It is one thing to preach a modern tactical ideology, but getting your players to understand and implement it is quite another.
As a kind of era of technical enlightenment grips the A-League most of the coaches, especially the emerging ones, are trying to give us all hope by deploying modern methods and tactical philosophies.
But the question is, do they have the players who understand it? Or is it the coaches who are falling short in properly imparting to the players what they have in mind?
Let’s be frank. What most of the teams are now trying to do, with varying degrees of success, is an Everest above what we had to watch, in some agony, during the early years of the A-League.
Gone is the foul culture of the biff and bash, the relentless artillery fire of the long ball and the obsession with fighting in preference to playing that epitomised 2005 when, truly, Miron Bleiberg’s Queensland Roar was about the only team that tried to play football.
Now, almost every team in the league treasures the need to keep rather than waste the ball and has adopted the sacred principle that without possessing and using the ball you cannot win football matches.
‘We gave the ball away too cheaply,’ is now the most common post-match cry among losing coaches.
A few years ago a more common diagnosis was: ‘We lost the fight. We didn’t want it enough. We didn’t show any pride,’ or other variations of the same cop-out.
This is good. Power to the coaches who believe and long may they persevere.
But of course they are a long way from succeeding. Apart from the admired and envied Brisbane Roar, the teams that are trying to play this way are only still trying and, at best, are in prolonged transition towards their goal.
Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory, Newcastle Jets, Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne Heart are all works in progress.
Adelaide, coached by a regenerated John Kosmina (once a war horse coach who now talks more about ‘good football’) and probably helped by an ACL lead-in, is further advanced. Central Coast is already an accomplished outfit in the way it wants to play, as are Perth Glory and Wellington Phoenix, who are no longer in transition.
The two teams who are struggling most in this shift are Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory.
Sydney FC began its work just about with a blank sheet of paper: a new, untried coach who believes in the all-attack, possession game, and a largely new set of players, including the regal Alessandro Del Piero.
To date the team is yet to click and remains reliant on the skills, set plays and charismatic influence of the great Italian. Any semblance of the Ian Crook ideology coming into fruition, not to say a sign that his colleagues actually understand the technical lingo of Del Piero, remains elusive.
In Victory’s case the coach, a proven champion, has found it difficult to immediately duplicate the pleasantries and smooth winning ways he achieved at with Roar.
Ange Postecoglou appeared shocked after the first round loss to Heart, protesting that his team was not supposed to be in transition any longer. But it was clear that it was, and still is.
What is clear is that getting Australian players, especially those honed on old, archaic technical dogmas, to play the modern way is proving challenging. It is one thing to preach a modern tactical ideology. Getting the players to understand it is quite another.
For this I blame the primitive methods by which our players have been brought up from their toddler years. Not too many of our players who are now in the early to mid-20s were taught enough ball skills when they were eight, nine or 10, and few were taught about movement and space when they were 14.
This is now changing of course, beginning with the strong trend towards small-sided games and more intense skills coaching for children before the growth spurt. But for those players who were mal-coached 10 and more years ago, it’s almost a case of teaching old dogs new tricks.
It will be hard and it will be slow. But it’s doable.
The argument will run that in the case of the Brisbane Roar the transition was quick and immensely successful. So what’s the hold-up elsewhere?
The answer I have to that is that at Roar, Postecoglou astutely assembled a squad of players and coaching staff who were all receptive enough to quickly grasp the philosophy and what it had to take to implement it. This, apparently, he has not yet been able to achieve at Victory.
The backroom staff, including now head coach Rado Vidosic and fitness guru Ken Stead, remained in Brisbane after Postecoglou left. Continuity in the philosophy and methodology is guaranteed.
I write this after the end of the campaign’s fourth round, so it’s still early days to draw sweeping conclusions and make bold predictions.
But it seems to me the teams that are finished products - Brisbane, Central Coast, Perth, Wellington and, to a lesser extent, Adelaide - will rule the league this season.
The others are all still growing and have some catching up to do.
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