Friday, 14 November 2014

Risk V Reward: Angel di Maria boasts highest pass rate from high risk attacking passes

Angel di Maria has an incredible successful passing rate of 79.10% which when you consider his style of play makes him the player on the ball most likely to try to unlock a defence.

But that story doesn't sell does it? In the last 24 hours I have been reading reports & twitter feeds about Angel di Maria and the criticism he is receiving for the Opta stats published on various platforms.
They report this as him being the record signing but he's the worst passer. I have two challenges in my mind with this. One being what we already all know in England which is that we our obsessed with criticism and finding what's wrong and not what's right. But more from a technical coaching perspective this is an important topic. 

Working with Elite Cricket
I have actually worked in/with performance analyst for around 10 years of my coaching life. I have been part of seeing how stats affect performance and the interpretation dangers. Working in that industry many of the stats are vital. For example when analysing opposition, as a team you could understand their systems and style of play based on many objective facts produced by organisations like Opta. Also, your analyst can produce vital stats linked to the actual video with product from the like of Prozone & Sportscode. So, what's the problem?
When you spin that success rate of 79.1% success and quote 20.9% failure it and chuck in that it makes you the worse performer in the club it can have a hugely detrimental affect to your game. Firstly lets turn that in to real context. You passed the ball ten times, two of them failed. When you consider the type of player he is, to me that's a non story. In my role I was fortunate to meet performance analyst at many of Europe's top clubs including Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Chelsea and so on. As well as that I did some work in other sports. Rugby is of course a sport that utilises live stats at the top level like ruck, mauls, turnovers etc but the sport that really engrained a thought in my head was cricket. I was fortunate to have met people within the elite performance at the ECB and also at some top level county cricket teams. One guy had gained the view that stats should be very carefully used in order to not have a negative performance affect. He told me that they had a spell where they used to produce the stats and pin them up in the dressing room. One key stats was the success rate of catches. This was meant to highlight performance and ultimately improve standards. However a new stat was being produced. Performance was down. Individual catch success rate went up but overall the teams catches in volume was less. Why? The analyst did two things. Firstly they went to the video and watched every single catch opportunity from training and games which was coded. It now appeared that the attempt to catch was down and also high risk catches were virtually zero. They followed that up with player meetings who confirmed that perhaps, sub consciously or consciously they perhaps were no longer willing to take on higher risk catches because they didn't want to be highlighted to peers and more importantly to management. This after all is their career on the line.
Easy pass v risky pass/cross
Risk V Reward
So, to bring this back to football there is an obvious relationship. When your on the ball does your brain flash back to that stat printed on the notice board saying im the worse passer? Do I recall that paper article saying that im the worse passer and not value for money. Then, I change my game. Well If Angel di Maria simply passes easy, sideways and backwards then is he just another player that Manchester United already have. A deeper controlling midfielder? When reality is he is a player that is looking for ways to constantly break you down with  a dribble, beat someone or a killer pass. This is a high risk strategy and means he also stands a higher risk of mistakes. When you go through the video you see a player that wants to take you on, want's to cross the ball, wants to make a killer pass. If your a defender out their, can I ask you which type of player you would rather player against?

Balanced team
The Spoilers - Great teams need balance of defence & flare

People that know me as a coach know that I have a simple philosophy. A team should be made up of a balanced team and also clever players. You cannot have five di Marias in the team. Of course that wouldn't work. But a team with di Maria and the security of Carrick & Blind behind him. Yes. Ive also said before about this issue within youth recruitment and coaching.
In my experience, I have seen grass roots coaches 'coach' out the individual brilliance of the higher risk naturally attacking players. As a youth coach I seen a greatly talented player completely change. He was 8/9 when I first seen him. He used to skip past people for fun. I seen him again at around 10 and I witnessed the coaches having a go at him. "Stop being greedy, pass it". I then seen him last year and I have to admit, he is now very ordinary and would not be recruited as without the ball he isn't great. But the flare is now gone. So he's neither.
Then on the flip side, Ive seen Elite Academy coaches try to make naturally defensive players attacking 1v1 players. Or only recuiting attacking 1v1 players that do step overs. Its simply balance. I described in my blog how important the spoiler is and how it frustrates me that we seemingly don't recognise the different strengths and types of players required to make a successful team yet this has been proven over the years. Now we see the topic of some of our great sides not being balanced enough. Too much flare, not defensive minded. Then it will go around again. Too negative, midfielder's don't break lines and take risks. When I hear this I just role my eyes and shake my head because the topic goes round in circles. Maybe I will soon get my chance now at senior level to put my simple philosophy in place. I have to admit, how can a Man Utd find them selves in a situation without top defenders/centre back's, regardless of injuries. Arsenal unable to field a top defensive midfielder and defenders. Arsenal, famously the hardest team to beat in England. The famous back four with the rock in front? That's shocking.
I mentioned clever players. This is because players need to understand the circumstances and dynamics. For example. If Angel di Maria is on the pitch, with ten minutes to go and they are two nil up. Perhaps, I would ask my performance analyst to tell me his retention percentage then. Because the question might be does he change his game based on circumstances? Does he know how to manage a game? Of course that might mean I need to remove him in certain circumstances. However, during the normal course of the game I would want him to take risks? In his position of course.
If a striker scored on average of one goal in four attempts that's a mere 25% success rate. Do you tell him not to shoot any more?

