The Anatomy of the Street Baller

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“You are about to witness the strength of Street Knowledge”

Creative, brave, exciting, game-changing.

The street footballer is one of a kind. The sort of player that defeats the status quo of footballing talent. The sort of player we all marvel over. The sort of player to think outside the box. The sort of player who constantly gets us off our seats. The sort of player that is not for imitation.

Unstructured football is not a new phenomenon. For many players, especially those from working class backgrounds, playing on the street, in the playground or on the beach was common practice. The standard of youth coaching in many decades back was at best, mediocre to above average. Today, this has improve but players in many cultures are still embracing the game within the concrete jungles of a street cage in an Lyon estate or the floodlight empty car park in Amsterdam.

“So I used to go and play with them [older players]. That made me strong, playing against big men. These games were in the street, with the street lights for goal posts. And the games were always like my street against the guys from the next street. With those games, the competition between the streets was fierce – but really fun.”

“I think that’s where I started to learn everything about football. You have to be good to play in those games.”

“Sometimes I was playing in the street until midnight. Seriously, my dad was really scared when I did that. But he knew what I was doing. We would play until it got dark, even play in the dark, because we loved football so much.” – Moussa Dembele, Lyon & France U21 Striker

Playing on the streets means you’re probably not being taught explicitly by a coach as the ball rolls. But the streets game itself becomes the teacher. How? Lets contextualize this into more detail:

  • In a ball cage or a narrow space, young players are playing in tight areas so implicitly they learn to be comfortable on the ball, using different parts of the foot and being unorthodox to develop mastery, despite very limited time and/or space. Nobody wanted to be the bad player to go in goal, so the incentive to make themselves skillful was immense. No skill and you will never see the ball, .
  • No one wore bibs yet all the players, therefore you have to know who is on your team. This factor helps players improve their perception skills of the game in front of them, being able to make quick decisions on the ball and cues of the game through non-verbal communication of teammates and opposition.
  • Playing in the school playground area means that you’ll probably encounter multiple other games going on from other kids. Some more statics and others involving a lot of running. Nobody wanted to bump into another person not involved in the match therefore awareness was forced to be developed.
  • The contact hours with the ball are endless. On a weekday players will probably fit a small game before morning line-up at school, then you had recess/playtime midday, then after school you’d either go to your local club to practice with your teammates and afterwards or if kids didn’t have training, they will play more outside their home until it was dinner time or it got dark. A constant cycle for multiple days a week. Nobody was standing in long lines.
  • The games were played on concrete, asphalt or cobblestone pitches. Trip and you’d feel it hard! Developing balance on the ball and off the ball is paramount.
  • Different games to develop different things. Wallball/Rebound = developing first touch and movement, Wembley/World Cup = Playing through tight defence through combination play or dribbling, Headers and Volleys = …you get the point!
  • Competitiveness and bravery. Normally you’ll see multi-age ranges playing. Nobody wants to humiliate themselves in front of the older guys, but rather earn their respect. Also the games were highly-competitive. Losing was not an option and bragging rights was the best reward available.

All of the above make up what you’d call Constraints Based Learning. This is basically the manipulation of certain constraints, different information is presented to the learner. In turn, the learner is then tasked to find their own solutions to the problems faced in order to meet a goal. The constraints that can be manipulated can be narrowed down into three categories:

  • Environment (Surface, Weather etc.)
  • Individual (Height, weight, speed, experience, confidence etc.)
  • Task (Size of field, rules, equipment, number of players, duration, zones, minimum/maximum of ball touches etc)

When academies acquire these breed of players, the often bring a spark that is unique to the team setup. That being said, the potential lack of organised football means street players might end-up finding themselves in a transition period. Players an easily develop bad habits in technique due to the lack or imbalance of external coaching. Tactics and positions are not really a thing either as anyone plays anywhere. This can be developed with good coaching, while the collection of perceptual, decisional, tactical and motor skills cannot be compensated for if a player has not attained them by eight to twelve years old.

As society has changed with the rise of technology and the outdoors being less safe of an environment in some communities than yesteryear, players don’t play much as before on the street compared to previous generations. Therefore teams and academies now look to bring the street to the players. Man United are a prime example of this action, as explained by ex-youth coach, Paul McGuinness (via Training Ground Guru):

“He’d play with Lingard, Pogba, Ravel Morrison [all aged 17 then]. It was 13-a-side and looked like a scramble, but that’s what we wanted, so you had to have the quick-witted skills, the techniques, the timings, to survive.”

“You had the future world’s most expensive footballer, just three years from winning Serie A, playing with you when you were 12, doing tricks, flicking it over heads, one-twos, drag-backs, the things he does now. Marcus was a privileged spectator, right next to Pogba on the pitch, learning by osmosis.”

“We did a game on a basketball court in Carrington,” “Wednesday afternoon, the boys are tired. OK, let’s play for fun. And somebody would start it off, he’d do a trick, then someone else, and then it becomes a competition.”

“Suddenly it’s Pogba v Ravel. Januzaj, Lingard, and a game that started at walking pace is fast and competitive. They were magical sessions.”

“And before, that, from the ages of nine to 11, “four v four, sometimes without a goalkeeper”.

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Photo Credit: Hélène Hadjiyianni

If we cross over to England, this style of player is being embraced more and more. London brings out a sea of mentally strong players who can bamboozle through defenders like Jadon Sancho, Wilfred Zaha or Callum Hudson-Odoi who honed their style and identity as a player in the street/estate environment while playing organizes grassroots football before joining the big academies.

The notorious and famous Banlieues (Suburbs in English) within French cities in and out of Paris such as Sarcelles, Bondy and Corbeil-Essonnesis are just one the many hotbeds of natural talent. Les Banlieues comes with its problems such as high unemployment rates, low income and crime along with being noted for it’s high number of families from immigrant background, mainly North, West and Central African. The common denominator here though is the power of football, with young, will-powered kids using it as a tool to bring potential betterment into themselves and the loved ones around them. Many cities such as Rosario, Amsterdam, Rio, London, Brussels, Lagos and so forth all have similar situations with the game. As a nation however, France is the poster boy of all of this, with some of the current generations most electric players such as Ousmane Dembele, Riyad Mahrez, Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema, Zinedine Zidane and many, many more developed within this gritty but vibrant environment which has given the nation two World Cups.

