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More dodgy predictions
June 27, 2008, 9:44 am
Filed under: Dwyer Scullion | Tags: , , , ,

I’m getting good at this.

For years now, at the start of every Premier League season, I predict with utter confidence that “this will be Liverpool’s year”. I’ve been saying that every year for about 18 years or so.

Now, a supersitious person might believe that I was jinxing them. Not me. I’m a philosophy graduate, and a student of formal logic. I don’t do superstition. Much.

Early on in Euro 2008 I predicted that Italy couldn’t win playing the way they were. Then they started playing well and I predicted that they might indeed win after all. Then I changed my mind again. That’s my prerogative.

So here are a number of scattergun predictions for my football year ahead.

1. Italy will not win Euro 2008.

2. Liverpool will not win the English Premier League.

3. Chelsea will win the Champions League.

4. Hook Norton Under 9s will improve as individuals and as a team, will win lots of matches, lose lots, and have a lot of fun along the way.

5. Lots of Dad supporters around the world will make utter fools of themselves by yelling at their offspring and referees during matches in the mistaken belief that displaying their comprehensive understanding of the game in such a vocal manner will impress the other parents (and mums in particular) and confirm their masculinity.

6. A hapless Premier League manager will get the sack for losing to Arsenal.

7. England will win a couple games and Fabio Capello will be deified as the saviour of the nation.

8. England will lose a couple of games and Fabio Capello will be vilified.

9. Hundreds of thousands of committed volunteer grassroots coaches will spend millions of hours learning what they can about their craft and doing their darndest to take the game forward and make a difference to the lives of young and old players around the world.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching


The best and the worst (so far)

We’re almost at the half way point of Euro 2008 and as my good friend Sian would say, I’m loving it. Time then for a quick half-way-stage pub-list.

Match of the tournament (so far)

Got to be Turkey 3 Czech Republic 2 for sheer drama, and for Petr Cech dropping a clanger right on the toe of Turkish player Nihat to score the equaliser.

Other candidates include Croatia 2 Germany 1 for the Croats spirit, Slaven Bilic entertaining us all from the touchline, and for the guilty schadenfreude of any German defeat (with apologies to our German readers).

Team of the tournament (so far)

The Netherlands – might have been tempted to protect their early leads against the mighty Italy and France, but where’s the fun in that?

Players of the tournament (so far)

In no particular order:

Deco, Portugal – he has it all – he can pass anywhere, he has great vision, he can tackle, he can dribble, he can score, and he runs the games he plays in. However, it will be interesting to see how he and Portugal cope with tougher midfield opponents against Germany in the quarter-final.

Andrea Pirlo, Italy – has many of the same attributes as Deco. If he had a better striker to aim for than Luca Toni, Italy might not have made such heavy weather of their first two games.

David Villa, Spain – you get the feeling he won’t miss if he gets half a chance. Along with the god-like genius of Fernando Torres, the best strike partnership in the world at the moment.

Wayne Rooney – only joking, couldn’t resist.

Most irritating player (so far)

Cristiano Ronaldo – just because.

Referee of the tournament (so far)

Howard Webb, for taking a stand against outright cheating and awarding a penalty to Austria for holding in the penalty area in their match against Poland. At last someone has the guts to uphold the laws of the game.

Worst prediction of the tournament

Dwyer Scullion, predicting that Italy couldn’t win the tournament with their style of play. Since then, they’ve had countless shots and headers on target and if they had a more potent striker than Toni, they might well have scored more goals than the Dutch by now.

Feel free to agree, contradict, ridicule etc. I’ll have another stab at this completely futile exercise after the final.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching

Euro 2008 – and the winner is…?

Greece won Euro 2004 scoring a mere 7 goals along the way. I suspect Euro 2008 will be won by a team scoring a lot more goals.

Arrigo Sacchi (former AC Milan and Italy coach) predicts that the tournament will be won by the teams with the best individuals rather than the most organised or systematised. Slaven Bilic, coach of Croatia, agrees, saying “Systems are dying. It’s about the movement of 10 players now.”

Results so far would seem to bear this out. The domestic European competitions and Champions League commitments are so hectic these days that international sides rarely get the chance to get together to work on specific systems or styles of play.

Greece’s Euro 2004 victory was the result of an extremely well-organised but not particularly gifted group of players following their coach’s instructions to the letter, stopping their opponents playing, and nicking the odd goal to secure victory. You can’t fault their approach. It’s not a million miles away from what Italy have done so successfully for so many years (with all due respect to Italy’s great players, and Greece’s for that matter).

So far both Greece and Italy (the reigning Euro and World Cup holders of course) have lost their opening games. In both matches both teams attempted to play their traditional holding games and both teams failed to score, Greece losing 2-0 to Sweden and Italy losing 3-0 to Holland.

That’s not to say that tactics and formations aren’t important. But the teams who are doing well are made up of players with all of the following three key attributes – the ability to follow tactical instructions, high levels of physical fitness, and crucially, a willingness to play at a high tempo and attack, attack, attack.

