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Interview February 2010
COACHING TOOLS 2000
In 2000 you published another report, Coaching Tools, but this time it was all about senior player development?
Shortly after the Grass Roots Report 1995 went out some coaches noted that I had previously worked at senior level with Gladbach and PSV, so asked if I had any additional information on this.
Yes, was the answer, but it was all in separate folders and various handouts. When time allowed, I eventually put it all together into one format - Coaching Tools 2000. Basically, a summary of modern continental style coaching techniques for senior players, a few tips on transitional stepping for young players and a large section on team and individual player analysis and preparation.
KICKING INTO THE FUTURE 2010
Looking at your latest report, Kicking into the Future 2010, in looks like a lot of those original proposals were indeed later adopted, that must make you very proud?
It took time, but eventually around 70% of the original Grass Roots Report 1995 was finally implemented and it was also instrumental in the formation of the new pro club academy scheme. An excellent base, but we still have a lot more work to do, hence a new set of recommendations in the current report, 'Kicking into the Future'. We still need changes to our coaching courses (have specialist junior/youth development coaches) and all of the financial investment so far has been mainly directed towards the upper-tier of development (new academy scheme) without addressing the real grass roots foundation. Kids start their education in infant school at age 5, go into primary level at age 7, and secondary at age 11.
In British football
they start their footie education around age 8 and 9 in the local
leagues then go straight into the academies. Simply
put, the kids going into the academies are just not good enough,
so the predicted high failure rate was inevitable from the outset.
We need a better early 'external' development process; local football
schools to teach the key basic skills at a young age, more school
teams to improve quantity, football in the playground to improve
quality, and then a separate development league and training school
structure for the most naturally gifted youngsters before they
enter the pro club academy scheme at a more sensible age of 15.
Age 8 is far too young for kids
to be entering a professional training environment.
A lot of the real grass roots facts outlined in 1995 are still relevant today; kids in the UK no longer play enough football, they are not as fit as they used to be, and the old traditional breeding methods, the street game, playing football in the playground, tennis balls, wall bashing, regularly playing alongside and against bigger lads, etc, have still not been replaced - we don't have a proper foundation. Modern technology and a more affluent society have inevitably played a big part in this loss, but there is still no excuse for the current European statistics: the UK has the unfittest kids in Europe; the UK has the least number of PE hours per week in Europe; the UK has the most obese kids per population ratio in Europe; in the UK, kids, on average, spent 85% of their time indoors, the highest level in Europe.
If we want to retain football as our national sport and be proud
of its achievement within the world, then it will take a lot more
than the FA to resolve all the issues - the Government, Local
Authorities, schools, and parents all need to get their act together.
I'm proud of of playing a small part in the progress so far, but I'll be even prouder when I see a lot more young British players dominating European football again.
CONSULTANT TO CLUBS AND MANAGERS
You have advised some top managers and clubs in England on modern coaching techniques, but have specifically said that you don't want to mention any names, why is that?
Managers and coaches at clubs have to make all the decisions,
and with that comes the blame when things go wrong, as well as
the plaudits for success. If at some stage they are open enough
to employ a consultant, then it is also their decision as to whether
or not they later implement most of the suggestions put to them,
maybe just a few of them, or perhaps reject the advice entirely.
All a consultant does is give you a different perspective on things
- someone on the outside looking in.
A lot of clubs and managers prefer not to seek outside advice, and that is fine, we are all entitled to do things the way that we think fit, but for those that do, it is a strictly confidential agreement between the two parties involved and not for open discussion.
You have also sold the SSD concept to other countries - how does that work?
That's a contentious issue. Yes, I did sell the rights to a number
of countries a few years ago, but one in particular went down
the legal road and later tried to claim sole international rights.
At that very same time I had planned to visit a senior member
of the SFA in Scotland regarding a potential review of Scottish
football, but had to cancel at the last minute because of this
matter. It took several years to resolve, but thankfully, I can
once again, now claim full rights to the concept. In short, they
have full access to the SSD manual and the right to operate any
aspect of it within their respective country, but I still retain
the overall copyright.
