Continued . . . . Don Pertrie talks to EDDY WHYTE about SCOTTISH FOOTBALL
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THE SENIOR GAME
Why do they English refer to us as the Mickey Mouse League?
If England bordered Finland, Belgium, or the United States, then they
would allocate similar titles to them because it is easy to do when
you have millions of pounds swilling around in your home back garden.
Then again, I always refer to the English game as the Foreign Legion
because of their failure to produce home grown talent - despite the
millions of pounds that they have already invested in youth development!
It is just typical English and Scottish banter, but if we are to get down to the real technical issues within the Scottish game then there is one phrase that stands out;
"The old style physical approach hinders the development of natural talent and flair"
In short, if rely too much on the physical aspect of the game then you attract a particular type of player and that closes out the opportunities to those who have a particular aptitude towards close control, dribbling, and possession skills.
So how do we change the general approach to our senior game?
This is without question the hardest part to accomplish when trying
to restructure Scottish football because it is so ingrained. That said,
it is an imperative step if you are going to successfully bring through
the next batch of talented youngsters. There is no point in having a
new youth development programme that focuses on natural ability before
physical stature, and flair over brawn, if they then end up in a system
that predominantly plays the physical direct game.
I have seen it too many times before where talented young players become targets or the manager instructs them to play long and to forget all that fancy stuff. The talented kid has two options, move to another league or do as the manager says.
Just look at how the modern day English premier league evolved - English coaches out, foreign coaches in, old style physical British players out, skilful foreign players in, and then the introduction of a new youth academy programme that focuses predominantly on possession skills.
I am not saying that Scotland has to be that radical, because there are other ways of achieving a similar level of change.
Can the SFA or SPL enforce a change of style and approach?
No, because clubs are individual businesses and as such they decide who their manager will be, and in turn, he
decides how that team will play, be it direct, hard physical, or the modern style pass and move possession game.
Yes, the SFA's coaching / management courses could encourage a more positive approach towards player assessment and possession skills, but at the end of the day can the chairman afford such players? Also, the manager's first priority is to keep his job - and that means winning matches in whichever manner he sees fit!
Stoke City is the perfect example. The critics, and there are many of them, may well chant "swing low sweet chariot" when they come onto the field of play and refer their home ground as Twickenham, but they won't be changing their style of play any time soon because it keeps them in the premier league and that means millions of pounds each year. It's called survival tactics!
How do Stoke survive in the premier league alongside all those skilful possession sides?
The average height of their players is 6' 3" and most wouldn't look out of place in a heavy weight boxing contest. At home they intentionally push in all the touch lines so as to restrict the pitch size to its absolute legal minimum (ideal for long throw ins and restricting space for any flair players), plus the swirling wind created by the large open corners of their stadium is ideal for the long aerial punts. If you like that sort of thing, then fine! It's the home points that keep them in the league each year, because their away record is shocking - maybe that's because they have to play on normal large size pitches where there is more space and time on the ball.
Some people say that the Scottish game is no more physical than the English one?
Yes, true, but only if you are drawing direct comparisons with the lower
English leagues because the more you drop down the English system the
more physical it becomes, and that is because the old style physical type
British players have been forced out of the premier league!
But if you want to advance then you must try to draw comparisons with the English premier league, not the lower leagues.
As an example, I have watched a number of SPL games this season, but on two particular occasions (matches selected at random) I recorded a couple of basic facts on style and physicality to prove a point:
If playing in the English Premier League the referee would have issued 14 yellow cards and two red - in the two matches I monitored only 1 yellow card was issued.
Average number of successful passes before either team lost possession or made a hit and hope punt up the field was 4.
Yes, I know that this is only a very basic example, and I'm also well
aware that a lot of the punters do enjoy the physical aspect of the game,
but you have to draw the line somewhere.
The rules have changed since the days of GBH at Leeds United v Chelsea and the main reason for that was to allow natural ability to flourish and to clamp down on over-aggressive play.
Yes, we may well now have entered a new era of diving and also lost the art of riding tackles, but life has moved on!
If we can't force the clubs to change then what can we do?
There are a number of things that can be done, but it has to start from the top, the SFA, SPL, and SFL, with the introduction of a whole new footballing culture. You have already made steps with the new development programme, but that is the middle tier, you now need to address the bottom rung, the grass roots foundation that feeds the academies, and of course, the top end, the senior game!
"What is the point in creating a wonderful new youth development programme that produces cultured young players if there are no skilled jobs for them when they graduate?"
In the examples I gave previously, you can start off by enforcing the rules more vigorously (stamp out the over-physical element) and managers also need to spend a lot more time on movement and options. If referees stamp down on the less skilled physical players then managers will soon be seeking out those that can pass and move more effectively.
From all the SPL matches you have watched what teams do you feel are on the right track?
Apart from the obvious, Rangers and Celtic, Calley Thistle stands out for me. Despite their limited resources they have a fabulous group of young talented players who at times play some lovely possession football, have good movement and create lots of safe options. They are at least trying to keep the ball on the ground instead of reverting to the typical 30:70 hit and hope punt up the field. I can see why they have been so successful this season.
What about individual players, have you seen any that points towards a brighter future?
