BLEEDING THE RADIATORS

There are certain unwritten laws in football management, that are more about common sense and courtesy and having some respect for your fellow managers and coaches (as well as your players), than being hard and fast rules, so I was very interested to read Ronny Deila’s comments last week regarding the players’ fitness and lack of discipline when it came to things like diet and looking after themselves. At Celtic it is fairly obvious that the players will be extensively monitored and have everything at their disposal, but he took the step of publicly stating that, contrary to previous years, fizzy drinks and certain foods had now been banned from the Celtic Park canteen and that the players he inherited needed to be fitter.
One of those ‘laws’ is that you should never publicly decry the previous incumbent when you have just taken over a new position at a club.

Another is that you should never comment on the opposition’s players or indeed, give opinion on the other team’s tactics. It is fairly obvious that Neil Lennon took offence to some of those observations when he replied at the weekend that as some of those same ‘unfit’ players had qualified for the Champions League group stages twice and won three League titles in a row, they were allowed a can of Coke with their lunch. Point made I think. Added to that is my observation that Celtic have lost 15 goals in competitive games this season and more than half have been lost in the last half hour. So it begs the question; at what point does the personality or individual (or the gaining of a couple of pounds) become more important than his contribution to the team?

It’s a very delicate balance, because not only does the coaches decision affect the team directly on the pitch, it can also affect the “team spirit” off it.

The fat controller

Before I go any further, it is important to stress that fitness, diet and conditioning are a huge part of the modern game, and contrary to popular belief, the majority of players look after themselves very well, but when your best player, your talisman, your top goalscorer is carrying a little weight or is not as fit as you would like, how do you deal with it? In my opinion, there has to be a happy medium as there is no point trying to clamp down and be a disciplinarian if the player in question resents your input and ultimately, you lose his contribution to the team. That being the case, you have failed as a coach and you are also putting at risk the team spirit as a whole as the other players will see you as the villain of the piece. There is of course the counter argument that you may lose the respect of the players by failing to be strong enough to deal with your star player. Believe me, if that player is contributing well to a winning team, the players will be a lot less likely to disagree with your stance and a lot more tolerant of a couple of extra pounds or a skipped gym session.

As an example of the balance that needs to be struck, Leigh Griffiths’ current predicament can be held up. Surely there can be no question that in a Celtic team, if played regularly he will score goals, but with Ronny Deila’s comments about his fitness at the weekend, his supposed off field idio-synchrosies and the fact that he has four other strikers, it has become an apparently easy decision to consider him going out on loan. To a Hibs team in desperate need of a striker, a talisman and an extra 1500 punters through the gate, any of the perceived negatives become insignificant in comparison and it becomes an equally easy decision to justify taking him on loan on YOUR team’s behalf.

Neil Lennon also cited John Hartson as an example, but a guy I played with and who I know will strike a chord with everyone when I mention his name was Mark Yardley. When I was introduced to Yards at my last club, Albion Rovers, my mate Andy Paterson who I had played with at Stranraer affectionately described the big man as “enjoys a Tea biscuit”. He hadn’t always been a “big” fella, indeed in his early years at St. Mirren he had been tall and lean, but by the time our paths crossed at the Wee Rovers my knees were shot to pieces and big Yards couldn’t see his. God forbid if Peter Hetherston (the manager) had asked him to lose a pound or two. The big man was still scoring goals even though he was less than athletic, but his biggest asset of all at the time was that he was great around Cliftonhill. Small clubs need that type of spirit to survive and no amount of fitness and conditioning would have enhanced that.

Distilling the spirit

Team spirit cannot be artificially created. A night out at the Ten Pin Bowling and the odd Go Karting day are only a vehicle to allow you to nurture the spirit, but REAL team spirit evolves. It evolves on the training pitch, in the ground, in the dressing room. It comes from having and signing the right “type” of players who will embrace your ways and the different types of person at the club. Gordon Strachan has a wonderful way of describing the two types of player he has dealt with throughout his management. He calls them “drainers” and “radiators”.

