Friday, 27 June 2014

Waddle, the motivation for an independent England football & development review

Listening to Chris Waddle has given me more motivation that we have to take action to save our game. He vented his concerns over the Premier League and the impact. Well, is it right then that its the Premier League also now controlling football development in this country?

He mentioned selection issues like balance, the media and their damming role. He said we don't know how to win football matches. Were not organised and set up correctly with balance of flare players. He said its always the future and never now. I agree with Chris and admire his ability to speak up. So, is the reason he doesn't have a really important football job? Has he not completed the FA Youth module? Maybe like all those in the past that spoke up, Brian Clough etc, he is ignored because hes not a nodding dog hypnotised by the system. But if we don't urgently get someone like Chris Waddle, in his own words "We will never, ever learn". We need to fight for his inclusion in our game now and find a way to make people listen because if we do not address it we will be nowhere in 2016, 2018 and 2012. (In another 10 years, the time frame all the key change makers gave themselves for results), we will realise they were again, wrong. Then we put another ethos and strategy in place for another 10 years? Or do we all stop the self job preservation, the bull and ask ourselves the questions now? not tomorrow, now!

Manifesto for change

I invite Chris and anyone else to start an independent task force / commission, away from the FA, away from the Premier League and away from the clubs. The FA set up its infamous FA Commission but the problem is, its hosted by the FA. What if they are part of the problem?

We should urgently meet to share our experiences bottom up. It should contain key people that have experience in five key areas. This would be the manifesto for change that will get us back to semi-finals, finals and with a trophy back in our hands. We could add to or amend this, but I propose...

1. Grass Roots Football & Schools

  • Many good things already happened. Retreat line, team size, removal of leagues etc. Is it working?
  • What is the level/standard of the coaches?
  • Does the Youth Module work? Are coaches doing it?
  • Do they feel important in their roles?
  • What is their relationship with clubs and scouts?
  • What are the pitches and facilities like? 
  • How do they feel about losing players to development centres?
  • Is there a social change meaning computer gaming etc has a negative impact?
  • What are the other challenge/concerns?

2. Recruitment & Talent ID including the development pathway & development centre's

  • What is the relationship like with local clubs and the pro clubs they interface with?
  • Are there too many players in the 'trawler net' playing wooden unrealistic football?
  • What affect does development centres have on grass roots clubs?
  • Should more kids be playing grass roots and school games? Or other sports?
  • How are we identifying talent? 
  • Are we filling our elite academies with the right balance of player?
  • Does discrimination take place in recruitment? 
  • Are players recruited to suit scouts bonus/reports over ability?

3. Academy football. Experience of EPPP Implementation & the impact 8-16 years. 

  • Standard of coaching, what is the experience of coaches at all levels?
  • What is the impact of EPPP, is it working? 
  • What is the affect on all levels? Looking at 1-4 level clubs?
  • Are we placing too much pressure on the players with time & travel commitments?
  • Do players enjoy academy football? Have many left because they don't?
  • Can coaches afford to work in youth elite football?
  • How is EPPP funds spent? What is the distribution including salaries?
  • Is EPPP aligning to school learning methods working? 
  • Does regular player reporting with parent meetings like education work?
  • Are we taking full responsibility for implications of taking children out of school?
  • With such poor successful percentage of players making pro, are we right to knowingly detrimentally affect their education? What can be done to change this?
  • What sort of player will EPPP ultimately produce?
  • What changes can we add to EPPP to make it a better place for all and improve our players chances?

4. Scholar to Pro phase.

  • Does the current structure work? 
  • What is standard of coaching in this phase?
  • Are players learning game management, ways to win and how to win?
  • If league 3 is not the answer, what is? Or is it?
  • Does the loan system work or should it be exploited more?
  • Should players be playing at competitive level sooner?
  • Does the international structure work to prepare full internationals?
  • Does EPPP make our players tough enough, or give them excuses for under achievement & performance?
  • Would a return to competitive reserve football work?
  • What would be the ideal pathway for success for England? 

5. England. 

  • Does the selection process work?
  • Who is coaching the younger players U16 upwards? Are those players preparing for reality of a world tournament?
  • What do the younger age group players think of the coaching and development?
  • Who is identifying the younger talent for England? What is the criteria?
  • What affect does the media have on an England campaign?
  • What can be done to the Premier League to enable its international appeal but still protect the country it resides in?
  • How to win a tournament again, NOW & in the future.

Who can join? Anyone should be able to request to join but they must have key experience in at least one of the five areas. They may also be working in the environments but are concerned about what's happening
Who cannot join?
Anyone in the media, the FA or the Premier League. I have been inviting them for discussions for many months and they didn't want to talk. Now this should be independent of their input and influence in the 1st phase.

