As someone who had the very best football coaching imaginable during my three years at Loughborough College 1970-73, having been a Spurs supporter since the double year, I have always regarded myself as a student of the game as well as a spectator and a supporter – all very different facets of watching football. (I also was a referee and took some important games)
There have been various innovations in my time, all of which filtered from top to bottom through the game, many with quite disastrous results.
I remember George Cohen being the first full-back ever to get his feet wet by crossing the halfway line, overlapping his teammates and then crossing the ball either into the back of the Fulham Kop, or frequently into the Thames. I don’t think he ever had an assist via the head of a young Allan Clarke.
This developed into the full-back who tried long-range shooting, from outside the box. Again the fans in the various Cop ends were in grave danger, although Terry Cooper and a couple of the Liverpool fullbacks did find the net once or twice. I’m not sure Cyril or Joe ever did.
Next, when I was at Loughborough, came the Woolwich double year, and I was fortunate to be coached for my FA Badge by one of their defensive coaches, Colin Murphy. Their motto was that the ball mustn’t touch the ground in their own penalty area, and with Bob Wilson in goal, another Loughborough old boy, it would be difficult for the opposition to ever score. This proved correct and so 1-0 to the A****** was born, but it also killed football stone dead for most of the decade.
Then came news from abroad – Total football from the Dutch and the Sweeper from Herr Beckenbauer. I took a school party to Holland in 1976 and it transformed all my teams – School, County schools and Senior League Adults.
Putting your quickest and MOST INTELLIGENT player as the sweeper, playing slightly behind a tall centre half and two solid fullbacks made my team almost unbeatable. It was a system that almost won QPR the 1st Division one year.
Football slumbered in mediocrity for a decade or so as Man Utd relied for their results on referees who couldn’t tell the time and wouldn’t recognise a foul by a player in a Red shirt if you paid them. (little joke there).
Next came the Spanish and tikka-takka (tippy-tappy). This developed because the Spanish could never score enough goals and were unable to shoot. So, they developed a style that meant you could walk the ball into the net. Spain’s national team were not allowed to shoot from outside the box!
This also allowed for a team to be vertically challenged so that only two players and the goalie had to be bigger than 5ft 3ins.
The problem here is that in England (jumpers for goalposts) the idea of anything resembling consecutive passes was an enigma (impossible). By the time our coaches were coaching possession football, the era had moved on.
As the antidote to Spain and Barça, English football developed the lone striker. Nine men behind the ball and a big man upfront on his own.
Again, this was fatally flawed because the role model was Didier Drogba – one of the great players of all time – but trying to find another wasn’t easy. Everyone tried it and so developed the ‘THREE at the BACK. which has killed the centre forward position almost stone dead. Note that all successful Spurs teams had dual striking partnerships. Two is always better than one.
To counter all this stuff, along came, ‘play it out from the back’ – a development of Tika-taka – but for those of even higher levels of ball skill – you need a Double First at Oxford in ball skills and passing to play it effectively. It just seems like a way of time-wasting and if I was playing Man City I would have my players sat in deckchairs on the halfway line and let them get on with it.
How many very soft goals have been given away and how many teams relegated (Bournemouth being the obvious one) for a refusal to keep the ball as far away from their goal as possible. The poor Norwich team on Friday were consistently embarrassing themselves playing a system of which nobody is capable.
Along with this, I found out some five years ago that the UEFA coaching badge was advocating – ‘There should be no PLAN B if PLAN A wasn’t working – just perform Plan A better. So, no longer do we see the centre half playing as a twin centre forward in the last ten minutes or taking off a full back and putting on an extra attacking midfielder.
The very latest ‘innovation’ is the ‘wing back’, which takes me back to George Cohen and his over-lapping crosses into the River Thames (the new stand will prevent that in future). Suddenly Chelsea and Liverpool find the system works for them and so everyone copies them. To play the role properly, you need three lungs, the speed of Usain Bolt… the tackling capability of Maldini and the crossing ability of Glenn Hoddle, You also need a great football brain to make sure you are at the right end of the pitch at the right time. It’s not feasible in the long term.
The other thing that is noticeable, mainly due to BBC showing early rounds of the FA Cup, is that the most successful giant-killers play 4-4-2, usually with a beast of a centre forward and a tricky speedster.
They also, without exception, have a strong leader on the pitch, usually somewhere in the middle. It is football that would be recognisable since the 1960s. It certainly baffles teams 6 or 7 leagues higher in the pyramid on a regular basis (watch out on Tuesday)
So, to Harry Kane. A centre forward of the very old school who scored goals for fun until everybody stopped passing to him. This was especially true for England when he had to feed off scraps. I don’t think Sterling ever passed to him, except by accident. So Harry started to hunt the ball and because he is a hard-working professional must have spent hours practising his passing.
Something none of the rest of the team thinks important. Suddenly, his passing for England became the feature of his play and this has developed to make him the most creative midfielder, in world football at the moment. He is still supposed to perform like a Bobby Smith, Gilzean or Chivers at the same time, but he is coping well with the double role.
The loan striker is now dead, notably from the experience of the Chelsea man Lukaku having just 7 touches in the game, three of which were kick-offs. One against three will never work anymore.
So, Kane has invented a new superman role, just as Messi, Ronaldo, Makelele, Beckenbauer, Cruyff and Cohen did. All very different players, but all re-inventing a new position on the pitch. It will soon be known as the Kane role, but how many others have the ability to play it – but everyone will try.