Wednesday 13 December 2017

Cursed by the 'leetle detiles'

John O'Brien

There's a story told about Germany manager Joachim Loew which might give an indication of the task that awaits Ireland when they meet in a critical World Cup qualifying encounter at the Aviva on Friday. Not fully satisfied with his team's playing style when he succeeded Jurgen Klinsmann in 2006, Loew conducted analysis on the average length of time his players took on the ball and discovered it was 2.8 seconds. Far too long for his liking.

So Loew worked out ways he could reduce this. He wanted a faster tempo, less dwelling on the ball. Drills were introduced to training, special sprints devised, the players taught methods they were encouraged to bring back to their clubs to work on. And, in time, Loew got his wish: the average time a German player spent on the ball was reduced to a single second.

It was Klinsmann, impressed by the Moneyball ethos of amassing statistics and data analysis he witnessed while working in the US, who introduced the scientific element into German football and, under Loew, it has gathered speed.

The Sporthochschule -- the national sports university in Cologne -- was brought on board in 2005 and, ever since, a team of sports scientists is at hand, compiling detailed analysis on whatever subject the manager desires.

It is said that the dossiers prepared in Cologne for a single match can sometimes stretch to hundreds of pages thick. Based in Poland during the Euro 2012 Championships, Loew and his backroom team would gather daily in the Dwor Oliwksi Hotel in Gdansk and sift through the dossiers, taking from them whatever was deemed important or useful.

Under Loew, too, Germany is said to lead the way when it comes to the use of GPS monitoring equipment in training.

Now, you're entitled to read all this and shake your head and say, so what? A manager can compile enough statistics to shred a small forest and still, when it comes down to it, it's 11 men against 11 on the pitch, an arena where heart and spirit can always trump science.

You might even cast your mind back to 2002 when Ireland -- to borrow Niall Quinn's memorable phrase -- were "Ragarse Rovers" and still neither the might of Cameroon nor Germany could beat them.

But the world has moved on now, sport indisputably with it. Surely nobody believes that the old indomitable Irish spirit counts for much anymore, not when it isn't backed up by some seriously thoughtful preparation, especially not when ordinary teams regularly run rings around us in the Aviva.

As a man we've come to know this side of the world might say, it's the "leetle detiles" that count.

Yup. No matter how hard you try or how willing the spirit, it's the little details that get you in the end.

Sunday Indo Sport

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