England's Futsal Head Coach looks back on KL and where the Three Lions go from here.
Having got back from KL just last week I’m still a bit jet-lagged and after a somewhat bruising eight days away, we’ve already been back at Lilleshall preparing for our next excursion in a couple of weeks.
I knew Kuala Lumpur was going to be a tough trip and that was the whole concept of taking the group, to challenge us all ahead of Hungary. But quite how inconsistent we would be in our play never crossed my mind after such a great end to last year. With any trip like this the most important aspect is ensuring that the objectives I set as Head Coach are both achievable and realistic and I was quite forgiving in that regard.
Travelling half way around the world and playing within two days of arrival, and five games in five days is a tough ask whatever standard of group, as you would normally want an eleven day acclimatisation period heading in to Asia. It makes you wonder if last week’s news that the Premier League are thinking of moving some games around the globe has indeed been thought about with regards to the impact on the quality of the end product.
For the first time with this Programme, I felt battered as the week drew to an end. Somewhat despondent and disappointed at how we had not managed to implement some of the most basic principles of football let alone Futsal and, battered by the media too, although not for the obvious reasons.
One thing I do have is a tough skin, a resilience not to worry about what the papers think or say as generally it’s based upon perception as opposed to fact, a resilience in my belief in what we are trying to achieve. I like to think that I’m my biggest critic and this trip also proved a tough test for me as well as the players.
The media issues were different this time though. The constant questions in post match press conferences, the ad-hoc discussions you have on these trips with the media around the stadia and the editorial outcome was on how England still hasn’t yet grasped and embraced the Futsal contribution to football player development. How we are being left behind by the other nations, exemplified by the way we don’t have players with the same talent as smaller nations.
Even the ex-pat sportsmen now working around Asia in the media were bemoaning our ignorance. Highlighting how the foreign talents have developed their skills and game awareness with Futsal and how much of a more developing product it is than conventional small-sided football in Britain.
All I could do was agree with them, shrug my shoulders and raise my eyebrows in despondency that I too agree we’re missing the trick, but that The FA have realised it and we’re trying to do something about it.
And, the longer it goes on, other less developed football nations like Malaysia, Indonesia and China will make strides ahead of us in player development terms courtesy of this one very simple tool.
This England team has always struggled with a consistency of players. These five games, believe it or not, represent the longest period and largest number of games I have had in four years using the same players. It’s not a moan, I don’t do that, but probably a frustration and simply a realisation of how difficult it is to get consistency with this squad which does affect performances but that isn’t going to change in the short term, so coping with it is the challenge.
Our results in KL were all disappointing for one reason or another, not necessarily the actual scoreline but more the way we conceded goals and, the players know that. It didn’t need me to tell them as the match analysis never lies, although I do tell them the way it is.
Psychology has a place to play in player development but so too does honesty and so many of these players have been misguided over their formative years by being told they were better than what they really are and then let go by clubs, so maybe this game is the reality check they need.
I needed to complete my match analysis quickly whilst we were away and Marcus Seaton, my performance analyst, and I had some late nights doing that. A good 50 per cent of the goals we conceded were simple basic possession errors where the opposition were so clinical in punishing us. This once more simply enforces the golden rule to value possession and work hard to eliminate unforced errors in Futsal. Only once we can do that will we be able to make more noticeable progress.
I felt that a 12-1 defeat to Argentina was a good reflection of the massive gap between the two nations, so I was pleased with that as an opening game performance. In total contrast, to hold 32nd placed Australia to nil nil for thirty minutes of a game was one of the best periods I’ve seen us play in four years. It’s therefore disappointing from a coach’s perspective that the first ten minutes which saw the scoreline reach 6-1 negated all that work but, it was nonetheless a good exercise in limiting a very capable team and we will have learned a great deal from that performance alone.
We had poor starting periods in every game but much improved second halves, although by that time the damage had been done. One thing we’ve looked at is how the period after warm-up, where protocols take over, distract us although that’s the same of both teams. One of the key points I made to the players was that they simply can’t wait for me to step in to do my half time job and stabilise them, as the damage will generally be irrecoverable and we have to start brighter.
Our inability, through lack of time at task I might add, to create clear goalscoring opportunites could never get us back into the games, so the first half errors cost us better results in each game. I’m hopeful that the regional Futsal leagues which are about to start will assist in getting more game time for these lads and with that should come the experience transfer that eradicates this limitation.
However, I do have a concern that these leagues need to be developing players with proper Futsal game understanding and that is a challenge for us at The FA to make sure our coach education programme delivers on that.
The eventual final in KL saw Brazil pitched against Argentina as predicted and all I can say is that if you can download the game off the internet, it’s worth it. What a spectacle of what Futsal is all about with Brazil, romping to a 4-0 win in a game that was a delight to watch. I cannot recall seeing any talent like we saw on display in the Academies at home and that once more reinforces how much ground we have to make up and why Futsal is so important to our professional clubs’ Academies for the future.
I met with Falcao (left), still in the minds of so many the best Futsal player in the world, having first met him in Taipei in 2004 at the World Cup. You can never tire of watching his abundance of skill and the effortless ease by which he executes his work. With some gentle persuasion, I managed to get him to wear one of our heart rate monitors in the final so that Dawn Scott, our exercise scientist, could pull down some data to compare against that which we record from our lads.
More of that next time as I’m yet to see the full report but what I have seen so far is quite amazing. I have to review that against the actual match analysis before I can draw any conclusive outcome.
Now, for sure we will all be richer in our knowledge from this KL experience. What we have to do is make sure that come Hungary in two weeks, we can implement appropriately and improve sufficiently to reduce the margins between us and our very capable opponents.
This weekend, our first back, and we’ve been at Lilleshall as I aimed to finalise selection for the World Cup Qualifiers. I arrived on Saturday night after watching a game and was greeted in the dining room by a beaming smile from World Champion Gymnast Beth Tweddle, who I’ve got to know on various GB and England multi-sport teams at Commonwealth and World University Games over recent years, so it was nice to have a quick catch-up.
I’m still a bit limited in mobility but the calf tear is getting better and although I’m still not able to run just yet, that will be a few weeks still, Mark Leather our physio has set me a rigorous rehab programme and it’s working. I just have to be patient and not rush it – easier said than done!
Have a good fortnight and I’ll write again from Hungary.