By Steve Darby - When I first went to Malaysia I doubled up as kit man. The players washed their own kit and I kept the balls, nets and bibs. When you leave the bibs in the boot of a car in 40 degrees heat for a few days you soon realise the value of a kit man.
I was asked, has coaching changed since I first started coaching professionally? The answer must be yes! As everything in life, such as education, which I class coaching as, evolves with time. Whether it be via technology or the massive changes through the internet and the influx of money into the game.
I started professionally in 1978 and to the surprise of many there was no internet, mobile phones or even VHS recorders then. I started in Bahrain, coaching on sand pitches with the lines marked in oil and the journey eventually took me to Australia, Fiji, Malaysia (3 times) Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, India (twice) and Laos. Ranging from professional clubs through to National teams.
I will use a few examples here to illustrate my changes, but can’t name names as I don't want to be sued. And can’t name the good people as I’m sure to miss someone out.
So how has it changed?
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YOU’RE NOT ALONE ANYMORE
The biggest change now I believe is the amount of staff that football clubs now employ. In the 70s and 80s the staff was usually yourself, a local Assistant who often doubled up as the spy for the President and a part time Physio, who may well have been a first aider as opposed to a qualified Physio. I see the staff now includes Assistants, Goalkeeper Coaches, Fitness Coaches, Physios. Masseurs, Administrators, Analysts. psychologists and don’t forget a vital part of any team the kit man. When I first went to Malaysia I doubled up as kit man. The players washed their own kit and I kept the balls, nets and bibs. When you leave the bibs in the boot of a car in 40 degrees heat for a few days you soon realise the value of a kit man.
Often your staff as Head coach, (the adjective Head now being the operative word), is decided by your budget. Do you have a Goalkeeper Coach? Or have a better paid Goalkeeper? Do you have a set of weights or a masseur?
If I had to prioritise staff I would have the Physio as first chosen, as basically you can’t play with injured players and they often double up as team psychologists. However, they would be qualified Physios. Not in some places I have been almost Witch Doctors! In most places I tried to establish the regime where a player reported first to the Physio if injured and he in turn would give me a report, often simply the player can’t train today.
Obviously this increases the responsibility of the Physio, as some players cheat and want days off, whilst at the other end of the spectrum some players love to play so much they will play injured. Which is a great attitude but no use if you come off after 10 minutes and are out for a longer period.
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Second would be the Kit man. Not just because I was a lousy kit man, but they are invaluable and make everyone's life so much easier. Also I have found all over the world they are the same, in that they are unique characters, no formal kit man licences but are usually wonderful people who the players love and respect. A good kit man is vital to team morale. An example being I got my kit man to make the pre match speech before the 2003 Singapore Cup Final and the players nearly ran through the wall to get to the pitch, and as he reminded me, we won!
Obviously the more staff you can have the better, and the size of the English Premier League staffs are incredible including mathematicians and Doctors, both PH.D and M.D. This is an area where I think there has been a massive positive change in coaching and although the buck still stops with the Head coach, if he can get a loyal professional staff its a great asset. The word loyal can also not be undervalued.
It sounds like a trendy management course phrase, but in reality its basically getting a good relationship with the person who employs you, or pays your mortgage. Sounds simple? As they actually chose you for the job, but a few defeats and that relationship can change. Suddenly the “ Hands off” President may soon be dropping hints on what formation you should be playing and even to the extent who should be playing.
I've had Presidents tell me I should be playing 4-4-3 (having 12 on the pitch would have been great) also another insisted I play a certain player, despite him being suspended. Often its not always a simple ego trip for the Employer, but a complex area. I have had committee men who had relatives in the squad and also the case where a player was giving a kick back to committee men out of their appearance fee. In one club my foreign striker came to me on the first day and asked what % of his salary would he be paying me. I said score goals that would be enough! He certainly raised his game after that.
In Asia there is a unique role called the manager. This is usually a voluntary position which gives status in the community often to a wealthy man. I have been lucky, in two cases my manager said he’d be the CEO off the pitch and I would be the CEO on the pitch. Brilliant! But others have decided that they were Sir Alex Ferguson and wanted the power and the ego of a win and often saw a defeat as an insult to them. But also didn’t fancy taking the training, especially in the pouring rain.
So any young Coach now must learn the art of diplomacy and tact and have a strong character to support his values. You don’t get taught this on Coaching courses. I would recommend reading The Prince by Machiavelli, as I have no doubt he was writing about football politics. And if anyone ever says that naive cliché that football and politics should be separate, then laugh at them. They are intertwined from the dressing room to the Boardroom.
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Coaching Courses have certainly changed and I fully support them as a football education. However, now it appears the ability to use a power point or spread sheet may be as important as “Coaching what you see” My FA Prelim and FA Full badge were basically on the grass, where you coached a topic, but you had to coach what you saw, you had to improve the player.
