TTT: The FA, Coaching and Youth Football: Part Two

Written by Arnar Steinsson. English football has always been a big part of my life. Liverpool – the team I’ve supported since I can remember – is probably the main reason. I also admit that I have thoroughly enjoyed watching other English teams as well, and perhaps surprisingly, the English national team always has a place in my heart. For some time now it has been disappointing to watch the English national team and the results they have managed to achieve. But those results are not at the core of my frustration and sadness. Football is based so much on technique and the ability to outsmart your opponent, so it baffles when you recognise how England has approached the game in terms of coaching (and playing) for decades. Trying to outmuscle and outrun the opponent most of the time is quite simply not the way to achieve great success; and it has been that way for a long time. The technical ability and tactical understanding of English players is nowhere near good enough. You only have to look at the activity in the transfer market of teams in the Premier League as an indication. Teams usually look overseas for the best talent. The players who supply the entertainment to the league are not usually from England. This is not because players from England do not put in as much work in training either, far from it. It is the result of the restrictive and regressive way of coaching players that goes on in England, from a very young age. You don’t put kids out on the pitch and make them play like fully grown men/women. You cannot expect a child to have the physical and mental development to perform in a forum which is meant for adults. The size of the pitch; the goals;  the rules, which are not yet within their grasp. And to add to the damage, the expectation for the child to put in a performance and get results like a professional, by putting in a Herculean effort, is the main priority. This puts extreme physical and emotional pressure on a child. Coaches and parents need to be extremely aware of how harmful this can be. Football is a sport that is very different from, say, long distance running or rugby. So why then train children and teenagers like they were preparing for a marathon or an athlete that has to have great strength to withstand or make tackles that involve great force? The movements of a football player are completely different from that of a long distance runner who has to have great stamina to run – more often than not – in a straight line. A footballer has to move in all directions with or without the ball at his feet. In fact, a footballer uses a variety of movements with great finesse and timing to get past his opponent, and has to have a wide variety of technical skills to dribble past players; to make a pass to a teammate whether it’s in a small space or a large one; to strike the ball so it has a greater chance of hitting the back of the net or to receive the ball with variable amounts of speed, and then have the strength to move seamlessly into the next phase of play. I’m not saying stamina or strength don’t help a footballer, but surely the focus of any coaching should be to improve his skills as a footballer? People like Laureano Ruiz and Johann Cruyff have known this for decades. Their methods, and those of other like-minded coaches, have proven to be very successful for a long time. The results in youth development have been excellent. This game is mostly about entertainment and if a child doesn’t get the chance to learn about football in the way that they see their idols playing, then what happens to that child’s enthusiasm and joy? It might not completely go away but it is bound to diminish. And what purpose does it serve to have a child spending most of their time running around waiting for the few chances to get a touch of the ball? Or spending the majority of training waiting in line? Football is a game and its purpose is for children to enjoy playing it and have the opportunity to entertain and express themselves in a creative way. I’m often reminded of something Johann Cruyff said: Let the people come to the stadium and enjoy themselves. As long as you look to a certain way of playing, everybody can play. Getting the ball, treat the ball well, let it be your friend. When they saw us play everybody was happy. They just went home laughing. If you can laugh and enjoy yourself. It’s one of the most important things there is… Johann Cruyff – player, manager, coach and architect of a style These words carry a lot of meaning to me. I even look at it as a way to practise football.  Starting with this: As long as you look to a certain way of playing, everybody can play. With small sided games everybody can, and will, play more football. Nobody is excluded. Getting the ball, treat the ball well, let it be your friend. In small sided games children get to have the ball so much more. They learn how to treat the ball well, they get adjusted to the touch of the ball faster as well as dribbling and passing. Even juggling it. The ball becomes their friend, not just an object they wait to receive from time to time or hoof up the pitch as soon as they get it. Or just running around, which can be fun, but there are plenty of other sports that have that as their main focus. When they saw us play everybody was happy. These words are one of the most important things a coach and a parent should remember. At youth level, it‘s the team’s