I absolutely despise the fact that English football prioritises strength, stamina and the ability to run 10 miles a game over individual skill, technique and creativity. What makes it worse is that this outdated coaching approach has seriously affected Liverpool over the last 12 years.
When was the last time a young creative player came through the ranks of the youth system at Liverpool and became established in the first team? When was the last time a young creative player was *signed* for the first team and actually flourished at Liverpool at all? Consider the sheer volume of young creative players who have been signed over the last 10 years: how many have actually made it?!
Not since the halcyon days of Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen have young creative players flourished at Liverpool. The question is WHY? For me, the answer can (partly) be gleaned from John McMahon's recent comments about Liverpool youth prospect Suso:
"He turned 17 on Friday and hopefully he has a bright future at the club. He'll only have that future if he keeps working hard and listens to what the coaching staff are saying to him. But he knows that and we hope he will start working twice as hard now.
"We are looking at developing the whole player here. He has good attributes going forward and in the wide areas but he still needs to learn the other side of the game. He needs to know about the discipline and work that's required in a team, like tracking back, tackling and staying with runners. By playing him in midfield, like we did with Pacheco last year, it will hopefully add that other side to his game".
As a fan of creative players - and the club - these comments really make my blood boil. It's the same old outdated English football thinking that has blighted the sport for decades: complete disregard for the creative aspects of a young player's game and the institution of a system of coaching that 'breeds out' creative instincts by placing the emphasis on tackling, tracking back and 'working hard'.
As we have seen many times over the years, this process of destroying a youngster's creative instincts leads to demotivation and disinterest, with the end result being the young player leaves the club. And who can blame them? When these players are being told all the time time that they're not tackling/tracking back enough, and their natural instincts are being curbed, it's inevitable that they will grow frustrated and ultimately end up leaving.
Furthermore, McMahon's emphasis on 'developing the whole player' is equally maddening. Why do we need a team full of players who can do everything, and play in 5 different positions?! What happened to developing postional specialists? Does Lionel Messi play in 5 different positions? Can he?! WHO CARES. He's a specialist at what he does, and his creative talent has been nurtured and encouraged, and this has allowed him to thrive.
The opposite is true in English football: being good creatively is not good enough; being a specialist in your position is not good enough; you are not deemed to be 'premiership ready' unless you can run 10 miles a game and spend 90% of your time tackling and tracking back and/or playi
To underline his view on 'developing the whole player', McMahon also said the following about Dani Pacheco:
"The boss (Roy Hodgson) is keen on him. He sees Dani filling those wide roles, so when he plays for the reserves he occupies those positions and learns to adapt and play in them. It's good for his development to learn several roles and it will only benefit him, especially if he's required to do a job for the first-team."
Again, instead of developing his creative strengths, McMahon seems dead-set on forcing Pacheco to learn 'several roles'. Apparently, this will 'benefit him'. More than likely, it will dilute Pacheco's effectiveness and have a detrimental impact on his development. No wonder he allegedly wants to leave.
It really is massively frustrating to see this attitude at Liverpool. It is clear that the entire coaching philosophy for young creative players at the club is WRONG and needs to change.
Quique Gonzalez, the former Cadiz youth team coach, said this about Suso when Liverpool signed him:
"He is a left-sided midfielder with extraordinary talent. He has great quality, a good shot, his vision is great and his passing is outstanding. He has a bit of everything and I think they have signed a jewel. He can dribble well and does have great vision. He could be effective playing in the middle.
"What is very important though is that he can score goals. He likes to go into the area as part of the second wave. He has scored a good number of goals from distance too, that is one of his qualities".
Well, Liverpool fans can forget about ever seeing any evidence of this 'extraordinary talent' - if Suso ever makes it into the first team, all evidence of that individual flair will have been exorcised, and he will have probably have instructions to defend for 90% of the time. See Ryan Babel for a prime example of this.
Like so many before him, Suso will not make it; he will not be allowed to make it as the criteria for judging his 'development' will be the following:
* Does he defend enough?
* Does he track back enough?
* Does he tackle enough?
* Does he run enough?
On these counts, he will fail. Messi would also fail this test, as would Maradona, Zidane, Ronaldo, McManaman, Fowler and countless other superb creative talents down the years.
To his credit, Trevor Brooking is fighting a thankless battle to change this anachronistic and outdated approach to coaching in England. He summed it up best with the following insight:
"We...need to change what is being coached. Let's have more small-sided games so that they have more ball time. Let's allow them to have fun, take away the importance of winning and stop the young players being afraid of making mistakes. Concentrate on first touch and technique, allow that a short pass can often be more of a killer ball than the big hoof up to the centre-forwards."
That is the problem in a nutshell, and John McMahon's comments should be a cause for concern for every Liverpool fan, and the Liverpool FC hierarchy (IMO).
When it comes to creative, attacking players, Liverpool's youth coaching philosophy needs to change. 12 years of abject failure is proof of that.
It's time to start allowing creative youth players thrive. It's time to start developing, encouraging and PRIORITISING the attacking talent and technique of young players. If that means they don't spend all their time expending energy on tackling and tracking back SO BE IT.
Did John Barnes and Peter Beardsley run as much as Dirk Kuyt? NO. Did McManaman and Fowler constantly track back all the time? NO. Did it make a blind bit of difference to their superb creative impact on Liverpool FC? NO.
STOP STIFLING THE CREATIVE INSTINCTS OF LIVERPOOL'S YOUNG PLAYERS.
If a positive coaching change is not implemented then Liverpool will have another 12 years of creative youth failure to look forward to.
And won't that be nice?