Part 1 – Preseason is it really needed?
Welcome one and all to the beginning of my coaching journey with The Cursed FC. The CFC are a Under 12s school team who have recently hired me after a spate of, in their words, ‘incompetent coaching and bad results.’ Bad results indeed, CFC have not won an 11 aside game in 3 years and I have been tasked with bringing results up to scratch which the board believes will increase the attractiveness of their school to future students.
A little background, CFC is an Australian private school which means fees are high and reputation is everything. Four members of the team play “club” football which means nothing more than their fees are much higher along with expectations. You will regularly hear people say “do you play club?” and if the answer is no, be met with scathing responses. The other 7 members of my team (that’s right I have 11 players total) have either a) never kicked a ball in their life, or b) kicked a ball, but watched it roll anywhere but it’s intended target. In other words, I am dealing with expectations and dreams that just do not match up with reality. Even more infuriatingly is that the school actually has two under 12 teams, and ability is to be split between each team, I will be taking control of the “white team” whilst another coach is in charge of the “blue team”. What I will later find out is that an ‘even split’ is not the reality.
However, that is not to say that there is not potential here dear reader, your hero has been here before, sure it was on a computerized version of coaching, Football Manager claims to be the most realistic simulator of football there is so if anything taking Leeds out of the Championship to a threepeat of Champions League titles is as good as any real resume right?
So I sign on the dotted line as I am informed that preseason starts the very next day. Now I will be honest calling this preseason is generous, whilst this is a private school team it is still a school team, training occurs once a week and my first match is that Saturday morning.However I roll in to training the next day to meet the two teams and find out which of those lucky boys gets me, master of the champions league, as their coach…
I get 11 players total and zero goal keepers. Blue team gets two goalkeepers and a player who is at least a foot taller than any of my own and quite frankly so absurdly talented that I have been informed A-League scouts are already sniffing around him. “Evenly split.”
My mind casts back to my favorite movie “Moneyball” and I decide to try my hand at some wheeling and dealing of my own. I suggest that as Blue team is in possession of not only two goalkeepers but 3 substitutes and I can field a first team and nothing more that I may poach one of their goalkeepers so that the school as a whole may prosper. However as the words are reading my lips it is obvious that the other coach is not interested, he knows what he has got, he knows what I have got, and playing in the same division means he has no intentions of strengthening my team whilst weakening his own.
Damn, time to meet the team.
I set up a few drills that allow me to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each player which I jot down in my notepad. Yes that’s right, I keep notes, I’m that coach.
I also begrudgingly ask the players which positions they want to play, fully expecting to be met with 10 strikers and maybe one player who’s dad idolizes Steven Gerrard and is being forced to play center mid. However this is not the case, only two players want to be striker, plenty of defensive midfielders and even some defenders. Am I out of touch? Have teenagers evolved to the point where goals no longer mean everything, could I really be in possession of a group of kids that understand the game? No, no I am not, turns out everybody really likes Paul Pogba.
What I have is a very mixed bag, all but one of the players is willing but not entirely able, and the main concerns I have are, “can I shove this guy in net without him conceding too many goals and becoming disillusioned?” and “what are Fortnite dances and why wont they stop doing them? Oh God why wont they stop doing them?”
The blue team coach has challenged us to a twenty minute “scratch match” at the end of training and I begrudgingly accept whilst enviously watching his star player whip in free kicks into the top corner as a warm up. Can 12 year olds be on steroids? He generously informs me that, “you can play on your team if you want to even things up?” an offer I laugh of as I have total faith in my boys, plus its cold and wet and I don’t really fancy running about and getting muddy.
I inform my boys of their positions as we line up in what I inform them is a 4-3-3, which in reality is my plonking 7 players in defensive positions whilst informing my 3 best players to “run around upfront a bit.” Real Madrid we are not.
Amazingly we win 2-0, with Steven grabbing both. Now look, sure this was only twenty minutes, sure after 3 minutes I informed James (my RB who had some how skated under the radar of the foolproof drills I use to assess ability) to “tackle that winger of theirs really hard, let him know you are there” the moment I realized he could actually defend, and sure the rest of my defense had only stopped any of their attacks by accidentally being in the way of their strikers. But this was progress, this was something I could work with.
Training lasted a total of one hour and I inform the team that we will be lining up with a 4-3-3 on Saturday. James will be captain because whilst he can actually defend, he also instructs the other players in defense with what to do and where to be with a maturity that belies his age. I also have one player with pace in my team and I plan to use him on the which ever poor soul the opposition manager has stuck at left back, a position we all know is for the weak of mind and body.
I inform the team that the captaincy will change each week and it will be awarded to whoever impresses me most at training. Corners and free kicks however will be taken by my ludicrously talented center midfielder Steven, who’s silky touch is let down only by his love of trying to take on the entire opposition team, to be fair however he has proven more than capable of doing so. Kick off his at 9:30am and I inform the team to be there for 9:00am. Partly because I want to give the straggles long enough to get there on time, mainly because I don’t want to be up too early.
We leave the session slightly more confident than we entered, some players shone whilst others raised their hands for the candidacy of playing left back for the entire season. Saturday morning is fast arriving and we will soon find out if our rigorous preparations have been enough to snatch the win.