Det är långhelg och påsk och även en flitig kvartersbloggare som jag behöver ibland få lite rast och vila.
Men det bryr sig inte den engelska fotbollen om – den fortsätter i ett frenetiskt tempo med ännu en ligaomgång.
Vad ska man då ta sig till? Man låter så klart någon annan göra jobbet.
För ett tag sedan läste jag följande gruppintervju i Telegraph med fyra Premier League-managers: Roy Hodgson i West Brom, Mick McCarthy i Wolves, Gerard Houllier i Aston Villa och Alex McLeish i Birmingham
Det framstod som ett ovanligt avslappnat samtal mellan fyra managers med en väldigt bred och varierad erfarenhet, och de diskuterade aktuella ämnen för både dem själva och deras lag som för engelsk fotboll i allmänhet.
I frågor så olika som hur man motiverar spelare, hur klubbar är organiserade och hur de använder ny teknik så ger de sina perspektiv och tränger bakom den av media filtrerade bild vi annars erbjuds.
Vad som var särskilt intressant med intervjun var att det var fyra managers som vi annars hör tämligen lite av i sådana här frågor. Det är vanligare att vi får oss Fergusons, Wengers och Redknapps åsikter tillgodo om vi säger så.
Men från en annan tabellplacering har man förmodligen ett annat perspektiv på dylika frågor.
Det är fyra managers med en del gemensamt. De är samtliga managers för lag från Midlands. För lag som är eller åtminstone har varit inblandade i den här säsongens nedflyttningsstrid. För lag som spelar idag.
God läsning! Och glad påsk!
[So much is at stake at this stage of the season, what methods have you developed to motivate players for the big run-in?]
RH “I don’t think there’s a simple answer because motivation comes from the work you do every day and getting people to buy into that. I don’t think there are words that motivate people at times when they are down — it’s a question of trying to make good decisions. The word motivation is a dangerous one because it leads the public to believe all you have to do is go in and give some sort of Agincourt speech and all of a sudden the players go from being poor to being fantastic. It’s not like that.”
MM “There is all this talk about Churchillian speeches and throwing things around but as a manager more often than not I analyse what’s going on and decide where we have problems. The players listen to that; they want to be sorted out, they want to be organised, they want to win the game. They don’t want me screaming in their face having spittle all over them.”
GH “I don’t believe in Mr Motivator. I don’t think the manager has to motivate the players — if you have to do that they have a problem with their desire. The manager’s task is to create the conditions for motivation. This could be material, it could be training, it could be the work you do or the type of intervention — sometimes you have to shout, other times you have to be friendly. We are confidence makers.”
AM “I’m a big believer in positive words, too. The last thing a player wants to be told is that he’s having a bad game.”
[There’s a weekend coming up when West Brom face Villa and Birmingham take on Wolves; do you have to prepare differently for derby games of such consequence?]
MM “All of us know it’s points that count — whoever you get them off – but because of bragging rights these games are different. All four are huge clubs and all think they should be in the Premier League and doing better than we are.”
RH “It’s about the fans. They are the people who have lived with these clubs, supported these clubs for a lifetime. The number of local players you have in a team can often be counted on one hand these days.”
GH “The players are aware how important it is to the fans, though. They are told by neighbours and colleagues. And also it’s about pride — they don’t want to be reminded every time they walk in the street that they lost that game. It plays a part in the mind of a player.”
AM “Spot on. If a fan’s team wins the big derby then they’ve got one over the guy who works next to them in the tool shop. Maybe the local boys are few and far between but you have to make them aware of what it means to the fans to win these games.”
MM “Every derby is important. I played as a player for Barnsley against Sheffield Wednesday and for me that was the biggest thing. So I understand the feeling fans have. I’ve played in Celtic v Rangers games — and in France in Lyon v St Etienne. People don’t think about that one, but they hated each other. We all think our game is the biggest so I will never knock anyone’s game.”
RH “Sometimes the rivalry between so-called lesser clubs is more vicious than Inter against Milan. I was surprised at Blackburn that if you were a Rovers fan you didn’t even step foot in Burnley. You don’t think about those things.”
The title race
[This season seems to be the closest ever at the top and bottom of the Premier League. Why is that?]
RH “It’s very rare now you meet an opponent that isn’t extremely well prepared, well coached, well organised; and that makes it very difficult for any team, wherever they go, to pick up easy points.”
GH “I have noticed over 10 years a big change in so-called bottom teams. They are more prepared, well organised, well managed and have better players. The main factor is physical. In the past you had lower teams that would dwindle towards the end of a game. Now you don’t have that. The bottom teams fight right to the end and have the energy for that. This season is fascinating because everybody can beat everybody.”
RH “We get a lot of performance stats now and the difference between the running and sprinting is hardly worth looking at between teams. Every team is very close. That says a lot.”
[The Premier League has been shown to be the only league in Europe where a manager can improve a team’s position and still get sacked. Why is that?]
MM: “Pressure from fans, from boards, from newspapers. I like to think I’ve improved the club from having a million quid five years ago to where we are now. We are second bottom of the league but does that make me a bad manager? No, I don’t think it does. But you lose your job because of results. I’m lucky I’ve got a supportive board and owner. But I think we have all been sacked at some stage.”
GH “There’s one famous manager in France who says you become a great manager once you have been sacked at least once or twice. Even Aime Jacquet was sacked three times before he won the World Cup. Talent rebounds. The main problem for managers is when there’s too big a gap between expectation and what the team can do in that year.”
