Tag Archive | "simon clifford"

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Meeting Simon Clifford

Posted on 08 February 2011 by JamesHamilton

I don’t have heroes. Certainly, I don’t have footballing ones: any heroism that footballers have committed has been tangental to the actual game. Harry Gregg, yes. Bryan Robson, no. But for all that, there are people in football whose success I’ve an emotional commitment to. I haven’t often found myself around these people: it’s not something I’ve ever sought. When I am, it’s uncomfortably disembodying and disassociating. There’s a mix on these occasions, of plain old nerves and the urge to say, don’t waste your time with me, get on with it, it matters…

I last felt that way in late December, lunching with Simon Clifford in a restaurant’s private room beneath his offices in Leeds’ magnificent Victorian centre. It wasn’t an interview or anything like that – he’d offered me the chance to meet up and have a look around, and I was hardly going to turn down a chance to to see UK football’s best hope from the inside. And my nerves went, anyway, when it turned out that we’d both taken the same message from the same Rocky 6 clip.

Every time you meet someone “in football”, you come away with a stack of highly actionable stories that you could never possibly print. Clifford is a bibilophile, owner of one of the country’s most important collections of one of my favourite Victorian authors, and the stories were better than usual. I won’t pass them on. But I will pass on what else I learned.

I’ll also pass on what I learned from Clifford’s colleague Steve Nichol, now at Brazilian Soccer Schools and rated as one of the very best thinking coaches working in the UK today. One of the highlights of my day in Leeds was hearing Nichol analyse a recent Premiership match with the kind of succinctness and originality that only goes to confirm how little knowledge most of us who love the game actually have in Britain – and how much we need it. I tried to hide it from him, but I wasn’t keeping up, and felt ashamed.

In no order, then – here’s what I learned at BSS:

The future might be about to arrive

Aiden White, at Brazilian Soccer Schools from age 7 until age 18, has broken through into the Leeds United first team. Aberdeen have five BSS graduates under the age of 21 in their squad, and there are another 650 young people training up under BSS auspices in Aberdeen alone. This is happening across the country. A lot of us have wondered what would happen to the British game if real training was available to young people from the start. We might be about to find out. But:

BSS, Socatots and the Clifford philosophy are still developing

 

Clifford told me more than once that the existing setup of BSS and Socatots does not reflect the entirety of his thinking and that there are many more ideas awaiting execution than he and his team will have time for right now. There are further levels of attainment to be added at the top of the BSS scheme. Socatots, which is the great hope, starting young people off at the very beginning, hasn’t had time yet – it just hasn’t been around long enough – to generate its own cadre of graduates.

Local Socatots franchisees have signalled their belief – which I share – that appropriate training at that age level gives benefits far beyond football alone. Where football is concerned, the “new” ideology that we here more and more often now – that young people ought to be technically competent with the ball before moving on to game situations – has been baked into BSS and Socatots since the late nineties.

Player development

Some of what is still to come concerns fitness and focus. Steve Nichol posed the question – how do you prevent players stalling in their development after the age of 16? That is, how do you help them continue to grow once they are in the comparatively dead hands of Football League and Premiership clubs?

That’s not necessarily to criticize club academies, although the academies vary wildly in their quality, and are subject to the same coaching traditions that have held back British football in the past. But young players who make it into full contracts will do so on the back of a lot of hard work and sacrifice at an early age. The temptation to enjoy the immediate rewards is substantial and resisting it takes a level of maturity few people have at that stage in their lives.

Mental and physical discipline

Clifford and his team feel that the answers may come from boxing – a sport that calls on mental and physical discipline far beyond normal football training.

Football did originally associate itself with mental discipline. London social reformers like Quentin Hogg and Arnold Hills, saw football as a means of helping reintroduce the order to lives thrown into chaos by industrial change – mass demolition of working homes in the 1860s for Hogg, industrial depression, unrest and accidents for Hills.