Drainers, by their very nature think nothing is good enough. The training ground, the kit, the tactics, anything but themselves. Their attitudes become so negative that it starts to “drain” the energy and the focus away from the rest of the players. It only takes one or two drainers within a squad and you are done for. They zap away and work away at the weaker players until they get their way, or until you get rid of them, and that in itself is a huge part in the management and development of a work ethic and spirit at any club.

Radiators though, thankfully make up the majority of Scottish players I have ever worked with. Good honest, hard working pro’s, their energy and positiveness radiates not only through the team, but also the club. The more of them you have on your side, the more chance you have of being successful. Players like Kenny Black, Peter Grant, Gary Mackay and current pros like Dave MacKay, Keith Lasley and Willo Flood are often the type of player their own fans don’t appreciate and opposition fans love to hate, but it helps explain why certain managers re-sign the same players over and over, because the fans don’t always see what that type of player brings to a football club, both on the pitch AND off it.

The assistant manager’s role is also crucial in nurturing this spirit. He has to be a confidante of the players and of course the manager’s ears in the dressing room. The players MUST be able to trust him and even though I’ve been assistant to four different managers, the responsibilities have never changed. Part of the job (and one of the most difficult) is Monday morning training after a heavy defeat. You have to go in, smiling, enthusiastic and telling them what a great session it’s going to be. Players who, on the Saturday you had bollocked, chastised and frankly hated, whom you and the manager had slated on the way home in the car, who you knew the last place they wanted to be was back in the dressing room so soon. I would be wretching to the pit of my stomach at the way they had surrendered, but it mattered nothing as I had to put on my game face and liven the place up again. That’s the part fans don’t see when they think the players and the management don’t care. I’ve been on the end of many a defeat on a Saturday. In truth, I didn’t want to be near them, let alone have to humour them and that two-faced, cheery Monday morning facade never sat well with me, but for the sake of the team and the importance of that trust, it was absolutely crucial on those types of days that I was most definitely, a radiator.

Onto this weeks Tips and you’ll be pleased to hear that after my third consecutive near miss, i’m giving up the slot to a Guest Tipster. This week’s guest is ex Inverness and Dundee legend Bobby Mann and he’s going for Forfar at home to Brechin (13to10), Stranraer at home to Stirling (6to5) and Annan away at Clyde (13to8) for an impressive 12to1 treble. Here’s hoping you do better than I have Bob.

David Farrell

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DONT BELIEVE THE HYPE

There is a certain hype and urban myth which surrounds football regarding sportsmanship, discipline and what is deemed to be acceptable behaviour in order that your team wins. Every week throws up a different scenario, and of course we continue to have the spectre of Luis Suarez at the forefront of this, but I watched highlights of a game at the weekend in the Championship in England and saw something that is usually frowned upon, and yet I have heard not one single mention of it at all on any media sites or TV channels since.

Before I start, let me say that those of you who know me and the type of player and person I was, know that I would have kicked my granny in a tackle and made sure she never got back up if it meant that we could win a football match. Here begs the question; what is acceptable and what is not? In answering this, it is important to recognise that football is an international game and we may need to be a little more tolerant of other cultures, before we decry their ways.

The imaginary red

It was Reading v Fulham on Saturday. 20 minutes in and a Fulham midfielder makes a really poor tackle (a bit like mine at Montrose if you’ve been reading my previous blogs). It’s a straight red, but before the referee gets a chance, three Reading players surround him, demanding it be shown. As it IS shown, the Reading centre half fist pumps and turns away with two hands aloft exclaiming “Yes” as if he had just scored a goal. Too far?

