Bassett Q and A’s

Here is the full report of the Dave Bassett Question & Answer Session held in May last after our AGM

Dave Bassett is a very experienced manager, having held the reins at  a number of clubs in the Football League, but is probably best remembered for his time, during the 1980s, when he managed the Wimbledon FC team as they made their  meteoric rise up the League.

He gave a very interesting talk on a range of football topics, when he answered a number of pre-prepared questions which had been submitted.

The questions and his response ran along the following order:-

Question 1: Do you agree there has been a drop in skill level among British players over the last 25 years and, if so, what do you ascribe that to?

Response: Dave did not agree with that. In his experience there have always been skilful British  players, from the days of Tom Finney and Stan Matthews, the Busby Babes and countless others through to the present day.  In his opinion there are some very skilful players playing for the current England team. In the recent past there have been Steven Gerrard and John Terry and in the present team Dele Ali and Joe Hart. Ali, in particular, is very bright and talented. It is perhaps true to say that there were MORE skilful players in days gone by, but there still a fair number around today.

But Dave expressed concern at some of the coaching which is given to young players today, especially in the very young age groups. In fact, he was opposed to youngsters in the 8 – 9 age bracket going to clubs for coaching because all he sees of the work they do is  passing.   But we don't have players who run with the ball, or beat an opponent, and no wonder when all they work on is passing the ball. Also crossing the ball is very poor. When the ball is set back to a full back in a support position out wide, they don't cross it, because they can't, they pass the ball to someone else.  Along a similar theme, players can't chip the ball either.

Dave said he was aware of the criticism handed out to his Wimbledon team with regard to their direct approach, but the way he looks at it, to pass a ball 10 yards is obviously easier than to pass a ball 40 yards, so the 10 yard pass doesn't need as much technique. But for him, the inferiority in our technique compared, say, to Barcelona, is that Barca have three players, Messi, Suarez and Neymar, who can win a game by dribbling round defenders and score. We haven't got players who can beat an opponent.  Dave wondered if the coaches working in Academies can demonstrate the techniques they wish to coach. If they can't then the clubs must get someone in who can demonstrate those techniques.

Question 2: Do you think there are shortcomings in our coaching process and what would your suggestions be for improvements?

Response: Dave felt that too many coaching badges are given away. Top foreign coaches like Klopp and Guardiola have learnt a lot about the game from many different areas, they have had to work hard to gain their knowledge.

The recent example of Brentford folding their youth section showed that they were not producing players. Many clubs are not producing enough players through their Academies to make it pay. When the Academy system was introduced, the FA thought there were only going to be about 15 – 18 clubs which would have one. In Dave's view a lot of money is being wasted at youth level. And at a number of Premier League clubs, they are buying players from foreign academies, as Arsenal did  with Fabregas,  and they are not producing players through their own youth section.

Question 3: Do you think that the 'Direct' football system, which  you perfected with  Wimbledon in the 1980s, would be as successful today and, if not, what kind of adjustments would you make?

Response: In Dave's opinion, football must be effective. If you play Barcelona at their own game you won't win.

Leicester also play the long ball. But they play the ball in behind defenders and those defenders don't like it. Leicester play straight through you, but people miss the point about them, just as they did about Wimbledon. But Wimbledon were not just long ball. But we were physical and the way the rules have changed today then their style in those days would be considered too physical.

Question 4: What is the benefit of the modern tactic of fullbacks throwing in the ball from all over the pitch? Is there not a danger of losing both the ball and a goal from a counter attack?  

Response: Dave did not really find any problem in this. But he did feel that throw ins today are very poorly exploited. The long throw in seems to have disappeared and it used to cause panic and pandemonium in the penalty areas of teams who Wimbledon were playing against.  Dave recalled seeing a match a little while ago at Arsenal. Arsenal had a throw in in their own half and the ball was thrown back. Then it was played across the Arsenal back line, passed forward and then passed back again and this passing back, square and forward  went on for three and a half minutes, Dave timed it, and the ball never went past the   half way line. Dave asked – why didn't the centre half run forward with the ball, draw opponents out and start to open up the opposition?

Question 5: In your time as a manager, no-one used a  tactics board at the side of the pitch to show a substitute what to do. Does this idea in fact have any merit?

Response: In Dave's opinion this is an example of all the flannel there is in the game. At Wimbledon, everybody knew everybody else's job. Dave expected his substitutes, before a match, to go and check the diagrams themselves which had been put up in the dressing room, to see who was picking up who of the opposition at corners, free kicks etc, so that if they had to come on then they already knew what to do.

Dave went on to digress on the way that as soon as a player gets an injury these days it is stated by the medical staff that he will be out for at least 3 weeks, before they have even checked him. Dave recalled an occasion from his own playing days, that one week he found that when he ran, the heel of one foot was very painful when making contact with the ground . The  physio said don't put your heel on the ground when you run, just run on your toes,  and sent him out to play!  

Question 6: Who over your career has impressed you as a coach and/or manager?

