There’s not always a 'right way' and it’s certainly not the same for every club...

There’s not always a 'right way' and it’s certainly not the same for every club...
Action from the Nemo and Douglas from the Féile, a competition the Trabeg club never prioritise. Picture: Larry Cummins

BRIAN CUTHBERT told a story last week in his interesting webinar, with Rebel Óg, on player development in the GAA. 

Nemo Rangers were playing an underage game, U14 perhaps, and as is their tradition, the coach took a batch of the stronger players off at half-time while leading.

However with the team falling into a losing position, the coach was preparing to bring back in a few of the better players when he got a shout from Billy Morgan from the sideline — that’s not the way things are done here. It was a strong statement to be sending.

Brian Cuthbert. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Brian Cuthbert. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

One, the club wasn’t interested necessarily in winning at that age. Two, it’s important that this is emphasised and made known and bought into. As evidence of the importance of developing (and having as identifiable) a culture in the club, it was a biggie.

There are key elements to generating this kind (or any kind) of culture in a club of course. Nemo have a certain belief system that basically everybody is aware of and that’s a kind of badge of honour that makes them different to others. There’s a definite mentality element at play here, where the club creates this ‘Nemo’ way that underpins their uniqueness, where Nemo players and coaches and club people have this very real philosophy that is the right way of doing things.

We were reminded of the recently shown Barcelona documentary Take the ball, pass the ball which has some insights into the reasons the club were so dominant and just so good in those Pep Guardiola years 2008-12. 

Pep Guardiola. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Pep Guardiola. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It helps to have Messi of course, and some really, really good players. But they had this ideal, this higher power where the style of how they played and the culture of doing the right thing from their viewpoint was the most important outcome.

That means the goalkeeper keeps taking the kick-out short even when they give a goal away from a mistake in the Bernabeu early on. That means defenders being taken off at half-time for hitting long balls. 

That means an obsession with getting on the ball, creating overloads in midfield, with having the ball and working the spaces to create combinations of 4v3s, 3v2s, 2v1s, with rondos as their guide.

Barcelona created this feeling that there was something more important behind what they were doing, where they believed in this ideal that drove them on to heights against what they considered, rightly or wrongly, teams who didn’t have their story or history. One part not every organisation has: It helps when a culture has a charismatic leader to develop or make it grow.

Barcelona would hardly have been so strong without Cruyff and then Guardiola to bring players along and put the importance of following their way at the centre of their style. Nemo would hardly have been Nemo without Billy Morgan’s convictions and ability to drive them and then everybody else in the club who’ve bought into it.

Barcelona are still benefiting from the legacy of Johan Cruyff. Picture: Bob Thomas/Getty Images
Barcelona are still benefiting from the legacy of Johan Cruyff. Picture: Bob Thomas/Getty Images

In practical senses, it can all come down to desired outcomes and what is classified as winning or being successful. On another recent podcast QPR academy coach Chris Ramsey spoke about how winning for him was developing players to play football, how the bosses at QPR would never ask if their teams below senior won or lost but if there were players there who could become senior team players, and if not, why not?

Winning could be as simple as having a full-back who had been working on not getting turned by his opposition winger or allowing crosses into the box, winning a few footraces or blocking a large portion of crosses in a particular game. This was a player growing, getting better, taking on board what was being worked on every day in training — this was winning for him at that stage.

Another coach who’d worked with Chelsea at underage level had completely changed their belief in what was termed as winning, where they’d had all these talented players from 15-20, winning tournaments and games, but none of them had progressed to play with the Chelsea senior squad because there was no pathway for them, because that wasn’t important for them. It wasn’t the culture then — it’s changing now.

A word of warning from the world of podcasts and coaching webinars that lockdown has created. We can get lost in the right and wrongs in a rush to judge or pick sides in the coaching environments here.

Example number one, laps.

We heard one reference to the use of two laps as warm-up in a jokingly contemptuous way, as old-school and backward; in another explanation, it was put out there as a social use, where a well-regarded progressive coach liked it as a way for players to have a quick catch-up before training, a chat on the way around that helped with relationships and interactions within a group.

Example number two, training with the ball.

One point was made that all training should be done ‘with the ball’ because that’s more game appropriate; an alternative view was that a player is only on the ball for what, a minute or two in a game in total so they will actually spend most of their time moving without the ball.

See the grey areas here, where you can rush to write off one way of doing things as ignorant until the thinking behind it is pointed out. Creating cultures in a club can create the same patterns, where theory on how they developed and why they were influential can be lost a little in the blitz to blindly follow them. There’s not always a right way and it’s certainly not always the same right way for every club.

Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after completing his hat-trick in yesterday's 4-0 Serie A win over Cagliari in Turin. Picture: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images
Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after completing his hat-trick in yesterday's 4-0 Serie A win over Cagliari in Turin. Picture: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images

Compare Barcelona to say, Juventus, where winning IS everything and that informs their whole mentality and influences all the players who come through that club. For player development up to the ages of maybe 17 or 18 winning games is generally not given priority by the clubs who tend to care about having a culture.

Keith Ricken mentioned that his job with the U20s last year was still developing players and people for senior and life. It’s striking how winning games and championships then becomes so much a part of Nemo’s entire existence once they reach senior.

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