The process would look something like:-

Phase 1 - Election
We should meet to elect in a strategy for change board based on their experience. This could contain 10 members with all areas covered as much as possible. I would put myself forward to be elected based on long open concerns and sacrificing my job over them. I have key experience in area's 1,2 & 3.
We should elect a vice and chairman. I would nominate Chris Waddle as chairman.

Phase 2 - Discussion "Warts en all"
Lets get all the issues on the table. This should be frank, honest and open. No more cover ups. As part of this we would carry out research days where we would gather information from outside people. Players, parents, coaches, staff. Everyone should feel they have a voice and could also choose to remain anonymous if they fear their job. Then we would decide what the real key ones are that need to be addressed. Each of the 5 areas should be covered separately but then linked up for obvious reasons.

Phase 3 - Solutions
We should draught a document and then present it to the FA. At this point the media should be included and everything should be in the open. We would like to meet the FA key member's to openly present and discuss them and see what realistic components can be implemented. Before its too late.

We would require an organisation to fund this process in terms of costs and logistics. Perhaps we could have some offers from one that is equally concerned about our game. However, I strongly feel it should actually be funded by the FA. Would they be brave enough to actually fund the action group to uncover the true feelings of its own football community? Many changes have already happened and Ive said before, much of EPPP is very good. But there are rotten core issues that need addressing. I feel alienated by the FA for having the balls to say what I thought was wrong. But as Greg Dyke said to the FA, "Its time for FIFA to stop attacking the messenger and instead consider and understand the message.”

Tony McCool

Sunday, 22 June 2014

England's World Cup Exit. PEOPLE PASSION & PLAN

Of course Ill never be England Manager, but I'll also never work for the FA. Not because I don’t want to but because I am not wanted. That for me is the exact reason why we struggle at playing international football. 

In business a board room is full of tough people with the minerals to speak their mind. That doesn’t mean objecting or disagreeing with everything to be difficult, but it does mean if you’ve got an opinion or view speak up. That way there is a good chance we will come up with the right answer. But at the FA and in fact modern academies its becoming the industry of nodding dogs. Everyone is too scared to speak up or they fear they will be shifted out. You can actually be a champion for change and still have an opinion. Also, in the process of change you should be open about how it evolves and adjust. Embrace what works and tweak what doesn’t. 

My feelings and rationale behind our early World Cup exit and future is as follows. Firstly on Roy.

World Cup Roy
Now I must say I am a huge fan of Roy Hodgson. He really comes across as genuine and is such an intelligent thinker. Most of all he comes across as an honest good guy. Also, who am I compared to him to judge? Incredible experience of world football. But, I want to share my view despite this. Although the exit breaks records for failure he has still been treated softly I feel and some quarters have seen these great attacking prospects and feel that giving them a chance is a step forward. But I’m disappointed in him. To me it’s so consistent with the whole FA message even at youth level. We want to recruit all players with the 'wow' factor. Ive said before that academies are only recruiting attacking 1v1 players. Looking for Messi. In my EPPP=EZZZ blog I spoke how I don’t see us looking for the varied other players that make up successful teams. To me its Balance, a balance of different types of players. I admire that he took the young players and to a degree was proven right. But then he left behind the experience where you need it most. At the back. Terry and Cole should have gone. Cahill was awesome up until the goal but overall there was clear lack of experience. This was even evident at corners against us when Baines was vacating the front post to mark the back. Clearly something that he’s been told, but when is the trigger to go? Surely that would be an over hit flight which means the front post low 'POMO' threat is gone? Uruguay clearly recognised this and nearly scored, twice. Things like that just don’t happen with Cole and Terry. 
Winning is a group thing so equally Losing is also. So, as nice as Roy is and Gary Neville also for that matter, have to also take responsibility. We lacked no-how and knowledge at the back. When you set up a team to win I think the lack of experience and naivety can actually be an advantage in attacking areas, because it can equal unpredictable play and playing without fear. We saw that in Raheem Stirling. But should those words be how we describe defensive players? Should be organised, experienced, strong and excellent at reading the game. Youth or new faces is great for pace and athleticism, but it’s a trade-off. Especially when one of them is forced to play like a traditional left back. That being more a defender than a forward. So this Baines is a threat, how do you counter that? Play two players higher in attack creating 2v2. Suddenly Centre Backs get nervous and full-backs end up deeper and rolling in. One answer is to adapt your own formation? Why cant you change the formation/strategy. If you play three at the back then your full backs are released. We just didn’t seem to have another way which surprised me with Roy.


