Event Report: CLUB COACHES' FORUM
Source: The Technician UEFA Newsletter
TEN YEARS AFTER
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY FOR
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY FOR
CLUB COACHES' FORUM
PUT NAMES TO THE FACES ON THE TEAM PICTURE, ADD THEM UP AND YOU'LL HAVE HARD EVIDENCE THAT THE 10TH UEFA ELITE CLUB COACHES FORUM SET A NEW ATTENDANCE RECORD.
THE PROFILE OF THE EVENT WAS HIGH ENOUGH TO WARRANT COVERAGE IN UEFADIRECT AND ON UEFA.COM, SO THE TECHNICIAN MAKES NO APOLOGIES FOR GETTING STRAIGHT TO THE POINT - OR RATHER, STRAIGHT TO SEVERAL POINTS.
Dead Ball Goals - A Dying Species?
The 2007/08 UEFA Champions League combined with EURO 2008 to highlight a decrease in the number of goals stemming from set plays. The previous year's forum had already identified modern levels of espionage as a relevant influence on the decline and, as José Mourinho commented, "the loss of the surprise factor means that it only makes sense to prepare novel set plays before the really special games." The technicians also felt that walls are far too often set up at below-regulation distances and that defences are, these days, much more effectively organised and focus on zonal rather than man-to-man marking - which make block-off manoeuvres more difficult to complete.
Arsène Wenger threw another theory into the melting pot. "I think goalkeepers, these days, receive more protection and the improvement in training facilities also has a relevance," he remarked. "Players are now doing their daily work on much better surfaces where it is easier to keep the ball on the deck. This means that there are not so many good headers of the ball." Is that true in your neck of the woods?
Make or Break?
Many of the teams who prosper in UEFA club competitions approach their domestic fixtures with the obligation of breaking down theoretically inferior opponents. However, the European season highlighted the importance of counter-attacks and, as Mirko Slomka said, "we spend a lot of time analysing how opponents react when we win the ball." Claudio Ranieri acted as 'spokesman' for Italy's counter-attacking traditions by reviewing the philosophy of "protecting the goal, breaking fast, and making optimal use of possession." He recalled that, during the Arrigo Sacchi era, AC Milan's success was based on "rational use of space and quick strikes." Manuel Pellegrini broached the issue of whether to counter with a controlled combination move or a direct through ball and many of his colleagues agreed that the nature of the counter depends on who wins the ball and his capacity to think and act at high pace - coupled with enough technical ability to execute the move. As Gérard Houllier said, "the counter-attack is prospering because modern footballers are better equipped to combine skill and speed".
The importance of rapid counters was underlined by coaches who agreed that defensive blocks are being set up more quickly than ever before. "You very rarely see a rigid 4-4-2 any more," Arsène Wenger commented. "You can't afford to be second best in midfield and most teams defend 4-5-1. This was also visible at EURO, where many of the teams who started with 4-4-2 ended up operating 4-5-1."
Home Truths about Away Goals
The away goals rule, introduced 41 years ago, was the subject of lively debate at the forum - and you can join the debate by reading one of the talking points in the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League technical report. The question is whether the importance of away goals in knockout ties has become excessive in terms of influencing the tactical pproach to home games.
The ruling was written into the European script with a view to encouraging away teams to adopt a more adventurous philosophy. But there are recent examples to support arguments that the rule is now tending to produce the inverse effect, with home teams tending towards conservatism in the knowledge that goals conceded on home soil can inflict serious damage. So has the time come to think again?
Vive La Différence!
The question posed to the coaches at the forum was deceptively simple: in top competitions, what makes the difference? Nobody came up with an instantaneous, definitive answer - but the contributions were thought-provoking. Sir Alex Ferguson, for example, pinpointed freshness, squad rotation, longer-term reviews of a player's form and the importance of resting minor injuries. Arsène Wenger followed this up by highlighting the ability to identify problems: "the good coach anticipates and is brave enough to act - maybe to sacrifice a key player in order to repair the team structure". Some of the others rubbed their chins and grinned "I wish we had that luxury!" But the more serious responses focused on willingness to take risks and, as Luiz Felipe Scolari commented, "what makes the difference is a united, technically equipped group with great team spirit and the ability to focus on results" - a view which moved the debate nicely on to the next point...
How Important is Leadership?
This is becoming a major issue in coach education - and one which deserves more in-depth coverage in a future issue of The Technician. And this was a part of the event in Nyon where Paulo Sousa played, as he had done during his distinguished playing career, an influential midfield role. The forum discussions rapidly led to questions about how many of their leadership qualities are being given free rein by a new generation of club owners and presidents - which, in turn, led to debate about the greatest challenges facing today's top-level coach. Crisis management and levels of control within the dressing room emerged as key issues in an environment where players, agents, owners, media and supporters are increasingly demanding. "The job itself has become very demanding," said Arsène Wenger, "and you can underline the word 'demanding' three times. The coach's qualities are these days questioned more than ever, which means that you need to be stronger than ever."
"The job is basically about observations, decisions and, above all, control," said Sir Alex Ferguson. "Players are being affected by external factors which can undermine their mental strength, so you need to be clear and firm in your own mind if you are going to be an effective leader."
"The forum was a short but very intense gathering," Andy Roxburgh commented. "Over ten years it has developed and the fact that some of the coaches made enormous efforts to attend underlines how much they enjoy meeting each other in the knowledge that UEFA has, over the years, taken on board many of the proposals that have been made at the forum."