Horncastle: Mind-games—A comparison between the training methods of Mourinho and Villas-Boas
While Jose Mourinho was at Inter, he was visited by four university students. They were seeking to understand his methods with a view to writing a thesis about them. He was happy to oblige. “People have a general idea of what I do,” Mourinho said, “and it’s insufficient.”
The insights he gave over the course of an interview were fascinating particularly because so much of it was centred around unlocking the mind’s potential.
Mourinho discussed the subconscious and procedural memory. That’s the memory of the performance of particular types of action. Take driving, for instance.
Initially, when you start to learn, you’re concentrated on what gear you’re in, how fast you’re going and when to check your mirrors, to signal and maneuver.
With time, however, this all becomes second nature. You drive without making a conscious effort. Adjustments are made more or less automatically, whatever road you’re on, so you can focus on other things and make other decisions.
This is what Mourinho sets out to achieve in training. But how exactly?
Every exercise is done with the ball. Most if not all sessions last 90 minutes, the duration of a game, or a maximum of 120 minutes, like one that goes into extra time.
Each one is devised with the aim of reproducing moments of a match, specific situations so that once they come in a competitive context the players know exactly what to do and where to be on the pitch, how to defend and how to attack in whatever formation they’re in or up against and according to the circumstances they find themselves in too, be they a goal up or a goal down, a man up or down to 10 men.
With time, these movements are made without conscious effort because they’ve been logged to procedural memory. In theory, the mental strain on a player is reduced. You’re more in control. You’re more lucid. You’re more able to anticipate things, read the play and not only make better decisions but vary them too.
This is important. Because Mourinho doesn’t want to create robots or automatons. They’re predictable and he doesn’t want his teams to be that way.
“When I set about studying opponents and attempt to identify their behaviour, their tactics,” he explained. “I often realize that the development of their playing dynamic is more a mechanical automatism than a true playing dynamic.”
Mourinho’s method, as defined by Corriere della Sera columnist Sandro Modeo, is instead structured but open, robust but plastic.
“The objective,” he said, “is that the players understand the playing system and trust it, that they take some initiative because they’re convinced that it’s the best thing to do and not because someone else says: ‘Do it that way’.
“I know where it is I want us to get to, but instead of telling them: ‘Go that way,’ I want them to find their own way there.”
Psychologically it’s much more satisfying and validating to find the solution to a problem yourself than have someone else solve it for you. Mourinho understands this. He calls it ‘guided discovery’.
I mention all this because I think it’s what we’re seeing at Tottenham under Andre Villas-Boas.
Various assumptions have been made about Mourinho’s former assistant during his time in England. One is that he’s a tactics obsessive and a lot of that is down to the anecdotes we’ve been told about him.
For instance, there’s the now famous one about how one day after finishing school, he plucked up the courage to knock on the door of Sir Bobby Robson, who just happened to live in the same apartment block while he was manager of Porto, to ask why he persisted in playing Sergei Yuran up front, a striker who wasn’t prolific, when he had Domingos Paciencia, a centre-forward with a track record of scoring goals, on the bench. Robson encouraged his curiosity and legend has it he soon had Villas-Boas writing scouting reports that he’d post through the letterbox for him to read.
There would be many more. One of them, written while Villas-Boas was part of Jose Mourinho’s staff at Chelsea ahead of a game against Newcastle United on November 19, 2005, was leaked soon after he got the manager’s position at Stamford Bridge in 2011. That and an interview he granted at the Cafe Maiorca to a University of Porto student, Daniel Sousa, who at the time was writing a thesis on football and is now his Head of Opposition Scouting at Tottenham, were used to reinforce this idea that his principal preoccupation was with tactics. “Bullshit that can baffle brains,” Harry Redknapp said, although not overtly in reference to his successor at White Hart Lane, to say nothing of all its modern accoutrements.
So, as you can imagine, there was some surprise when he revealed prior to Tottenham’s visit to West Ham 10 days ago: “I have never used Prozone. I don’t use it because I don’t believe [in it].” It wasn’t a complete myth-buster but showed how the general perception of Villas-Boas and what his management entails is narrow.
“Tactics will always be a part of the manager’s job,” Villas-Boas told France Football earlier this year. “But before you get to that, there’s the attitude of the player: his concentration, his motivation, his desire to win. And this is more a job for a human being than a coach.”