We’ve all seen it. The striker through on goal, scythed down by the lumbering centre back who now knows he is going off and opposition players just managing to catch up with the referee, brandishing the imaginary card and willing the referee to send him off. The inevitable outpouring of false martyrdom, the “scandalous” behaviour of the players urging the red card. Is it really that bad? As a player, why shouldn’t you want the defender to go off? Down to 10 men and now in with a great chance of winning. As long as it was deserved and there was no diving or cheating, should it really be a hanging offence to claim for a card to be shown? Lets be honest, as a fan, you will certainly be celebrating it in the stand. On top of that, you will have the gleeful manager of the team who’s players have all managed to stay on the pitch, quoted as saying “I’m not one for wanting players sent off or anyone getting a red card.” Really? Trust me, when you read that sentence on the back pages of your chosen rag, it’s ALWAYS followed by “but…”

I’ve played for a few managers and coaches who would privately have allowed you to do almost anything to get opposition players wound up and in some cases red carded, whilst publicly trotting out the old – “I’m not one for getting players sent off” line.

Seeing red

I must say before I go on, that I am in no way attempting to condone the actions of Luis Suarez. The biting and spitting incidents he has been guilty of are completely unacceptable and abhorrent. He is an animal, but with it an incredible footballer who in my opinion needs psychological help. I read a wonderful article by Gus Poyet who explained that it was their Latin American culture to try to win at all costs, that diving was an acceptable part of their football being, and that occasionally overstepping the mark comes with that. With the advent of so many foreigners in our game, maybe we will just need to learn to be a little more tolerant of their ways.

All of which brings me to my final bugbear; the current fad for TV pundits to “demonise” shirt tugging and blocking at free kicks and corners. Lineker, Lawrenson, Ingham and Green, all of them condemn to a man, the art of defending. This is the same Mark Lawrenson who when he became manager of Oxford United, proclaimed to us – “we are going to train and play the Liverpool way.” We trained each day for 90 minutes, the Liverpool way. We had 5-a-sides in training, the Liverpool way. We changed the shape of the team so we could play, the Liverpool way. We played……..the Oxford United way. Someone had forgotten to tell him we never had Hansen at the back, Souness in the middle or Dalglish and Rush up front. Relegation and he left the club after seven months. Football – the Lawro way.

Red faced

So, sure it’s a free kick (or a penalty in the box) if you get caught tugging at a shirt. But that’s it. If you can get away with it, surely putting someone off balance and preventing them from scoring is part of the art? The Italians of the 80’s and 90’s were brilliant at it; foreign players were coached in denying the striker space in all areas of the pitch for years. I had first hand experience of this during a game against Rangers. I was marking Basile Boli at set pieces and they got a corner early in the match. Boli, a monster of a man was a big threat in the air and it was my job to stop him getting a run at it or getting any momentum to power in a header. We were jostling as the corner came over and Boli turned to run behind me and as I turned to match his run, Richard Gough ran straight into me and put me on the ground. I had been ‘blocked,’ and whilst on my knees I just managed to lift my head in time to see Boli rise unmarked at the far post to beat Jim Leighton with the header. It was brilliant play by Gough, but that was of no consolation at half time when I was berated for losing Boli and allowing him to score. I could do nothing about it. In those days we had no video analysis to look back on and even Archie MacPherson couldn’t save my skin as my desperate plea of “watch Sportscene tonight and you’ll see” fell on deaf ears.
But it WAS my fault as he had scored and I lost my place for the next game, even though we had come back to get a point. So don’t dare tell me shirt pulling and blocking are as bad as some of the things that go on in the game. It’s very easy to sit on the sofa on a Saturday night and have a go Lawro, but don’t forget YOUR time at the coalface.

So onto this week’s Tips. Yet again, a red card scuppered the chances of the treble with the other two teams winning as Dundee United could only draw with their 10 men. Two weeks in a row we’ve been very close so lets get that elusive win under our belts…

First up i’ll go with Aberdeen at home to Ross County (4to7), Peterhead at home to Stenhousemuir (EVS) and East Fife at home to Queens Park (8to11). Here’s hoping for a win or it’s Guest Tipster time next week.