But the problems posed by the modern game to young people are on another scale altogether: the human need for order and direction is obvious when survival is at stake. Less so when your choice is between extra skills training in cold weather or the chance to be the centre of female attention.

Boxing and the other martial arts put discipline and conditioning onto a different plane – presenting them as the key to adulthood and the only source of peer esteem. Importing these values into football won’t be easy, but it’s surely not impossible.

Because anyone who has spent time around good young players and decent coaches will know what I refer to as the atmosphere of “high seriousness” that they bring to their endeavours. It’s a cultural survival, a hangover from the pre-1960s Apollonian British culture that has vanished from academia, government and policing.

In football, that high seriousness has to share space with what George Best inadvertantly imported: fashion. Deep detachment: the universal application of satire and irony. The individual over the group – and groups, where they exist, are competitive, not cooperative. The priority given to sex – in direct contrast, here, to an older football tradition that evolved to deal with a world that had syphilis but no cure.

That high seriousness – friendly, but determined and implacable – was around me all day at the BSS offices. It made me realize – and think to myself out loud – they really are going to pull this off: they really are going to do this..

The place for thinkers in football

 

Mentors matter. Guidance matters. People, real or fictional, who guide and inspire.. and it was in that context that the Rocky 6 clip comes into play. Rocky’s message to his adult son – that to become what you must become, to have impact, you have to be ready for unlimited opposition, mental pain and physical discomfort – is a big Clifford/Nichol theme. How to find a way to exist for extended periods without outside approval or approbation.. It’s there in Raymond Blanc’s new autobiography, too, and in Ricky Gervais’ recollections: the worthwhile things lie on the wrong side of years of friendless, pitiless labour.

We’ve had League football in the UK now for 115 seasons, give or take a year or two. In that time, every single intelligent thinker who proposed that we transform the game’s skill and fitness levels has been spat out or destroyed. From Jimmy Hogan on and ever since, these people have had to make a way outside the League and FA systems. And these systems, so robust in maintaining stable competitions over an extraordinarily long time, are still digesting  the lessons of 1950 and 1953. No white smoke from Lancaster Gate yet. Not even bullet points.

Which means that any attempt to improve standards that seeks to do so via Leagues or Associations is doomed to failure. It has to be an outside job.

 

Clifford and Sir Clive Woodward’s experiences at Southampton show that, even at a club with a chairman who understands the issues at the right level and is open to progress, fear and ignorance win.

Nothing can move until professional footballers in Britain are equipped with skills, fitness and game sense beyond the levels achieved abroad. Anything else is beside the point. It won’t come from the clubs. It won’t come from the Associations.

It’s an outside job. And here’s the news from Leeds: the outsiders are working on it.

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Brazilian Physical Preparation – World Cups and More

Posted on 16 March 2010 by JamesHamilton

Tim Vickery is as always worth reading in full on Brazil’s preparations for South Africa 2010, but I wanted to draw your attention to the three crucial paragraphs. Because this is what Simon Clifford and Sir Clive Woodward have been saying for years, and this is what the English in particular have been slow to grasp (I’m hearing good things about Hibs’ new facilities, although I’m not sure that even those, or the new indoor centres in Glasgow which are equally encouraging, go anywhere near as far as the South Americans):

Shortly after the World Cup I interviewed Paulo Paixao, then as now in charge of Brazil’s physical preparation. He was understandably proud of the contribution he had made to his country’s victory. But with great nobility, he was desperate to stress that the merits were collective. “Brazil has a number of physical trainers who could have been in my place,” he said. “Nowadays , in terms of methodology of work, Europe is way behind Brazil, but the culture of physical preparation we have developed doesn’t get the credit it deserves. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because we’re judged in socio-economic terms, looked down upon because we’re a South American country.”

He had visited Juninho at Middlesbrough and couldn’t believe the amount of players who were injured. “They don’t seem to mind,” he said. “If one player gets injured they go out and buy another.