In Australia where I staffed A Licences the courses evolved to having some theory. But it was practical theory. Groups of coaches would get together and answer questions such as “Your Keeper is sleeping with the strikers wife, what would you do” the answer was always the same, who was the most important player to the team. Perhaps not the ethical or philosophical answer wanted, but welcome to the real world of professional football.
I think now there should be a blend of practical coaching, Theory, Sports Science and Management on a senior coaching course. Also the Instructors at the elite level should also have coached professionally and been in the reality of coaching as opposed to professional instructors who have never been in a crowded stadium with hostile fans and playing for your job.
The media can be a powerful beast and a vindictive reporter can ruin a coaches career. The media has become far more powerful now, perhaps the advent of television interviews has helped stop mis reporting, or more simply lies and made up stories being written. But, it can lead to frustrations for a coach.
Especially if they have just lost and are asked a stupid question. E.g I was once asked are you happy you lost? How can that be answered? But a lot of reporters are sadly now trying to get a sound bite and hence a story for them. There are some great reporters who analyse and ask intelligent worthwhile questions, but they seem to be getting less and less.
I always stuck to the belief that I would never criticise my players in public, and also never commented on another coach. We have enough enemies without slaughtering each other.
Social media is now the new power. Believe me! I was sacked on Facebook before I was even told by the Committee.
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Social media has in many cases been a wonderful asset to the game, it has brought the player closer to the fan. I would have loved to have known more of the Liverpool players in the 60s when I was a kid, but they were isolated icons. Social media can also do wonderful things showing players going to hospitals or helping to raise money for needy causes.
However, there is a big downside. Often administrators are scared of social media, they read news, and dare I say fake news on the internet and think the whole world is angry at them. So they must do something e.g. sack the Coach. In one club I was at, the social media was hammering the players,. We were lucky we had a player who was an IT genius and he traced two of the biggest critics. One was a man who was saying the players were unfit, it turned out he was about 200kgs and never even went to the games.
Another critic was destroying our team tactics online. It turned out he was 14, but to be fair he was not only hammering me but also Jose Mourhino and Guardiola. My highlight of abuse was when a fan told me I was as stupid as Del Bosque for not picking Messi for Spain in the Euros.
The death threats weren’t too humorous though....
Does any fan think a player or Coach wants to lose or play badly?
But sadly the powers that be, in many clubs are prepared to believe some of the fake news and it is a growing problem for both players and coaches.
Its too simplistic to say ignore it, a Coach must now be able to try and manage social media.
Players have changed and happily mostly for the better. Players now seem to want to learn more, maybe they see that they can make a lucrative living out of a short career? Also they have greater understanding of lifestyle benefits. Very few smoke now, they eat better quality food and even drink less. There will always be exceptions of course but its getting tougher to be an elite player now if you don’t train hard and look after yourself.
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There are a few negative changes and possibly caused by the influence of agents. Who lets be honest, benefit when a player moves or gets a better contract. Powerful players in dressing rooms can be a negative influence for the Coach. Its not surprising when you often see a new Coach get rid of certain players “cutting out the cancer” in the dressing room.
Also of course there is always the danger of the match fixing player. That has been going on forever, but now the players appear to be getting better at it and earning more money from it. Sadly I have been a victim of match fixing players and have been badly let down by people I trusted. The topic of match fixing is a whole area of discussion. A coach has to know as much as he can to try to stop it. As if it involves defeats as opposed to spot fixing then the Coach is first to go.
What hasn’t changed is that it's a great job, second only to playing. Different from playing with differing stresses and responsibilities but still can be a massively rewarding career.
What certainly hasn’t changed and you can forget all the buzz words of Philosophy and Project, is that you must win football games.
If you are in professional football (as opposed to Youth development) you must win games. It’s all that matters. There is a fine line between being a great Coach or a sacked Coach and it can be as simple as a lousy Goalkeeper or an injured goalscorer. But that's where you earn your money!
British Football Coach, Steve Darby is a FIFA Instructor for Oceania and an Asian Football Confederation Coaching Instructor. He has played/Coached professionally in England, USA, Bahrain, Australia and Fiji,. He has coached in the Malaysian National League with Johor F.A, winning promotion and the Malaysian F.A Cup.
He has also won a SEA games Gold medal with Vietnam. After a spell with Sheffield Wednesday in England he coached Home Utd in Singapore winning the FA Cup twice, the league and reaching the AFC Cup semi finals.
A later spell in Malaysia with Perak, he won the Super Cup and AFC Qualification. He has worked as Thailand National Team Coach firstly, working with Peter Reid and then Bryan Robson as his Managers. He has also had successful stints in India, including coaching in the inaugural Indian Super League with Mumbai City FC. Recent National Team experience includes; Head Coach and Technical Director of the Lao Football Federation