Response: Dave replied that to judge a coach you have to see him work. Lots of  people say that so and so is good coach but they had never seen him work. For Dave, Don Howe and Dave Sexton were brilliant coaches and also Charles Hughes. Dave had played under Hughes as a player for the England Amateur Team and he was extremely good on set plays. Everybody knew exactly what their jobs were.

Alex Ferguson was an outstanding manager because he was a great delegator and the way he ran the club and his great self belief. A manager has got to be able to gamble and Ferguson knew when to gamble. Jim Smith was a great motivator and Wally Downes was a very good coach. Roy Hodgson and Bobby Houghton had always impressed him. Jose Mourinho was a  good manager and he assumed he was a good coach, though he had never seen him work.

Dave digressed about his days as an amateur player. He said they used to play 60 – 70  games a season. Because he played for the England Amateur Team, his schedule was often: play for his club on Saturday, train with Charles Hughes at Bisham Abbey on a Sunday, on the Monday with the England Amateurs have a full-scale  practice  game against, say, Man United  Reserves, training with his club on Tuesday and, because he was an amateur, go into work on Wednesday!  

Question 7: Do the press and TV pundits have too much influence as to which managers ultimately lose their jobs?

Response: Dave stated that the media have a massive effect and influence. The press and pundits had got Louis Van  Gaal the sack at Man Utd because Mourinho is a story. Dave has often seen Arsenal play well but not won and then Arsene Wenger gets murdered in the press. Dave did not have  lot of time for the press. They listen to the pundits and say what they say.

Question 8: In what ways, in their group role, do the LMA help managers during or after, when their management ends?

Question 9: As a manager what are, or were, your greatest difficulties or problems?

Question 10: Do you think it is harder for managers to manage these days with so  many players being millionaires?

Response: Dave answered these three questions as one topic. He pointed out that in the earlier part of his managerial career,   the manager managed  and the directors directed.  But when he went to Nottingham Forest, he noticed a difference in attitude because millionaire players knew they could get the manager the sack. It's very hard now because players don't want to be criticised and their agents make the manager seem to be the enemy. When he was at Wimbledon, no player had an agent because it was later when agents came in.

Dave was full of praise for what the LMA does for managers, by their help and support in legal matters and in the field of insurance.

Question 11:  Do you think that football today is still a simple game it has often been described as?

Response: Dave said that he had always agreed with Ron Greenwood when he said that football is a simple game. But when he listens to some managers these days, he can't understand what they are saying. The game is still the same – the pitch is the same size, number of players per team is the same – but people just make it more complicated. The pitches, stadiums and facilities are brilliant. The players eat better and more sensibly now than they did years ago. But you've still got to work out how to beat the opposition. Leicester  have done so well because other teams can't cope with their intensity. Different people have different ideas of what they consider to be good football.

Question 12: Is football a team game or is it a group of individuals trying to combine to make things work?

Response: Dave said that Barcelona, with three such great players in Messi, Suarez and Neymar, often seem unbeatable. But with a team to function properly everyone must be happy with their own job. Lesser players will usually forgive the more talented players occasionally failing to track back because they know those players can win them the game. The lesser players know what their own limitations are. Everyone must have respect for each other. At Wimbledon nobody was allowed to speak insultingly of anybody or get above their station.

Dave said that criticism  is vital and seems to be missing from the game now, but you learn from criticism. Dave recalled that when Vinnie Jones played his first game for Wimbledon he was useless. As the players came into the dressing room after the match the  kitman  said to Vinnie –  "You'd better keep your shirt because you'll never wear another one." This kind of atmosphere stopped anyone becoming a big-time Charlie.

When a team is winning it's easy for a manager. When you're losing things become harder. Dave said that after he got the team to be successful and they were winning most matches, he left them on their own at half time after they had come off the pitch to row, if need be, and sort things out for themselves. Then he would go in and make a few points. But that wouldn't happen now because the strong characters to make it work aren't around. Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were probably the last. Dave admitted that as a manager he was confrontational.  But as a manager, you have to sense the mood in the dressing room. If a game has gone badly he might have sensed that now, straight after the match, was not the time to deliver a roasting to the players and wait until Monday morning.

After he had finished answering the prepared questions, Dave took some from the floor. He expressed dissatisfaction with the present loan system and felt there were far too many players out on loan. He could not understand why so many parents send their sons to big clubs when their chance of first team football is so slight. He also regretted the disappearance of reserve team football, where the best of the youth players could get the benefit of playing with and against good, experienced players. He also felt that set plays are not worked on with sufficient attention  and especially the delivery of the ball at free kicks and corners and will only improve with practice. At Wimbledon they took left footed inswinging free kicks on the right and right footed inswinging  free kicks on the left. Players like Dennis Wise took superb free kicks, the result of hours of practice. It was worked out that Wimbledon scored one goal every twelve corners. They also spent as much time practising defending at set pieces as they did in attacking at them.

Both corners and free kicks should be taken by specialists but it seems to have become neglected. It came with practice and it came from Charles Hughes at the FA.

It had been an engrossing and stimulating talk by Dave Bassett, one of the great characters in English football over the last forty years.  All the members present gave him a warm ovation after  a memorable evening.

Report by Steve Haslam and the photo by David Cumberbatch