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Friday 19 September 2014

Operation Dokter – new performance director sets out Irish plan

Dutchman has clear vision for the future but first he must help find Trapattoni's successor

Published 10/10/2013 | 05:00

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FAI High Performance Director Ruud Dokter keeps a close eye on James McCarthy during training this week – the Dutchman insists Ireland’s style of play must evolve
Republic of Ireland interim manager Noel King, left, with Ruud Dokter, High Performance Director

RUUD Dokter is standing at the side of an Ireland training session, but he's not here to speak about preparations for tomorrow's game with Germany.

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He is part of the process to select the next senior manager and we are also told that is off the agenda for his first press briefing as an FAI employee, although he politely deals with inevitable queries.

The 58-year-old doesn't give away much, although he acknowledges it's a 'smart question' to ask if he's speaking Dutch to any candidate, with Dick Advocaat and Rene Meulensteen believed to be interested and Guus Hiddink an ambitious target who is more interested in managing at next year's World Cup.

He stopped short of discussing individuals, however.

While the succession race is the headline story in Irish football at this point in time, Dokter, the FAI's new high performance director, is examining the bigger picture that was discussed at length in the fall-out from the end of the Trapattoni era. It's a simple question with a complicated answer. How do we produce better players?

Topically, as Dokter spoke in Malahide, German boss Joachim Loew was on home turf giving a press conference where he suggested that Ireland are likely to retain the same style of play regardless of the manager. The stereotype lingers. Dokter is aware of the perception and believes it is possible to change it, even if it's a long-term strategy. He doesn't get dragged into putting timelines on it.

What he does want is the input of Trapattoni's replacement. The Italian was strongly criticised for keeping his distance from the underage structures, but Dokter would like to engage with the next man on a regular basis and, in an ideal world, would like if the senior team's approach to the game mirrored the style of play favoured by underage side. But that vision is a long way away.

PASSION

"It's a big job and it's a long-term process and we need consistency," he stressed. "There is so much work to be done. It's not about me saying: 'I am from Holland and this is what you have to do.' That would be nonsense.

"You cannot copy from another country, but you can take the good parts. You can't copy a style. You can't copy Barcelona, you can't copy whatever. There are certain principles in youth football. It's about the process, about ideas, about consistency and everybody getting on the same page. It's about getting the Irish passion for the game and the good things.

"The Irish are known across Europe for the direct game, the passion for chasing the ball. You have to keep that, (but) the game has evolved and we have to adapt to that too. What is the continental game, how we should play and how it should be developed.

"That's the key and that takes time. I have met so many good people here in this country and there are so many opportunities. There is also a great desire for further development.

"I hear all the time: 'We don't have technical players.' We do, I've seen technical players, but we need creative players and also players who can make good decisions in a game and that's why coaches should be focusing on allowing the children to make mistakes. It's very important, because in that way, they will develop their creativity instead of stopping and passing, focusing on the result. That's what we have to develop."

After spending the majority of the past 30 years working with the Dutch FA, Dokter has arrived into a different culture where squabbling factions in the schoolboy game are nowhere near being in the same chapter, let alone on the same page.

The ongoing row over the 'radius rule' is just one aspect of the battle to get the elite players working together on a more regular basis. Dokter acknowledges that the FAI's Emerging Talent programme – which brings together 14 to 17-year-olds – needs to develop so that they can monitor players earlier in their development.

He would also advocate using the summer months more productively and feels that small-sided matches are a positive step in the right direction, which is in line with ideas discussed by John Devine of the South Dublin Football League last week.

"I have an open mind," he continued, adding that he would speak to Devine if necessary. "Underage football is a joint responsibility for the association and the clubs. Everyone who is involved in football should have a joint responsibility.

"I was lucky you know back in the '80s to start with Rinus Michels developing the Dutch system. You have to start somewhere. It's (about) a common philosophy. That's the key in developing. You have good players, but the key is getting everyone doing the same thing.

"Underage football, the underage pathway from six to 19, from the small-sided game to the 11-a-side game, at what age do we play 3 v 3 or 4 v 4? What age do we play the 7-a-side, the 9-a-side, the 11-a-side game? what size are the pitches? what size are the goals? what size are the balls? It should be a universal pathway. You have to look at the training sessions. How many training sessions do you need?

"The Emerging Talent programme, I'm probably looking to lower the age, because it gives you more time to work with the talented players. At 14, it might be too late. I'm looking at 10, 11, eight. More time allows you more contact hours with the talented players and we do have talented players."

He is working on a technical plan and a technical committee that will bring these issues to the table, preaching a message of unity.

Yet, in the short term, he will have to juggle those commitments around meeting and greeting potential bosses. It's a distraction from his real target which has far-reaching implications.

As a first impression, he said all the right things yesterday, but implementing his goals will be a challenge. "I know where I am going," he stressed, "I have an idea and a vision." A long journey beckons – he needs a clear road to make it a successful one.

Irish Independent

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