Friday, November 22, 2013


Coaching The Coaches

Football can be an ungrateful business. Take, for example, the summer transfer of Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid for a reported world record fee of 85 million pounds. There can be no denying Bale had a phenomenal season last campaign for Tottenham but truth be told, while Spurs bank the cash, they probably had little impact on Bale as a footballer.

The talent would have been already within the player. He had shown it as a raw teenager coming through the ranks at Southampton before sparking the move to North London in 2007 for 7 million pounds. He would have shown it before being picked up by the Saints in the first place.

Bale’s talent would have been recognized and honed by unsung others a long way down football’s food chain. By part time coaches working the local age group leagues in South Wales and the physical education teachers at his school.

Indeed as Andre Villas Boas drooled at the prospect at spending the windfall Bale’s sale had brought the club, one guy who had a far greater impact on the player’s career would have received no attention at all.

At school, Bale was so good his PE teacher insisted decided the young lad who one day would command such a large transfer fee should play the game using only his right foot. “Whatever you teach, you are looking to maintain their strengths and develop their weaknesses. You want to challenge them to see how they respond,” said Gwyn Morris, head of PE at Bale’s school.

In football they talk about unearthing gems. The analogy with mining for precious stones is appropriate. The diamond necklaces seen in designer outlets with outrageous prices started their journey in the slime and muck of some pit far removed from their destiny.

Some unnamed, unrecognized, under paid worker would have recognized its potential amid all the drudge. 

The unpolished gem would then have been passed along some unseen chain, passing through a number of hands, before finally ending up draped around some neck. In the case of Indonesian football, regretfully, gems remain unpolished, to be peddled by unscrupulous middlemen and traded in dubious circumstances.

In the example of Bale, Tottenham are little more than a high end retail outlet. The real work had been done years ago.

Little attention is paid to those further down the chain yet the responsibility they have is massive. And so is their legacy.

Take for example Senrab Football Club. Never heard of them? Chelsea’s John Terry, Ray Wilkins (Chelsea, Manchester United, AC Milan), Sol Campbell (Tottenham and Arsenal) and Jermaine Defoe (West Ham United and Tottenham) are just four of their alumni who went on to represent England.

Or Wallsend Boys Club. England internationals Alan Shearer (Southampton, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United) and Peter Beardsley (Newcastle United, Liverpool) honed their skills under the watchful eyes of the Boys Club coaches.

Coaching top class footballers today is a regulated business. Anyone interested in entering the business needs to be licensed by UEFA or FIFA. Yet down at boys’ club level, the people tasked with finding and developing the next Terry or Shearer are all too often well meaning amateurs who just love their football. 

Their reward comes not from seven figure wage packets, bling or Wags. They just love football.

Once qualified, coaches and managers get plenty of opportunities to develop their trade. Which is kind of like giving Sebastian Vettel driving lessons after winning his third Formula One title. Yes, career development is good and something all good professionals embrace.

Recently, in South Jakarta, a coaching clinic took place that took a different route. Their aim was to reach out to those involved in local soccer schools, known as Sekolah Sepak Bola or SSB, and schools. In other words, those likely to find and nurture a Bale or Terry.

Lee Johnson and Taff Rahman brought with them a wealth of experience. Both had worked with academies of top flight English clubs. Rahman with Arsenal, Johnson with Chelsea.

Together they set up Academy Soccer Coach and brought their workshop to Jakarta where about 20 enthusiastic local coaches rocked up at an international school for two days of practice and workshops.
While in Jakarta they took the opportunity to catch the national Under 19 team defeat South Korea and were impressed by what they saw.

We are now even more excited about football development in Indonesia. Having delivered our first course over here and positive feedback we have received has been very good. Also after watching the U19 play we can further see the potential for football development here,” said Rahman.

The course spent a lot of time focusing on coaching basics. Topics like formations, movement and passing. They may seem basic but then football is a simple game.

The feedback sessions were just as important as the time spent on the field or in the classroom for the coaches. It gave them the opportunity to discuss their own personal situations, the problems they faced. It is all well and good a couple of foreigners coming over and telling people in Indonesia how things work at Arsenal and Chelsea, on the ground things are very different and both Rahman and Johnson emphasized the process was just as much a learning curve for them as it was the participants.

While the coaches went away enthused by what they had seen and discussed, they were all too aware of the problems they faced on a daily basis in the quagmire of Indonesian football. 

The hold politics has on the game chokes the life out of new thinking. A generation of players like Bambang Pamungkas, Firman Utina and Ponaryo Astaman, at their peak among the best in the region, never saw their careers blossom as their talents deserved.

Even now, young players like Evan Dimas, Andik Vermansyah and Syamsir Alam are in danger of seeing their careers damaged by political interference.

Players like Arthur Irawan is with Espanyol in Spain because his family had the wherewithal to take him out of the game as it operates here and encourage him overseas.

But the coaching must go on. We cannot give up on football because of the actions of others. The players need to be supported and the coaches need to be encouraged. Because one day things will improve and one day we need to be able to say player Z was found and developed by coach A in some kampong SSB.

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