Some nations, struggle to develop this style of player. This can boil down to many factors. In the US for example, the game is a more middle-class sport compared to Basketball, making it less accessible to play unless you can afford to join a sporting club. In India, China and the US, other sports are ahead of football in terms of public interest, therefore the external motivation of football integrated into everyday culture through playing and/or watching it will be lacking compared to in Morocco or Colombia. In Qatar, the population is smaller than most nations around the world meaning a smaller talent pool to find players, but state-backed funding is seeing the 2022 World Cup hosts build their way into producing exciting talent, as shown in their recent Asian Cup triumph. Even Oliver Bierhoff stated that the coaching system in Germany has become too rigid and formalized with players needing more space for creativity and enjoyment.

It is intrinsic motivation that drives all this. Nobody is forcing these players to go outside and play. For some its for the love of the game, others it might be just a hustle to make money.  Even professional players want a sense of freedom and enjoyment in their football (Look at Man United currently for any further proof.) Managers can find it hard to deal with this style of player. One who has been brought up to play on their own impulse and thinking. The usual stereotype is that they’re indiscipline and don’t know how to be a team player. Whether this is true or not is up to the reader, but I think many can agree on this. That they’re fearless and thrive off confidence, and they’re also misunderstood, just like most artists who don’t do the ordinary. Many managers are aware of how unique the Street Footballer really can be and are willing to even build their whole team strategy around their strengths. These players have most likely dealt with societal pressures that maybe other social demographics cannot relate to growing up too such as poverty and/or institutional discrimination. Therefore managers with great man-management skills are able to get the best out of their football because they are footpaths to their own careers rather than road-blocks.

These misunderstood geniuses will probably stay just that for many years. Misunderstood. But as the Beautiful Game progresses, we must protect and celebrate the joy that the Street Footballer has given to us as fans and watchers.

 

The Streets never lie.

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Wolves’ tactical ascension under Nuno

“A hungry wolf is stronger than a satisfied dog.” ~ Ukrainian Proverb

(It’s been almost a year since I’ve really written anything on here. Arguing on the internet with Swimming Hippos and work has kept me occupied recently. Apologies.)

Background

26 games, 19 wins, 50 goals scored, 20 conceded, 61 points. This is the current fate of Wolverhampton Wanderers as of January 3rd, 2018 within the 17-18 Sky Bet Championship sitting in 1st place on the table, 12 points ahead of closest rivals Derby County. The masterminds behind this? Well where do I begin?

First we have Fosun International. A Chinese conglomerate company owned by Guo Guangchang with a net worth of £4.8 billion who bought the West Midlands club in July 2016. Fosun made a promise to invest between £20 million and £30 million over the next two years to get the club promoted into the Premier League as soon as possible.

Money is one thing but not everything. Proof of this can be seen with Fosun overseeing two managers during the 16-17 season in Walter Zenga & Paul Lambert, resulting in a lowly 15th place finish. But having the right contacts in football also counts for something. Step forward Jorge Mendes. The super-agent of the sport who boasts the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho & James Rodriguez as some of his clients has acted as an advisor to Wolves owners on player transfers.

He has been able to bring in a handful of names this season to the club through his own networks. Diogo Jota, Roderick Miranda & former FC Porto skipper Ruben Neves are all represented by Mendes’ Gestifute agency. Other signings such as Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa, although not represented by Mendes himself, came from clubs that Mendes has a background influence in with Monaco & Benfica respectively.

The biggest Mendes signing this season undeniably however has been Nuno Espirito Santo, current manager of Wolves. Another Mendes client, his first ever to be exact back in 1996 during his playing days as a goalkeeper for Vitória Guimarães all the way till present day.

Common XI & Shape

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Diagonal’s from the 1st third

Nuno set on employing a 3-4-3 shape before the season began with the player roles being very clear to see. With the squad boasting a good balance of ball-playing defenders such as Boly, Coady & Miranda along with more traditional style defenders such as Batth & Bennett, whom which are usually rotated, although Bennett being the slightly more technically gifted between the two.

The build-up will normally see the back three circulating the ball horizontally in order to open gaps in the opponents shape. Coady, naturally a defensive-midfielder, comfortably possesses the most range and quality in his passing within the back three, although Boly also shows good composure on the ball from left centre-back considering his towering size. The outside backs position with enough width to open out the pitch during the build-up phase.

Playing as a sweeper, Coady’s biggest strong-point in possession has been his ability to switch play diagonally to the flanks. Nuno has looked to exploit this using a common mechanism of switches of play from overloaded to under-loaded spaces with Coady looking to pull the trigger for diagonal passes to the ball-far wingback. It also must be noted that the weight of Coady’s diagonal passing tends to be correct, not playing the kind of cross-field pass that floats and potentially buys the opposition more time to shift their block. Once either wingback receives from the defenders, a run into depth will be commonly made by the nearest winger as opposed to receiving to feet with their back to goal. However should a winger receive, then an overlapping or underlapping run from the near wingback will be commonly made. Matt Doherty, not much of a dribbler, has shown his quality in making these runs into depth with great timing & intelligence in having a purpose with every run. Barry Douglas on the left side is the more astute wingback with the ball at his feet which enables him to show more comfort in the buildup phase.

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Good example of Coady switching play to Doherty following Wolves shifting the ball side-to-side in order to open up more space.

The outside backs ensure for more stable circulation of the ball during the build up with their presence in the half-spaces. Along with this, it’s rare to see the back three being overloaded by opposition teams. With this in mind, Wolves can take the risk of progressing play more directly with the use of their outside backs. Boly and Miranda have both show that they are adept in being able to drive forwards with the ball in order create an overload within the central spaces of the field. Boly, being the more regular player of the two, has commonly shown his quality in playing line-breaking passes into Jota or Neves. Jota tends to anticipate this very well and his simple movement of dropping slightly deep from the channels creates a lot of possibilities for Boly such as a third man run or an opposite movement from Jota and Douglas.

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A connected pivot

Nuno wants his team to have a vertical mindset with the ball once it gets into the mid-third, but playing out from the back when play starts from Ruddy is rarely compromised unless there is an opportunity to counter into open space. Wolves are willing to circulate the ball to play into spaces in the centre also. Saiss is positioned slightly deeper in the build up out of him and Neves. The Moroccan international was signed last season by Walter Zenga from Angers in Ligue 1, but saw his involvement limited throughout. Capable of playing in defence also, Nuno this season has integrated him into the XI in a midfield pivot to great success. Ruben Neves, probably the biggest signing in the clubs history comes with a impressive CV at the age of 20. From FC Porto’s famed academy, the midfielder has already written his name in the record books of the Portuguese giants. The youngest league goalscorer in the clubs history, youngest player to feature in the Champions League and the youngest player to wear the captains band. All accomplished all before reaching 20 years old.