A lot of the top clubs in England now also use SSD training methods both at academy and senior level.
A SCOT LIVING IN ENGLAND ON THE SCOTTISH GAME
You always claimed to be a proud Scot, so why England and not Scotland . . . it looks like they could do with some help at the moment?
When we left Holland my wife and I moved to the Derbyshire area
of England so as to be close to her family. It is a beautiful
area and I have settled very well here. Yes, I continually get
taunted about the demise of Scottish football, but my standard
reply to that is, "all of us Scots were sent down here (England)
as missionaries to teach the English how to play football".
Some may laugh, but in one sense that is true statement, because
away back in the early days all of the top English clubs recruited
Scottish players in an attempt to enhance their level. For instance, the first ever Liverpool team consisted entirely of Scots. I rest my case.
Yes, it is a dire situation in Scotland at the moment. Have mistakes been made over the years with regards to youth development? Yes, most definitely. As I outlined in one of my previous answers, some years ago I was in talks with a senior member of the SFA about a full radical review of the Scottish game, but had to later cancel because of the legal situation regarding SSD rights. Sadly, he later moved onto pastures new, but very recently (2008), I did write to the SFA again and enclosed a small draft version of the new Kicking Into The Future 2010 report (a much shortened version of the final report which excluded most of the SSD aspects of development). They didn't even bother to acknowledge receipt of the report.
That aside, from what I have seen so far, radical changes do need to be made in Scotland, not just to the development system, but right across the board of their entire structure - there are major issues regarding coaching, facilities, infrastructure, style of play, management, and policy making. The latest talk is all about waiting for new facilities before they can implement a proper academy scheme. Other countries, the Eastern block being one example, regularly produce talented player after talented player with virtually no facilities whatsoever. Why wait 10 years? Then you hear that they are going to emulate the new English academy programme. In England every Premier League club receives millions of pounds each year in sponsorship - where is that money coming from in Scotland? Population differentials and geographical layout dictates that a similar system is not possible in Scotland. In a short section of the KITF Report I specifically mentioned that 'Cultural Adaptation' was the way forward, and that means that Scotland had to create its own unique development programme based upon its own individual requirements and needs. I also said that they should not go down the road of employing foreign (Dutch, Swedish, etc) coaches in an attempt to quickly and radically revamp their coaching techniques - you've guessed correctly, that's exactly what they did.
With regards to their senior game, that also has to change, because the game has moved on from the old style physical kick and run approach that we still see in Scotland. There is no point in trying to produce talented cultured young players through a new professional development programme and then later on throw to them the lions in the Scottish professional arena. You change your approach to the game - then you produce players that will thrive in that environment.
Although the Scots are having a tough time of it on the playing front at the moment, a lot of them seem to thrive in the management game, why is that?
If you look closely, most of the great Scottish managers tend to all originate from the Glasgow region, Glasgow has always been a tough working class area where you don't get things handed to you on a silver spoon, you have to make do with the basics and work hard if you ever want to achieve anything in life. The phrase 'it can't be done' doesn't exist within their vocabulary. As for commitment, if it takes 24 hours without food and sleep to do a job properly, then it takes 24 hours. Football is in the blood of most Glaswegians and in a lot of cases it is sometimes more important than family and friends. There is no such term as being 'runner up', you are either a winner or you have come last. That is how I felt as a young Rangers fan when defeated by Celtic (although that didn't happen very often). I would go straight home from the match, lock the doors, take the phone off the hook, keep the television and radio switched off, ignore the girlfriend, and throw a sickie for a few days. My life was totally ruined and I would always say to myself afterwards, "that can never ever happen again". It doesn't matter if the opposition has a string of multi-million pound players, we can beat them, and we will. It is also a city of great humour, so when you balance this with a winning attitude and motivation, you end up with good leadership skills - the ability to have fun with your players but at the same time command respect.