Yes, there are a number of talented young players that clearly have
the right DONA (degree of natural ability) but a lot depends on their
future development. Too many young players get into a comfort zone and
style of play instead of finding greater challenges. The older you get
the lesser your SLA (standard learning ability) becomes and the harder
it then is to adapt to bigger challenges in the future.
A good example of this is when one of my young players got into the first eleven of a championship side at the age of 16 and then the inevitable happened, offers of a new BMW car, a four bedroom house, and big wages if he moved to the premier league! My advice was clear, no, because the best development route for him was to challenge himself week in and week out against experienced season pros - not move to a premiership under 18 side.
I know it goes against the grain of developing the Scottish game, but I would advise any talented young Scot to continually push the boundaries, and if that means moving south at age 18 or 19, then so be it. You only progress by playing against the best at a young age and stretching yourself!
What do you feel about the new proposed changes to the Scottish league structure?
Bringing all the main parties together under one roof is a positive step
forward, but as is always the case, the final outcome will inevitably be
based purely on self-interest - "what is best for my club"!
"Am I happy about our share from the financial kitty and the league that we will eventually end up in"?
"What about promotion and relegation, does it favour my club"?
If down to me I would go for a new four league structure, a 12 team premier, 12 team championship, a 12 team north, and a 12 team south, with a similar promotion and relegation system to the English structure - two automatics and play-offs for the third promotion and relegation spots. This gives teams something to play for right up until the end of the season.
The north and south leagues would predominantly be part-time sides (reduce the wage bill) and the regional structure would also cut back on travelling costs.
Below the two regional leagues the pyramid system would continue is respect of promotion opportunities for the top non-league sides, and the smaller clubs would also be encouraged to amalgamate resources so as to fulfil any league criteria.
THE NATIONAL TEAM
Why do we continually fail to qualify for major tournaments?
Simple, the players just haven't been good enough!
I know that a certain amount of pride has recently been restored because of the number of players now playing in the English leagues, but we have to get real about this. The majority of Welsh and Republic of Ireland players ply their trade in the premier league, whereas most of the Scottish team is formed around the championship or lower leagues. When we have a national team consisting of at least 8 'regular' premiership players, then we can start to talk about real progression!
Was it a mistake employing a German manager?
No matter how good the manager is you can only work with the players available to you, so we may never find out if that was a good or bad move.
Gordon Strachan has recently taken the hot seat?
There is no question that Gordon has the range of experience needed to do this job and I for one cannot think of anyone more passionate about the game. In England we have dozens of so called expert pundits who ramble on endlessly about the bleeding obvious, but for me, Gordon stands out with his technical analysis. Professional players are very clever at covering up their weaknesses and passing the buck, but Gordon monitors every aspect of individual performance, so he will get the very best out of the existing players.
Just recently a few SPL managers have tried their hand at the English game, but their time there was short lived?
The English game is all about money and the difference between success
and failure runs into the millions, even at the lower end. Quick turnaround
and immediate improvement is the order of the day and to achieve this
you must either have a full understanding of the league you are entering
(level of competition, standard of player, style of football played, values,
etc) or have an excellent contacts book where a few calls to your mates
can result in 3 or 4 quality signings at rock bottom price.
If given time any good coach would eventually succeed, but unfortunately it is a results driven business so you have to hit the road running. Sir Alex was given the time and David Moyes played and managed at the lower English level before progressing to Everton.
How good are the Scottish coaching courses in comparison to the English model?
It doesn't matter where you undertake the course because they are all based around the same standard UEFA criteria. It is what you do after you qualify that determines success! Have you got natural leadership skills? Are you a good teacher? Can you command respect from top professional players? How would you deal with player power? You can't teach any of these characteristics on a course, so if you haven't got the natural managerial skills then you won't be going far unless you have the right contacts.
What would your advice be to a chairman who was about to appoint a new manager?
If you don't understand the coaching role fully then temporarily bring
someone into the club that does. You are looking for coaching and management
ability, not how good a player they once were! Player power is a modern
day issue, how would they handle that? Would they command respect from
your current batch of players or any potential new signings? What is the
size of the transfer kitty and do they have previous experience of operating
at that level?
Finally, and most importantly, you are appointing a single manager, it isn't a game of 'friends reunited' where he insists that his mates, wife, dog, and next door neighbours all replace the existing backroom staff. If run properly then you will already have in place a professional hand picked backroom team. That way, when the new manager eventually leaves the club you can retain continuity within the coaching structure and also save a considerable amount of money.
and FINALLY . . . .
What final advice would you give?
What worked yesterday may not be as effective today so you must continually
strive to improve, and that means having an open mind, a futuristic approach,
and an acceptance to change.
Always remember that the end product is always based on the quality of the raw materials, and in football, that is the kids at infant and primary school level. In the past we had the street game and school playground where thousands of kids were playing up to 11 hours of football per week - that has now gone, so let's get it replaced properly. That is your grass roots foundation and the main building block for a bright new future.
My thanks go to Eddy, and to copy one of his quotes, "if you have gained anything from reading this interview, or it has at least got you talking about the future of Scottish football, then I have succeeded".
Today, Eddy runs his own football consultancy, EWSM, and is currently working on a number of projects both at academy and senior level.