Which brings us back to Villas-Boas’ apparent repudiation of Prozone. “The mind and how the player feels,” he said, “is much more important for us, rather than statistical data.”
He elaborated further on this in France Football when asked to give an insight into what his average working day is like.
“In general, I work a lot on the philosophy and the way of expressing potential during matches, physically and psychologically,” Villas-Boas explained. “We therefore simulate all the situations that players could encounter during matches so that they might automatically adapt, so they know how to adjust mentally, make the right decision…
“We work a lot on instant decision-making for the good of the team. You can teach them things individually but the decision on the pitch belongs to them. And sometimes it’s not exactly what the manager has taught. Instinct is so vital because everything changes very quickly in game situations. Of course you want to see the team play attractive attacking football. But with great freedom of decision. The players take more pleasure in it. You teach them how to manage an experience, they take the decision.”
An example of this might be how Tottenham have managed to stop conceding late goals like they had done earlier in the season.
Asked how he had achieved this following a 1-0 win at home to Swansea in December, Villas Boas said: “We address it between us as a group in training. You know by stimulating concentration in the last part of training. It’s very difficult because you can’t recreate the stress of a game and the environment of a game but we had a go. As I said it doesn’t mean that the problem is solved but the players have a conscience that we have conceded in the past and we want to get it right.
Prompted to expand further on that and in particular how you devise an exercise to specifically stop conceding late goals, Villas-Boas smiled: “By increasing complexity in terms of the exercises that you do. So that the more complex the exercise the more concentrated you have to be to do it. [And] by the tasks that they have to do in the exercise, you have to be very very creative.
When seen in this light, Mourinho and Villas-Boas’ work is all the more fascinating precisely because they seek to train body and mind simultaneously.
“We [at Tottenham] want to promote decision-making by developing the instinct of the players, a job which leads to what a human being is truly about,” Villas-Boas explained.
So for those of you wondering what exactly his contribution has been to Gareth Bale’s best ever season and the consolidation of his reputation as maybe one of the world’s top players in his position, perhaps there’s your answer. Villas-Boas has further developed his instinct.
Modern day coaching, it seems, is about mind-games after all. Just not as we first thought.
ViP2's Coaches' Corner
Posted 06 March 2013 - 07:22 PM
Posted 15 March 2013 - 07:33 PM
The evolution of Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo has under José Mourinho developed into a rare hybrid of a winger and a forward whose game relies on explosive movement rather than pure technical ability.
That is a far cry from Manchester United where the Portuguese was renowned as one of Europe’s finest dribblers; a tricky winger often criticised for taking too many touches.
José Mourinho, succeeding Manuel Pellegrini – who deployed Ronaldo as a forward upon his arrival at the Bernabéu – has adapted that individualism to his own emphasis on collectivity, making him less flashy but, typically, more effective.
In fact, as this analysis shows, Ronaldo has gone from being a dribbler to something close to a pure finisher, relying more on explosive off-the-ball movement than technique and flair. He may retain his old qualities, but the essence of his game has changed significantly.
A winger or a striker?
It’s hard to define Ronaldo’s role in Real Madrid. “We try to find a position that is most comfortable for Cristiano,” Mourinho said in 2011. “And there is always the debate. Is he a forward? I do not think that he is. I think [his game] is one-on-one against a rival.
“Is he a winger? No, because he is also a goalscorer and when you are a winger, how many goals do you score in a season; half a dozen? I think that he is the mixture of two things. He has everything.”
While Mourinho is right in labelling Ronaldo a hybrid, his analysis differs somewhat from reality. Ronaldo may be a winger positionally (defensively speaking, anyway), but his attacking game leans towards that of a forward. Although Ronaldo is exceptional one-on-one, few of his goals are scored that way. Rather, they are hammered home via ruthless first-time finishes.
Analysing Ronaldo’s 46 goals in La Liga last season (2011/2012), as many as 20 of his 32 goals from open play came via first-time finishes – that is, with no touches prior to the finish (this discounts the 14 goals from set-pieces – 12 penalties and two free-kicks).
This suggests Ronaldo’s technique beyond the finish was irrelevant in 63 per cent of his goals. Rather, his chief weapon was his ability to react quickly, lose his marker and time his runs.
The collective patterns leading to Ronaldo’s goals were also interesting; half of the 32 came from two specific moves. The first was obvious to regular Real Madrid observers; six goals came from Ronaldo accelerating behind the full-back, often in a transition, before cutting inside to finish. Another move was more surprising however; ten goals were scored directly off crosses from the right side.
