Kicking around a football is not child’s play

Last week, Orville Higgins, a sports journalist and talk-show host at KLAS, had an article published in the Jamaica Gleaner, entitled Football Coaches, Formations And Styles. It said, basically, that formations, playing styles, coaches and ‘experts’ made football too complicated, and that ‘Coaching is really for lower levels’. That did not make much sense to me and I wrote a response, which the Gleaner published this week, and I reproduce below:

More to football than guesswork, Higgins

What is Mr (Orville) Higgins really discussing? He talks about how various formations complicate football. At the highest levels, technical skills are highly refined, as is fitness and strategic sense.

Formations fit personnel and tactical plans. If Mr Higgins thinks he can let his team run around with no idea of the roles each player should perform with or without the ball, I wish him well.

When you attack, the advantage is with you if you plan to spread the ball in certain ways that fit your strengths; likewise, when you defend and try to funnel attacks into areas where you are more likely to succeed.

The formations could all be the same, but that’s not the point. Top-level sports requires more than constant guesswork to succeed. You can see this easily when teams are broken down, as was the case with Brazil vs Germany in the last World Cup. It was clear that the Brazilians lost positional sense often and suffered harshly to a better organised outfit. In a way, that is the end of the story.

Managing, or ‘getting them to work together for a common good’, cannot take you very far at the highest level because most teams will want to do the same, so are neutralised. That’s when you need to have special players or special plays that can give the edge.

Style reflects using what you have to the best advantage. If you have a bunch of speedy, right-footed dribblers, you can play differently than if you have a bunch of plodding left-footed hoofers. Both may succeed or fail, depending on luck and ability to neutralise their opponents, and also simply by the regularity with which they score. Scoring is difficulty if you are not organised and if you think that just playing it around will do the trick. Maybe that’s where Jamaican football hasn’t figured things out.

If Mr Higgins thinks that having leaders who are just ‘good at managing people’, who ‘understands just the basics of football’ is all, good luck to him.

Dennis Jones


What is perhaps interesting about Mr. Higgins’ contention is what he means by ‘lower levels’. I watched Jamaica’s men’s senior football team play Canada last night, in a friendly in Canada. They lost 3-1. Jamaica is ranked #85 and Canada #122, in the latest FIFA rankings. Not surprising, Germany (now World Cup holders) is #1; but San Marino is bottom at #208. On that basis, Jamaica is comfortably in the top half, while Canada is in the bottom half of the rankings. So, does that mean that one or both of them ‘needs’ coaching, because they are as low as they are? Perhaps, I need to give Mr. Higgins some credit for positing that idea. It would suggest that Brazil needs no coach, and that Scolari was to blame for their shocking 7-1 defeat to Germany. Likewise, Manchester United, need not bother with a coach, and all the searching for someone to replace Sir Alex Ferguson was a waste of time and that Louis van Gaal, is just selling snake oil. It would also suggest, if the football world believed it, that top coaches should be flocking to places like San Marino (or Jamaica or Canada) to coach, rather than to England, Spain, Italy, Germany, or Holland, where lots of top teams play, which presumably do not need coaches, if Mr. Higgins is correct. Yet, it’s not so. 
Well, who is wrong on this? I know what I think. But, I’m biased, being both an economist and a football coach 🙂