Over the years I am surprised that you haven't moved into professional club management as that seemed like the next logical progression?
I made the decision early on to go it alone and not work my way
through the old style FA coaching courses, because basically,
I didn't agree with their format. When their official coaching
manual tells you that the way Holland and Brazil play football
(winners of numerous tournaments through their short passing,
possession, and the positional interchange game) is totally wrong,
and that England (who hadn't won anything for 28 years) not only
had the right tactics (long ball and direct way of playing) but
were also still the best team in the world, then it tends to leave
a doubt in your mind as to whether or not you want to go down
that road. It is amazing how you can manipulate statistics and
I always wondered what happened to that technical director after
he retired. Perhaps he went onto become a spin doctor for the
Instead, I decided to do things differently, go independent and introduce my own development process and senior coaching programme under a new SSD format.
Nowadays, to mange in the premier or football league, or indeed, coach at academy level, you need all the new coaching badges, but when you consider that the course content that they now have contains 90% of the coaching recommendations that I proposed way back in 1995, it would be like going back to square one. The most successful people in life will tell you that lots of certificates and courses are fine, but unless you have the right drive, enthusiasm, ambition, commitment, and leadership skills, then you won't achieve anything - and you can't learn any of that on a course. You also have to move with the times, have a willingness to continually change, be adaptable, dynamic, and futuristic, which once again is down to individual character, not what you read in a book.
If some young coach said to Sir Alex Ferguson, "I've just been on a modern coaching course, so if you'd like to sit down I'll teach you how to be a better manager", then I think he would be going head first into the bath before the hair dryer was switched on.
Contrary to the system overseas, in the UK, the management game is based around nepotism - who you know, not what you know. If a manager fails in the first division and gets sacked, he immediately rings his mate in the premier league and suddenly gets a much higher paid job as his assistant. You only have to look at the top foreign managers in the English game over recent years, where a lot of them have never even played the game at professional level, but if you are a top English premiership player, then your future is already mapped out, no managerial apprenticeship needed, you are going straight into a top job. Some advice, "We all went to school but that doesn't automatically qualify us to become teachers". Our chairman seem to think that such players will use their contacts to attract better quality players to the club, but as you know, on the continent, these players act as backroom liaison officers (or club ambassadors) to achieve the same objective whilst the top coaches do the coaching. There are lots of very talented young British coaches out there, but they are just not getting the opportunity to develop. A bit like the talented young kids in our academies.
You have outlined some top managers that have influenced you over the years, but are there any others that you specifically admire?
In my opinion, back in the sixties, Bill Shankly was the first
manager to introduce psychology into the game. Not only did he
motivate his players with that 'invincibility' statement, but also
the fans and the entire city of Liverpool. His team talks were
legendary where he would undermine the qualities of each
individual opposition player and then convince his team that they
were far superior in every department.
What can you say about Jock Stein, a man who put together a team of young men from the Glasgow area and later go onto become the champions of Europe in 1967. I think that says it all really.
Brian Clough had his own unique way of motivating players and for turning ordinary players into European champions. Back in those days it wasn't about how much money you had to spend on transfers, but how good you were as a coach, and he was certainly one of the best.
Sir Bobby Robson not only achieved great things in England with a small club like Ipswich Town, but also proved himself as a top manager in many other parts of the world, not least of all at PSV, where the fans today still claim him to be their best manager of all time.
In modern times, you can't go past Sir Alex Ferguson who has won everything in the game. What fascinates me most about him is his man-management qualities when it comes to dealing with the multi-millionaire, power crazy, and petulant (sometimes childish) stars of today. Player power is something that a lot of managers now struggle to cope with and they could learn a lot from Sir Alex; start off as you mean to go on, show them who is boss, and maintain that standard throughout. Ask David Beckham and others if reputations count for anything at Old Trafford. He also insists that players dress smartly at all times, no jeans are allowed, and more recently, he has also banned youth players at the club from wearing fancy coloured boots. When they have reached the grade and proved themselves, then fine, but until that day, he won't have any jumped up young kids strutting around Old Trafford.
