Archive | October, 2007

How Much Difference Does Kit Make To Football?

Posted on 31 October 2007 by JamesHamilton

Not much, at least not necessarily.

The principle change to football kit since 1905 has been in the shape of progressively lighter, less protective, more weather-stable and weather-adaptable boots. These were a Brazilian innovation, taken up by Stanley Matthews after the 1950 World Cup and further developed since then by European companies.

The ball has lost its deadly laces, but is the same weight as ever. Changes in flight reflect changes in shape and profile, and matter chiefly when a Beckham is in the offing.

Here is the best available comparison: modern players performing in old-style kit. It doesn’t hold them back in any noticeable way, although they do have the benefit of multiple takes.

Also, Jerry gets it, and we win in Paris. What more could you want from a film? And is Sly going to be fit to face Croatia, assuming the national qualification problems can be overcome in time?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lVCBLfwA5A]

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“It was certainly worth losing a pair of trousers to gain this triumph”

Posted on 29 October 2007 by JamesHamilton

When I hit the wall, made of two-ton concrete blocks, it hurt. The car stopped dead with the engine underneath it, hard up to the broken wall. My right shinbone had a couple of hairline cracks and it was six weeks before I could walk. But I could still drive – just. A physiotherapist enabled me to win the race five days later.

That’s Tony Dron, in a Triumph Dolomite, in 1977. Imagine what he could do in a Mercedes W125, the most powerful unturbocharged Grand Prix car and the most powerful altogether between its birth in 1937 and the election of Margaret Thatcher:

So far so good. I have braked, changed down with heel-toe action while double-declutching, and turned into a corner. Now I open the throttle, smoothly but deliberately: the engine roars, delivering a vicious mountain of torque, the wheels spin again and the tail slides out. It is violent and tricky…

Here he is doing just this at Donington last month:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59VN6kEFcE8]

The racing rule-makers of the day had made a mistake, thinking their imposed maximum weight limit of 750kg (1,653lb) would keep power and speed within reasonable bounds. They had no idea that German engineers had the ability to design a chassis that could cope with more than 600bhp, let alone a 5.6-litre supercharged straight-eight engine that produced such power.

1937 was still what most Europeans could call “peacetime”, and never more or less so, if you see what I mean, at the Grand Prix races of that year. Bern Rosemeyer recounts what he did when his wheel fell off at Coppa Acerbo (“..so then I had to drive the last 300m on the brake drum..”):

In 1962, the car celebrated its quarter century by returning to the ‘Ring in the hands of one of its original drivers, Herman Lang. The late – most regrettably, the late – Graham Hill talks us round the terrifying circuit whilst we hang on to the steering wheel and pray:

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Wenger on European Management Structures

Posted on 28 October 2007 by JamesHamilton

Short and sharp opinion from Herbert Chapman’s worthy successor:

The great swami of the Emirates was asked what he thought of the concept of technical director, the role in which the previously obscure Comolli has apparently achieved such power at Tottenham that we are told the new manager, whether it indeed proves be Juande Ramos of Seville or a reincarnation of dear old, double-winning Bill Nicholson, simply cannot ignore him. Cannot say, for example, run along, sonny, and do a bit of paperwork or why not order some training cones?

Wenger paused, narrowed his eyes slightly and said, “My friend, the day you read that a technical director is coming to Arsenal, you will know it is the day before I leave.”

This is from James Lawton’s open letter to Daniel Levy at Spurs, and in it he confirms my feelings about the new threat to good football management in the Premier League:

You should really answer a vital question, not just for the benefit of the Tottenham fans who feel so wretched again at the familiar sight of Wenger’s Arsenal disappearing into the far distance, but also for your ability to rationalise a decision to follow in the footsteps of Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich and attempt to do something that has never been achieved before. This is to gain sustained success without handing the reins to a football man who can impose his authority on both the dressing room and the boardroom, someone who doesn’t have to watch his back – and deal with the problem of conflicting advice to the directors.

I don’t doubt for a moment that English football would benefit from certain European influences if it could see its way towards bringing them in.

But this is a specific bastardization of a European system – and, as Lawton says here, and I’ve said this week, it’s a political bastardization. A system designed to make football management workable is changed into one which is intended to make Championship Manager real.

It isn’t real, and it won’t work.

Chelsea, who started this trend, won 6-0 yesterday. Great teams can go on like that, flywheeling into a future without the boss who brought them together. Leeds United ended their first post-Revie season by reaching the European Cup Final.

Leeds went into long-term decline after that. It was, as Clough had said, an ageing side. Leeds did not have the money of a Liverpool with which to rebuild. Revie himself is rumoured to have said that continuing the success of the ’60s and ’70s was an impossibility.

