I’m still not quite sure how it happened; I think all the other dads must have taken a big step backwards together in the way that defensive walls don’t, leaving me standing out in front on my own.
Whatever the case, I now find myself helping out with drills at the football coaching session our son attends on Saturday mornings. (Weather and City’s fixture list permitting.)
It’s been fun so far, though some aspects have been tricky. There are some cheeky kids in the group; one declared that ‘Kevin’s a stupid name’, though since his name’s Hugo, the first lesson that day was to beware of leaving yourself open to a quick counter-attack.
More challenging was the fact that I was put in charge of shooting practice one week. I’m a defender, for goodness’ sake; I would have been as suited to taking knitting practice.
Good strikers are said to go ice-cold in the box when a chance presents itself; I’ve always reacted more like this character.
But it goes beyond that. Defenders have a completely different approach to the game to attacking players.
Defending is all about organisation, about bringing order to chaos. Attacking is about fluidity and creating chaos. They’re two different mindsets; opposing ones, in fact.
My strong organisational sense and lack of skill was always going to make me a defender. (Was it Clough or Shankly who said that no player with talent should play in the back four?) And I found it much easier to read the game from there, since most of the play is in front of you; it’s much harder to see patterns and movement when you’re in the middle of it all.
I wouldn’t know how to teach players how to pick the lock of a well-organised defence, since my concern has always been trying to stop the barn doors flapping around in the breeze at the back.
And I wonder whether this approach to the game is one reason City have found it hard to score goals this season. After all, Messrs Hughton, Calderwood and Trollope were all defenders, and while there must have been some modules on attacking on the FA coaching courses, their years of being at the back on the pitch have surely given them a predominantly defensive outlook.
It’s true that when you play in defence you get to find out which attacking ploys are particularly hard to counteract. (My personal bugbear has always been the central striker who keeps dropping back into midfield – giving you the dilemma of letting him go free or getting pulled out of position – while their midfielders bomb past him. Well, that and the sharp elbow to the ribs off the ball.)
But it’s not the same as having that instinct for going forward and making things happen.
There have been a number of periods so far this season when we’ve enjoyed plenty of possession but haven’t been able to create a clear chance – the Hull and Villa games being the most obvious examples.
On those occasions, it wasn’t a case of retaining possession and patiently trying to work an opening (an approach I’m quite happy to watch, unlike some I sit near). Rather, we seemed to be moving the ball around with no real plan in mind; hoping that a chance would somehow arise by itself rather than being created.
Perhaps the new players need more time to settle; RvW’s performance against Chelsea suggested that he is starting to find his feet (always useful for a footballer).
But if we’re still finding goals hard to come by in a couple of months, perhaps we should consider adding an attacking coach to the management team.
Or at least make sure there’s an accomplished lock-picker in the squad for every game.
Someone small and Irish, say.
Most of the shirts on display at the Saturday morning coaching sessions are, not surprisingly, Chelsea ones. We are in south-west London, after all. But it’s noticeable that the gloryhunting kids go for Barcelona and Real Madrid kits these days, rather than Man Utd ones. (And the least talented of them invariably have ‘Messi’ printed on the back.)
I’m not sure whether this represents progress or not, but it is another sign that, as Ion Trewin, Literary Director of the Man Booker Prize rather oddly put it, ‘the world is now much more global’.
Anyway, I’m happy to report that Harry is still wearing his Norwich kit, and is actually feeling much happier about it these days. No one’s made fun of him for months and he was especially chuffed when two separate passers-by, one leaning out of a moving car, congratulated him on his choice* of team within ten minutes after a recent session.
(*I know, like he had a choice.)
There’s been a bit of discussion lately about whether City would be better off in the Championship than in the Premier League. Apart from any other consideration, life is so much easier for a young Norwich exile when the club is in the top flight.
And finally… to return to the subject of laughing at people’s names.
A friend asked the other week whether City fans have stopped sniggering at Ricky van Wolfswinkel’s name yet. I replied that we have (we have, haven’t we?) but that I still find it mildly amusing that Ricky’s girlfriend is called Bianca.
Cue hysterical laughter and ‘Rickaaayyy!’ repeated several times.
But like Hugo, my friend would do well to consider her own name before mocking.
Her name is Rose. And she’s married to Fred.
Mick Dennis says
Hi fellow MFW columnist. Nice piece, as ever. But there are scores of examples of players who did not play in attack becoming great teachers of offensive techniques. Pep Guardiola, for instance, was a defensive midfielder. His teams are not too shabby going forwards.
It’s too simplistic, I think, to assume your situation is replicated by people who have learned coaching.
Chris Hughton played and worked with some great attacking talents, learned from them and, according to David Pleat (just one of the folk I’ve talked to about CH) is a very good attacking coach.
Another ex-Spurs fullback is also exceptional at tutoring attackers: Ian Culverhouse. We benefited from his acquired teaching ability.
My 7 year old still dons his Norwich shirt at football training each week, brushing off the taunts. He aches for those results when he can mock his peers wearing their Arsenal and Chelsea shirts. (Don’t we all son, don’t we all).
Ash Diback says
Kevin – that last line’s a killer!
I get the feeling that Wes’s days are numbered and maybe he’s filled David Fox’s position in no man’s land. He should hopefully get a rare run out at Old Trafford next week.
Can’t we persuade Ian Crook to come back from Aussie for a coaching role? Ticks the boxes for me. Ex-Spurs, so he and CH’s paths must have crossed there and he would be just the kind of flair ex-Canary to get us moving forward with more purpose?
Absolutely right Kevin, there’s nowt wrong with our squad of players that a dose of Laudrup & staff wouldn’t cure.
Thank you for your kind words; I loved your latest column too, despite the heartbreaking subject matter.
I admit it, I was being a little disingenuous – I’m sure there are a few ex-defenders out there who are good attacking coaches. And CH may be one of them; you know him (and people who know him) better than I do, which is not at all.
But I wonder how many management/coaching teams there are at leading clubs where every member of that team used to play in the back four.
Regarding Guardiola – as you say, he wasn’t a fully paid-up member of the Defenders’ Union, even though his role may have allowed him ancillary membership. His assistant Tito Vilanova was also a midfielder, and the whole footballing ethos and approach at the club will have had a huge influence on the way the team played under them. Besides, with their own small genius on the pitch, perhaps there wasn’t too much attacking coaching needed.
All I was really trying to do was float a possible explanation for the uncertainty and aimlessness which has sometimes been apparent when we’ve gone forward this season. We’ve clearly got some talent in the ranks; it’s just been frustrating that they don’t appear (to me, at least) to know what they’re trying to do.
Saturday’s game probably isn’t the one where we can expect to see everything click, but it would be good to see us looking more purposeful against Cardiff the week after.
I think Wes’ days are numbered, too be honest I think Howson is far better in that position these days.
good article Kevin