There are obviously lots of other managers that I admire, but one in particular sticks in mind. Many years ago I spent the day with Dario Gradi at Crewe. In the morning he was training with the first team; in the afternoon it was paperwork, watching match videos, and telephone calls. At 5pm it was with the physio and injured players. At 7pm in the evening he was out on the astro pitch in monsoon conditions working with the under 13 team. At 9pm he was talking to the parents of the young youth players. That was a typical day. Not just your normal first team manager, but also a director at the club, technical skill coach, match analyst, youth coach, motivator to all the young kids, and also involved with a lot of the local community work. That is my kind of coach.
Steve McLaren is now working in Holland, I understand you have met him as well?
I met him way back in the days when he was assistant manager to Jim Smith at Derby County and he welcomed me to a couple of his training sessions. Steve is a typical foreign style coach where he is constantly looking for new ideas, not scared to introduce unusual methods, and likes to vary his approach depending on circumstances. In my opinion, the perfect example of a modern day SSD coach as he likes to work with individual players, both youth and senior on technical skill elements, as well as good analytic team skills. He is not a shouter or screamer, he is a thinker. Just look at his track record after he left Derby; worked very closely with a few relatively unknown players at that time, Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, and Neville brothers, then went onto manage Middlesborough where he brought through more young players into the first eleven than any other club in the premiership. I think the England job came too early for him, but he has certainly proved himself at Twente because the unique Dutch culture and style of play is the perfect match for his approach to management. I can see Steve returning to the English game in the near future, but to continue this recent success, the right choice of club is imperative.
What advice would you give any young coaches today?
Use your coaching courses solely as a basic framework, not as a bible. Having a coaching qualification doesn't make you a coach, it just gives you a licence to undertake an apprenticeship. It takes years of experience to fully understand the real complexities; working with different attitudes, different characters, different motivational needs, and dealing with different levels of pressure. What works with one group of players may not work with others, so always be flexible and adaptable. Yes, by all means, learn from others, but never attempt to copy them, because each individual has their own set of unique inherited characteristics. You have to develop your own strengths and management style.
Many of the top continental clubs have experienced people behind the scenes helping and supporting the manager plus overseeing the academy structure. Have you never considered that as an option?
It has taken me many years to create the ideal situation that
I currently have; I'm my own boss, I call all the shots, I select
the hours that I work, and I can already do most of the jobs that
you suggest - see the young faces of kids taking up football for
the first time, watching them develop, working with older academy
youths and senior players on technical skill enhancement, and
working with clubs and individual coaches in an advisory capacity.
Why would I want to give all that up? Okay, it will never make
me the next Richard Branson, but I love what I do, and sometimes
that is the most important thing in life. Yes, I have had offers
in the past, but it has got to be 100% right. On one particular
occasion I have to admit that I was very close to being swayed
when the words "money was no object" were pushed in
my direction. You would be a fool not to go away and consider
that, but later on, the decision was, no. They had a terrific
manager, fabulous academy, great coaches, and a wonderful family
atmosphere around the club, but I was unsure about the upper echelons,
the ones who controlled the financial purse. In the past, they
had shown a tendency towards short-term policies and instant success
instead of focussing on a good long-term solid plan. Without a
full proper infrastructure in place you just can't achieve that
overnight. I may have been able to produce giant steps towards
that objective, but I would have needed a bit more time to produce
miracles. I tossed and turned for a few months wondering if I
had made a big mistake, but thankfully, I was eventually proven
right, when two key members of their management team later left
the club with exactly the same thoughts as me.
Yes, there are a few clubs that I would seriously consider, and it may surprise you that most of them would not be regarded as the top clubs in England. It's about having the right balance between ambition and resources; having the right chairman; having the right manager; and a modern futuristic approach. If we are all in it together then it can be achieved; if you have a weak link or a doubter then it will fail.
