Planning To Fail? Failure To Plan-Scottish International Football
Rebus doesn’t think we have to look very far to find an answer to the two decade failure of Scottish international football
Scotland’s latest failure to qualify for a major tournament has resulted in the usual cries for the manager to be changed. His comments that “genetics” contributed to our failure to win against Slovenia are both bizarre and fail to capture the real reasons for our demise.
To put it simply, Scotland continue to fail because they have no plan to succeed. We shall continue to underachieve because other nations do have plans to succeed. For small nations these plans have to be long term in nature and also have to involve cooperation across several sectors of society. Football is too important to be left solely in the hands of football authorities! However, it is those authorities that have to initiate the required change. We need a visionary within the SFA to initiate change; to be the product champion for the innovation that is needed in our game.
Does anyone see one amongst the current personnel of either the SFA or the SPFL?
The longest journey begins with the first step. The first step here is to examine the success stories of other nations. Take Belgium as an example. Much of the following comes from an article in the Guardian from June 1, 2014 by Stuart James.
Belgium has approximately twice the population of Scotland and has 34 clubs organised into two leagues. Immediately you can see an issue. There are simply too many professional clubs in Scotland chasing a smaller number of supporters. However, let’s return to the Belgian example. By the mid nineties the Belgian FA realised that their sport needed a radical shakeup if the performance of the national team was to improve. The main architect for change was the technical director of football. Do we have such a position in the SFA? Who is he and what does he do?
Step 1 of the transformation was to pool knowledge. Thirty coaches were brought together to discuss a radical change in approach. This group were given access to information collected from the most successful countries in Europe together with top performing clubs in the CL. The variety of playing systems used by these countries/clubs were discussed by the group and it was decided that 4-3-3 gave Belgium the best chance of success.
Next the skills required to play this system were examined and benchmarked against the skills being taught to youth players in the country. It was determined that the existing youth development systems were not providing appropriate skills to play 4-3-3 successfully. In particular, youth players did not have sufficient dribbling skills to implement the system.
Step 2 involved investing money in youth development.
This involved the following:
A national development centre built;
Free courses were offered to existing and future coaches;
Universities and colleges were encouraged to research the game. Some were commissioned to do so.
An audit was conducted of all youth systems at club level and report prepared.
Step 3 involved a commissioned study by the University of Louvain to film and study 1500 youth matches. This study provided conclusive evidence of what was wrong with the youth game. For example, matches involving under 8 and under 9 year olds revealed that players touched the ball only twice in half an hour. Confidence on the ball was sadly lacking. Similarly, kids did not know how to use the ball effectively. As a result of this, a strategy was devised that would address these problems. It was decided that 2 vs 2; 5 vs 5, and 8 vs 8 contests were the best way to develop skills in young players to prepare them to play 4-3-3.
Step 4 involved the established of special schools for the best young players to attend for two hours per day for 4 mornings a week. Some of the professional clubs send their best players there. Lukaku is a product of this system.
There is no doubt that the Belgian plan was successful. It has produced the so called “golden generation” of Lukaku, Hazzard, etc. I suspect that the Belgian success is not tied exclusively to this plan but to the fact that they had a plan and an individual who implemented the plan. Also I am not saying that what the Belgians did is the blueprint for making Scotland more successful. I am, however, saying that the process of devising a customised plan is the way forward for our national game. Other nations such as France, Spain, Portugal devised long term plans to put their nations at or near the top of the rankings. In addition to improving performance at the national level, these efforts also enhanced the reputations of their respective leagues….something that nowadays is linked to TV revenue.
If we do not start the process now, we can look forward to being pushed aside by nations such as Lithuania, Slovakia Georgia and Slovenia.
Does the SFA have the vision to devise a plan such as the above, or is it content to replace the manager and continue the cycle of failure?
Does it have a visionary to initiate the planning process?