I also don’t think we have the big player in the middle that does all the ugly things. Spoiling, seeing danger, winning the ball and starting attacks. Rooney, apparently underperformed but do you look deeper? How well did Arevelo Rois do? The little bull-dog in the middle that just sat between the lines in the number 10 area and spoiled play. I don’t think we have got that and were not recruiting that player either. Its part of us see sawing from country to country looking for a winning formula then coaching all our player to be that style. Were in danger of doing that again. Football is not a pretty place and to win major international tournaments you need that balance. Only then can the great forward players go and win us games. Messi scored another great late winner against Iran. 90+ mins but what was the score when he did? They’ve got one deep midfielder Mascherano. A good player yes of course, but also an excellent spoiler and will 'play the game' to find a way to win. 

In fact, Every team that has been successful has had a great deep midfielder who perhaps at times goes un noticed. I certainly do notice and De Jong was excellent against Spain. In fact if you go back over the last 20 years of World Cup Winners/Finalist, European cup winners and premier leagues teams, look at them and you will spot the player. I don’t see that player in the England squad. People talk of Gerrard but its like we want to slot him in their to assist the back end of his career. But bear in mind Gerrard was alongside a player like that during their European success. If this player was also of the calibre like those in the image, then I don’t believe we should have two players. Personally, that’s a job for one player, releasing all that talent then to open teams up.

We seem too nice, not wanting to offend anyone. Win games in a pretty way like Brazil or Barcelona. But were England. If we had balance right we could at least compete and I actually believe we have great talent in attack that given a clean sheet to work with would flourish. Steven Gerrard today said, Uruguay were cute, clever, disruptive and difficult to beat. He and Roy need to listen to those words. All the answers are in that sentence right there. Why aren’t we? Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I believe we have to tools now. Not in the future, not “this is a project”. Its typical FA blah blah. We will say the same in 4 years and 8 years. Well I believe with the right balance and organisations I believe we have the players now that can win Euro 2016 in France, or at least be closer to having a go. Get us to a semi-final and in with a shout. Roy is right when he says it’s a fine line, we played well. I agree and I also accept it’s a tough group. This new set of players can put me on the edge of my seat. I loved Raheem skipping past people, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Barkley look great to me. Just got to get the balance right to allow us to play forward in exciting waves with the comfort the castle gates are guarded.

Were too nice
I heard some criticism of Luis Suárez for not being more humble to England. Why should he? It’s the World Cup and hes not English. This is where a bit of me thinks someone like José Mourinho would give us a chance because he’s simply ruthless. We need that edge to us. Find a way to manage games and win. I’ve said in my other blogs that were also not managing the balance of winning v losing as well in our academies.
England’s represented by lions but they’re not roaring. That’s because for the last 15 years we have been taming them. We’ve put them in a circus and whipped them into parading giants that jump through hoops on command. EPPP is also creating these performing lions. A lion is a confident leader that acts purely on instinct with devastating ruthlessness. That’s exactly what Englands needs back. We should see 11 stunning lions jogging onto that pitch like they’re ready to take on anything to gain territory.

In short, if I was in charge these are the things I would address

Next two years to 2016

1.   England can be winning now. We have talent for 18 upwards. Let’s stop pretending we don’t care if we win because of development. Address the balance of the team and go into games with the right PEOPLE, PASSION & PLAN People, means get the balance right, we got it wrong. Passion, I don’t really see enough, I know the players are genuinely devastated, but seemingly all the other countries have better togetherness. I seriously think the British press don’t help with this. They really damage confidence and the victim in this tournament was Wayne Rooney. Finally we need a better plan. Roy says it was pretty much all perfect and wouldn’t change it, but im sorry, we lost. We also didn’t seem to be in control of strategy in the second game or maybe the players couldn’t exercise it because the structure was wrong?
2.   With immediate effect, now. I would find a way to create prize funds that are ring-fenced. I am totally against the league 3 for reasons I’ve stated. I would create the reserve league to replace the 21’s. This should have regulation about a minimum number home players. I would also then keep the current U18 structure. However, Using the massive EPPP pot or others. I would put a prize fund in there scaled based on where you finish in the league. There would be one for the Premier League and then one for the football league youth alliance. Whatever way we look at it the owners of clubs and the face of football has changed. It is totally dominated by money. We won’t change it so we need to embrace it to find the answer. Chairman would suddenly take an interest in the U18 and even the reserves. This could prove to be a nice little bonus if those lads could climb the table. This in turn will put a different demand on the coaches and players. Pressure to win. You may say I’m being ruthless here, going backwards. But I’m not talking about grass roots under 8 football here. This is reality. We have good talent but they are not tough enough and don’t understand ways to manage games and win. The prize fund distributed will be at all levels and ring-fenced meaning it can only be used in the Academy structure with proof required.
3.   EPPP needs addressing for U16 downwards. The main problem being the demands of coaches who are underpaid and leaving. EPPP says the best player should be at the best clubs. I don’t disagree with that. But surely the best coaches should be working with the best players? This main point needs addressed along with some others to ensure EPPP is not later proven to have failed. The scale of this is unthinkable. Many aspects of the EPPP are great and we needed radical change. But we need to ensure that its working and review it. I’m available ;-)