As a pivot, these two players have shown great telepathy together so far. They both play relatively close to each other and act as outlets to connect from their respective halfspaces into the players on the flanks. Both pairing show great quality in hitting diagonal passes to switch play like Coady does which is heavily aided by Nuno’s deploying of an “opposite footed pivot” with Saiss (a left footer) on the right and Neves (a right footer) on the left. With Nuno wanting to take advantage of the natural passing triangles and diamonds that a 3-4-3 offers in it’s shape, the desired effect of this is deliberate with a number of positives. Firstly is being able to play more vertically with the wingbacks into space. Neves for example will find it more easier to receive in the left halfspace to then play a outside curled pass around the opposition right back for Douglas or Jota to latch onto using his right foot. If he were to achieve such on the right-side of midfield onto Costa/Cavaleiro or Doherty, he’d need to either use his weaker foot, or attempt to use the outside of his right foot to bend it around the left-back in this case, which is slightly more difficult to pull off.

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Wolves create  diamond structures with their 3-4-3 shape

If a pass directed towards the left went to Neves operating on the left-side of the pivot, the ball will arrive quicker to his stronger right foot. This instantly allows him to gain control of the ball or play a one touch out wide.

Now if Saiss was in Neves shoes here, he’d receive with stronger left foot. This would offer a few issues:

  1. A horizontal pass always has risk as you are much more open along with more exposed in case you lose the ball. Therefore the distance and time for Saiss to receive this pass with his left will be greater than Neves in this instance therefore adding more risk.
  2. If Saiss wanted to play a diagonal pass towards the right flank of the pitch using his left foot in the left halfspace, the distance to play it would be greater giving the opposition a few milliseconds extra to shift towards the ball while it’s in midair.
  3. Saiss receiving with his left foot would find himself being an easier target for opposition to press as the ball would be nearer to the sideline.

All of this would occur in the vice versa also.

 

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The pairing also offer a heavy element of stability during possession. With a high level of positional intelligence and discipline, both players act as reliable routes to connect play with the wide players. As mentioned above, the natural shape is a huge aid however it is these basic but well timed movements from players that makes these connections more accessible to the wide players.

Creative Freedom of the Front Three

With the help of Jorge Mendes, Wolves have been able to pick up talent that many would deem too good for such a level as the Championship. This is most noticeably seen in the attacking positions, with the team being able to boast talents that have performed in stronger leagues or teams in Portugal, Spain & France. Wolves are blessed with a packet of players who are diverse and flexible within their skill-sets, enabling more capabilities for the collective output.

Leo Bonatini, Diogo Jota, Ivan Cavaleiro, Bright Enobakhare and Helder Costa make up the attacking options of the squad. Jota has featured in every match of the season so far, with the young Nigerian Enobakhre being his back-up option. On the right-flank, you have Helder Costa & last seasons Player of the Year, Ivan Cavaleiro. These two have been fairly rotated so far, although Costa has been able to slight gain an edge for starts over Ivan in recent games. That leaves Bonatini as the only central striker.

Bonatini plays a big involvement in the build-up phase for Wolves. His trait to drop deep in the middle in order to receive the ball at his feet while creating situations to overload the midfield in a 3v2 or 3v3 situation. This enables runs to be made ahead of Leo with more ease due to the space vacated by him. If his marker follows then that would leave a gap in the middle. If he receives unmarked in space, he can play on the half-turn then drive into the space. The latter does tend to happen commonly, creating situations where the front free are able to showcase their technical quality with a direct mindset.

Jota is blessed with great ability under pressure and works well in small pockets of space. Being one of the prime creators for the team, Jota looks to use this by working off of Bonatini’s movement in order to receive closer to him compared to Cavaleiro or Costa on the opposite flank. This creates space for Douglas to make runs and for Neves to have more space to drive into. With similarities in his play to Juventus’ Pablo Dybala, the Portuguese youngster is effectively playing a second-striker role from wide based off his common movements and being able to make runs into the channels, however possesses the ability to beat fullbacks 1v1 from the flank also. Most importantly, he can score goals too.

From the right, Cavaleiro operates as the most advanced player in his positioning on the right. He makes himself available as an outlet for players to hit direct balls behind the opposition defense, along with his wider positioning meaning that Doherty is able to make more underlapping runs with more comfort when appropriate, while Cavaleiro will make more diagonal runs.

Off the Ball

In their defensive phase, Wolves’ operate in a 5-2-3/5-2-2-1 shape. Doherty & Douglas drop deeper as full backs, while the wingers will sit more inside rather than in the flanks. This gives Wolves a good balance against the ball, being able to force opponents to play around their block rather than through it due to the high presence of players in the centre. Should the ball be played wide, then the ball near winger will look to press backwards, towards their own goal. Basically this is used against opponent’s blind side, being able to cut off immediate back pass options while having to deal with whats in ahead of your sight. Wolves use this very well to force the play from wide, back into the middle in hope of regaining the ball and starting counters. This pressing movement creates a situational 5-3-1-1 when the ball is wide, creating good coverage around the ball and width away from it along with showing the needed intensity in tracking movement to maintain access. The biggest advantage with Wolves utilizing a back five is the increased flexibility. A fullback can press high without there being as much risk as there would be four defenders at the back.

 

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The Attacking Transitions

While Wolves is not what I would call the dedicated counter-attacking side, the team have shown that this is one of their strongest points. A team blessed with a mix of capable passers, strong crosses, speed and attacking quality, it makes sense to use these attributes to devastating use. Wolves will often play quick pass moves with good distances and movement without giving the opponents the time to regain their shape. Bonatini is often is the focal point of counter attacks. He has the ability to drag defenders out of position for his teammates along with having the hold up play to await incoming support. Neves and Saiss are not overly adventurous during these moments, but can quickly anticipate the game to use their passes to start counters with the pace of technical quality and space awareness of the attack.

Jota stands out most like a sore thumb during transitions. His diverse skill-set means he can carry the ball at length and space, and can the type of passes that can take opponents out of play. It’s not uncommon for him (similar to Bonatini) to use the opposition pressing as a way to progress. But Jota does this more with facing forwards than towards his own goal, delaying the pass for split second or two in order to attract the opponent towards the ball just as a teammate makes a run into depth.

Costa/Cavaleiro and the wingback are also quality outlets. The latter duo of Doherty and Douglas are both adept in making wide runs that can spread out the opposition regardless of if they receive the ball or not in the phase of play.