As for a specific role, I don't want to work in an academy environment 24/7 and I don't want to be first team manager. Instead, I think I would be more suited to a general floating position similar to that of a Technical Director of Development that they now have on the continent. This is not to be confused with a Director of Football, who, under the English interpretation, has in the past, undermined managers and in some cases created instability within the management structure. Managers come and go but a Technical Director of Development is the permanent link between the academy and senior players - maintaining continuity throughout the club. In the main, he spends mornings as a senior player technical skill coach, the afternoons working with the scholars in the academy, evenings working with the younger kids, Saturday mornings watching the academy teams, Saturday afternoons involved with the senior team, and Sunday mornings watching the kids playing in the local leagues. In between that he is overseeing scouting missions (both at junior and senior level), doing administrative duties, and working closely with sports psychologists, physiotherapists and fitness trainers on player assessments. Although the academies in England are producing a number of very talented kids we tend to lose an awful lot of them through the transitional period (age 16 to 20 - from academy to professional level), so this is also a vital role that needs to be covered more professionally. The manager runs the first team, the academy manager runs the academy, and the Technical Director of Development floats between the two set-ups. A bit like what Dario Gradi used to do.
When you consider that the current Barcelona team (European champions) have no less than 7 home grown players in their first eleven, all of whom have been guided by a Technical Director of Development, then it clearly shows that the system works. A modern dimension that British clubs must implement in the future.
And finally, before you ask, no, I will not reconsider any of the offers that I've had to return to Holland. As much as I love the country and its people, I am now settled back in the UK and that is where I belong.
. . . . and FINALLY
You told me that your latest report 'Kicking Into the Future 2010' will be your last, so what do you hope to achieve from it?
I expect the same response as the original Grass Roots Report
1995. A mixture of support and total rejection, depending on which
source it comes from. If it sparks debate and re-opens the question
on youth development in the UK, then I have succeeded. Those totally
dedicated to youth development will support change; those responsible
for making the ultimate decisions will deny ever seeing the book
and then later implement some aspects of it as their own ideas;
and most club chairmen will totally ignore it altogether because
they have so much money swishing around in the premier league
that they find it a lot easier to just buy a cheap foreign player
than spend years developing a young British kid. Remember, chairmen
and managers are in the business of winning football matches,
it is a business, not a charity. British kids have no God given
right to be allocated professional careers, but if we have the
right structure in place (a proper grass roots foundation with
an external development level and specially trained junior and
youth development coaches) then it can be achieved.
Yes, we have moved forward an awful lot over the years, but what we did yesterday is now history. Change is a continuous process, so we have to keep the good and bin the failures before we can move forward onto the next level. For the last 15 years we have been playing the reactive game when it comes to development, but if we want to become more proactive in future, then all the relevant parties concerned need to work closer together. At the moment the Premier League run the academies, the Football League run the centres of excellence, and the FA run the coaching courses and the local leagues, where is the continuity? We need a new single body, Youth Football Association, which will be a separate entity in its own right and hold ultimate responsibility for all youth development procedures. Some say that it will never happen, but so far we have had 70% of the original Grass Roots Report 1995 implemented. Maybe, just maybe, we can eventually KICK INTO THE FUTURE with even more success.
* If you improve the feedline into the academies - then you improve the standard of proactive coaching within the academies - which in turn leads to better quality young players entering the game at professional level - and you end up with a much higher percentage of talented young British players throughout our league structure.
At present, the standard of kids entering our academies is just not good enough and the average standard of our professional players is woeful. It is time to stop all the talking and start doing something about it. It's time for change!
* Have we got the raw young talent in the UK to compete with the best continental kids - yes.
* Have we got our development strategy right - we are 60% of the way there.
* Have we got the right people working with our talented kids - we are 70% of the way there.
* Have we got the right people working with our young talented senior players - no.
Kicking Into The Future 2010 is all about trying to fill in those missing gaps!
. . . . The End . . . .