[Do you think it’s inevitable goalline technology will come in at some stage in the future?]
MM “I don’t think it’s inevitable because there are people running the game who are against it. But I think it should come in. We pay millions to strikers to score goals. If they score one and it’s not a goal, that’s outrageous for me.”
AM “I’ve heard Fifa are willing to discuss it again. But I agree with Mick. Let’s start with goalline technology — you don’t need to bring it in for the offside rule.”
[Uefa is also bringing in financial fair play rules — three years of breaking even or you cannot play in Europe. Do you agree?]
RH “It’s commendable. I don’t think anyone would wish to argue against the common sense behind it — we would all like to be on a level playing field. But it will be very hard to bring about in practice; I think Uefa have given themselves a hard task in proving whether teams meet the financial requirements. And what happens in the media when a top club with top players can’t be there? That’s going to be a lot of trees chopped down that day.”
GH “The principle is noble. Who would be against fair play? Who would be against financial fair play? I still don’t see how it can be applied. How can you prevent a club like Real Madrid playing in Europe because they bought Cristiano Ronaldo for £80 million?”
MM “I’m not sure it makes it fair anyway. If Man United stick to their financial budget and Blackpool do that still ain’t fair.”
[Uefa also want eight of your squad to be homegrown players, what do you make of that rule?]
AM “It could affect us. The bottom line is the powerful clubs will still get the cream. They will recruit them younger — and the best young players will still want to go to the big clubs. We’ll fight a battle in that respect as we’ve always done.”
GH “Everybody would support the idea of developing players and I think this is a good rule. I’m totally in favour of developing players; the homegrown players understand the club and it’s good to have a core of that.”
[It’s interesting to see statistics from the Castrol Edge Premier League Predictor say all four teams will stay up this season! Looking into your crystal ball, do you agree, Mick?]
MM: “I sincerely hope we are all in the Premier League next year. But we want to beat each other — we are all looking after ourselves. But I think we’ll stay in the Premier League and I’m sure the others will be there as well.”
[Performance statistics seem to be playing a much bigger role in football these days?]
MM “It’s certainly changed from when I played and the players have bought into it. I’m not sure it tells you all the truths, though, it doesn’t always tell you if they played well. I’m a firm believer that my own two eyes tell you that. But we do use it and the players all get down there on Monday morning to see how they’ve done, how far they have run and how fast. It’s a lot better if you have won — the stats back you up then!”
GH “I read the stats, I use them and we let the players know. But the main aspect we use them for is for the physical stats — when it comes to technical things I’m like Mick, I like to trust my eyes and my feelings. Football is too important to leave it to the analysts.”
RH “What statistics cannot measure is decision making. I worked with a player who said he was a great passer because he never gave it away — but yet he never passed it forward. On the analysis he was the best player; but the problem is I knew – and all the other players knew – he wasn’t. But even so it’s a good supportive tool. Using a GPS system in training is useful for helping to decide if you are working a player too hard or not hard enough.”
MM “Yes, but they had GPS on Riquelme in Germany playing for Argentina . He was brilliant but all they could talk about was that he didn’t run around. He didn’t have to! He had the ball all the time and kept giving it to his own players. He was the best player but his physical stats were poor.”
[According to the Castrol Rankings stats Ben Foster has been Birmingham’s best player this season, so it’s not all about running, Alex?]
AM: “No, Ben has had a marvellous season. All the managers here know how important a good goalkeeper is, they save you crucial points during a season.
“We use analysts and if we need to be told about something then we’re told. But we don’t use the stats to beat the players up because I think you can take it too far. I heard about a coach who liked to use all these tools consulting his fitness coach and picked a team according the statistics about the running intensity of his players. I think that’s reading too much into it. It’s the trained eye that picks the team, not the statistics.”
[The rest of the season]
[Is there anything special you can do to ensure success in the last [five or] six games?]
MM: “If I could find a magic wand and do something different and win the last six that’s what I’d do. But I’ll just continue to do exactly the same because I think the players are motivated, they work hard and are exceptionally fit. It’s about the psychological side now; it’s about positive comments, not negative. You want to get the best out of them for the final games.”
AM: “I agree, the most important part is in the mind, especially in the position we are all in at the moment. We were talking about looking into the crystal ball earlier and saying all four of us would be safe, well I think I’ll take that. I’m going out of here with confidence.”
MM: “Thanks Alex, I’ll tell the lads that! I’ve sorted it — that’s me done! We’re all staying up and we’ll leave it at that…”
Scott Parker har alltså av Englands fotbollsskribenter utsetts till årets spelare 2011.
Och något som väldigt väl illustrerar varför jag betraktar just det här priset som klart vettigare än såväl spelarnas som fansens motsvarigheter.
Fotbollsjournalisterna har en professionell vana att tänka och analysera fotboll. De har dessutom en rätt bred bild av de olika lagen och de olika spelarna.
Fotbollsspelarna känns inte alls lika allmänt insatta och man får intrycket att de går mycket efter medias rubriker. Likaväl får man ibland intryck av att politik kryper in i spelarnas val.
Fansen är just det, fans. Det gör att de tenderar framför allt övervärdera egna spelares prestationer. Jag tycker Raul Meireles debutsäsong i Liverpool har varit riktigt bra, men jag är osäker på om fansens pris av honom som årets spelare egentligen säger något mer än att det var en oproportionellt stor andel Liverpoolsupportrar som röstade.