Firstly Bus, I must apologise. I’ve been a bit absent over the last month.
Between writing thousands of words a week for my various clients (the ones that help keep me in the style to which I’m accustomed), running around after the kids and watching BeIN Sports pretty much 24/7 it’s been tough to find time for you. But I do love you. Okay?
So, back to the topic at hand. Well, there are plenty of topics but the one I’d like to make a point of now is – coaching matters. I think I’ve said that before somewhere? Oh yes, after the Euros. Specifically, I thought I saw a coach matter a whole lot yesterday as my Matamata Swifts took on our local rivals, Cambridge. Pleasingly, it was our coaching.
It’s no secret around the local Loaded WaiBOP Premiership traps that this season Matamata had one particular talented player that other teams picked up pretty quickly they could get away with kicking because he had an early reputation as a diver.
Some refs picked up on this too, to the point they were telling each other to ‘Watch the Frenchman. He’s a diver’ before games (yes, he was a ‘foreigner’, so there was a subtle current of bigotry involved too). As a result, Jordane got very little in his favour all year, even after he stopped diving (which happened months ago).
The players from the other teams sniffed the style of reffing, kicked him even harder, elbowed him ever more blatantly, and on and on it went. Some of the things I saw this season were pretty funny, in the odd not hilarious sense of the word, but describing them here would just be a pointless whinge about refereeing, which everyone’s heard before and about which nothing would ever get done anyway. Given my past reputation, the man rather than the ball would be played by the powers that be (see, I’m learning…) so it would all be a complete waste of time.
Anyway, that point I was getting to. Matamata finally used this to their advantage yesterday.
Jordane was essentially sacrificed. Pushed high and wide as bait for what everyone knew was coming. Cambridge’s ‘senior’ players, one in particular (you know, the type that gets in and ‘sorts out’ the opposition) were repeatedly drawn out of position, to the point the space in the parts of the pitch that were actually important allowed us to attack, and hurt, the visitors.
Had our execution in front of goal been sharper Cambridge would have been embarrassed. As it turned out, we still won 2-0, but Cambridge had their moments and if the ball gone in rather than hitting the upright when it was still 1-0 who knows what could have happened.
But the foibles of football aren’t really what I’m on about here. It’s the work at training, the planning and the players carrying out their jobs, even at this level, that shows coaching matters. And, just as obviously, lack of coaching also matters. I’ve seen that at Matamata too…
Jordane, Paul and our players carried out their roles well. Throughout the game they brought even more focus onto Jordane through their reactions to challenges, ‘chats’ with the officials and verbal exchanges with the opposing players and coaching staff. It was edgy stuff for a while but paid off nicely. It mustn’t have been nice to be elbowed in the back of the neck then told ‘yes it was a foul but you went down too easily’ or be kicked or be verbally abused but Jordane took it better than I would have and ultimately he had the last laugh, didn’t he?
The plan came together and his team won the game because the rest of the Swifts played their part, using the space and, eventually, taking the chances created, to complete a sweet derby win. That’s an important thing here. The rest of our players embraced the responsibility given to them and went out and won the game.
Cambridge’s on-field leadership went missing, focussing on one player running up and down the embankment touchline, rather than helping their crop of what looks to be excellent young players try to go out and actually win a game of football. Frankly, it was great to see such a cliché of an English lower league game plan fail.
I honestly wonder if their coaching staff have even figured out what happened to them? The only member of their staff who could be happy was their goalkeeping coach – their goalie’s positioning and reflex saves looked like more than just instinct.
That’s my rather shallow appraisal of the coaching in a game at Waikato Bay of Plenty level with, yes, a small amount of fan-induced satisfaction thrown in.
I’m still learning as a coach (as my Eagles team has been finding out this season. I’m about as inconsistent as a coach as they can be as players) so yesterday was another nice little case study to throw in the memory banks for future reference. It was a nice thing to come back to after a morning spent with the Eagles in the mud of a suburban Hamilton football field. Which is a story for another day.