performance that matters the most. That they improve their skills, their technical abilities. The final result is secondary. Too often coaches and parents become fixated on winning at all costs. Putting a child under pressure to win all the time can have a very damaging effect on the child’s emotional and even physical well being as well as their footballing abilities. These children are there to learn how to play and enjoy that process. In the long run, if you teach them how to play in all aspects of the game they don’t miss out on necessary lessons they need for the the future. It takes time. Taking shortcuts by using tactics that will win the majority of games but not teach the children the lessons they will need only makes a footballer who lacks the necessary skills that they should have learnt at a young age. Many skills can be hard to master if not learnt at a young age. And of course the benefits of a happy learning environment are huge. And then of course the end of that sentence: If you can laugh and enjoy yourself. It’s one of the most important things there is. No need to really explain that. It’s what we all like to do most of the time but this is one of the most important things about football. What Cruyff is saying here is not that different from what Bill Shankly said when he was asked how he would like to be remembered. And, what was taken from that and agreed on, was that he made the people happy. Small sided games should be every child’s introduction to football in my opinion. Horst Wein, for example, whose book Developing Youth Footballers is the official textbook of the Spanish football federation and is praised all over the world, has had great success in implementing small sided games to develop youth footballers. Instead of playing on a full sized pitch with 11 v 11 with the same rules as adults which is something they are not mature enough to do, the pitch is split up into smaller sections where they play 2 v 2 or 3 v 3 to start off with. They use a football and goals that suit their size. Everyone is always involved with play and takes an active part in all games. They don’t do drills which have not been suited to their needs. They play games that have been suited to their level of maturity. First and foremost, in the beginning they get familiar with the ball and how to control it. This is so important for the future of a young footballer. As they get older the number of players increases up to 7 v 7, 8 v 8 and finally, when they are mature enough, 11 v 11. And as the pitch they play on gets bigger, so does the ball and the goal. All in connection to their age, size and maturity. The games are designed to give them the technical and tactical knowledge which they are ready to learn at each stage of development. The games can easily be made by the coaches by combining their imagination with their knowledge of football and applied to learn a vast array of specific skills. They can also be designed so they don’t become too repetitive, which would quite simply bore a child – the peak level of attention when children learn the most can get lost if the games become too mundane. The rest of this article is for Subscribers only. Member-only content – you need to subscribe to read it ! A subscription costs only £3.50 per month. Find out what you get with your subscription, or Subscribe now.

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LIVER BIRD – Mario’s Gone But They’re Probably Still Super

Entertainment has certainly been decreased with the departure of Mario…Image: bbc.co.uk Liverpool are faced with the tough task of Manchester City at the Etihad on Sunday afternoon and with the Reds doing so well to start with in the Arsenal game, Brendan’s boys will certainly fancy their chances of causing problems for the Champions. However, the Reds will need to keep their concentration if they are able to gain a lead. Liverpool are in a pretty good situation injury wise with no new troubles and the trio of Enrique, Johnson and Reina all back. It is believed new signing Coutinho will have to wait for his first start in a Liverpool shirt though. Man City are without Vincent Kompany which is a big blow for them but Mancini is hopefully both Richards and Maicon will be available. Liverpool are currently placed 7th in the table whilst Manchester City are hanging 7 points behind Manchester United in 2nd place. The last time the two sides met was in August last year. With Skrtel and Suarez on the score sheet Liverpool managed to collect a point from the game. The last meeting with City at the Etihad for Liverpool was also a positive one as the Reds picked up a 1-0 win in the Carling Cup, however our record as a whole at City isn’t a brilliant one. City haven’t lost in their last 5 games in all competitions and also, impressively, they haven’t conceded in that time either. The Reds on the other hand have notched up two losses in their last 5. Stat Sandwich Liverpool have found the back of the net in all of their last 11 Premier League matches. City are -18 on their goal count compared to this stage of the season last year. Liverpool haven’t won a game in the league this season where they have conceded first. You don’t need me to tell you that this is going to be a real test for the Reds but that doesn’t mean that we’re going to walk away with nothing. If we play as we did in the majority of the Arsenal game then we could once again find ourselves in control of the situation, importantly though, if