Conclusion

While writing this, Wolves had already signed young striker Rafa Mir from Valencia under noses of much bigger clubs such as Real Madrid & Tottenham. There are also whispers about a big money bid for recent AC Milan signing Andre Silva in hope of securing him in the Gold and Black jersey. I would not be shocked if Nuno looks for another defender to rival with Coady for the central defender spot.

It’s safe to say that any pre-season doubts about this Wolves side have been swept under the carpet thus far. Showing an aura of quality that has eluded even Premier League teams currently, many critics were quick to say that Nuno will not be able to handle the rigors of Championship football or that the Portuguese imports will lack passion for the club. Showing their prowess in defense and attack along with being able to tear teams apart or have the mental capacity to grind out the closer game, there is much to be optimistic about at the Molineux. With already one foot into the Premier League, reaching the promised land will only draw more eyes towards the club and with the trio of Fosun, Mendes and Nuno at the top of the food-chain, Wolved are a club that are far from ready to stay relaxed in their chase for European football in the future.

 

 

The Black Football Managers Debate

Chelsea legend Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, hired by QPR after his exploits with Burton Albion, was sacked after a long run of poor results with the R’s. Photo credit: backpageimages.com

I’m not American, but it is Black History month in America currently. I watched Hidden Figures this week & it was really cool to see a movie about three strong black women breaking racial & gender stereotypes to break into a profession dominated by a certain demographic. As I finished watching the film & headed back outside to my Uber Driver, I realised that like in Hollywood & with black actors/actresses, Football in Europe is pretty bleak in terms of finding black football managers. It was comparison that just popped into my head out of the blue. But as I got home, I headed to my laptop & began to write this editorial. A quick Google search & I find out that Antonine Komboure of EA Guingamp (who play in Ligue 1) remains the only black football manager in Europe’s top five leagues.

Closer to my birth nation, England, we have our fair of homegrown black football football managers. Chris Powell, Chris Haughton, Chris Ramsey (damn, that’s a lot of Chris’), John Barnes & a few others in lower tiers. There are also foreign-born ones that have dipped their toes into English football overtime, such as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink & Jean Tigana. As of now, only Chris Haughton is currently employed within this short list, by Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion. 

Genreally, it’s clear to see that the number of black football managers within England aren’t that many. And in the rare occasion that they do get jobs, they tend not to last too long & end up getting sacked. But that’s not so much a problem to me, as I always say that getting sacked is a part of football management. It can happen to anyone & it doesn’t always highlight the true quality of a football manager.

The bit that intrigues me is that these black managers struggle to get jobs after they get sacked. Why could that be? Well it could be many reasons potentially. 

Maybe as the black manager pool is so small compared to their white counterparts, logical mathematics will have the probability of black managers getting a job within one of the 92 teams in England’s top 4 league tiers as pretty small. 

Some will argue that it’s racism. Now let’s not sugarcoat anything. Racism in English football is pretty rife. Whether it be in a subtle form of microaggressions & stereotypes or the overt manner of a yob verbally racially abusing a player. Maybe a club board wouldn’t want to hire a manager purely because they are black. Now that is something that I can’t give an opinion on without any proof. Football is not a very sentimental environment for people to be saying “I don’t want X or Y managing this club because he is black”.  Never say never, but that a senario that is hard to imagine. However as football in England is run mainly by white, old men, this is normally the seen as the standard & face of who will be calling the shots off the pitch. Especially in managerial positions. 

The main shtick that seems to be common amongst a majority of fans is that black managers do not get jobs because they are not good to. That could be very well true. However saying it in such a manner would imply that black managers are not that good purely because they are black, & not because they aren’t good managers. There is a pretty racist tone with that sort of statement. Especially as there are more white managers that get sacked than black ones (obviously because the white manager pool is bigger), but still are more likely to find another job. These white managers may be indeed bad, but we don’t tend to say white managers got sacked because they are all bad, because thay is not true. As far as black managers go, this sort of profiling means that there is an immediate stigma that they are bad managers because the others within their pool are also pretty bad themselves, which in itself limits the chances of other potenial black managers trying to break into the scene. Does that said stigma play a factor as to why many are unable to get managerial jobs in England? Very well could be the case. 

So how can we give more black managers a better chance of getting a job?

Well some will say the Rooney Rule within English Football is one way. For those that don’t know what that is, the Rooney Rule is named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner, Dan Rooney, to ensure that at least one manager from an ethnic minority background is interviewed in the NFL if there is a head coaching vacancy within a team. 

That to me is a bad idea to implement such a rule in English Football. A few reasons being that for a start, the black managerial pool is pretty small in Europe & England. So the same common names will most likely be going for interview after interview as a mere formality more than anything, especially given the rate more & more managers are getting sacked from football clubs these days. 

Another reason is that most teams already have an idea of who they want to approach & potentially hire after getting rid of their pervious manager. One more reason which is more a personal opinion of mine, is that forcing teams to talk to a manager simply because they are black sounds very patronising both to the team & to the person being interviewed themselves. Ultimately it is quality & the clubs own needs that should determine who they choose to hire more than anything. 

So if the current pool of black managers is small & lacking quality within them. How could we solve that issue?

My personal view is that to improve the number of coaches coming in from black (as well as other ethnic minorities) within England is to make FA courses much more accessible to people populated in these communities. 

As we all know, football in England tends to be every eliteist from a coaching point of view. Whether that eliteism stands from a past credential, racial, social or gender manner. Many of us also know that as well as being eliteist, coaching in England can be a quite pricey investment in terms of getting badges or participating in coaching awards. 

We can’t say black managers are all bad if we haven’t even given a chance for those black people that want to get into football coaching. But for the potenial of this to come to fruition, a few things would have to be dropped. Stereotypes is one. Eliteism is another. 

The FA have already pledged a five-year plan worth £1.4m for BAME (Black & Minority Ethnic) coaching bursaries in 2015. A step in the right direction. 

I think there is certainly potenial to change the perception of black football coaches in the future as well as them getting more opportunities at a high level. I can certainly back claim up myself from what I’ve seen with my own eyes as well as on social media. 

Let’s hope this is FA project ends up being one of the more successful ones as it would be a huge benefit to many people, especially English football as a whole. 

Conclusion

This piece is was not written to be a woe-is-me sob story on why black coaches are underachieving or why there are so few of them. Simply, I see something that is lacking but has potential, & I am curious as to ways to how we can find solutions instead of moaning about it. I coach football myself, I’m pretty young, but well qualified. I’m also black, so for me not being able to see many role models of my same race at the highest level of the profession that I work in will naturally be concerning for me. I’m sure many other coaches or fans of football, of any race, will share the same concern as well. 

