Result orientated football and emphasis on a passing game strips away ingenuity, whilst pressure from adults promotes the player to make the safe option. “None of that silly stuff”. How many times have you heard an adult shout that?
There are very few coaches and adults that promote and prioritise ball mastery and tricks in this country, certainly not in a game situation.
Recently, I saw footage of a foreign boy beating players with brilliant individual trickery – and instantly I thought, I’m not hopeful I will ever see that within the English game at any level.
Think back to the England national side playing some of the ‘minnows’. Iceland at the Euros for example. The recurring theme throughout is a boring English display struggling to break down defences, players lacking confidence and creativity to beat players 1v1. If only we had a Ronaldo, Messi, Robben, Hazard, Ronaldinho, Zidane, Cantona, Maradonna…it’s never going to happen if things remain. Why?
Academies and the like appear to be doing more damage than good too. The pressure for kids to keep their place brings about a sense of fear. Status and compliance with the norm overrides any potential brilliance and the desire to reveal world class talent. A professional academy is not perceived to be the place to try different things. Make mistakes and potentially embarrass yourself? God forbid – that craziness is for the back garden only. At the worst, one wrong move and you could be out. At the best the onlooking dad will criticise afterwards.
That foreign kid in the footage, how many times do you think he made errors before he pulled his wizardry off? One thing doing it in the garden – another pulling it off on the pitch.
I’ve spent enough time in the presence of football academies, schools and UEFA qualified coaches and I can count on one hand the step-overs I’ve seen. Not one flip flap, maybe the odd roulette, Cruyff turns yes but not a McGeady turn, the odd Rabona in play yes, but nothing like the skills we should be seeing. Too much “get the ball on the deck and play football”. Only Gazza gets close. And the proof – how many English lads play on the continent?
Kids need to be taught a vast library of skills and tricks, like a dictionary of basic English vocabulary. And be encouraged to take that into games from an early age.
Firstly, the adults need educating. I cringe when I see a brave young pro run at defenders and lose the ball. Not because the player may have lost possession but because of the inevitable stick he’s about to receive from the ‘fans’. Immediately his confidence is knocked. If he’s fortunate to stay on the pitch you can guarantee he will play the ball sideways or backwards next time he’s in possession.
Occasionally, there are exceptions to the rule. Germany’s work rate, discipline and team work help them achieve more often than not. But as for England, without truly world class individual talent (and that’s far more than athletes with speed) the quarter finals is probably the best we can hope for and as other nations improve our ambitions could even be reduced to simply qualifying for major tournaments.
The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried – grass roots ‘success’ should not be about winning, poaching or even passing the Barcelona way. It should be about freedom to express repeatedly without fear of failure the ambition to instinctively beat your opponent with skill.
Author Christian Polzin