Tony McCool

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Is Eccentric a sign of Bad Behaviour? Issues? or could it be...GENIUS?

Were asked in football what does the future player look like now. Well I think, what did certain players look like in the past? I certainly agree with ‘holistic’ development and the vast majority of sports people who ‘succeed’ in becoming top professional athletes will be ones who follow the path. But what worries me is how I see football staff trying to put all players in the same mind-set. Just like we are with player’s football wise. Seemingly creating all the same player, I now see signs of us trying to create the same mind-set. Now I’m no psychiatrist (might need one) but to me freedom on the pitch in attacking areas comes from freedom of the mind. That is also not over thinking things.
All us that have earned a living in the game dress up our input, importance and role in creating the player and try to take some responsibility when it goes well. But what if good coaching is stepping back, recognising something great and letting the player develop their way almost organically. We simply set the scene, give them the best environment and act as the race track barrier to keep them on the tarmac. I guess I'm asking, what if we have a genius and don’t recognise the signs in his/her behaviour. We just see it as deliberate bad behaviour and despite our learning, we ignore the potential and send them to the club psychologist. Some of these guys then, just in my view, stabilise or neutralise all this, almost suppress it and the player marches out hypnotised, a new level headed, calm individual, just like everybody else. Now I don’t think that everything these people do is wrong either. Actually, genius doesn't come round often so for the majority it could be simply attention and focus issues or others reasons that the psychologist will have a tremendous input on. But when they globalise success as a certain path of thought, actions & behaviours, I'm sorry, I disagree and I’ll try to explain why.
When a player behaves differently how do you cope as a coach and what do you see? I think many coaches fear players, even young ones that have big personalities or issues. So many sit in the coach education courses and listen to the social/psychological corner on paper but they don’t apply it on the pitch. See when a player behaves so called badly, lacks concentration, doesn't listen, has learning issues or has punctuation, anger or other problems. What is the reason? My first thought is always, is there an issue at home, school or socially. So I believe some patience is required and I wish more coaches would apply some of their own words and think about what they learned in the classroom. Rather than quickly snapping at the player in public, demanding their attention and concentration. Is it better to find a way to make them want to listen?
There is of course many that will fall foul of behaviour. Maybe they simply have a bad attitude and we all know if that is the case they will likely not make the grade. Despite all your efforts as a coach and surrounding staff you just can’t pull the player round. Ultimately players that can’t be controlled overall will be waved out of the door. But bear in mind, if players are running wild that can also be sign of weakness in the coach. I don’t mean fear factor either, coaches earn respect from players of all ages and most of all, when it’s interesting, players apply themselves. But what about that odd individual that’s a bit more of a test? I'm not scared of so called ‘different’ behaviour, body language or personalities. Recently after training a parent came to me. “How was they today (brothers)”? Fine, I replied. She went on to tell she has had issues with their coach with concentration and behaviour. I thought for a second. I told her that if she means smiling, laughing then yes, they do that. They also poke each other around but I don’t see those as issues. There is definite improvement in these players, but I already began re-directing their thoughts, creating games where they were separated or had to work better together and if there is too much standing still, they get bored and poke each other. If you talk to long, yes they start juggling with the ball. Every coaches red rag to a bull! I don’t see that as bad behaviour, I'm the same, I get bored quickly. So, for me I don’t have any issues with their behaviour. After I walked off I thought about what their coach was seeing. Was he standing them around talking? Is it because there not looking at him listening attentively hanging on his words, (I've seen coaches take massive offence to this) that’s behaviour problems? Not for me. But then how do I know they learned? Guess what, we did a similar session where we worked on passing & receiving with movement to receive. Without talking to them, we set up. Off we went, they did all the things we did the week before. So, they did learn. They just don’t like waffle.