Tony McCool

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

They said I wasn't good enough (8 year old footballer)

Coaching in a school is tricky because the challenge is achieving effective results when there is such a range of abilities. So, yesterday I decided to put them in small teams of 4/5 and just let them play. At 8 this seemed to be the best way to get them on the ball as often as possible and then I can watch and devise a coaching plan from there.
One boy began to stand out. He happens to also be a bit silly and excitable and would be one that is a regular that requires attention. But bearing in mind my previous blog about eccentric behaviour its worth looking beyond that.
He was addressing the ball with all surfaces, beating people easily, passing & receiving with excellent technique. He seemed predominantly right footed. Then a ball came across his body in the air, he adjusted his body, arched his back and half volley scissors kicked the ball with laces into the top corner...with his left foot. Now I want to find out more. I called him out and asked him a favour. There was a ball behind the goal and I asked if he could go get it and kick it to me. Really I was interested in which foot he used. He chipped and curled it back with his left foot. But, he spent most of the game on his right. I found another opportunity and began a little game one on one. We played a little passing game. I passed the ball to him and he should pass it back to me. Which ever foot was closer he would receive on and he would pass it with the other. He was equally comfortable on both. OK, could have a 'player' here. What a buzz it is to see natural talent like that. Then came the massive punch in the stomach in the conversation that followed...

Tony: "So who do you play for"?
Player: "I don't play for anyone any-more"
Tony: "Ok, (cautious about possible background circumstances) have you ever played for a team or just play for the school team"?
Player: "I did play for (local club) and then I was scouted and went to play for (pro club) but they released me because I  think I messed about and they said I wasn't good enough".
Tony: (deep breath)..."and can you go back and play for the local club"?
Player: "No, I don't play any-more because my mum and dad said I'm not going to be a footballer because I mess about and (pro club) said I'm not good enough anyway"

I dont know where to start on this as it was by far the most upsetting thing iv'e heard in football. Its a hugely disturbing example of the state of our game on so many levels. Of course you would question the parents and seemingly there understanding of taking part in football is for the sole purpose of being a professional footballer. Secondly I have wrote before about the impact we have on players when they are released This player has walked away at 8 years old and decided that not only is his football career is over but his whole football experience at any level is over.
I also think about why he was released. Could naivety and lack of experience not enabled the coaches to see beyond his so called behaviour problem Was he difficult to handle and the easy option was to let him go?

This lads experience of football at such an early age is an absolute disgrace and it leads me to question if having children of such young age in pro clubs is overall good for our game or in fact damaging long term? Do we have actual proof that have players this young in the pro system actually works? Should we be giving parents early dreams of a superstar footballer son so early?

Maybe all children of KS 1&2 years should remain at local clubs and schools as a rule. This would ensure they simply enjoy football with no pressure. Clubs would then have a big incentive to have good relationships with grass roots and provide coaching workshops ensuring players still get quality development. Then and if they are deemed elite at KS3 parents can choose where they go based on what they have seen and experienced in those early years.

Tony McCool

Monday, 10 November 2014

Who'd be a referee?

I had been scouting and got a text from a friend. He runs an u15 grass roots team and the ref has let them down. Could I help and nip over and ref his game? I thought for a minute. I've been coaching 18 years and never refereed a competitive game. (we've all done the odd mini soccer game as it was). Plus its a bit of exercise. You know what? Yes, why not?

The experience certainly satisfied my need for a bit of exercise but during the game and afterwards I thought, no way would I want to do that every week. It opened my eyes... and ears.