We cannot see into the future, but we can impact it. But that all starts from bottom-upwards…

Tactical Analysis: UD Las Palmas

Promoted to the La Liga in the summer of 2015 after defeating Real Zaragoza on away goals, Las Palmas were probably in the discussion of getting relegated straight back to the Liga Adelante within one season. And those partaking in such discussions would have found themselves probably somewhat prematurely proven back in October 2015. After an embarrassing 0-4 loss at home to relegation rivals Getafe & sitting in 19th place in the league, Los Amarillos (The Yellows in Spanish) looked to open a new chapter within their club’s history, sacking their manager Paco Herrera & hiring Quique Setién from Liga Adelante side CD Lugo. With this hire, the Gran Canaria based side found themselves playing fluid & controlled football with limited resources to finish the 2015-16 La Liga season comfortably away from relegation in 11th place. The 2016 off-season saw Las Palmas make some shrewd deal during the summer transfer window, signing six players for a combined total of €2.40m.

Into the 2016-17 season & Las Palmas sit in 8th place with 24 points in 17 games, with Quique Setién’s positional play game-model catching the attention of many La Liga watchers for being one of the most exciting within the league.

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Build up schemes from the GK

Las Palmas’ fearlessness in the build up phase has been an key part in their current success. Staggered out in a 3-3-4 across the width and the depth of the field to offer the player on the ball options to play the ball through the thirds of the pitch. This width & depth means that opposition find themselves covering more ground in their high-press to gain access toward’s Las Palmas’ build up. Roque Mesa will normally look to drop deep in this phase as the central-defenders spread wider within the half-space near Varas’ penalty box, creating what is known in Spanish-speaking nations as Salida Lavolpiana (named after current Club America manager, Ricardo La Volpe). Meanwhile the full backs will push higher, normally hogging the sidelines in-line with the more advanced positioned Vicente Gomez. The two wingers will sit more narrow higher up the field with Jonathan Viera & (normally) Marko Livaja forming a dynamic chain of four in the last attacking line.

The three in the first line of play offer short passing options for Varas by creating a diamond four with the goalkeeper creating an overload in this phase. The makeshift back three will normally be Varas’ primary target to progress play, especially if the opposition decide not to high press in a aggressive man-orientated fashion. Should the contrary happen however, then Varas will look to progress with chipped passes towards the uber-wide fullbacks, Michel & Dani Castellano.

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3rd man runs & using the ball as a tool to progress

Roque Mesa, Mauricio Lemos & Pedro Bigas tend to also show very smooth synergy between themselves & know where & when to move in order to manipulate an opponents’ high-press & open up passing lanes to two central players in Gomez & Viera (with the latter dropping deeper at times to create a chain of four in the second line of play) sitting between the oppositions lines of pressure. This mechanism of play is normally instigated by Mesa, with Gomez & Viera using their movements to drag opponents & create space while also providing Mesa on the ball.

The outer central-defenders play key roles themselves in this phase especially if Mesa is being marked. Lemos has been a standout player within these moments, normally looking to play his well-weighted vertical pass in the right halfspace. However is routes towards the center are not accessible though an opposition high-press, then Las Palmas will look to move the ball deep within their ranks in order to provoke the other team using the ball as bait to gain access towards the middle of the pitch. This ‘bait’ is created with the use of back passes to open up teams vertically as well as side passes to open up teams horizontally. This is what Las Palmas intend to do in order to open up central routes, however should the opposition stay compact & rarely challenge their central defenders, then this is where one of Las Palmas’ trademarks come in, using wide-based combinations & third-man runs though the full-back, outside central defender & narrow wingers as an exit route from opposition pressure. With Dani Castellano’s ability to dribble & Michel’s quick turns of pace, combination play is an get-out-of-jail-free card for Las Palmas rather than aimless long passes.

It’s the ball they [the opponent] want, so you have to defy them using the ball as a carrot.”- Andre Villas Boas

Midfield & Attack dynamics via Juego de Posicion

Through a smooth & balanced build-up, progression to the mid-third becomes a lot more easier. With many managers such as Pep Guardiola, Thomas Tuchel, Maurizio Sarri advocates of this approach, Setién has also made it his duty to also follow this method.

Las Palmas use their excellent-yet-fluid zonal positioning to create many situations where the ball-holder is presented with many progressive passing options. Good vertical & horizontal occupation of the half-spaces, flanks & center enables for better connections. Being the playmaker of the pivot, Roque Mesa will step back into the midfield line with Gomez as the attacking quintet of Viera, Livaja & the two wingers sit between the opposition lines of midfield & defense.

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I am sure many readers of this piece have heard of Juego de Posicion. The main concept of JdP (Juego de Posicion’s abbreviation) is positional superiority, which is basically a team achieving to find the free-player or those that are better positioned. Las Palmas aim to achieve this superiority whenever they have the ball in many ways. In their build up it’s with the Varas, Mesa & the two outside central defenders. In the mid-third, they aim for the same. With their attackers sitting on the blindside of the opposition midfielders (with Boateng & Tana sitting narrow), this creates a dilemma for these midfielders in whether to press the man on the ball, which will mean a player is free to receive between the lines, Or to hold their position & shadow-cover the player behind them, which in turn gives the ball carrier more time on the ball without any pressure.

A very common pattern of play for Las Palmas is the use of asymmetric full-backs. Dani Castellano & Michel are the full-backs normally in this case & either one will take up a role within this asymmetry depending on the ball’s orientation. The ball-near fullback will often stay in the midfield line & look to tuck into the ball-near half space to create a makeshift midfield trio to combat any potential underload in midfield. The ball-near winger will also support the play making fluid ball-oriented movements looking to receive the ball on the half-turn in spaces within the opposition block to start attacks. If there is no underload however or the midfield is more position-orientated in their marking then the ball-near fullback will stay wider in line with the double-pivot of Mesa & Gomez. The ball-far fullback on the further flank will push higher to create a chain of five in attack. This movement is aimed to create superiority either though the full-back receiving the ball in a 1v0 or 1v1 scenario or as a decoy for the opposition full-back nearest to him does to move towards him, which then will most likely open up space depending on the numbers in defense as well as their own alongside their teammates defensive behavior/style.

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Las Palmas’ pass-map vs Real Madrid (H) for 16-17 via @11tegen11 & OPTA

With most La Liga sides playing a back four, five players in the attacking line (the attacking four + the ball-far fullback) for Las Palmas will see them create their intended positional superiority as well as now quantitative superiority (the amount & balance of players in the attacking team against the defending team in a certain area of the pitch) in the final 3rd.

