GAVIN BLACKWELL WRITES…
The game has witnessed some of the best football writers Reg Drury Brian Woolnough, John Sadler amongst them but a few weeks ago the football world lost another great in former Daily Mail man Bob Cass who along with the other writers I mentioned had great relationships with the managers of the football clubs they covered. Built on immense trust they valued each other's football opinion be it Clough and John Sadler or Alf Ramsey and Reg. Drury the former who paid a visit to Reg’s house during the 1966 World Cup with “Greavsie” on his mind. They had known each other for 20 years when Sir Alf was playing for Spurs and Reg was covering them. A similar scenario would be quit impossible today, for one thing a modern national team manager could not afford a similar relationship with a member of the media. He may have his friends in the press but would have a hundred more demands on his time and energy. There is also the matter of "celebrity" In the age of 24-hour rolling news of camera phones and incessant chatting on social media, the notion that an England manager might stroll the streets of London unchallenged or unhindered just days before a World Cup Final at Wembley is quite unthinkable but 1966 was another era, another world. Reg was a conscientious reporter he had acquired a vast amount of Football contacts, people who would supply him with endless information. But very few knew of this meeting with Alf until some years later after Alf had departed the England Job.
Back then a manager could tell his pressman something off the record safe in the knowledge that it would not go any further and something he may want him to use a few weeks down the line.
The local reporter also had unique access like Robin Wray for The Yorkshire Post who was allowed to travel on the team coach to away games. They would accompany the squad on mid season breaks and end of season breaks and be as much part of the drinking culture as the players and staff. Ron Atkinson whilst in charge of West Brom asked his press guy Ian Johnson why he hadn't been to the ground during a press strike and invited him down to see him and gave him £20.00 to help him and his family( a lot of money in those days
Football has changed and in some degree has lost it soul. Sir Alex Fergusson had a great relationship with Bob Cass a true gentleman and football has lost another who still had the core values that made our game so great.
VISIT TO THE AJAX YOUTH ACADEMY – WITH STEVE HASLAM
Earlier this season I went on a Coaches Tour to visit the Youth Academy of Ajax in Amsterdam. Owing to the fall-out from the effects of the 'Bosman Ruling', which has been felt throughout football over the last twenty years, Ajax are no longer the great European power they once were. From the late sixties, through the seventies and the magnificent Dutch World Cup team of 1974 and 1978 with its nucleus of players from Ajax, through the eighties and Holland's triumph at the 1988 European Championship and then into the nineties and Ajax's achievements in the Champions' League together with the influence their coaches and players made on the emergence of FC Barcelona, Ajax have probably had as much effect on European and world football as any other team during the game's history.
The top tier of the Dutch League system, the Eredivisie, is not strong and the Champions usually come from one of three clubs: Ajax, PSV Eindhoven or Feyenoord. But the visit to the Ajax Academy made it quite clear that the Ajax philosophy remains the same as it was during their years of great success.
Ajax still build their team, and develop their youth, around the 4-3-3 system, which sometimes is adapted to 3-4-3. Ajax are always looking to create triangles in their play. This is the style of football which has been Ajax's trademark for many years because they put great emphasis on third man running and the creation of triangles enables this concept to come into play on many occasions in every match.
Ajax realise that they cannot be successful in European club competitions at the present time but each season they aim to get at least two young players from the Academy into the first team. So far this season they have promoted Dolberg, a striker or midfield player, and he has shown a lot of promise and has been scoring goals.
We saw an Under 23 match between Ajax and Heerenveen. This provided a good insight into the Ajax philosophy and how they look to develop young players. The Ajax Youth Coach who guided us through most of the activities that we saw, was constantly emphasising that Ajax are interested in players who "take risks". They are unimpressed with players who are content to stay in their "comfort zone". Consequently, he felt that in this match the free defender, or sweeper, for Ajax compared unfavourably to his Heerenveen counter-part. The Ajax player was content to stroll through the match, plugging the gaps and looking good but remaining in his comfort zone against moderate opposition who they beat easily. In contrast, the Heerenveen sweeper was anxious to impress and took the opportunity, whenever he could, to go forward into midfield to support attacks and try to raise the performance of his team.
So impressed was the Ajax Youth Director that he said that in the next few days he would contact Heerenveen with the intention of recruiting the player. There would be every likelihood that they would be successful with their approach because in Holland all the best young talent is attracted to either Ajax, Feyenood or PSV.
The First Team match which we saw, against PEC Zwolle, resulted in a comfortable 5-1 win for Ajax. There was good quality in Ajax's play but it was clear that they are rarely extended in Eredivisie matches, which has a detrimental effect on their development as shown by their lack of progress in the Champions' League. But the visit to the Ajax Youth Academy illustrated that their philosophy, aims and objectives remain exactly the same as those of their great years.