David Farrell

MEN IN BLACK

After an indifferent performance from the referee in the Scotland versus Germany match, I think the time has come. The one you’ve all been waiting for. The guy we love to hate and the one person you can’t play football without; our beloved referee. A man whose self masochism is so great, that he CHOOSES to put himself in a position where he is there to be abused, reviled and ridiculed. Many of them don’t even need it. Professionals with well paid jobs – doctors, lawyers, solicitors, bankers – are all refereeing part time in Scotland and in most instances, being fairly well paid for it. Why? It’s not a question I have an answer to. Maybe its greed or an ego that needs inflating or maybe some of them even enjoy it, but if it’s the latter, then masochism it surely is.

I have known and been friendly with many referees over the years, and always found the majority to be accommodating and very open off the pitch, but on it, as the years went by, it became more and more difficult to communicate and have a relationship with them. Indeed, by the time I was coaching, it had become almost impossible to talk to, never mind joke with the guys. This was due in no small way to the introduction of referees having directives from above which told them they had to apply the letter of the law implicitly (giving no room for common sense). In truth, I felt sorry for them when it was introduced, as it meant the days of having a laugh or a joke was a thing of the past. This made their already hazardous job, a much more difficult one.

The Men in Black

It will probably surprise you to hear, but in my opinion, the best two referees of my time were Willie Young and Hugh Dallas. How Willie passed all those fitness tests over the years I’ll never know. It must have been a bit like having a brother who manages a garage and your car never fails its MoT. Many of the bad decisions Willie made were because he was 40-yards away at the time and had to guess what had happened. But he was always fair, and most of all he liked a laugh and a bit of banter. He tells a great story about an Old Firm game where Paolo Di Canio felt he was having a particularly bad game and said to him “why don’t you just put on a Rangers jersey and play for them too.” Willie’s retort was “I think you’ll find I’m in a much better place to influence things in their favour where I am.” Most of today’s referees would probably have booked Paolo when he reached “why don’t you…”

Hugh was different to Willie, much more strait-laced, but a very good referee. Strict, but fair, he wasn’t one for taking any nonsense but as the years went by and he made his way up the FIFA ladder, he became a little more aloof and more difficult to talk to. It didn’t detract in any way from his refereeing though. He knew the players well and his relationship with them was strictly professional. He was on his way up and done things the ‘FIFA’ way and nothing was going to stop that. It may have been one of the reasons the fans seemed to dislike him so much, but in truth, he was the best there was. Today’s referees would do well to look at them as role models and a combination of both would make the perfect arbiter.

The Men in Yellow

So what of today’s group in their fancy coloured shirts sponsored by Specsavers (oh the irony). Metronomic in their approach, they all look the same on the pitch, but my biggest criticism is they don’t know the game. A deflection which was clearly a corner, a penalty where the defender clearly got the ball, a tackle which wasn’t even a foul never mind a red card, a goal from a corner which should have been a goal kick. How come fans and players alike can all see these decisions are wrong, but very often the referees can’t? We’ve all seen the ref even it up by giving a foul on the goalie, but is that right? Whatever happened to two wrongs don’t make a right? A lot of it could be stopped if they just took an extra couple of seconds to blow the whistle. A lot of decisions on the pitch actually referee themselves; players will turn and go into their natural position if it’s a throw-in or a corner, or even a free kick in the other teams favour.

Something else that irks me, do referees practice? I don’t mean blowing the whistle, or how to make a signal. Do they actually watch the “game?” I’ve always felt that it would help referees if they came and viewed training and practice matches, not to watch the referee, but the players, the tackles, the deflections, the fouls, the attitudes. I’m certain it would help them understand more, see more and get more decisions right. In 28 years of playing and coaching, only once has a referee ever come to observe a training session I’ve been involved in. It’s no wonder player-official relationships are at an all time low. To add to this we have the 4th official, whose presence in the technical area does nothing other than antagonise an already pressured situation. You have 10 players and officials from each side in a small area; do we really need to add bullets to the loaded gun? They are another unnecessary Blatter brainchild, nothing else.