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Real Madrid’s midfield look to block off central access however a vertical pass is made & which takes out all three midfielders. The passive nature of Madrid’s front three & midfield three also gives the ball-carrier much time to think & dictate. Las Palmas ended up scoring in this wave of play.

Ruthless Patience

The Gran Canaria based side are willing to circulate the ball slowly in order to retain spatial-control as well as using the ball as a tool to tire out & move opponents to open up space. As Las Palmas are normally staggered very well on the pitch in possession, switches of play from wide are much easier to achieve this controlled patience, especially as the midfield pivot of Mesa & Gomez act as chain links to provide an inwards option if the ball is played wide.

Backwards circulation is a big part of their game as well, but not for the sake of it. If Las Palmas cannot get into certain spaces that they wish to occupy & receive in due to the opposition being too compact + having many layers within their block, then playing backwards helps them to restart a new attack using different routes & angles. Playing backwards can also open up teams vertically by inviting a press which in result opens up new passing lanes.

If Los Armarillos are unable to penetrate a team with a pass, then they have players within their ranks suitable to break opposition lines with their movement & dribbling. Kevin-Prince Boateng, their marquee summer signing from AC Milan, along with Tana are two players who are able to do this. Both players are comfortable in attacking in the halfspaces & making ball-oriented movements to support attacks from a variety of areas. Backup wingers, Momo & Nabil El Zhar are also suitable to achieve these tasks.

Pressing methods against the ball

Las Palmas generally do not have one favored shape off the ball & defend in a flexible manner with a few common participles. Many games will see them defend in either a 4-1-4-1, 4-4-2, or a 4-1-3-2 depending on the opposition quality along with the behavior of the match in different scenarios. With basic man-orientations, Las Palmas look to maintain compactness blocking off central areas of the pitch & force play wide in order to make the playing field smaller for their opponents. Triggers such as a high horizontal pass, a player receiving with their back to goal or a backpass will be other triggers for Las Palmas to press more aggressively in a man-oriented fashion.

Livaja is a standout player when defending in the attacking third of the pitch. Showing good timing, intensity & technique of his pressing, his curved runs will look to force play to the left or right side of the pitch. When Las Palmas defend in a 4-4-2, Viera will push higher next to Livaja in a tight chain of two in order to block off passes to the pivot with their cover-shadow, while still looking to press when one of the aforementioned triggers arrive. The Dynamic movements of Las Palmas’ pressing means that it’s common to see many shapes within their defensive block within one game. Normally the wingers & Gomez tend to instigate these movements.

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Las Palmas go to a 4-1-4-1 shape vs Madrid, with Mesa acting as a lone pivot & the 2nd line of pressure looking to block passes in-field.
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The same match vs Real Madrid, Las Palmas defend now in a somewhat passive 4-4-2
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In a highpress, Las Palmas will have a chain of 3 in the first line of attack. This diagonal chain in this picture look to force play wide, using the touchline as a defender.

 

Conclusion

Setién has turned Las Palmas from relegation candidates to one of the most exciting & aesthetically pleasing teams in the La Liga & arguably even in European football, recording noticeable results against Spain’s big dogs . Keeping up this standard of high-quality work will come with it’s challenges, nor are they the finished product by any means. However the small side from the Canary Islands certainly have the potential to reach great heights within Spanish & European football. Unbeaten at home & linked to bigger stars as the months go by, we may start to mistake Las Palmas for the football club version for Brazil 1970’s side. Anything is possible.

*Update as of 2/3/2017*: Las Palmas have signed 2-time Champions League winning, Ex-Real Madrid & Gran Canaria local boy Jese Rodriguez from PSG on loan & Croatian & Ex-Barca wizkid Alen Halilovic from HSV in the January Transfer Market. Currently they sit in 11th place with 28 points in 20 games, still unbeaten at home so far this season.

 

 

Let’s look at ourselves before we talk about others.

In the past 12 months, the arrivals of Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola & Antonio Conte has caused a lot of hubbub within the English football world. The managerial success within their home nations, ounces of tactical brilliance (all each in their own unique ways) & enigmatic charisma both on & off the touchline makes them idolized & highly respected by many across the world.

English Attitude Towards Modern Tactics

But all three of these managers have been victims of erratic critique by the what I’d call “The Flat Earth Society”. Who are they? Well these people tend to share a lot in common, well apart from being most likely older than 40+. Most notably their trademark frowning upon these managers bringing their snazzy foreign tactical bullshit to the mystical, lavish & ENGLISH Premier League. (Emphasis on the word, “English”)  From Klopp’s Gegenpressing, to Conte’s 3-4-3, to Pep’s “playing out the back”, all these methods & more have been heavily criticized by this certain football occult.

Pep Guardiola has been the biggest victim of this. His whole outlook on football could be seen as Anti-English. Playing out the back, the W-M formation (which is funny as the W-M was created by Herbert Chapman, an Englishman), a high defensive line & high pressing. Super-duper foreign. Not to mention he has two of biggest talents in English Football who both happen to play a very progressive style, John Stones & Raheem Sterling, within his ranks. Many are very eager to see him fail. Why could that be? Maybe it will make ourselves feel better about English football being some years behind & having to catch up with the rest of Europe in terms of their modern outlook within their football methodology. Maybe we are scared of change, something different to the flat & ultra direct 4-4-2 with the big man/little man combo & fast wingers which hasn’t had much success for England’s National Team or English clubs in Europe in recent years.

But perhaps we should look closer to home rather than constantly berating successful, foreign & modern managers. Where are all the modern-thinking English managers working at the highest levels? Sam Allardyce was recently sacked from the England National Team for corruption allegations & the list of potential Englishmen who could replace him couldn’t look any bleaker. Ralf Ragnick, the German Sporting Director for Red Bull Leipzig was recently linked to the job vacancy & as usual, good old English Bulldog sensationalism was the reaction. This “nobody” who guided Schalke 04 to the Champions League semi-finals not too long ago & one of the founding fathers of Germany’s current football methodology (which won them a World Cup & gave us an all-German CL final back in 2013) is deemed unsuitable for the job. Added to this, with there being only four English managers out of twenty teams (Eddie Howe, Mike Phelan, Sean Dyche & Alan Pardew) in the English Premier League, many gasping tightly onto the English Football style of grit & passion have to ask why aren’t English coaches & managers getting jobs at the highest level or even in other top leagues abroad?