This reflects one of the patterns Mourinho practices in training sessions. The graph below was created by US-based coach Gary Curneen who observed two of Real Madrid’s pre-season training sessions in Los Angeles this year. It shows a pattern where Di María can find Ronaldo inside the right full-back, as Gonzalo Higuaín or Karim Benzema drags the centre-backs out of position.
Analysing Ronaldo’s goals however, alternative combinations stemming from the same move proved more fruitful. The first is Di María hitting a deep cross curling in between the central defenders to find Ronaldo. The second variation is to play in Higuaín or Benzema down the right flank, whose low cross can find Ronaldo at the back post or between the centre-backs. The attacking midfielder – Mesut Özil or Kaká – can also take this run.
As such, and as is typical Mourinhology, Ronaldo’s goal ratio owes more to qualities that can be applied to a collective setting. The former individualistic traits; technique, flair and trickery, are now more concealed, substituted with the qualities of a forward. Part of his effectivity is his positioning; every run he makes arrives on the defenders’ blind side. Combined with his extreme focus and explosiveness, Ronaldo is virtually uncatchable.
With such a complete package and the blend between two positions, it is difficult to categorise Ronaldo. He is not an inside winger; they either play killer passes, dribble from wide positions or play one-twos; out of Ronaldo’s 32 goals from open play, one came from one-twos, zero from solo-runs. His assist count is underwhelming. And he certainly isn’t a classic winger.
One can draw parallels to Hulk and his forward/wing role at Porto, or Lukas Podolski’s ability to attack the far post with direct runs. Yet Ronaldo’s overall game is unmatchable – particularly with the added dimension of his aerial play, which makes him as threatening inside the box as outside it.
And so, for the endless comparisons with Lionel Messi, the statistics show that Ronaldo’s magic is produced in a vastly different manner. The Argentine is playing his way into history with the ball at his feet. Ronaldo is doing so without it.
Edited by Michel Kane, 15 March 2013 - 07:35 PM.
Posted 15 March 2013 - 08:38 PM
Been waiting for one on CR , good lookin out
His touches b4 goal ratio wtfff
Posted 16 March 2013 - 09:53 AM
Posted 23 March 2013 - 01:02 AM
Extremely short notice (closing date is Sunday)...but a good opportunity for those who have the experience
The Qatar Stars League (QSL) wishes to recruit a number of 1st team match analysts.Each successful candidate will be based with one of the top tier clubs in Qatar and be responsible for the delivery of pre and post-match analysis to the coaching staff of their assigned team.The positions will be under the responsibility of Professor Valter Di Salvo, Director of Football Performance & Science at Aspire Academy. The candidate will be expected to start work in July 2013.The contract is full-time and will include a competitive salary, shared accommodation and an annual flight to the candidate’s home country.Key Responsibilities:• Prepare and deliver post-match analysis (video and statistical) using PROZONE3 software.• Prepare and deliver pre-match scouting analysis to the coaching team (video and statistical) using Prozone MATCHVIEWER software.• Record and monitor player performance information: Prozone TREND data, GPS data, Polar heart rate data etc.• Liaise with Qatar national team analyst regarding information on national team players.Candidate Specification:• Must have at least three years’ club analysis experience working with the Prozone analysis systems: PROZONE3, MATCHVIEWER and TREND.• Excellent experience with video capture, editing and analysis.• Good presentation skills.• Good working knowledge of Microsoft Office Excel.• Ability to adapt and be innovative in a growing industry.• Second language desirable (particularly Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese)All interested applicants should send their CV and short covering letter to email@example.com by Sunday 24th March. Please include a Skype contact on your CV. Selected candidates will be invited for a Skype interview.
Posted 09 April 2013 - 04:31 PM
On your level two what was your final assessment topic??
Posted 09 April 2013 - 04:54 PM
Same. Just planning my session now.
Dont suppose you got yours on computer??
Posted 09 April 2013 - 05:50 PM
Forget Messi and Ronaldo, it's Premier League defender Baines who creates more chances than anyone in Europe
The goal getters make the headlines but where would the strikers be without the supply line?
The Barclays Premier League may not be the most technically proficient division in Europe, but when it comes to goalmouth action, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga cannot hold a candle to our top-flight football.