Seeing Red

However, there is no question that players can also help officials. In my day it was a slight on your character if you dived or feigned injury. If I was tackled by an opponent, I’d have done anything possible to get back up; I never, EVER wanted him to know he had hurt me. I’d have prodded, nipped, intimidated, stood on toes and whispered in their ear what I would do if they took too many touches, but to get an edge on my opponent, feigning injury wasn’t for me.

I was only ordered off four times in my career in over 300 appearances, twice in the first team and twice in reserve games (I probably played in about 300 of them as well) and on each occasion, the red was fully deserved.

The first came in a reserve match at Norwich City. Ruel Fox, who went on to become an England international, was playing directly against me on the left wing and a searing diagonal was switched to him that bounced about six yards before him. I travelled at full pelt, knowing that if I timed it right, I could clatter him, the ball and anything else in its path as he cushioned it with his chest down to his feet. I didn’t reckon on the crafty Fox seeing what was coming and control the ball from his chest UP the way. I had nowhere to go and by the time the ball reached his feet he was already on the track. It wasn’t deliberate, I hadn’t gone out to commit a foul, but I gave the referee no option as I lifted Fox back up from the gravel and turned to see if I would be given any grace. Rightly, there wasn’t an earthly.

The second time was in a reserve game at Pittodrie, two fouls committed and two yellows meant an early bath. And the third, on my second appearance at Ibrox, through naivety and poor positioning, I found myself square on to Dale Gordon who was running at full pace through on goal. I maintain to this day he ran into me, but it looked bad and having been booked in the first half, the inevitable red was flashed. It’s a lonely walk with 47,000 baying for your blood. The final one was something I am not proud of and still haunts me to this day.

At Hibs we were playing in the 4th Round of the Scottish Cup at Montrose. It was a “banana skin” of a tie, but we played very well and controlled the match and with 20 minutes to go we were cruising 2-0. Then came my moment of madness. I controlled a pass, overran it and their tall, rangy midfielder came hurtling toward me. At that moment, the player in possession is in danger of being hurt as he has lost control and will need to stretch to regain the ball, so I slowed up and waited for his tackle. It never came. He pulled out and my foot rolled over the ball and caught him on the shin. I was trying to protect myself as I really thought he was going to injure me, but in all honesty, I had ‘topped’ him. I never even had the guts to look at the referee, got up and walked straight off. It was a poor tackle. I had a reputation for being a tough tackler and a fairly aggressive player, but it was the one and only time I ever went over the ball deliberately. I certainly wasn’t a coward on the pitch, I was hard and mostly fair, but that was a coward’s tackle. Thankfully, it was the last time I ever saw red.

One thing I am very proud of though is the fact that in 18 years of first team and reserve team football, I was never once booked for dissent. Not easy for someone with as big a mouth as mine on the pitch. I also always felt that I was a little bit of a better footballer than I was sometimes given credit for. And when people met me off the pitch, they were always surprised at how different I was to the player they had played against, it was all a persona. I did an article prior to the 1993 League Cup Final with David McCarthy, now of the Daily Record and the headline read “Quiet man Farrell sees red in Green.” I think that summed it up quite nicely….

David Farrell

LOSING THE DRESSING ROOM

So the transfer window slams well and truly shut and the managers’ have the majority of their squads in place (outwith any further loan signings). Now the speculation can REALLY start among the football fraternity about who is under pressure and who’s next to go.

Already we have seen Ronny Deila come under scrutiny with tactics and signings being analysed to the point of obsession, and as ever, we all think we know best. A good friend of mine came to me the other day with the age old “do you think he has lost the dressing room?”. My reply to him was, did he really know what that meant? Its a phrase that’s banded about when managers are under pressure and teams are losing games, and in truth, the Gaffers’ are always quick to deny it being the case. However, in my experience it is a very real scenario which frequently unfolds at clubs up and down the country.

The Signs

The most difficult times for a manager are usually during the early months of a reign where authority needs to be stamped and respect gained. Training must be bright, disciplined and enjoyable during this crucial period. Players must know immediately that you are not to be messed with. If players step out of line, both on or off the pitch, they must know it won’t be tolerated. This is where the respect is gained and trusts formed which can become a spirit, which when harnessed, is worth more than any million pound signing.