The Ex-Pro culture & shades of Nepotism

I could spend a whole week talking about the amount of times people get jobs at Championship & PL teams purely because they are Ex-Pro players, many who were probably capped England internationals at senior & youth level. I know for sure there are many scenarios where the UEFA Pro Licence they’ve obtained was most likely handed to them without doing the common sufficient hours needed to actually pass the course & gain knowledge at the same time, because they are Ex-Pros. I’ve always said coaching is a natural cycle & there’s no shortcut into becoming a very good one.

So when these English Ex-Pros get their badges, 7 out of 10 times, they have a framed piece of A4 paper awarded to them, but in reality they lack the sufficient knowledge tactically, psycho-socially & technically to actually work at the highest level. And these flaws will always show one way or another. Whether it be from punditry, how their team plays or even a piece of writing. Other nations have many coaches & managers are also Ex-Pros, even the three managers I mentioned at the beginning (Klopp, Pep & Conte) of this article all played in the top division of their respective nations. But their genuine dedication & attitude towards the game, the amount of hours they’ve put into learning the game & the general footballing culture within their nations as players as well as students of the game has created a better template for their managerial careers.

Lack of opportunities for genuine English coaches

In relation to the last paragraph, I feel that England has many incredibly talented & knowledgeable coaches. I can back up this claim myself, as I’ve seen them with my own eyes in reality & also online within social media. However it is unlikely these coaches will get such an opportunity to work at the highest levels. The cliquish FA world of top Ex-Pros is well too tight-knit to allow outsiders who don’t fit the criteria of the average English football manager.

Over in Germany back in February, relegation-threated Bundesliga side Hoffenheim recently hired Julian Nagelsmann, a 28 year old coach, (formerly a youth player who didn’t make it pro due to injuries) who recently guided their U19 side to the national championship. He ended up saving Hoffenheim from relegation last season & this season has his side currently unbeaten in fourth place after eight games, just four points behind Bayern Munich.

Could you imagine a top-flight team in England hiring a 28 year old with no prior managemenal experience? Very unlikely. Our sense of pride wouldn’t allow it. But clearly Nagelsmann’s coaching, tactical & management quality got him the job at Hoffenheim. And the recent numbers of his work (39 points in 22 games) clearly proves that.

Conclusion

I’ve spoken about lack of philosophy & problems with youth development in English football already on this blog. But the problem I have is how managers who are well respected & have made their name being constantly slandered while England as a football nation could only dream of having a Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte or Jurgen Klopp. Nothing is truly achieved from this. Why do we refuse to learn from the genius of such managers & choose to berate them constantly, only to then moan every two years about England having yet another poor tournament while other nations outperform us. You can’t claim you want us to improve as a football nation then give the middle finger to those who use the blueprint of those nations we constantly aspire to emulate & out-perform.

Just a thought, of course.

The Art of Leadership, Preparation & Pragmatism.

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‘Leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better.’ —Bill Bradley
‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’ Benjamin Franklin

If we look at modern football, 2015-16 has somewhat been the year of the underdog. Five teams in particular come to mind. Atletico Madrid, Leicester City, Iceland, Portugal & Wales. While all four of these teams had different endings to their underdogs runs this season with Portugal winning EURO 2016 & Leicester winning the English Premier League, all these teams had numerous similarities in their approach. Diego Simeone, Claudio Ranieri, Chris Coleman, Fernando Santos & the duo of Lars Lagerback & Heimir Hallgrímsson this season have all emphasized the art of Leadership, Preparation & Pragmatism within football.

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Claudio Ranieri led his Leicester City side to arguably the greatest underdog feat in modern sports, winning the Premier League.

Preparation & Leadership

It could be on a football pitch, an office or a classroom. Leadership is an art form that takes mental toughness, shrewdness, adaptability & patience. However, it’s not for everyone.

Preparation is a management principle whereby people get ready for a final product or for a successful experience. Almost everything in life is a preparation process. Some of the greatest leaders are masters in preparation.

For all these aforementioned managers in the first paragraph of this blog post, their preparation is narrowed down tactically, physically & mentally. With the mental side of things being most crucial. Self-belief, willingness, confidence, harmony, togetherness & a winning mentality appeared to be the dominant factors in the organisation of all four of these teams. Embedding these mental attributes into a collective group doesn’t happen overnight & is a true testament to the preparation skills of these managers. It is something that is also looked down upon a lot in football. It is one thing to have a winning system but that can easily be made redundant if the mentality of your players is negative or monotone.

Iceland’s EURO 2016 run is the best example of perfect preparation. An nation of less than 400,000 inhabitants, set out an footballing goal to become a more competitive nation within the sport in the early 00’s. Planning a national football system & philosophy to develop higher quality players & managers. Fast forward to Euro 2016, all of this is now paying off evidently.

Leadership also isn’t mutually exclusive to the managers either, many of the players of these teams take just as much credit also. From Wes Morgan’s & Ashley Williams’ organisational skills, to Cristiano Ronaldo’s motivational skills (both on the pitch & on the sidelines), leadership is an attribute money simply cannot buy & can create a winning team when you have multiple leaders within your squad or workplace.

The Pragmatic Winning System

Looking at the tactical aspect, playing in a low & compact defensive block, extremely organised, allowing very little space between the line or behind the defensive line & allowing the opposition a lot of possession, & seeking to use of pressing triggers, counterattacking & set piece plays was the go-to method for these overachieving underdog teams. Within these aspects, some teams did it with different formations & player role & were also more trademarked for one than the other. Such as the transitional brilliance of Leicester, the defensive strength of Atletico, the use of Long balls & throws from Iceland & the balance of collectivism + individualism of Wales & Portugal. This approach is for me the future of football, especially within the International game where coaches aren’t with their players on a full-time basis.

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Chris Coleman utilized the strengths of his squad while getting the best out of his star players, Aaron Ramsey & Gareth Bale, guiding them to a semi-final finish in EURO 2016.

However, living in a statistical, fact-driven, analytical football society, this style of play will come with it’s critics. Yet statistical dominance and visual team aesthetics has somehow shaped up legitimate excuses for “fancier” clubs not being able to combat teams who choose to or are forced to become the antagonist approach of football matches. Should a team play solid defensively for 90 minutes and win with quick counter attacking or set plays, without ‘padding’ their offensive statistics, they’re branded, negative, anti-football & lucky. Atletico Madrid, Portugal & Leicester have been victims of these tags.

