After my Directors XI had once again taken the supporters team to task in our annual football match down at the Gallagher Stadium, we all carried our very tired bodies into the Spitfire Lounge for a couple of drinks, a bit of pizza and a friendly chat.
The conversation was varied but there was one subject that kept coming up from most of the regular supporters – who kept reminding me that the season wasn’t very far away – was: ‘what do I think we will do better this season and not make the same mistakes?’. Or more to the point: ‘can we stay clear of the injuries and can one or two players up their game?’
It jogged an age old problem that I have faced throughout my whole football career. I know exactly where everyone is coming from as I am the same – I hate getting beaten and want my team to win every game – so what I believe everyone was asking me indirectly was: ‘can there ever be any excuse for underachieving?’
We made a lot of genuine excuses last season, mainly to do with the injury crisis that struck and it is the only excuse that I believe any coach can accept. If a player has a genuine injury or is ill, it is impossible for him to perform at his highest standard.
How often have you read after a very good performance the manager or coach says: ‘We have set a high standard and now we must reach the same each week’?
The formula to getting each player to achieve his very best standard of play each week is a very complex ingredient as there are so many factors involved. But it is what the management have to strive for and somehow place that ingredient somewhere in that player’s brain.
So what does it really take to make a championship team?
I believe that the most important ingredient is, if possible, to select and sign the best players available. You then need to get the balance of those selected players right, train them well and get them to a highest level of fitness.
You also need to instil a clear understanding of the different systems that the team is going to use, drill the set plays into every one of them and sharpen every aspect. Add to that making sure that each player feels good about himself, his fellow team mates and the club. Some people would call that creating a good team spirit.
When you put it all down on paper it all sounds relatively simple, but of course it isn’t and even when you think that you have got it all right – out go the team and they get beaten 4-1 by the very same team that they had beaten 4-1 a week earlier – you ask the question: ‘what went wrong?’
It turns out on this occasion that although everything you did was in fact the same – three players had played with slight injuries, the centre half got a pulled hamstring just before half time and two of the players had rows with their wives before they left for the game the very same morning!
So to all those supporters who spoke to me over a pint and think that they have all the answers, hopefully you can now see that it certainly isn’t a simple task trying to make sure that every player we sign doesn’t ever underachieve!