Of the top 10 opportunity forgers in Europe, four ply their trade on these shores with Everton's Leighton Baines sitting proudly top of the chance charts with a staggering 97 goalscoring opportunities created.
But perhaps even more remarkable is the record of Liverpool's Luis Suarez. The stats would certainly seem to enhance the Uruguayan's claims to being crowned player of the year.
Not only has Suarez banged in 22 goals in the league, he has also provided a stunning 85 scoring chances for his Anfield team-mates. Indeed, had Liverpool another player who knew where the net was then surely they would be top four contenders this season given Steven Gerrard has carved out 82 occasions on goals for his side.
And if Roberto Mancini is wondering why Manchester City will not be retaining their title then he might like to start with his side's conversion rate.
David Silva has been doing the business, laying on 89 opportunities for the strike force. But City have been out-scored by Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool this season meaning Mancini's men are only playing for pride at Old Trafford tonight.
PLAYER TEAM CHANCES CREATED (including assists)
LEIGHTON BAINES EVERTON 97
MATHIEU VALBUENA MARSEILLE 93
DAVID SILVA MANCHESTER CITY 89
LUIS SUAREZ LIVERPOOL 85
STEVEN GERRARD LIVERPOOL 82
FRANCESCO TOTTI ROMA 81
JEFFERSON FARFAN SCHALKE
ANDREA PIRLO JUVENTUS 80
MAREK HAMSIK NAPOLI 80
MESUT OZIL REAL MADRID 78
SANTI CAZORLA ARSENAL 76
MAX KRUSE FREIBURG 75
Impressive stats with baines him being a left back especially. Also surprised by the lack of Alonso,Barca players and other bait players from the top teams.
Just proves Suarez is the man.
Posted 09 April 2013 - 06:17 PM
Got my skill game and 4v4 sorted. Dont know what to do for an unopposed practice on this topic though. how do i do it unopposed when my topic is defending when outnumbered?? Am i just meant to be coaching the technical points ie pressing, jockeying etc and the 4 D's?
Posted 02 May 2013 - 09:57 PM
Player Focus: Adem Ljajić's Revenge
by James Horncastle at Thursday, May 2 2013 13:51
It's as though Adem Ljajić were in a dark room, processing the film taken from a camera, which had been used to capture a series of snapshots of his time at Fiorentina. As the pictures begin to develop it's clear he doesn't like what he sees. "It was like a photograph that had come out bad," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I wanted another one."
Ljajić's reaction was understandable, for the photo people had of him was ugly. It was taken exactly a year ago today.
Relegation threatened Fiorentina were away at fellow strugglers Novara. Two goals down after half an hour and in dire straits, coach Delio Rossi substituted Ljajić. Tensions were high, and on seeing the player sarcastically applaud the decision, Rossi lost it. To the shock of everyone watching, he grabbed and began to punch Ljajić as he entered the dug out.
The incident made headlines across the world. It brought shame on Fiorentina, a club that under the Della Valle family's ownership had constructed an identity around the promotion of fair-play initiatives like the Terzo Tempo and Cartellino Viola. As such, they had no option but to sack Rossi for violent conduct. He was also banned by the FIGC for a period of three months.
Many felt sympathy for him. It was out of character, they said, although after seeing him give Roma defender Nicolas Burdisso the middle finger while in charge of Sampdoria this season, it can certainly be argued that it wasn't. Ljajić must have done more to provoke him than clap, people thought. He had to have said something. It was reported that he'd gravely insulted Rossi's family.
Ljajić denied and still denies the claim, telling journalists to ask his teammates and that they'll confirm that all he did was clap mockingly. The issue he had, though, was that many had already made up their minds about him. He was, in their opinion, a bad apple. But how had they arrived at this conclusion?
When Fiorentina signed Ljajić from Partizan Belgrade for €6.5m in the spring of 2010, he was welcomed by the media as the latest 'Corvinata', another coup of intuition from their then director of sport Pantaleo Corvino, the man who had discovered Mirko Vučinić and Stevan Jovetić.
There was great curiosity because Ljajić had been supposed to join Manchester United. An option to buy him had been in place with Partizan for a year during which time Ljajić had travelled to Carrington on several occasions, posing for photographs with Sir Alex Ferguson and training with his future teammates.
Why then did they decide to pass on him?