Perspective view as a coach
Early on, it was a football issue. Being in the middle I was very aware that their was a reluctance to get on the ball and in trying to keep up with play I was blowing after 10 minutes. I was running box to box constantly.  They didn't know how to position them selves to assist getting on the ball. Yes, granted, the pitch was pretty awful but iv'e seen worse. At one point I thought the tactic was to just miss the pitch out. On several occasions I nearly forgot where I was, or who I was and wanted to blow the whistle to move the players in to better positions. Instead I was talking to myself. 'your gonna smash that up the pitch again arnt you?, yep, there it goes...and here it comes back again...whooo'
Eventually the game did settle down as they fatigued and in small patches both teams did try to pass the ball properly and with a purpose.

"Ref Ref Ref Ref Ref Ref Ref"
If I heard that once I heard it 400 hundred times and its that really annoying tone. Like Eric Cartman to his mum. "wreerrrrrrrrrrf"
There is a clear lack of knowledge of the rules of the game from the players. Like, its not handball unless its deemed deliberate. The ball struck a players arm but would have been impossible to be deliberate. They moaned and complained and I had to call a lad over to explain the rules. There was a penalty shout. Two players went for the ball honestly, not from behind. Face to face, both got something on the ball and both fell down in the process. Not a penalty for me. Not a deliberate foul or kick, or attempt to. "wreeeerrrrf" again for the next few minutes. Then there was free kicks. When someone pushes someone in the back, its a foul. But when they jump for the ball to head it, no hands, no barge there is contact yes, but its not a foul. Now I don't claim to have got every decision right. With the benefit of a video replay maybe it could be proven that I missed something. But everything decision I gave was honest and based on my interpretation of the rules. That includes me not blowing the whistle every two minutes because two players have simply came into contact and gone to ground. I also didn't give a goal where the boys claimed it was over the line. I was just outside the box and the keeper got a hand on it. It didn't look over to me. I looked at the assistant referee and he didn't flinch. So, I didn't give a goal. "wreeeeerrrf". In my mind I was thinking, if you put half as much energy into actually playing football as you do complaining and trying to gain decisions from the ref you would be twice the player.

You never know who's watching
Many players at this age still harbour dreams of being pro footballers. I always say to players ive coached, you never know who's watching. Well little did they know that the man in the middle does recruitment and coaching for a level 1 academy and been in pro football for 12 years. Yet, I would have ruled out half of the players purely on their poor attitude. I think they look at the premier league players complaining and harassing referees and each other and think that's acceptable or the way to play. They need to understand the key point. These players on £20k to £100k a week playing football have already got a reputation. You haven't, your trying to earn one. Also the pressures and dynamics are completely different.  So, i'm looking to see what stands out. Technical, 1st touch, receiving, passing, range, awareness. Ability to handle the ball in tight scenarios and tempo. Do defenders know how to defend and are they good on the ball? Can the midfielder play 360 degrees under pressure and play the whole range of passes with both feet? Can the wingers take people on? Do they make good decisions? Tactical, Do they have good game understanding, do they have good organisation? Do they recognise different scenarios?  Physical, all round fitness but specifically mobility and agility as well as speed and strength. Do they know how to protect the ball and use the body fairly in 1v1's?  (I was aware that I ran past both teams midfielder's constantly to be closer to play). Psychological general attitude. Are they good communicators, do they have the desire and drive to do well? Well, most spent their energy focusing on moaning and general negative communication with each other, the opposition, the ref etc. Unfortunately that was what stood out to me rather than football capability. In contrast, the two best players that I identified who would certainly be not be too far away from earning identification, were also the ones I never heard negativity from. They were also smiling and enjoying football. That stands out to me. Standing out for the right reasons.
Afterwards it made me think how intimidating it must be for the young refs in grass roots football. To be fair, the managers were extremely sporting. This seems a lot better from when I had a mini soccer team and remember coaches berating young refs.  But the players themselves need to realise their behaviour would potentially rule them out of ID situations. I'm well experienced so I could easily gain control of this. Also, as the game progressed I wanted to listen to it more for learning reasons. But for a young boy/girl that would be hard. I wonder if clubs and the FA could arrange tournaments/games where the players HAVE to ref other games between other teams? If that could ever happen it would be a real eye opener for them and perhaps make them consider their behaviour in the future.
Secondly for players, wherever and whenever you step on a football pitch always do your best and get your-self in a good frame of mind. Because you never know who's watching. Remember don't act like a premier league player now. You don't have a reputation, you've got to earn one.
Finally bear in mind. I would be very reluctant to recruit a player that doesn't show a top attitude. Self control and drive is paramount and if I don't see that then in my mind you will likely be simply released further down the road. So, I'll save you the heartache now.

Tony McCool