But it also has to be understood that players, (like fans) are very fickle, and the absolute key to all of your ideas and to maintaining that spirit, is results. When things aren’t going well on the pitch players will turn on you like a pack of wolves, desperately seeking their opportunity to drag you down, and ultimately get rid of what they perceive to be the problem. Footballers aren’t always the best at looking in the mirror.

There are tell tale signs – training standards drop, players start being late, coaching methods get questioned and tactics are rubbished. On the pitch the discipline is the first thing to dip; players give away needless, petty free kicks, kicking the ball away and berating referees. Arguing among themselves becomes commonplace, body language, flailing arms and blaming team mates for their own failings coupled with a general lack of respect for anything to do with the club, all negatively impact on an already difficult situation of losing games. Worst of all, in this civil war, is the player revolt, which is normally fatal, where they confide in their “friends” among the club hierarchy. At this point there is usually only one winner, well you can’t sack 15 players can you?

The Symptoms

There is no doubt though, the manager can help himself avoid many of these doomsday scenarios. As always, winning games is the key. In my opinion it is imperative you play your best players in the crucial games. It would be folly to give players an opportunity to look around the dressing room and think “this guy hasn’t got a clue” by leaving out your best players. Training should be disciplined but enjoyable. Tactics and team shape should be simple, i’ve seen many managers try to be clever with team formations and end up with a team who are looking around at each other on the pitch looking for direction. Left footers on the right, right footers on the left, right backs at left back, midfielders up front all give the players an excuse (rightly in my opinion) to question tactics and ultimately leadership. If that happens, a lot of the mutual respect has already gone and the damage to the relationship is almost irreparable. There must also be a visible passion and enthusiasm. If YOU don’t look like you care, how can you expect your players to show they are caring and giving you THEIR all?

As shown in one of my previous blogs, I played under a manager who in my opinion, had “lost the dressing room”. Unfortunately, he failed to recognise it and got rid of the one person in the dressing room who may have been able to help him re focus the players. Me.

I was perceived to be trouble in that particular dressing room. In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth. In the end the club were relegated and the manager lost his job. But honestly, truthfully it gave me not ounce of satisfaction to see that. In my experience, no good ever comes of losing the dressing room, it breeds negativity and ultimately the club goes further back, further away from where it wants to be, at whatever level.

The consequences

At Notts County, I was first team coach under Paul Ince and Alex Rae and we picked up a team who in truth, were on their knees. The club was in a downward spiral, eight managers in 18 months, financial cuts and a failed takeover, allied to the ignominious reign of one Sven Goran Eriksson, meant their position just above the bottom three was not entirely surprising. We started well, bringing in five loan players and two short term signings, easing out a squad on high wages who were clearly not good enough for League 1. But they all had contracts, and whilst not in the team, they were to become our catalyst for “losing the dressing room”.

We had five clean sheets out of six and picked up 23 points from 36, beat Sunderland in the FA Cup and took Man City to a replay. But in the background, the “old guard” were working their ticket. Murmurings of the coaching being poor, training was crap and no one liked the manager. All the usual disruptive behaviour from players who were out of favour. Unfortunately, when our loan signings had to go back, we were left with the squad we inherited, who, by now, as well as not being good enough, had become the aforementioned pack of wolves. They were on their way out and we were now asking players who we had already “lost” to fight and win games for us. The outcome was inevitable. The atmosphere became poisonous, the window was shut and unfortunately the proverbial horse had bolted. We couldn’t replace them and the team went back on that downward spiral, failing to win in nine matches and we lost our jobs after six months in charge.

Time will tell if any of the current incumbents have lost the dressing room. At least now, as a fan, you may be able to recognise some of the signs. I only hope the managers do too, because in my experience, in that situation, the dressing room door only opens in one direction, OUT.

David Farrell