These people fail to realize that the sole goal of football is to win, but also a coach has to adapt tactics to the characteristics of the available players. The blend of tactical pragmatism & willful mentality is a match made in heaven which has shaped the successes of many underdog teams this season. Iceland & Wales in particular didn’t have the players to dictate games using an more progressive approach during EURO 2016 & had to play within the strengths of their squad. Overachieving as a result of it. Same could be said for Atletico Madrid & Leicester City, who don’t have the star power of other teams in their respective leagues, therefore are forced to play within their strengths amongst the players available to them. Something Diego Simeone & Claudio Ranieri have done to perfection for their clubs.

These unfancied underdogs have proven they can succeed in the modern game, as long as the balance of leadership & organization within their team is in place, playing to their strengths (90% of the time, a pragmatic approach). These teams also no longer need to fear nor envy the ‘big dogs’ anymore. With the feat of Leicester City’s Premier League win, every nation & football team, no matter how small, can dream big.

English Football’s Identity & Philosophy Crisis

Roy Hodgson: “I’m comfortable that, whatever way we want to play, we’ll be covered. Systems wins you nothing. Football players win you games.”

Indeed, the quote above is real. What is funny to me is that you can’t even blame Roy for making such a claim. The FA have created a culture in English football where systems, game-models & philosophies are neglected.

As England were eliminated in the Last 16 of EURO 2016 by an organised, spirited & rigid Iceland side, Roy Hodgson inevitably resigned from his post (about 8 minutes after the match ended). An England side who throughout the tournament, showed glimpses of collective quality such as the 1st half in the 1-1 draw vs Russia, but overall looked somewhat lost & tentative in their approach. Lacking solid, well-rehearsed ideas. They were somewhat playing possession-based football, but without the dynamic movement & penetration around the box needed to create chances against well-organised defences. They were somewhat attempting to attack with width, but link-up play between the wingers and the full-backs was hit & hope rather than well-rehearsed. Then they were somewhat looking to get behind the opposition defence on the break with long balls, but without success. There was never one philosophy or game model that England stuck to & played because one was never laid out in the first place by Roy.

With FA set to look for the next man to take the helm as manager of the Three Lions, there are lessons for the FA to learn from his stagnant stint in the job.

Where the FA have failed

I have always rejected the notion that Premier League Football is to blame for the downfalls of the England national team(s).
A huge problem however does lie in the Football Philosophy of English Football. A manager with a clear defined style & game model, who can implement players based on that game model is one major thing to look at. The no-nonsense British style incorporates a lot of traditional values that have been present in England since the emergence of football. Attacks are set up quickly and with few touches. This fast-pace mentality often leads to fierce fighting over 50-50 balls. Passes are direct, often sent over the defense and crosses are served from any situation. But we’re in 2015 & this style is somewhat outdated. Roy ultimately failed to give his team an identity. England fans had no rough idea of who would start matches, as we saw before the Slovakia game, literally anyone could play just for the sake if it. The decision to start Wayne Rooney in central midfield just 20 days before EURO 2016 pretty much sums it up.

But like I said before, Roy can’t be solely blamed for that. England’s lack of progressive & tactically modern managers is a big problem simply because The FA have no modern football identity or philosophy for anyone to fall back on. The mix of different styles in the Premier League, the arrival of players from abroad makes it impossible to maintain an fresh English football style week in & week out. But who can blame these PL clubs for buying foreign talent & hiring foreign managers? They want to be successful & the foreign blueprints of how players are developed & how football is played is much more likely to achieving that goal. These “foreign blueprints” stem from the years of planning from FA’s across the globe to visualize & develop their own football system. They know the style of football they want their national teams to play & the style of players to develop & required to play the style of football they’re setting out to play.
Their culture, beliefs & principles of how they feel football should be played attributes to creating a national football style.

The FA (full of corporate stooges who’ve never kicked a football at any level whatsoever) have failed to do this & therefore has played a massive role in England’s poor performances in International Tournaments. German, Spanish, Italian clubs all have similar components in their football style of play & the style of players produce in their academies within their leagues simply because there’s a solid football identity in those nations which is laid out by their national FA’s & all coaches, teams (Pro, semi-pro, youth & grassroots), schools & directors all work towards one cause in building the archetypal football players that fit best into their national football philosophy which eventually transfers into Mens & Womens national teams. But in England where football tribalism is extremely rife & clubs rely more on their club philosophy as there is no national philosophy, we’ve paid the price for it with the performances of our national teams.

Roy tried to build his team around Tottenham players because the national team has the most players from there & Spurs as a team play a recognizable & exciting brand of football. The case was the same during the 2014 World Cup with Liverpool. Now there’s nothing wrong with doing that. Spain’s core comes from Barcelona, Italy’s from Juventus & Germany’s from Bayern. However the style of football these aforementioned teams play is synonymous to the football identity in their respective nations. From Spain’s possession based style, to Germany’s positional play + aggressive pressing style, to Italy’s defensive catenaccio + frequent use of wingbacks & 3-man defensive systems. All part of the football identity of these nations & these methods are used by many teams in their respective nations from Professional level, to Semi-Pro, Youth football & grassroots level. So when Dortmund, Schalke & Bayern players for example, have to play together for Germany, they’re familiar with themselves as they’ve been bought under the same style & philosophy in different teams.

Back to England & Spurs. The free-flowing dynamism of the attacking play, compact pressing, build up from deep (via the use of passing triangles) that we see at Spurs under the fantastic Mauricio Pochettino are not concepts of English Football. It’s not embedded into the national football philosophy of English Football. Mauricio’s style are concepts of Spanish, Chilean & Argentine styles of football. So to expect the England team to do “Spurs things” because Kane & others can is really naive.

The Next Step

The FA’s next step is to work from top to bottom. To first (& most urgently) hire a manager, not for the sake of short-term matters but to hire a manager based on how the want the WHOLE nation to be playing football. From there, laying down a 10-year plan of a bold & progressive national football philosophy & for it to reflect on the next manager they’d have hired by then. A philosophy that’ll dictate how budding football coaches are taught to devlop players required to play the respective style & set out their teams based on the principles of the said philosophy. 

Even a smaller nation like Chile, who a few days ago won their second Copa América title in a row against Argentina, are a great example of a nation who have taken such a step. From Marcelo Bielsa, to Jorge Sampaoli & now Juan Antonio Pizzi, the philosophy (vertical positioning/passing, fluidity & aggressive counterpressing) has been implemented in their football system & have built upon it. Now they are (in my opinion) the best national team in the world after Germany.

We can hope that the FA make such steps to getting English football to the pedestal we all crave fall. Patience, planning & risk-taking is required if we are to see English Football reach the echelons of Germany, Spain & others. It’s not impossible…