GAVIN BLACKWELL ON HIS WORRIES ABOUT YOUTH DEVELOPMENT
We don't produce leaders and strong characters anymore following demise of the apprenticeships and the YTS a scheme that appeared to produce a more rounded individual compared to the many moulded we seem to have come through the youth development programmes. Part of this meant that players had to do a number of jobs both prior to training and after and on home match days involving the first team. These including looking after and cleaning the boots of pros and staff, looking after the balls the bibs and cones and assisting with other duties like getting the milk from the local shop. Every Friday the clubs mini buses would be cleaned inside and out ready filled up with diesel ready to go out for the weekend, be it travel to games or to pick trialists and their parents up from a station or airport.
Nowadays these youngsters concentrate solely on football, developing skill and technique but totally lacking in game understanding. Removing the basic duties has seen a decline in developing and bringing through the model pro.
The old scheme taught players respect discipline manners how to behave. Dave Sexton once said if you are disciplined and do your jobs off the pitch the chances are you disciplined do them on it. I read recently that Manchester City only allow black boots while Southampton and Manchester City are introducing a salary cap of 40.000 in the first year. Whilst it is to be applauded it doesn't go anywhere near to sorting the mess. However the coaching is all very different by which I mean I read an article by Gary Neville recently on how the art of defending has demised. He recalled sessions with his coach Eric Harrison and Nobby Stiles on how it was drilled in to players how to defend; sessions were of 40 minutes three times a week with them. All were taught that if you made a mistake to concede a goal it was a crime. The coach would give the customary "Arragh" You were told and drilled until you till you got it right, Defending it used to be an art.
Over the last few years we have seen a lot of core values removed from youth development programmes. Other examples are the demise of reserve team football to be replaced by under 21s and now what is known as an U23 team. This does not come close to replicating the old fashioned Central League and Football Combination. Why I say this is that these leagues were played both at weekends and mid week; you had young players in the side along with established senior pros either out of favour or coming back from injury. It help educate and galvanise these young players in one of the most important areas of youth development i.e. the lacks of game understanding. It helped give them the nous to perform the learning of the game while another crucial element was to have the young lads experience real football. So a young forward would come up against an experienced defender and would get tested and developed. It gave the players the core subtleties and intricacies of the game.
I have read more articles recently, one from a manager and another a journalist both advocating a return to the apprentice scheme. Some years ago I read both Paul Jewell and Steve Bruce on their take on the situation and both gave examples of how it was in their day. You had to knock on the first team dressing room door said Bruce, with Jewel saying if Kenny Dalglish id not have his Y fronts put out he would moan like F..k
For today's scholars as they are now called it is like going to a health club every day with no understanding or appreciation of the core values that stood the yesteryear young footballers in good stead to be a pro footballer with ex amount of games under the belt.
Of the number of players produced in academies for the first teams of clubs over the last 10 years you could ask if they were universities would they have been be shut down. Youth Development needs to get back to basics first of all returning the apprenticeship to two years hard graft with the right balance of work and football. Bringing back football people who for some reason have been cut adrift in the current system; reducing the emphasis on sports science with more emphasis on human science first. Have managers who embrace youth programmes willing to put players in the first team to give them a chance;. and have more competitive reserve team football with players being given a proper understanding of the game and employ coaches who are experienced football people able to effect the individual and the game in which they play
Perhaps this would end the spectacle which I see of no end of players coming out the pro game to play non league and have a total lack of game understanding.
We need to get back to basics and old fashioned values and employ people who can not only talk the talk but can also walk the walk.
S0ME THOUGHTS ON REAL MADRID'S DEFENDING IN 'EL CLASICO'
A few days after Mark Stimson had conducted his session at the end of March on 'Getting A Back 4 To Work As A Team', Sky Sports showed the 'El Clasico' La Liga match, Barcelona v Real Madrid, 'live' as one of their Spanish transmissions.
The match was not the feast of attacking brilliance that most viewers probably tuned in for, but for LFCA members who had seen Mark's defensive Masterclass, it would have rung many bells. Real Madrid set out to stifle the attacking threat of Messi, Suarez and Neymar and I have not seen them kept as quiet as they were in this match all season.
Madrid kept the brilliant trio quiet with a superb performance of their back four. They were a well drilled, disciplined unit, maintaining close contact with one another as Mark had coached in his session. They moved as a unit from side to side across the pitch and also forward and back, depending on the position of the ball. They were never more than the width of the penalty area as a compact unit and effectively shut off all central areas of the pitch. Just as important was the tracking back of Ronaldo on the left side of Madrid's defence and by Modric on the right side.
