Teams cannot afford to carry passengers who play only when it suits their 'talent' or 'culture'.

2010-04-03 00:00

THE ridiculous suggestion that local coaches are best qualified to take charge of top Premier Soccer League teams because they best understand “the culture” of the players has been raised again recently. This old red herring, that frequently gets trotted out, is a load of rubbish.

Firstly, what does it mean to “understand a player’s culture”? To have a better understanding of his background and his values and therefore to best gauge his mental approach? That’s the way I read it.

But how this ensures a better coach is the thing that’s difficult to fathom. Is it that you get the best out of players if you understand them?

I would have thought the priority would be to get them to play better, in which case all you need understand is how the modern game works.

South African football culture has never been properly defined, but essentially it is about an approach to the game.

For decades here, there has been an enthusiastic appreciation of skilful players, who are encouraged to “express themselves” and entertain.

They thrived in a bygone era when the game was played at a more leisurely pace and fitness levels were less important. But this is increasingly a luxury nowadays, when the rigours of the game demand so much more.

As with everything, football has changed. It has become physically much more demanding and places more emphasis on speed and athleticism. If you get a player who combines these two qualities with silky skills to boot, you have a world beater, like Lionel Messi.

But skills alone are now redundant, and teams can no longer afford to carry passengers who play only when its suits their “talent” or “culture”.

This was all too evident on Sunday when Mamelodi Sundowns got swamped by Kaizer Chiefs in the Telkom Knockout quarter-final, carrying passengers through the game who did not work for the team on the defensive and attacked with little structure.

Whether we like it or not, it is a cold, hard fact that South Africa’s football “culture” appreciates those elements of a player’s ability that have become increasingly less relevant in the world game.

That is why our national team is now so regularly beaten. Players might be applauded for dribbling or for their ball control, but they fail hopelessly in the fundamentals of the game, like crossing and shooting. And they are not physically strong. There is evidence of this malaise at every PSL game.

Coaching today is about organising your side to play with defensive discipline, to link in attack, to exploit the opponent’s weakness, to be fit and robust.

It is much less about being a father figure, mentor, social worker and “understanding the local culture”.

Professionalism dictates that players have to work to a plan these days.

“Freedom of expression” is nothing but a euphemism for tactical indiscipline.

Nowadays, some local coaches are striving to keep up with the modern game, and the more the PSL keeps up a steady import of the latest ideas from around the world of football, the better. It is bound to make the domestic game so much richer.

The best coaches are those who devise the right tactics for their teams. It doesn’t matter where they come from or how much they understand their players.

What is most important is whether they can coach and put together winning formulas. That’s the only understanding that really counts.

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