Chelsea have the money, but, as things are now, do not have the structure to make it pay over another four or five years. So they won’t become another Leeds unless Abramovich bails out. The better comparison is with the Manchester United of the post-Docherty period: wealthy, entertaining, but curiously aimless and uncentred. Capable of cup runs, great European nights, possessed of some marvellous players, yet, come the end of the season, always far short of the title.

And of course, the whole point of that Manchester United era was to show that there is much more to football life than titles and European Cups:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTAMsgAdsII]

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“Brian must have been thinking, ‘There’s a conspiracy happening here’”

Posted on 28 October 2007 by JamesHamilton

The first inside stories of events within the England camp at the Rugby World Cup are coming out, and they aren’t pretty. Laurence Dallaglio’s in particular. This is one of the best pieces of thoughtful writing involving a sportsman that I’ve read.

A few of the more experienced guys got together: Phil Vickery, Mike Catt, Jason Robinson, Jonny Wilkinson, Andy Farrell and myself. “Am I crazy or are we all thinking the same thing here?” one of the guys asked, and it turned out we all saw things in pretty much the same way. We had a head coach who wanted one thing, other coaches who wanted other things, and everyone was unsure about the overall direction, especially the players. The general feeling was that three weeks before our first prep game, we hadn’t a clue what was going on.

Soon after we arrived home from Paris, there was a letter from the Rugby Football Union and a comprehensive questionnaire regarding every aspect of England’s organisation and performance at the World Cup. We were asked to assess the team’s preparation and the contribution of our various coaches. The assessments and comments could be made anonymously if you wished. The first thing I did was to write my name on the top of the form. Anonymity is not something you can afford in Test rugby.

Read the rest.

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Jol’s Sacking Confirms A Sinister New Trend

Posted on 26 October 2007 by JamesHamilton

First Mourinho, now Jol. The most successful managers in their respective club’s recent history, sacked by wealthy club owners who expect too much. And want it too soon. Championship Manager Chairmanship, trumping potentially Champions League Management.

I’d be surprised if there was any fan, of any club, who didn’t in his heart of hearts believe that his team “belonged” in the Premiership’s top four. But the trouble with the top four is that there are only four of them. How close Jol came.

Jol, like Mourinho, is a victim of the “European” club structure – where the coach rubs shoulders and shares power with a “director of football” and, in this case, it seems, sinister others. Jol wanted a good centre-back to cover for Ledley King – and a defensive midfielder – and got Darren Bent. Both Bent and Jol deserved better.

The Premiership has become a difficult place for English players, for British players. Now it is becoming a difficult place for proper football management.

This in a week when Sir Clive Woodward, personification of the modern, forward-looking coach, criticized complicated management structures – “There can only be one leader in the dressing room.”

Management has always been an insecure job, of course. Recently, it looked as though some sanity had broken out – there have been fewer sackings of the traditional Sammy Lee variety, and managers were being given longer to develop their teams. But then, there were fewer appointments of the Sammy Lee variety.

What’s new is that we are seeing the slow, deliberate undermining of good, successful managers, by chairmen and boards, using European-style management structures as political tools. Jol’s situation, and Mourinho’s, was different from that faced by Rafa Benitez, behind whom the first carrion birds are beginning to circle.

Bolton should have waited another week..

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Clough, Taylor, Forest

Posted on 25 October 2007 by JamesHamilton

Online clips featuring Brian Clough are exasperatingly thin on the ground – and those of Peter Taylor.. so this excellent Youtube post simply has to feature here.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKLyEFThdLo]

Autochrome colour photography was invented before the First World War, but no one thought to take a camera into the East End. Kodachrome and workable colour film photography emerged by 1935, but no one thought to take their colour camera or cine equipment to a match.

No one filmed a Clough dressing room either, to my knowledge. It’s a bloody shame.

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Behind the Scenes at the FA Cup Final: 1966

Posted on 25 October 2007 by JamesHamilton

Into the Wembley changing rooms with Pathe News for Everton v Sheffield Wednesday. Wednesday’s manager was Alan Brown, Brian Clough’s mentor at Sunderland four years earlier.

So much of this kind of broadcasting seemed aimed at the non-footballing public. The degree of knowledge and involvement assumed on the part of the viewer is almost nil.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spl2yQDHThU]

Everton would return to the Cup Final as losers in 1968, then take the League title in 1970 before putting up a fair showing in the European Cup.

1964-72 must surely be the most competitive era in English professional football history. Titles went to Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester’s United and City, Everton, Arsenal and Derby, with FA Cups going to Leeds, Liverpool, Everton, WBA, Tottenham, West Ham and Arsenal.

You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. At the time, commentators could do nothing other than moan about Leeds, Ramsey and 4-3-3.

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Organize or Develop – The Manager’s Dilemma

Posted on 24 October 2007 by JamesHamilton

Herbert Chapman’s teams won six League Championships and two FA Cups in the days when that was all that a team could win. Yet he went into print to say that he felt league-style competition was ruining the game.