No team in Euro 2008 is sent out to play without specific tactical and formation instructions. But the successful teams are the ones who will allow their most gifted players to fully express themselves – the teams that are less concerned with the opposition and more concerned with doing their own thing.

That’s the way it should be. That’s why this has been such an entertaining tournament so far, and that’s what I hope to achieve with my own young teams in the future. Just tell them to play their own game.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Greece or Italy go on to win the whole thing. That’s called hedging your bets.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching

Any value in formations?

Slaven Bilic, Croatia national team manager (and former Premier League player) last week said that he believes formations to be dead, ‘with successful teams essentially being about squeezing space and attacking in numbers’.


I’ve wondered about this myself. If you have a team with players of the quality of say Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney etc. at Manchester United it’s a fair question to ask how important formations are in that scenario. Throughout the English Premier League season just finished United’s tactic seemed to be Attack! Attack! Attack! It’s thrilling to watch, even for a Liverpool supporter.


However, Rio Ferdinand in a recent interview confirmed that there is indeed a bit more to it than that., describing ‘formations as important to us’. I had always assumed that United started 4-4-2 and just let their flair forwards roam pretty much where they wanted, but Ferdinand reveals a more thoughtful approach.


Without going in to too much detail, Ferdinand describes a mobile 4-2-4 formation depending on whether or not they are in possession. However, he also reveals a 4-5-1 formation in some of the tougher away games last season – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool. There’s also a different approach again in European competition which is closer to Chelsea’s favoured 4-3-3, with one up front and two wide men.


For me, ultimately it’s about the players. If you don’t have the players who can adapt you end up playing with one formation regardless of the team you’re playing against. That’s the difficulty faced by many of the second tier Premier League sides. The players may have the same skill and fitness levels but they don’t necessarily have the same ability to understand the game in real time and adapt their role and formation according to the coach’s instructions. I really think that that is what Sir Alex is looking for in his players as much as anything else – a good soccer brain and the ability to follow orders.


As far as United are concerned I’m a little disappointed with this information. I had hoped to be able to dismiss Sir Alex’s contribution as buying up all the top talents in world football and sending them out on the pitch with as flea in their ear. And there are many who believe that the real tactical nous in the United set up comes from assistant manager Carlos Queiroz.


But that would be churlish. Ferdinand, and others before him, reveal Ferguson to be a master tactician. Personally, I remember the master stroke he pulled in the 1999 Champions League Final in which he played Ryan Giggs and David Beckham out of position until the last 10 minutes, then switched them around and scored two goals to steal the victory from Bayern Munich.


It will be interesting to watch the impact of formations and tactics in Euro 2008. There is a huge amount of talent on display and some of the finest players and coaches in the world are pitted against each other.


Please feel free to post any tactical observations on this site as the tournament progresses.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching



I Love the Cup Final

I love the FA Cup Final. For me it is, and always will be, the most enjoyable day in the English soccer calendar. I fell in love with the game on Cup Final day in 1974 when Liverpool beat Newcastle United 3-0 at the old Wembley. I remember watching it on TV with my father and his friends. It was the first game I had watched all the way through as there was very little live soccer on TV in those days.

On Friday night I heard a radio pundit bemoan the lack of interest in the Cup Final. There’s little doubt that it no longer grips the nation in the way that it once did. In the old days it seemed as if the country came to a standstill on Cup Final day and everybody – men, women and children – set aside the day to watch it together.

It’s different now. There is so much live soccer on TV these days that it’s just less of a special event. Unless of course you are a Portsmouth or Cardiff City supporter. And for me, that is the true magic of the Cup.

I’m absolutely delighted that none of the Big 4 teams were involved. Manchester United and Chelsea would probably have cancelled each other out and the game would have dragged on for ages. What we got instead was a free-flowing, open and unpredictable game. I don’t care if the Big 4 don’t take it as seriously as they used to. There are over 100 other clubs who do and the FA Cup is as much about them as it is Arsenal and Liverpool. There wasn’t a lot of “beautiful” play but there was no lack of passion and commitment.

And what of the coaches? What do they bring to the party? Never having been in a competition final I can only guess. But I suspect you don’t need to do much in the way of motivating your players. What greater motivation is there than playing in the FA Cup Final at Wembley. Tactically, I guess Dave Jones, the Cardiff City manager, will have identified certain players and aspects of the Portsmouth play that he would look to have neutralised. Harry Redknapp, on the other hand, would probably have told his players just to play their own game.

The other major telling factor in these games is fitness. Cup Finals are notoriously hard work for players. I guess that’s a combination of the intensity of the situation, the determination to fight for every ball from kick-off, the size and nature of the Wembley playing surface, and the level of  professionalism of the players. I’ve seen every Cup Final since the age of 8 and what they all have in common is that one team will run out of energy towards the end of the game. If they’re trailing, they just can’t seem to get back into it (as was the case with Cardiff). If they’re winning, they run out of steam trying to protect their lead (West Ham United two seasons ago).

