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To Coach Or Not To Coach

To Coach Or Not To Coach

To Coach or Not to Coach…

Only this very past week, I bought off the web - and for the ridiculous cost of £2.50 plus p & p - a copy of Billy Walker's 'Soccer in the Blood', written back in my halcyon days of 1960. What a man!

I soon found that at the time of writing his book, Billy was the very same age I am now - 62 - and so I allowed myself the thought that we were seeing life from the same mountain top, though we have of course lived very different lives. He was, arguably, Villa's greatest-ever star, a player apparently considered as good as the previously incomparable Steve Bloomer. He was Villa's last captain of England.

Though he was speaking of a very different era, there is so much wisdom in his words, and I found myself wondering just why it was he wrote such a short book (128 pages), for he was clearly erudite and did not lack in ability to tell a good story. There were so many stories he could have told, I am sure, but didn't. That he wrote so little about his life at Villa - considering his love for the club - is a wonder. He wrote enough just to open the door slightly ajar to those times, that's all. What calamity!

But one thing that he spoke of with great feeling in 1960 is as true then as it is now. That there was a great danger of players being over-coached. He reckoned that if football was played 'in the grand Villa style' - a sort of push-and-run game that Spurs executed so brilliantly in 1960-61 - then we would have no need to fear nations such as the Brazilians. He also spoke of the lack of true personalities in the game in 1960, but that actually became not the case quite quickly as the likes of Greaves, Law, Charlton, MacKay, Bremner, Moore, Baxter, Dougan and Georgie Best, and more (English, Scots and Irish), did become just that - great 'personalities' - as the 60s wore on. But to-day - what personalities do we have in British football? And this has been a developing situation since the 70s, I think. Billy Walker's words were perhaps written just a bit too early, as I now feel that the time of over-coaching has now been reached and the 'names' are just not there anymore. David Beckham has been the greatest 'name' in recent years, but I think that was more down to media exposure. Did Beckham really compare – playing-wise - with the names of the 60s?

Just as Billy said then, the game is crying out for a handful of 'personalities', and I feel - and hope - that Martin O'Neill has the ability to coax the likes of Gabby and Steve Davis into being self-expressive spirits. Coaching can only go so far, and if there is natural ability, why coach it out of them? Is football now merely an industry to churn out the players to feed the commercial animal that has now evolved?

Up the Villa!

John Lerwill

Researching 'The Villa Chronicles' - to be published mid-2007.

John Lerwill's fantastic Villa history pages

Writer:J P Fear
Date:Monday December 11 2006
Time: 9:14AM


I always used to joke with a couple of Everton mates of mine, that if Villa ever got a really talented kid they would soon coach it out of him and within 6 months he would be as bland and boring as the rest of the squad.... hopefully under MON those days are behind us.
11/12/2006 09:32:00
Agreed, Deano. We probably have to go back to Little and Shaw to find players that expresed their natural ability to any extent. Though Gabby's not doin' too bad.
11/12/2006 09:56:00
I'm not sure where MON stands on this but I suspect he, along with all top-flight managers can't afford the luxury of letting players have free reign -there is just too much at stake - there has to be a game plan. Busby allegedly did not believe in over coaching; in fact his instructions to his no.2, murphy was not to coach Bestie at all. Today's players above all else be top-flight athletes -fast, strong, gymnastic with extremely fast reactions and excellent co-ordination. Only players like Rooney and Henri score 100% in all departments. These are natural abilities and coach or not will make little difference providing a high level of fitness is maintained.
11/12/2006 10:01:00
Interesting observarions made by JL and of course the great Billy Walker. Certainly provides food for thought.
11/12/2006 10:58:00
Believe it or not, mate, there were some pretty good athletes back in earlier times! Agreed, there's now more emphasis on the athleticism, but i.m.o. there's still too little emphasis on skill in the form of a player being able to control the game by vision and dexterity of foot. Rooney may develop into that, but Henry's main strengths are his speed and scoring technique. "Too much at stake"? Perhaps - but at the risk of the game becoming such a bore(which it's not far from achieving)? For those who did not see the likes of Puskas, di Stefano, Blanchflower, White and Haynes (forgetting Pele and Best for a moment!) missed a treat. I know, different times, but it's a touch of what the game is really missing i.m.o.
11/12/2006 11:11:00
Charlie Atkin would have given most sprinters a run for their money over the length of a Football Pitch.
11/12/2006 21:55:00
Johnny Neal could run a 100 in 10.
12/12/2006 10:12:00
Sometimes you have to wonder though if coaching doesn't remove a lot of natural talent out of the game.
13/03/2007 08:14:00
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