The pressure on a team to win, he argued, militated against the team’s ability to entertain and against its players’ opportunities to become better footballers.

Chapman was looking to start an argument. I don’t believe for a minute that he wanted the Football League dismantled after forty years in favour of an endless series of meaningless Harlem Globetrotters-style exhibition matches leavened with the odd Home International and Cup tie. In fact, it’s hard to see how football could have had the impact it had without the discipline and shape of league structures. And think – no more crunch games, no more miraculous escapes from relegation or last-gasp title-clinchers..

Nevertheless the same choice between “success now” and longer-term development faces every manager and coach. It’s on a slightly smaller scale, but it’s there nonetheless.

Arsene Wenger has rebuilt Arsenal over the last two to three seasons. The players coming in have required time to bed down, to find their feet, to get used to playing with each other. They’ve had that – but they had to manage it at the same time as securing the club’s financial position by finishing in the top four of the Premiership.

Billy Davies at Derby probably has a long-term vision for his side, and would love a run of say, 60 games, plus two or three transfer windows, to start pulling it together, whilst building a youth set-up at the same time. Some hope. Instead, he has no choice but to put a side together that has some chance of clawing its way out of relegation trouble. Unless the Derby board are unusually far-sighted, or, like Watford’s, happy to be a boomerang club, he can forget about having room to build for the long term.

The same problem exists further down the scale. Tony Cascarino has begun a footballing agony-uncle column in the Times, and here’s an exchange from his first post:

My coach keeps banging on about us “working on our shape” in training but half the lads can’t even trap a ball. What’s more important for us to concentrate on during training nights: teamwork or individual ball skills?

TC: Teamwork. You can practice ball skills all you like but if your natural talent is limited, there’s only so much improvement you can make. But the potential to improve tactically is huge. You see from the professional game how much of a difference being organised can make, even when a team is inferior. What’s most important of all is that you enjoy training and matches, because if what you’re doing seems like a chore, it’s not doing you much good. Structure training so it’s fun, whatever you do during it.

You can only nod at that. If I were called into a dressing-room and asked to “do something” about the team’s confidence, I’d reckon to take the best part of 3-6 months, working most days. But I’d be required, most probably, to have something to show within days or weeks. In 6 months, the team might be down, the manager gone, the board selling up.

Not every manager will succeed given unlimited time. It does seem to be something of a principle – the very best managers, the Steins, are able to organize instantly, getting improvements now, AND thus win time to build for the future AND know precisely how they were going to do it. Clough and Taylor went into Derby County with a blueprint for success (their phrase, and I don’t think it’s one made up in hindsight) but pulled something workable together in a couple of weeks.

Translated to England level, the task begins to look impossible. As England boss, organize is about all you have time to do. But the unique pressures of the situation, seen down many years in panicked English defending-deep, require something more. But how on earth do you provide it?

At club level, there are many ways in which you can take pressure off your players. You can grab the headlines. You can distract them, keep them laughing, keep them on their toes with the unexpected, and so on and so forth. Perhaps you can do it at international level. But no one’s succeeded for forty years.

Not even Terry Venables. Most of the Youtube coverage of Euro ’96 focusses on Gazza’s goal, Seaman’s penalty saves, the Holland match, and poor Gareth Southgate. There’s no clip of what England did after their early goal against Germany in the semi-final, but if you remember, we immediately sat back to defend on the edge of our area. With the inevitable results. It’s all too visible in the German equalizer here:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SmPRRBhMak]

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Manchester City 1968-70

Posted on 24 October 2007 by JamesHamilton

Peter Shilton played just one FA Cup Final in his long career – and lost, 1-0 to Manchester City. City were on their best run for many years, and here David Colman interviews Mercer, Malcolm Allison and players at the Cup Victory Banquet:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cksnFMeWaK0]

A year earlier, they’d gone what might be considered one better, taking the league title away from local rivals Manchester United during the last game of the season – against Newcastle, here:

In 1970, City completed their domestic collection, with a League Cup Final victory over West Brom.

A second trophy followed – the European Cup Winner’s Cup, later that year:

It is no kind of coincidence that Joe Mercer was one of a number of English football men to take the challenge of the 1953 Hungarian victory at Wembley head on. I’ve video – not on the web, alas – of Mercer leading skills training for boys in the mid-50s and referring to the game as he does so. He’d go on to manage England, briefly but entirely successfully, but only after City made the kind of decision that – current company excepted – they’ve been making ever since:

Here’s a brief profile of that last great City side:

And here’s the boss of the next one, celebrating his impending appointment!

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Sir Trevor Brooking

Posted on 24 October 2007 by JamesHamilton

A couple of minutes’ worth of Brooking brilliance.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7bk9BasbjE]

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