David Pleat – Session Report

The LFCA was very pleased to be able to bring a true “football man” to give a talk to the members to end the year on a high.

We have had since September two practical and two talk sessions although it had been intended that there would be three practical events but a half term problem with the Orient boys turned one of them into a verbal/ white board event, albeit an excellent one. On this occasion David’s talk followed the AGM and as indicated below enthralled an attentive audience and was followed by a candid question and answer session. Here is the report of the evening’s meeting.”

The talk given by former Tottenham Hotspur and Luton Town Manager/Coach, David Pleat, covered a wide range of topics but they covered the wide spectrum of coaching and kept the LFCA membership enthralled and stimulated for the hour or so during which he spoke and took questions from the members present.

David started by commenting on the recntly introduced DNA for all England international players of all age levels which the Football Association has just introduced and wishes to be introduced to both players and coaches involved in the game. The FA had only just released details of their proposls on the day on which David was giving his talk and so many of its points had still to be clarified and properly digested. Nevertheless, he had misgivings concerning the value of the initiative. Being from what might be termed the ‘old school’, David quoted Ron Greenwood’s famous line – “Simplicity is genius”. He felt that this was another example of the FA trying to make an empire out of coaching. From what he had seen of the FA’s blueprint there was too much waffle and it needed to be simplified. He felt that the FA hierarchy fail to appreciate that coaches learn from experimenting and gain and aquire knowledge from many sources.

David said that when he was a young player he was greatly influenced by a senior player by the name of Joe Mallett at Nottingham Forest. Mallett went to Forest with the manager, Johnny Carey, who wasn’t a coach but strong on man-management. Mallett got the young players together in the afternoons after the physical traning had been done in the morning and encouraged them to practice their technical skills and helped them with game understanding.

What David learned from Joe Mallett had a big effect in turning him towards coaching and as his playing career began to wind down and he had to give thought to what he would do when the time came to hang up his boots. When he went to play at Luton town he started coaching the schoolboys in the evenings, all the time increasing his knowledge and experience. It was at Luton that he came under the influence of Harry Haslam and learnt a lot from him as well. He was also influenced by the FA’s Director of Coaching at the time, Allen Wade, and in particular he adopted the Principles of Play, which Wade set out in detail in his official text book, and David enthusiastically imparted those principles to the young players he coached. Peter Taylor, who became Brian Clough’s trusted lieutenant at both Derby and Nottingham Forest, also had a strong influence on him, particularly in regard to the importance of positioning players in high positions of the pitch. Alan Brown was another influence, this time in regard to the use of ‘shadow’ play where players would be positioned on the pitch to run through movements and skills without opposition and sometimes without the ball.

David is a long time disciple of the methods used by the Dutch club Ajax. He likes their TIPS philosophy:- technique, intelligence, personality, speed. The most important quality is intelligence – Ajax like quick learners.
While David was managing and coaching Luton he admired the work done by Graham Taylor at Watford. It was a simplified style but it was coached well. It revolved around a big target man, long passes and strikers spinning into holes. But at Luton he had other priorities. When his right back received the ball from his keeper, he wasn’t looking for a long pass to the striker but he wanted him to look infield and find the midfield player. He want ed the ball to be worked quickly out to the left winger to develop a 1 against 1 situation against their right back. He worked the same way when manager of Tottenham in getting the ball out to Ginola. He said that it was vital that the players know what you are looking for from them. At Tottenham during the first 20 minutes they put the ball in behind the opponents as much as possible to make them drop deep to open up the space in front of them which Tottenham then exploited.

David has no doubt that the good players of the past would adapt to today’s footbal. He expressed sadness that in the modern game it is all pass, pass, pass because running with the ball has disappeared. He said that we have no-one like Hoddle or Gascoigne because street football has disappeared. When he visited Argentina he noticed that small football pitches had been built on top of high buildings for the kids to play 3 v 3 matches. This made up for the disappearnce of waste land at ground level through the building of more houses where the great players of the past had learnt the game. But we have not done anything like that.

David repeated his criticism of the FA’s missed opportunities to really improve the playing standards in this country. Too much emphasis on positionalising through systems of play and more papers on what must be done to improve matters but the game is just complicated by these ideas. As Bobby Robson used to say, what’s important is “time on the grass.” David feels that in England we are even losing qualities which traditionally we were always good at such as heading That’s because we have stopped practicing it. The same goes for tackling and he said that you never see youngsters these days being taught the block tackle.

David commented on the structure of his Tottenham team during his management time there in the late eighties. Broadly speaking, they played a 4-5-1 system. Chris Waddle played very wide on the right whilst steve Hodge was on the left but tucked in. David expressed regret that in England we regard wingers as luxury players. This is because fear is a big problem in football and this fear permeates down to junior levels where the fear of losing often comes from the parents and often has a detrimental effect on the coaches working with the teams. David repeated that he had no doubt that the good technical players of 30 years ago would be good technical players today. He recalled that Ledley King had only 6 reserve games before he went in the first team and you couldn’t tell if he was left footed or right footed. To rectify the shortage of left footed players, David suggested than when first introducing the ball to a young child then roll the ball to his/her left side so that they must address it on their left side.
David recalled that the old Tottenham manager, Bill Nicholson, often became frustrated when he went to look at a young player who had been recommended to him and he found that he was actually techncally inferior. Nicholson would remark “he doesn’t even prepare himself for the ball” and would demand to see the coach to give him a telling off with regard to the inadequacies of his coaching!
In answer to a question from the floor with regard to good movement off the ball, david recalled a goal which Brazil scored against Italy in the 1982 World Cup. falcao was on the right in possesion of the ball and Cerezo went on the overlap around his outside. seeing this, about three italian defenders moved across to cover te run leaving a big hole inside in which falcao stepped into and slammed an unstoppable shot into the Italian net. A great goal.
David Pleat’s talk provided a fascinating insight into the game experienced by one of English football’s most knowledgeable and dedicated coaches and all members left the Score Centre venue with their own knowledge greatly enhanced.

Report by Steve Haslam