One of the most intriguing aspects of this 2012 season is how managers are operating within the strict financial guidelines now in place at most Airtricity League clubs. At this extremely difficult time when many club administrators will deem it a success to simply retain their professional status most of those involved will still hope to see the team manager create a style of play that will maximise the talents of the individual players at the club, hopefully keep the club in as healthy a position as possible and in the process generate as much revenue through the turn-stiles to help alleviate the financial strain.
This means of course that the man in charge of the team - under enough strain at the best of times - will feel more than a little pressurised to get some early points on board and at the same time play a reasonably attractive style of football. Over recent years there has thankfully been an acceptable willingness on the part of managers to create more expansive teams and as an integral part of this development, encouraging players to make their own decisions instead of a constant screaming of instructions from the sidelines.
To this end in particular the MNS Show on RTE 2 every Monday evening provides a real service to the game. It is however, something of a two-edged sword in that while giving managers and players some very welcome exposure, it also quite rightly asks questions about how both groups are performing.
This week, on the back of the poor game at Dalymount Park last Sunday afternoon, Con Murphy wondered whether a manager with an inexperienced squad should attempt to get his team to play nice football or perhaps be a little more direct in his approach in order to try to gain some valuable points, and while I accept the merits of the question the simple truth is that it is not a question anyone can really answer definitively.
To administer a free flowing style of play the principles of the manager must initially be in place and he then must believe he has the players to comply with his earnest desire to pass the ball. The next requirements to accelerate these circumstances in a progressive manner are the training and playing conditions, which are absolutely essential if the style is to be implemented consistently. Whetever style of play a manager imposes on his players he must create a mindset that is constantly furthering the progressions on a weekly basis.
As we witnessed last Sunday such beneficial conditions are not always available to a manager in the Airtricity League and it would be naive in the extreme if a manager insisted his team play to a style that was agreeable to outsiders but not conducive to the betterment of his team.
The vast improvements in the coaching system hosted by The FAI has contributed much to the education of Irish managers and the technical requirements necessary for profitable involvement in European competition has been demonstrated year after year. But notwithstanding this, if a manager finds himself without the accoutrements necessary to play in a certain manner, he is simply creating a rod for his own back if he just follows the pack.
There is no doubt that the alterations to the game over recent years (i.e. the standard and style of refereeing and the switch to summer soccer) have contributed greatly to providing more technically gifted players to the league. It follows then that most teams should be quite capable of playing a “pass and move” type of game.
But whatever pattern of play a manager eventually decides upon, it is his professional responsibility to guarantee that the players are able to practise consistently in the preferred style. In a professional sense there is nothing more worrying than to go to a game and see a team play in a way that reveals a lack of structure; where players, even while giving full commitment, are not altogether sure what their roles in the team actually are.
It is only a few short years ago that League of Ireland football was an almost incestuous entity with little or no respect outside its own narrow confines. Those days have disappeared, forever I hope, and the vast majority of those now involved accept the requirement to maintain a professional ethos based on a product of fast and flowing football.
Money is tight whatever line of work one is involved in so there can be no words of complaints from the world of football. It just means we have to work that little bit harder and with a greater degree of organisation.