A former Premier League manager approached us here at Tales and asked that we publish his diaries, so he could show the public what life is like out of the game. His only request was that he remained anonymous. Below is this week’s entry:
When scouring the football media for hot news, as I often do, I noticed a topic that has recently gone from ‘hot’ up to a ‘burning issue.’ Yes, I’m talking about players changing position. It seems that over at Manchester United, there’s a growing dispute between Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba. Pogba feels he is playing out of position, whereas Jose believes the midfielder needs to learn the position he has been placed in.
Personally, I believe that the manager is king in any situation. If I was United boss, Pogba would be punished severely for his actions. Just ask Mark Fish, who I once made fight a wild boar with his bare hands. The last time I saw him he said he’s never eaten pork since as ‘a man cannot eat that which he cannot defeat in battle.’
Naturally, I put the feelers out to see if I could be of any service to Manchester United. Unfortunately, I was denied access to the AON complex and was reminded of the restraining order that is still in place. I was only attempting to apply for the job in 2013! Maybe using a 10-foot high ventriloquist doll of Sir Matt Busby was in poor taste, but there was no need to get the lawyers involved.
Converting a player’s position is not that hard, really. People often jump to conclusions and assume it’s simply working on the training pitch until the player ‘gets it.’ While this is part of the process, there is a far more important task awaiting the manager. He basically has to rewire the player’s brain.
It can be quite difficult to completely break a player’s instincts, before building him back up again into a professional footballer. Luckily for Jose, below I have compiled a guide: how to convert a player’s position. Obviously, it is different depending on where they are moving to (I have written over 30 different versions of this guide). The one you are about to read is changing an attacking midfielder into a deep-lying midfielder.
Step 1: Break his brain
You need to get your player to regress back to before he knew how to be an attacking midfielder. Don’t go too far and remove his knowledge of football altogether. I did that with a Charlton youth player once, now if he sees something spherical he gets a nosebleed, the poor kid.
No, you simply need to remove his desire to attack at all times. If he tries to move forward with too much gusto, verbally abuse him. If he tries again, physically attack him. After a third attempt to be offensive, maybe, I don’t know lock him away for a while? Get creative, you need to do anything you can to curb that desire. Once you’ve achieved that, you have your blank slate.
Step 2: Get him settled in a variety of locations so he will be happy in his new surroundings
Your player is going to be used to occupying certain spaces on the field. He will be comfortable further up the pitch, rather than the trenches near the defence. This needs to change.
Start by putting him in uncomfortable positions out in the real world. A word of warning, you’re going to have to go the extra mile to do this. I have had to put on many different costumes and adopt several different personas to get this technique to work.
Maybe your player will order a coffee and the barista just happens to spill it on him? Maybe he gets to the till at a supermarket, only to find the cashier can’t operate the machine? Or (a personal favourite of mine), maybe your player is accosted in a car park for his poor reverse parking technique?
Once you’ve harassed your player enough to make him feel he can be comfortable in any situation, it is time to go to DEFCON 1. Capture the player and dispose of him somewhere out in the wild. I once left Matt Holland blindfolded on the Norfolk Broads. He didn’t come back for a few weeks. We told the press he had sprained an ankle, but upon his return, he had a new beard and had lost a load of weight, which I think gave the game away somewhat.
Step 3: Get him to start thinking in 3D space to increase his awareness
Your attacking midfielder spends most of his time facing the opponent’s goal and doesn’t need too much awareness of what is behind him. But when he’s deeper in your side, he needs to exist in 3D space. Going from a SNES player to a PlayStation 2 one, if you will.
To achieve this, you need to hit him with multiple stimuli from every angle. I invested in several tennis ball launchers that I would set up on the training ground. Whenever my chosen subject would be at training they were set to go off. Sure, there were a few minor injuries to innocent bystanders and we ruined the careers of several of the apprentices we used to retrieve the loose balls, but these were worthy prices to pay.
I also took to ambushing the player when he least expected it like an overzealous defender might on the field. Leaping onto them from balconies, arriving late in the corridor and going in high in the car park. There’s no referee on the training ground. Sometimes a manager has to resort to violence.
Step 4: Success!
Once you have gone through that three-step process, your attacking midfielder will now be a deep-lying one. He has forgotten all he knows about attacking football. Put him in unfamiliar surroundings on the pitch and he is comfortable. Come at him from any angle and he will manoeuvre himself into space.
I’ve now got Julie chasing Jose up. Hopefully, he will receive the above guide and be able to turn Pogba into the deep-lying midfielder he wants him to become. Otherwise, I’ll be going back to the garage to get the dummy. Maybe me and Sir Matt Dummy can get our point across from a distance of 20 feet or more.