Partizan claimed it was because United were in a "financial crisis" on account of the Glazers' debt-laden ownership. That was dismissed. United cited work permit issues instead. There were also indications that Ljajić hadn't progressed as much as they would have liked in the interim.
The question some asked in retrospect was as follows: had United seen something to discourage their interest in Ljajić that would only become apparent to Fiorentina later on? Having been beaten by them to the signing of Nemanja Vidić four years earlier, though, they perhaps were only too happy to get one over them this time.
The success of Jovetić following his move to Fiorentina from Partizan 18 months earlier meant expectations were great. As did the billing Ljajić received as the Kaká of the East. He joined the club, though, at a delicate moment.
Unjustly knocked out of the Champions League in the Round of 16 by Bayern Munich and with the team in midtable in Serie A, coach Cesare Prandelli, a wonderful nurturer of talent, who'd waste no time in handing Ljajić his debut, was wondering whether he'd taken this team as far as he could and began considering his future.
He left that summer to take the Italy job and Fiorentina couldn't have chosen anyone more different to replace him in Siniša Mihajlović. If in coaching terms Prandelli was paternal in an arm-around-the-shoulder kind of way, Mihajlović was the father who was hard on his kids.
Though he was smiling when he told reporters that Ljajić should cut his hair because he's always running his hands through it, and that he should eat less chocolate and spend less time on the computer if he wants to improve as a footballer, their relationship wasn't and still isn't an easy one. Those comments also gave Florence the impression that Ljajić was spoilt, that he didn't take his profession seriously enough.
Stepping back for a moment, the atmosphere around Fiorentina at the time was unpleasant. The owners were disillusioned that Prandelli had 'abandoned' their project and the fans were critical of their management, so they withdrew. Corvino lost his touch in the transfer market. Mihajlović never had the supporters’ backing. Jovetić suffered a serious knee injury in pre-season and was out for the campaign. The team struggled and appeared not to care which was taken as a lack of respect for the city.
They finished ninth and when things deteriorated further the following season and didn't change even after Mihajlović was dismissed in November 2011, aim was taken at the players who were under performing and perceived to be uncommitted. It's within this context that many fans turned on Ljajić. To them, he was a symbol of everything that was wrong with Fiorentina.
"At one point," he said, "it felt like whatever happened was Ljajić's fault. The city was against me. Everyone pointed fingers at me." Made ineligible for selection for what remained of the campaign after the Rossi incident, it was thought he'd played his last game for them.
The player admits he considered leaving and that "the club thought about selling me." When he appeared in a pre-season friendly against Hellas Verona in Moena last summer, he was booed, hissed, whistled and treated to so many insults, so much abuse that reconciliation appeared impossible.
That day, however, he resolved to turn things around. He wanted another photograph taken, a better one. "Psychologically, it was crazy. I got it into my head that the only thing I had to concentrate on was working well, training and winning everyone over with hard work and sweat." He began to put in the graft.
When a journalist from Il Corriere dello Sport observed earlier this season that he was nearly always the first player into training, Ljajić asked: "Who's been spying? Anyway, yes, it's true."
After two years in Serie A, he seems to have understood what it takes to be a success there. "I arrived in Italy at 18 after playing only two seasons at Partizan in a league which isn't as demanding as the Italian one. Here there are many champions and every player knows what to do on the pitch. In Serbia there are [only] three or four strong players and great tactical discipline doesn't exist.
"Now I know Italian football better and coach [Vincenzo] Montella has given me peace of mind. He believes in me. My attitude has changed too. Before, when I didn't play, I'd train poorly without motivation. I've come to understand that I always have to work at 100% and even more so if I don't play."
That renewed sense of focus allied to the experience he has gained has brought Ljajić, who, lest we forget is still only 21, closer to realising his considerable potential. Rather than flashes of his talent, he's caught fire and is displaying a hitherto never seen before level of consistency as Fiorentina mount a final surge to qualify for the Champions League.
Ljajić has scored eight goals this season. Seven have come in 2013, the pick of the punch being a free-kick in a thrilling 4-3 win against Torino, a skill "I want to start exploiting more. I have [the] power. I only have to adjust my aim." In fact, only Andrea Pirlo and Francesco Lodi (5 each) have scored more direct free-kicks in Serie A this season. He's got eight assists too, averaging 184 minutes between each one, a rate that only Cagliari's Andrea Cossu can top.
