho openly admitted this, and I know AVB played the game religiously growing up.

However, we have to remember that many of the ‘wonderkids’ on the game will already be known by the biggest clubs in reality. Smaller clubs who cannot afford full time international scouts however, may turn to the game’s database every now and again as INITIAL research. Then they’ll do various bits of desk based research and make a few telephone calls before following up the scouting processes.

CH: Another tool we have at our disposal is the ability to get a coach to teach a player a preferred move. This can range from running with the ball down the flank to diving into tackles. Are player traits something that is taught by coaches if you think the player is capable of doing something regularly?

JD: Coerver coaching is a brilliant example where this is done at the elite end of the game. Coerver coaching teaches 47 different manoeuvres that allow for players to beat their man.

I believe that most players rely on two or three successful moves.  With Zidane as an  example; how often did we see the roulette?! Or Iniesta with La Croquette? Ronaldo with the cut back?

So in reality, players will identify what works for them and go with it themselves. I wouldn’t tell a late teenager or adult they have to practice this skill or that skill, but I may offer them the variety of 47 skills and then they would select what they identified with the most.

CH: Would you ever do the opposite, and ask a player to stop showing a trait? Or do you accept its part of his game and who he is?

JD: In youth football you have to be careful with this because it may not be working for them right now, but two years down the line they may have mastered the skill or ability to beat their man. We need to stop viewing youth football matches as ‘must win matches’ instead, players are allowed to make these mistakes and learn how to execute particular skills in a match environment.

Of course if the game is breaking down all the time because you have a player who is looking to dribble with the ball at every occasion, you may need to step in and look to offer a guided discovery approach so the players understand when, how and why to do certain actions. I prefer thoughtful learners to players who are brilliant at one aspect of their game and those who will consistently only do what they are good at.

At the professional end of the game this may be different. But we cannot pigeon hole or allow for players to pigeon hole themselves too much at young ages. I am mindful of having role models or particular attributes in demand for particular positions because if we had this, Barcelona would have looked at Laudrup in the 1990’s (widely considered one of the games’ greatest players at the time) and have attempted to model youth players on this. If they’d have done this, we wouldn’t have the same Messi we see today. So for these purposes, Barcelona will not be using Xavi and Iniesta as the end result in terms of modelling young players on their attributes. Players are unique and we should look to be promoting diversity and unpredictability, not manufacturing the next X or Y.

If you’d like to find out more about Jed, then be sure to check out his website or follow him on twitter @TPiMBW

4 thoughts on “Blurred Lines – The Coaches View”

  1. Read the interview in your magazine, why did you have to close it down? I thought it was very good and enjoyed reading every volume

  2. Far too time consuming and we’ve all kind of gone our separate ways now naturally due to real life. It used to take us around 2 months just to get 1 edition together 🙁

  3. Yeah I figured putting one together was very time consuming, taking into account the fact that you guys live in different countries and this was just a hobby or so. Still, I liked it a lot, if you ever feel like you have the time for it I’m sure it would have the same success. You don’t really see this kind of magazines around

  4. I’m really sad to hear you’re finished with the ccc mag. I do really hope you continue your interview series, for me it was the first thing i read.

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