Mark Gleeson

Looking local a red herring

2010-03-29 08:40
Sport24 columnist Mark Gleeson (File)
Mark Gleeson

Those ridiculous suggestions that a local coach is best served to take charge of top Premier Soccer League teams because they best understand “the culture” of the players has again raised its head in recent days.

This is an old red herring that frequently gets trotted out, but 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 than is hard to fathom. Is it that you get the best out of players if you understand them? I would have thought the top priority would be to get them to play better and in this 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 skillful players, encouraged to “express themselves” and entertain. They thrived in a bygone era where the game was played at a more leisurely pace and fitness levels were less important. But they are increasingly a luxury these days 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 much more emphasis now on speed and athleticism. If you get a player who combines those two qualities with silky skills as well, you have a world-beater, like Lionel Messi.

But skills alone are now redundant, teams can no longer afford 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 then attacked with little structure.

Whether you like it or not, it is a cold hard fact that South Africa’s football ‘culture’ appreciates those elements of a player’s ability which 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 and or their ball control but they fail hopelessly at the basis of the game, like crossing and shooting. 

And they are not physically strong. There is evidence of this malaise at all 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 players have to work to a plan these days. 

‘Freedom of expression’ is nothing but a by word for tactical indiscipline.

Many local coaches strive these days to keep up with the modern game but the more the PSL keeps up a steady import of the latest ideas from around the world of football, the better. It will make the domestic game so much richer.

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

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

Mark Gleeson is a respected television commentator and Editorial Director of Mzanzi Football.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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