English Football – Nature vs. Nurture
There was an interesting debate on TalkSport yesterday, wherein a caller pointed out how far Andy Murray had advanced since taking Ivan Lendl on as his coach. A discussion then ensued where it was mentioned that the England football team, and English football would benefit from having top level coaches who had been there and done it, and could therefore pass their expertise onto the players.
It got me thinking that the issue in English football is not down to the quality and experience of the coaches. Sure, top level coaches who had great playing careers in their own right would be able to pass down a vast amount of information in relation to how they prepared themselves and what it was they did to have such great careers, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they would make great coaches or that the players they are dealing with would automatically become great themselves. If anything, I believe that too much emphasis is placed on coaching in this country.
English players are over-coached I believe. Whenever the England side play in friendlies or tournament matches, you can always see them sticking rigidly to their shape or formations. The centre-backs stay back and rarely venture forwards. The full-backs stay wide and run the same channels up and down for the entire match. As a result, it is easy for the attacking players on the opposition to work out where they can and can’t attack, and where they will have to be to pick up any forward moving defenders.
The central midfielders in England play two ways. One will be instructed to just sit back and hold his position. He will often drop deep to take the ball off his defenders, as they are not expected/allowed to bring the ball out of defence. The other midfielder will sit on the halfway line, with the occasional burst forward to support his strikers. Frank Lampard does this to perfection.
The wingers stay out wide, and when they get the ball you know that all they will do is take it to the by-line and then get crosses in.
The strikers stay central and advanced, and are berated if they drop deep looking to get the ball. Their job is to wait in the penalty box for crosses. The only point of deviation is that one of them will be big, and act as a target man. He will then hold the ball up for the smaller, quicker and more efficient striker to feed off.
It is such a predictable and archaic system, and the vast majority of top level opposition have long since worked out that this is how the English play. Occasionally there have been players who have bucked the trend, such as Matt le Tissier, but they have been dismissed as “luxury players” as they couldn’t be shoe horned into the tried and tested system.
This is all down to being over coached. Players aren’t allowed to express themselves as they have strict instructions which they need to follow. They cannot move away from their positions, or try running down different channels.
The best players to have graced the game have been players who have a natural ability, and have been encouraged and permitted to play freely and express themselves. Sure, they have received some coaching, as that is to be expected, but they got to where they are/were due to natural talent, and the freedom to play the game as it comes naturally to them, not the way they are told to play by a coach reading out from a manual.