From a disposable commodity last summer, he has, to his great credit and Montella's, become indispensable. Fiorentina have won 12 of their 19 games with Ljajić in the starting XI - a ratio of 63% - and only six of 15 without him - a ratio of 40%.
April was a very good month for him, arguably his best to date in a Fiorentina shirt. He was Serie A's fourth top scorer behind Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, Arturo Vidal and Josip Ilicic, with three goals. He set up another two and was only bettered in assists by Fabrizio Miccoli. His average WhoScored.com rating [8.37 in his last two games] was 7.83 over the entire month, the seventh highest in Serie A.
On Sunday Ljajić came full circle. Fiorentina travelled to Sampdoria: Delio Rossi's Sampdoria. It was to be their first meeting since that disgraceful night a year ago. While there was disappointment that they didn't shake hands - Rossi had indicated he would be prepared to but that he wouldn't be the one to make the first move - another narrative soon took precedence: Ljajić's revenge.
A few minutes before half-time, he scored, shifting across the penalty area before whipping a right-footed shot beyond goalkeeper Sergio Romero. Late in the second half, he got to the byline, laid it back for Alberto Aquilani and watched as his teammate sealed a 3-0 victory. Ljajić was named Man of the Match by WhoScored and La Gazzetta dello Sport.
It must have been sweet, even if Montella told Mediaset afterwards: "It wasn't easy for him. He has shown maturity and the desire only to play and think on the pitch. He's a completely recovered player."
His rehabilitation has been remarkable. And were he to have a photograph taken now, well, one imagines Ljajić would like what he saw.
Posted 03 May 2013 - 05:07 PM
Player Focus: Matthew Lowton - Future England International?
by Martin Laurence at Wednesday, May 1 2013 10:00
There was a familiar tense atmosphere at Villa Park when Sunderland came to visit, and few were expecting Aston Villa to run riot in the manner that they did in what was an undeniably crucial match in the fight against relegation. A second half Christian Benteke hat-trick again saw the Belgian, who came second in the PFA Young Player of the Year voting to Gareth Bale the night before, again grab the headlines.
The striker became the first Villa player to score 20 goals in a season in nine years since iconic frontman Juan Pablo Angel, and the first Villa player to net a Premier League treble in five. His overall performance was excellent on Monday, plucking balls from the sky and bringing others into play, but the display of another home player on the night should not be overlooked.
A summer signing from Sheffield United, full-back Matthew Lowton had shown promise in the lower leagues, filling the right-back position in the League One Team of the Season for 2011/12. That spot in Paul Lambert's side was wide open, with Alan Hutton failing to make the position his own last season, and the money spent was enough to suggest that Lowton would go straight into the side.
The fact that he has gone on to play every single minute of the current campaign (3150) - one of just two outfielders, along with England international Leighton Baines, to do so - is a marvellous achievement for a player embarking on his first season in the top-flight. When factoring in Villa's Capital One Cup run, of which Lowton again played a full part, the 23 year old has played more domestic football than any other Premier League player this season (3810 minutes).
His consistency over that time has been commendable, only really having a notable dip in form when the side went through a dire Christmas period. Incidentally it coincided with a spell when Lambert was forced, due to injuries, to play three at the back, with Lowton deployed out of position on the wing and at centre-back in that time.
In the 29 (of 35) starts that he has made in his usual right-back role, the defender has only picked up a WhoScored.com rating below 6.5 twice, with his average rating in those games up at 7.28 (compared to a season average of 7.12). In terms of ratings from games started at right-back, only Manchester United's Rafael has a better figure in the Premier League (7.35).
It was the performance against Sunderland this week that saw him pick up his best figures of the season, however, registering an outstanding 9.27 rating from WhoScored.com in a fantastic all round display. Indeed, of all outfielders in the Premier League it is the third best match rating this season from a player that didn't score.
Lowton picked up an assist for Villa's crucial second, intercepting a loose cross field ball - one of 6 interceptions in the game to help him become only the second Premier League player to make over 100 in the season (103). His chest control has become something of a trademark, teeing him up for both of his volleyed goals from distance this season, and it allowed him to take the ball in his stride. Running toward the vacated centre circle, he waited for Christian Benteke to draw Sunderland's right back out of position before providing an inch perfect lofted ball for Weimann, and the Austrian did the rest.