Any pre- conceived notions that Ronaldo is a show pony who will not put in the hard work for the team, were exploded in this match. Of course, he claimed the personal glory by scoring the winning goal, but he worked tirelessly up and down the left flank, as did Modric down the right, enabling the back four to operate as a team in the manner that Mark Stimson had worked on a few days before.
A lot of the credit for Madrid's performance must go to Zidane, who has recently taken over the coach's role in his first major coaching job. Real Madrid's performance seemed to explode the belief that great players rarely make great managers/coaches. In the week that Johann Cruyff died, who had certainly served the game as both a great player and a great coach, it was fitting that Zidane gave notice that perhaps he will eventually enter into the same category.
Although most football enthusiasts watch the Spanish football to enjoy the brilliance of the Barcelona stars, when a team adopts a game plan to stifle the opposition, as Madrid did, then they are fully deserving of our respect and admiration. I would admit to one flaw in Madrid's approach and that was the constant fouling by centre half Ramos. He is a good defender but resorts to the cynical foul too easily and should have been sent off much earlier than he was. But even in spite of that, I feel that Real Madrid's defensive performance earned my respect and admiration.
In April 1961 I joined Chelsea as Assistant Secretary after a ten year stint at The Football Association, during which I learnt much on the subject of Football Club Regulations and Administration.
But not everything !
By Alan Bennet
In those days, the post of Club Secretary at a Football League Club was important indeed. Briefly, the Secretary ran the Club apart from the playing side, which was under the control of the Manager with whom the Secretary had to work closely to achieve the harmony of administration that was needed for a Club to be successful.
Remember, Club Directors then were not allowed to be paid and indeed most spent the majority of their time running their own businesses. Yes, the Chairman would call in fairly regularly, and was usually available at the end of his telephone, but in practice the Club Secretary was responsible for the day to day operations such as liaison with the F.A. and Football League, Accountancy, Payment of Wages, Correspondence, Ticket printing and selling, Programme production and selling, admissions for ticket holders and cash payers on match days, stadium maintenance, match day refreshments, team travel, Media relations, fixtures and so on.
Of course, he – in the fifties and sixties it usually was a he – didn’t do all the above himself, but he was responsible for seeing that all was done either by members of the Club Staff responsible to himself or by outside companies with whom the Secretary had to negotiate suitable arrangements and contracts.
Not that Clubs then operated with the sort of staffs that we see today – at Chelsea in the first half of the sixties our administration staff numbered just seven including the Secretary John Battersby and the Ticket Office staff and most smaller Clubs ran with several less.
Of course we worked hard, but you may have noticed from the task list outlined above one huge omission – that of commercial operations. Basically, in those fifties and early sixties there were no commercial business at Clubs to speak of. At Chelsea we had no advertisements in our programme – we and Arsenal were proud then of our programmes without advertisements – and no ground advertisements. Sponsors on shirts were not allowed and there were no facilities at most clubs for corporate hospitality and the like. So no staff needed in those areas! This now huge side of a Club business started in the mid sixties and both it and staff to run it grew from there, initially still under the control of the Secretary before era of the Chief Executive.
But one area where the Manager and Secretary were very much involved was that of player transfers. Most Clubs had annual budgets, usually prepared by the Secretary and adopted by the Board, which included gross figures for players wages and transfer fees, and the Manager of the time would work within those figures.
In the case of transfers, the Managers of the Clubs involved would do the deals in principle, hopefully keeping the Secretary and Chairman informed and onside, and then the two Secretaries would liase to agree how the fee arrived at by the Managers would be paid, usually over a period of a year. The Secretary would also have to draw up the player’s personal contract using the basic contract form supplied by The Football Association, and see the right forms were completed and signed and sent to the Football Association and Football League. And they had to be right and in accordance with Regulations for the player to be registered and allowed to play.
So a Secretary’s job was indeed variable but enjoyable. Fairly well paid for those times, but not in the region of the CEOs of today who have largely replaced us!
And how did one learn to become a Club Secretary? Well, either by diving in at the deep end by getting the job with a smaller Club and hopefully not making too many mistakes, or in my view the better way if possible of becoming an Assistant Secretary at a bigger Club and learning from the man there who did know.
That was the route I followed, as did those such as Ken Friar at Arsenal, Alan Leather at Spurs, Les Olive at Manchester United, Steve Stride at Villa and so on. But others such as Peter Robinson of Liverpool started as Secretary at a small club, didn’t make the mistakes they could have done and learnt the very hard way.
Those were the days !