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.