Liverpool do get to this stage then they need to remain calm and keep their concentration, Arsenal pulled back that game far too easily and it simply never should have happened. I’d definitely fancy Suarez to get on the score sheet and with Kompany missing the City defence has taken a slight knock there that could be exploited via both the Uruguayan and Sturridge up front. Perhaps optimistically I will go for a 1-1 here, I don’t think it’s going to be as end to end as the Arsenal game and therefore there won’t be as many goals, unless of course Liverpool go to pot and City run riot. Enjoy the match folks! P.s. Thank you to anybody that voted for The Liver Bird in the Sportskeeda Blogger Awards! I really appreciate it! They should be announcing the winners soon. Like “The Liver Bird” on Facebook – www.facebook.com/TheLiverBirdsBlog

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GUARDIAN – Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool | Premier League match report

Arsenal do not start playing until they are behind. Theirs has been a wacky, impossible-to-fathom brand of football in recent weeks and a sprint through the emotions seemingly comes as standard during their matches. Jeered off at half-time, Arsène Wenger’s players won back their home crowd with a stirring fightback that had Liverpool clinging on for a point at the final whistle.For Liverpool, this had threatened to be a landmark victory, a first triumph over a team in the top half of the Premier League table and a balm for the horror of Sunday’s FA Cup exit at League One Oldham Athletic. Two goals to the good, thanks to a combination of assured finishing and shocking Arsenal defending, Brendan Rodgers sensed a touchstone. His scathing critique of his young players at Oldham had been felt by the dressing-room. The response shaped up in positive fashion.This was the fifth time in succession that Arsenal had trailed in the league and yet they hauled themselves in dramatic fashion, with goals from Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott. They went agonisingly close to the winner that would have sparked a frenzy, although the defending of the substitute André Santos meant that Liverpool almost snatched it.For Arsenal, the talk of the lack of January signings – and the prospect that nobody will arrive before the deadline – gave way to 90 minutes of adrenaline. Several of their players slumped to the turf at the final whistle. Despite everything, it felt like an opportunity missed.It is that time of the season when the margins have become finer and for these teams, who have been infuriatingly inconsistent, this fixture felt like a six-pointer in the fight for a Champions League finish. Liverpool entered it the angrier, after the humiliation at Oldham, but the early lead that they took owed everything to a catalogue of Arsenal blunders that had Wenger steaming in his sleeping bag coat.He would not have enjoyed seeing such errors over the course of the game, let alone jammed into a matter of seconds. The first mistake, ironically, was Liverpool’s, when Suárez miskicked as he sought to find the overlapping Glen Johnson. But Bacary Sagna trumped that when he fell over to allow the full-back through after all.Johnson crossed, Thomas Vermaelen made a hash of the attempted clearance and Daniel Sturridge forced Wojciech Szczesny to save. Aaron Ramsey, though, still could not clear and when Jordan Henderson passed to Suárez, his shot deflected past Szczesny. The arrival of the Keystone Cops would have completed the scene; André Santos did not arrive until the 37th minute, as a replacement for the injured Kieran Gibbs.The first half was wild, open and unpredictable. Panic bubbled beneath the surface. As a spectacle, it was gripping. Szczesny summed things up when he attempted to fox Sturridge with a Cruyff-turn on his own six-yard line, except that the Arsenal goalkeeper got it wrong and only a desperate foot-in spared him from an impossible explanation.Suárez was a menace; Liverpool looked dangerous on the counter, with Arsenal exposed. Yet the home team had their first-half chances. When they pressed on to the front foot and harnessed the vision of Jack Wilshere and the pace of Theo Walcott, they sparked anxiety in Liverpool ranks.Walcott almost equalised immediately when he took Wilshere’s ball and forced Pepe Reina to save; Olivier Giroud flickered and Walcott, again, drew the Liverpool goalkeeper into a stop, this one a full-length dive, after Daniel Agger’s brave challenge had halted Vermaelen.Liverpool had three presentable chances in the first half. Sturridge, released by Suárez’s crossfield ball, shot wastefully; Agger had a thumping header from Steven Gerrard’s corner cleared off the line by Lukas Podolski and Henderson, played through by Stewart Downing, found Szczesny out to meet him. Henderson checked, flighted a chip from 30 yards and saw it drift just over the empty net. Szczesny seemed intent on confirming his maverick status.Liverpool’s travelling fans had unfurled pre-match banners in protest at the £62 ticket prices but it was tempting to wonder whether the entertainment value made it worth it. The Arsenal support booed their team at the interval.It would get worse for them before it got better, in the shape of further comic defensive cuts. Henderson, in form and preferred to Joe Allen, did not appear the favourite to power in between Per Mertesacker and Santos but he did just that and he would argue