“Without carrying out tests you can’t draw up a work programme, and in Europe they hardly seem to do any. In Brazil all the big clubs have physiology labs. From the start players are dealt with in a laboratory situation. The young player goes through a battery of tests to find out what he needs to fulfil his athletic potential. What we do is focus on the specifics that a player requires, be it muscular re-enforcement, stamina or aerobic work, or addressing muscular imbalance. You don’t see this kind of work carried out in Europe”

All of this is eight years ago, Vickery says – and in the meantime, Paulo Paixao and a colleague have done work in Europe. Some of this sounds very Arsenal-like, but given Arsenal’s run of injuries – consistently very long even when you take x-rated tackles out of the equation – it isn’t working for them. Or perhaps Colney is mere mood music, or advanced for its time but no longer so current.

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World Cup 2006: The Secrets of Brazil’s Success – Correctly, For Once

Posted on 13 June 2006 by JamesHamilton

The actual commentary on Brazil’s game with Croatia tonight will be the usual “samba” rubbish, I’m sure, but this magnificent BBC article on the background to Brazilian football adds some balance at least.

So, what lies behind the Brazilian brilliance?

1. Priority:

Journalist Alex Bellos, author of Futebol – A Brazilian Way of Life, believes it was also due to the relatively late abolition of slavery at the end of the 19th century, and a lack of positive symbols.

Whatever the reason, Brazil very early “recognised football in our future and tradition and (as) our opportunity to communicate to the world that we are powerful,” says 1994 World Cup winner Leonardo.

“In the 1930s, we started to organise a team to be competitive in the World Cup, and the 1950s were the beginning of this big dream to make Brazil the best international team in the world,” he added.

2. Detailed Planning and Preparation:

Losing the final to Uruguay in 1950 was viewed as a national tragedy, but it only heightened the desire to win.

And it led to a little-known aspect of Brazilian football. Believing they had let themselves down through personal weakness and a lack of research, the national side came to see comprehensive preparation and innovative tactics as crucial to success. Contrary to the popular belief that Brazilian teams are defensively naive, the idea of the modern back four originated in the 1958 World Cup-winning team.

Through a careful evolution of the way they played, Brazil continued to have a tactical lead until 1970.

3. Unique Training

In Brazil children learn football in a very different way from their European counterparts.

There are no leagues or competitive matches for young children – such a concept is seen as likely to hinder a player’s creative impulses.

“The children play a lot but it’s always very free,” says Leonardo. Parreira agrees: “We don’t put them in a cage, say ‘you have to be like this’. We give them some freedom until they are ready to be coached.”

4. Sheer Hard Work:

Brazil’s success, though, stems from more than talent and the freedom to express it – behind Ronaldinho’s gleaming smile lies hours of hard work.

“The English academy system is one where players are training for just four hours a week,” says Brazilian football expert Simon Clifford.

“Compare that to Ronaldinho when he was a 16-year-old with Gremio, where he would have been training for up to 20 hours a week. ”

Parreira adds: “In Brazil players are fabricated, they are produced. “They come to the clubs when they are 10-12 and then they start in categories according to age.

“There are no more players from the beach or from the street. This is a myth, a legend. They are built, grown in the clubs.”

More on Simon Clifford here.

One of the reasons why many people believe than an African nation will win the World Cup in the near future is the fact that “street football”, from where they think the natural creative players come, is still predominant there. I’ve seen two African sides so far at this World Cup – Ivory Coast, and Ghana – and rather than remind me of Brazil, their physical strength, bravery, endeavour and fair play have reminded me far more of British sides from the 1950s. The Brazilians are in no danger of losing their preeminence, if only for the thoroughly bad reason that the Europeans are keen to hold on to their Copecobana fantasies, to hug football’s version of Orientalism to their chest and keep it there.

I’d keep one eye on Simon Clifford, if only for the short while until he really takes over British footballing consciousness. Which he will.

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