His contribution on the night didn't end there, however. The full-back had 113 touches - a full 27 more than any other player on the pitch - keeping possession with a near-immaculate 96% pass accuracy. With 4 key passes he again led the way for either side, and a superb 5 successful dribbles was almost twice as many as any other player. Defensively he also made 2 tackles, taking his tally to 102 for the season, which is enough to rank among the Premier League's top 10.
To suggest that Lowton is the finished article would be very premature. At times his positioning has been called into question, while his willingness to get involved in the physical battle that comes with being in a side near the bottom has seen the defender pick up 9 yellow cards over the season. There is, however, enough to his game to suggest that an international call-up shouldn't be out of the question, despite the right-back spot being very hotly contested in the England camp.
Former Villa loanee Kyle Walker is still nipping at the heels of Glen Johnson and would be the obvious replacement for the Liverpool full-back were he to miss out for any reason. While Lowton may not offer the pace and power of the two his reading of the game, highlighted by his interception figures, is exceptional, and like those ahead of him, he's confident in possession. His showing on Monday proved that he is certainly one of the most gifted footballers from a technical aspect at Lambert's disposal, and the player did hint towards a desire to move into a central midfield position upon his arrival at Villa Park.
Lowton's tallies for tackles (102), interceptions (103) and clearances (189) are all understandably in advance of both Johnson (82, 54 and 112) and Walker (70, 79 and 168), having to get through considerably more work due to the club's poor standing in the league, while his key pass and shot averages are consequently lower. The fact, then, that he has contributed to as many goals (2 goals, 3 assists) as Johnson and two more than Walker alludes towards an impressive end product, and his form has led to apparent interest from Arsenal.
While versatility will certainly add weight to his claims for a place in Roy Hodgson's plans, Lowton's ability to link up play and get out of tight situations along the touchline is invaluable to Villa right now. If he can work on his concentration, as well as a tendency to sell himself short at times, there's no reason why the Chesterfield born defender shouldn't strengthen his case as an outsider for England’s 2014 World Cup squad.
Posted 16 July 2013 - 04:12 PM
It has not been the greatest of summers for English football. Embarrassment in the Under 20 and 21 tournament highlighted some serious issues that are plaguing the English game. We all know the problems, which is a lack of opportunity for young English players in the Premier League. This is single most important factor which is holding England back. Yet why is this? Is it simply that clubs don’t want to use these players or is it just the truth that these players aren’t good enough? I think we know the answer.
When a talented English player comes around it is like we can’t believe our luck. Rooney, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain are the best products to come out of English academies this past decade, yet is this good enough? We see Spain and Germany producing top talent every season and their success, significantly Spain at youth level has proven their ability to develop talent.
So what is to be done? Well, in my upcoming book The Way Forward I propose many solutions to improve the standard of players coming through the English youth system. Frankly speaking there are issues at all levels which need addressing and the journey will take much effort and cohesion to achieve success and produce more players.
The book looks at the role of schools, academies, clubs and of course the FA. Ah, the FA. One of England’s most precious institutions and one we should be proud of. Yet the truth is we are not.
The FA's priorities
It has been argued that a major problem with the FA is that it has not been run by football people but by businessmen who value commercial interests over their role as developers of the game.
The decision to invest in a new Wembley over the development of England’s national training centre in the early 2000’s was proof enough where the focus and interests lie. £900m which could have been spent on investing in the future of players and coaches was instead put into a stadium which in all honesty was not needed. A waste of money, time and resources which could have gone elsewhere. Such a shame for England’s future.
Did we really need to build a new national stadium? We could have followed the Germans, where there is no national stadium; games of the national team are always in different cities. This allows more people to see their team and allows more money to be put into key areas.
Imagine where that £900 million spent on Wembley could have gone? If The FA were serious about improving the standards of youth development we could have seen 80-100 ‘development centres’ run by the FA Skills programme, right across the country, which would have meant more youth coaches and players being developed.
That money could also have gone to subsidising coaching courses which could have meant cheaper courses, especially the 'A' and Pro licence which would have meant the development of a greater number of ‘quality’ coaches.
The FA cannot say they do not have the money, what they do not have is the desire to make significant changes at the foundation level. Too much money at the top trying to fix problems that need addressing at the bottom.
Why did they decide to do this? The truth is that the FA are ran by men whose primary interests are not about football. Those men who run the FA are businessmen whose interests are in the commercial part of football. Having the wrong men in charge of our Football Association has been the reason for the continuing issues and problems of English football.
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