that he earned the luck that followed.Ramsey’s tackle on him saw the ball canon off Santos and wrong-foot Szczesny. Henderson read the situation and rolled into the empty net.Liverpool had seen strong penalty appeals for handball against Vermaelen rejected on 50 minutes and yet, in breathless fashion, Arsenal rallied. In the space of five minutes, they not only restored parity, they were within a whisker of leading. Giroud’s header from Wilshere’s free-kick and Walcott’s thumping finish, after slick build-up and Giroud’s cushioned lay-off, rocked Liverpool and Walcott nearly floored them when he cracked just wide of the far post.Rodgers swapped Sturridge for José Enrique, a defensive change, as Liverpool sought to dig in. But Arsenal swept forward. Santi Cazorla and Giroud, twice, went close before Suárez almost punished Santos. The drama was unrelenting.Premier LeagueArsenalLiverpoolDavid Hytnerguardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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GUARDIAN – Why Luis Suárez’s handball goal should have been ruled out | David Lacey

If one thing gets up people’s noses more than the most crippling tackle it is seeing a player deliberately handle the ballDo people still exclaim “it’s not cricket” when someone bends the rules or offends a code of practice? If the sentiment could survive the bodyline crisis of the 1930s then presumably it will recover from the recent ball-chucking bat-throwing spat involving Marlon Samuel and Shane Warne.It is unlikely that anybody will ever declare “it’s not football” in a similar context for footballers have always tended to regard the laws of their sport as more of a challenge than an obligation. In short much of the game is about what you can get away with. Football would be a dull business if everybody observed the rules all of the time. Fouls, free kicks and penalties are part of the entertainment.Yet if one thing gets up people’s noses more than the most crippling tackle it is seeing a player deliberately handle the ball either to give his team an advantage or, equally, avoid a disadvantage. Maybe it is because this strikes at football’s very soul. In a fast-moving body-contact sport people will get hurt, sometimes seriously, but using a hand in a sport devised primarily for the feet, goalkeepers excepted, is a dull-eyed contradiction.All of which goes some way towards explaining the fuss which ensued after Luis Suárez had scored Liverpool’s second goal in their FA Cup tie at non-league Mansfield on Sunday having first appeared to pat the ball down with his right hand. Some television viewers and those at Field Mill who had a clear view of it may have sympathised with the gut reaction of the ESPN commentator who condemned the moment as “the work of a cheat”.Suárez did not help matters by kissing the hand in question, which apparently is what he does whenever he scores as a gesture of affection towards his wife and daughter. On this occasion he would surely have done better to leave the family out of it. In fact the nonchalant manner in which the Uruguayan put the ball into the net, much as players sometimes do when they know they have been caught offside, suggested that he did not expect the goal to stand.That Suárez handled was unarguable but the way the ball bobbed up did present a reasonable doubt that this was his intent. Apparently the referee accepted that the handball was unintentional because he allowed the goal. In which case Mansfield were entitled to misquote Coleridge – “I fear thee Andre Marriner! I fear thy skinny hand!’ – because even if this was an instance of ball hitting hand rather than the opposite the effect was the same. A hand had controlled the ball and the goal should have been ruled out.For a lot of critics Suárez’s reputation ruled out any mitigating argument. The way he denied Ghana a probable winning goal in the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup by sticking up a mitt to keep out a header from Dominic Adiyiah, getting a red card and giving away a penalty which the opposition missed before losing the subsequent shootout, still sticks in the craw. Yet such are Suárez’s footballing gifts that he did not need to paw the ball down at Mansfield in order to score, which is surely a point in his favour.This incident, moreover, was hardly as blatant as the sight of Thierry Henry handling the ball not once but twice before setting up a chance for William Gallas to score the decisive goal for France against the Republic of Ireland in a World Cup qualifier in 2009. Henry’s outstanding career with Arsenal did not spare him a mauling in the media.A variation on the theme allegedly occurred when Scotland played Wales at Anfield in a qualifier for the 1978 World Cup. As Joe Jordan and David Jones challenged for a high ball in the Welsh penalty area the French referee ruled that the latter had handled. Don Masson scored with the resulting penalty and the Scots won 2-0 to reach the tournament proper.However, the suspicion that it was in fact Jordan who had touched the ball remained, although he has always denied this. Either way the subsequent Scottish shambles under Ally MacLeod in Argentina suggested the Almighty had decided to even the score.Meanwhile the Argentinians were keeping the Hand of God up their sleeve.Luis SuárezLiverpoolMansfieldDavid Laceyguardian.co.uk © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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