Do we really embrace creativity?
For me there are certain things in people that are closely linked. If I think about a list of great, but eccentric people, I think about their strong personality, some being unpredictable with anger problems but maybe strong leaders. But most of all, there creativity. For me, these individual won’t always comply, they won’t always be the same as everyone else. Maybe they are different for a reason? The fantastic late musician Kurt Cobain said “They laugh at me because I'm different; I laugh at them because they’re all the same”
Great Eccentrics?
How would you define this list of footballers?
Eric Cantona, Paul Gascoigne, Maradona, George Best, Garrincha, Peter Schmiechel, Roy Keane, Mario Balotelli, Paulo Di Canio, Zinedine Zidane, el-hadji Diouf, Gennaro Gattuso, Joey Barton and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Possibly throw manager Jose Mourinho in there as manager? In here are some of my favourite players ever. But I would ask, are they entertaining? Would you pay to see them? I also think, what did these guys look like as youth players? Also, were they easy to coach? Imagine that lot in front of you as you shout “ok guys in you come, what did you learn there then”? What did this lot do when you shouted “Stop stand still” “Oi, Listen to me” “Oi, Stop bouncing that ball and concentrate”? Were they easy to manage & control or did they test managers? I had a reasonable size business and without question, the most difficult person to manage as an employee, was the most successful salesperson. Do I sack him for an easy life? So, these certainly are characters, they have a view of how they see things, they’re willing to say things, they’re willing to try things. So are they ‘Eccentric’? I looked that up for definition and found this…
What is an eccentric person? Is it a form of insanity? Or are these people simply free spirits who have the courage to do their own thing?
There are five salient qualities: nonconformity, creativity, curiosity, idealism, and self-awareness of being different.
Some secondary characteristics include: high level of intelligence, being opinionated and outspoken, possessing a mischievous sense of humour.
I thought then of other sports people I admired. Ronnie O’Sullivan, Usain Bolt, Muhammad Ali, Chris Eubank, John McEnroe, Valentino Rossi, Serena Williams, Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson and so we could go on. But their is something similar here, big personalities.
When you consider music there are a vast array of great artist like Kurt Cobain who are not frightened to try new things and could be argued are very much their own people. Michael Jackson, Elvis, Prince, Sinead O’Connor, Liam Gallagher, Morrissey are great examples and today we see the amazingly creative Lady Gaga.
To really look to cement my view that some great people can be so called ‘different’ I looked further into history and found a couple seemingly great people who were noted for being difficult, different, unusual, learning issues, sleep issues, concentrations issues etc. These are Thomas Edison, Beethoven, DaVinci, Oscar Wilde, Michelangelo, Albert Einstein & Charles Dickens. No, surely you don’t need any more convincing that genius doesn’t always march around nodding they’re head, looking you in the eye and ticking the boxes.
If kids are actually ‘pieing off training’, that to me is another issue. Likewise unruly, nasty behaviour or bullying. All completely unacceptable on my watch. But others might need different types of activity and a certain level of discovery to keep them stimulated. Maybe they are just bored? Find a way, try something new. This includes some that might just need an enjoyable environment. Is smiling wrong? Some coaches think learning looks stern faced. Not always, you can smile and learn. It’s called a different way. I know for example, I cannot learn in a presentation/dictatorship fashion. I work in technology but was shown a computer application in a presentation. It doesn't stick, I have to be hands on to learn. But because the lesson was one person talking for an hour, it didn't stick. When I later asked some questions the reply was ‘you have already been told this’. This was a person in coach education.

Lastly if you do nothing else please look up this great guy. One of the best presentations Ive seen. Actually, why is it this stuck with me? Was it interesting? Did it contain personality? Was humour injected?
Please see my key snippets I feel relevant to us in football youth development.
Ken Robinson said in his great TED Conference ‘How schools kill creativity’
-       Were educating our children for a world that we don’t know what it will look like? We don’t even know what it will look like in 5 years’ time.
-       All kids have tremendous talents and we squander them pretty ruthlessly
-       Story of the little girl drawing a picture and the teacher asked what it was a picture of. The girl replied “it’s a picture of GOD”. The teacher said “but no one knows what God looks like”. The girl replied “They will in a minute”
-       If you’re not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything original
-       We educate people out of their creative capacities
-       We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it
-       We don’t think of Shakespeare being a child, he was in somebodies English class
-        Gillian Lynne was labelled with learning difficulties. She couldn't stop fidgeting and had lack of focus, she couldn't concentrate. She was taken to a doctor who actually said there was nothing wrong with her, he turned on the radio and she was moving, he told her mother to take her to dance. They took her and she said the room was full of people like her, people who needed to move to think. She graduated, formed a dance school, worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber and was a dancer/director/choreographer in a string of award winning musicals including Phantom of the Opera and Cats. Ken says, somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.
Tony McCool