So that’s it for another season. I’m looking forward to the next Cup campaign already. Round 3 in January is where the fun really starts. Let’s see if Havant and Waterlooville can get drawn against Liverpool again and finish the job off this time.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching

Boring Premier League?

After spending weeks telling us how the end of this English Premier League season is the most exciting for years, the media is now full of stories about how boring it is. So which is it?


The boring argument is based around the idea that only four teams can win – Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool (indeed many would exclude Liverpool from that list, but not me). It’s certainly true that these teams have access to resources and players way beyond what the rest can manage.


Have you watched many games played by the Big 4 this season? Did you find Manchester United’s sweeping attack play boring? Or Arsenal’s clinical and incisive high-tempo passing? Or how about Fernando Torres in front of goal, feeding off the sublime passing of Steven Gerrard? Yes, really boring.


So, we know that these teams play some of the most exciting and attractive soccer in Europe. But yet it’s supposed to be a boring league? Why is that? Is a West Han United fan bored watching their team fight for a 2-2 draw against Newcastle United? Or were Fulham fans bored on the last day of the season as they battled to stay in the Premier League?


If your only interest in soccer is winning the league, yes, the dominance of the Big 4 might become a little boring. But that’s not how soccer fans see it. They don’t spend many hundreds of pounds each year on tickets thinking they’re going to be bored all season. They do it because they love their team and there are few things more exciting than watching your team competing in such an exciting league.


They also do it because there are great players throughout the Premier League – it’s not just about Ronaldo, Torres, Rooney etc. What about Dimitar Berbatov, Daniel Alves, David Bentley, Ashley Young, Obafemi Martens, Michael Owen, Dean Ashton, the list goes on.


And it’s not just season-ticket holders who get the excitement of the Premier League. Ever taken a child to a Premier League game? Try telling them it’s boring.


And was it ever really that different? West Ham United fans have never really held out too much hope of winning the league, but they know that they might be able to Manchester United or Liverpool on their day – indeed they’ve beaten both more than once in recent seasons. Now, that’s exciting.


So let’s just enjoy it and let it inspire the players we coach. And don’t forget, the season’s not quite over. If you want real excitement  check out the Football League play-offs.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching

Here Comes the Sun- I’m finally able to take my soccer team back onto grass to train

Actually, that’s not strictly true because it looks like it’s about to start pouring with rain outside my little attic office here in not-so-sunny Oxfordshire, England.

But spring is here. The daffodils are wilting, the trees are blooming, there’s a smell of freshly cut grass in the air, and at long last I’m finally able to take my team back onto grass to train.

Our season lasts from September to April. From October to March it gets dark at around 5.00pm or earlier. Although our local soccer facilities are really very good, unfortunately we do not have the luxury of a floodlit grass training pitch. And frankly, even if we did, it would be unusable for much of that period due to the weather.

Instead we train on a floodlit multi-use-games-area (MUGA). We’re lucky to have that facility, I know, but it’s still not ideal. The surface is extremely fast, and is bound on all sides by a low wall. The fast surface means that the players aren’t training in conditions that replicate the match experience. When you pass a ball on a MUGA it zips across the surface. Play the same pass on a Saturday morning on a boggy pitch and it doesn’t go nearly as far and often as not just gets stuck in a mud-bath. And the boundary wall has the effect of making young players forget that they need to observe the touchline – why use a stop-turn when you can just bounce the ball off the wall?

But on match days we have to play on a large grass pitch. Many times through the winter I’ve asked myself, why do we play in these conditions? Can we reasonably expect 8, 9, 10 year olds to play to the best of their ability, to really express their skills, when it’s freezing cold, raining, the grass is too long and the ground is muddy? What do they learn from that experience? For many they learn that they don’t like playing soccer as much as they thought and they’d rather be somewhere warm and dry with a cup of hot chocolate.

So why can’t we play from April to September? Why can’t we train our players in the conditions that we expect them to play in? Is the argument that schools break up for summer and the players aren’t around? Frankly, I don’t think that holds water anymore. The school calendar has changed so much in England, and there are so many half-term breaks and long weekends and Christmas and Easter holidays that I actually think it might be easier to keep your squad together from spring to autumn than from autumn to spring.

I have little doubt that had I coached my players through the summer rather than through the winter they would all be better players for it. I follow David Clarke’s (Better Soccer Coaching editor) credo of pass-pass-pass on our MUGA sessions. We practise passing until it’s coming out of our ears, but more often than not when we get to the game on Saturday, the same well-rehearsed drills end up with the ball stuck in the mud or long grass. So what do the players do? Hoof it up the pitch as hard as the can, conceding possession, and turning the match into a large-scale game of ping pong.

Am I missing something? Are there any other reasons why we insist on putting our players through this? I really think we’re making it more difficult rather than easier for our young players and I would implore the FA to consider the structure of the season in England.

I’d love to get some feedback on this from coaches in other countries around the world. How does the weather impact on your coaching and your players’ development?

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching