Tuesday 21 May 2019

Comment: Difficult for Damien Duff to modernise by using old-school thinking

Shamrock Rovers coach Damien Duff
Shamrock Rovers coach Damien Duff
Earlier on the same day as after Dyer spoke, Damien Duff (p) was outlining his approach as Shamrock Rovers under 15s manager and the contrast was striking.
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

I went to a school where, with one particular teacher, a misbehaving child would be told to stand on a coloured tile which was distinct from the others on the floor.

From there, they would be told to squat down, their hands wouldn't be allowed to touch the ground and they would be left in that position until the teacher deemed they had been punished enough. Try it for a few minutes.

You might be able to walk afterwards or, more likely, as with most kids in the class, your thighs would burn to the point where crawling to your desk was the least painful option.

Lots of people who became successful emerged from that teacher's class but it'd be difficult to argue that such a sadistic streak had anything to do with it. Thankfully, things have changed.

Last week, Kieron Dyer articulated the differences between how kids like himself were treated when they went into professional football as teenagers and how, as a 38-year-old coach with Ipswich Town's under 16s, he now has to deal with them.

"There's the hairdryer (where a manager would roar so close to a player's face it'd blow their hair backwards) that everyone talks about and I suffered many of them when I was a youth team player," Dyer told 'The Debate' on Sky Sports last week.

"I cannot give my kids the hairdryer treatment because that would be classed as bullying. Parents would be straight on, there'd be complaints going into the club.

"We'd have a meeting and all the officers in it would be such a big thing so the game is improving in that way. From where we started as kids, and how the game's progressing, I think it's slowly phasing out of the game."

Earlier on the same day as after Dyer spoke, Damien Duff was outlining his approach as Shamrock Rovers under 15s manager and the contrast was striking.

"I'm probably too tough on them, they probably hate me but that's the way I was brought up underage with Brian (Kerr) and senior team with Brian and obviously I went to Blackburn at 16, Kenny Dalglish, Alan Irvine, Ray Harford - God rest his soul - there was never any positives really, I was always told how s*** I was or I needed to do something better. That was the way I was brought up so that's the way I'm doing it.

"I'll give them their 'well dones' and what have you but I don't think you learn much from that, it's what you've done wrong and what you can do better. That's the way I was brought up, in home life, at Blackburn. I was scared of Alan Irvine, he was our youth team manager but he was probably the best coach I've ever worked under."

For a player famous for loving his sleep, it wasn't surprising that Duff's decision to put on 6.30am training sessions with Rovers earned plenty of headlines as did his description of "pain in the a**e parents". Just in case the journalists present were wondering whether Duff mis-spoke about parents, they were told "put that in please".

"My little Johnny is this or that', p**s off really, I try to treat them like adults," he continued, regarding parents trying to influence his approach. "I put on adult sessions I got in the Premier League for 20 years, that's the way I treat them, the way Brian treated me."

Had the same words come from someone like 64-year-old Graeme Souness, they would have been accused of living in the past and told that the world has changed. When it's a 38-year-old like Duff delivering the message, however, it's welcomed as "telling it like it is".

And yet, if that was the best approach to get the best out of children, it's not unreasonable to think the development system in Britain might not be the cattle mart that it has become where drop-off rates are alarming and kids are chucked on the scrapheap.

According to a David Conn report in 'The Guardian' this month, there are currently 12,000 boys training four times per week from the age of eight with professional clubs in England.

PFA research has found that if six players make it as far as 16 years of age to earn a scholarship, five them are gone from professional football by the age of 21. There are 92 professional clubs in English league and, with those in Ireland and Scotland added in, it means there are over 2,000 places to fight for at any one time, and yet, it bears repeating, that five out of six who are good enough at 16 can't get among this 2,000 five years later.

Another piece of research in 2012 by Clive Platts at Chester University interviewed 303 17 and 18-year-olds at 21 clubs. Five years later, four of them have professional deals.

In most other professions in the real world, 99pc of 17-year-olds not reaching their goal five years later would be cause for a major overhaul but it's almost treated like a badge of honour for the one per cent who do.

It's out of this environment which Duff emerged to have an outstanding career but while the likes of Irvine were influential, it would have been a major failure of coaching had someone of Duff's ability not made it.

"I have never seen a talent like Damien Duff," said former Blackburn Rovers team-mate Craig Hignett. "Gazza was special and Juninho was a little box of tricks, but neither had the explosive skills that Damien possesses."

It's unlikely that Duff is coaching a player who is as talented as he was, which makes it all the stranger that he is taking the approach that got him to the highest level, yet failed so many others. If someone picks a horse at random from a race card, they'll eventually produce a winner and, even by doing that, you'd expect a better record than getting just four right out of 300.

For ex-professionals to bring through the next generation it might be of more benefit to find out why players of similar talent to theirs didn't make it rather than focusing on why they did. It might be difficult to get everybody to agree that 6.30am training sessions are the best time for children to learn - especially if you're describing parents as "a pain in the a**e" but at least it shows a desire to innovate on Duff's part.

Combining that with methods from the last century, however, might prove a lot more difficult.

Irish Independent

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