“It’s so hard to be a football coach” by Andrea Orlandi (Brighton & Hove Albion FC player)
September 6, 2013
Because of the friendship that we share and the fact that I love your idea of creating a web page, I’d be delighted to write a few lines sharing my thoughts on what it is to be a football coach and what this means for a professional footballer such as myself. My perspective is that of someone with personal experience who understands just how difficult a job it is, even more so now since I started studying for my coaching badges in the UK two years ago.
I've had different kinds of coaches throughout my career: youth development, professional football coaches: and I have learned something from each one of them and they all have given me something, whether positive or negative, that has enabled me to progress in my career.
An autocratic or easy-going coach? I don’t believe that either end of the spectrum is positive and that perhaps a ‘happy medium’ would be best: a balance between an authoritarian and self-management style? I think the most important quality for a coach is to be able adapt to the players at his disposal and knowing what attitude to take once he has analyzed the group of human beings with whom he will work. The most important task for a coach in football today is that of psychologist: finding a way to understand the player, and above all, understand the group as a whole. You need to know how to sustain 25 players knowing that every weekend there will be at least 13 members of that group in a worse mood than the others. How do you deal with that? With sincerity and with authority. But, authority does not mean screaming orders: authority is attained by earning everybody’s respect. And respect is gained by backing up your words with deeds: demonstrating that you are capable of training players at a high level. I've had coaches who have deafened me with their yelling, yet failed to get anything out of me - and coaches who never have to raise their voice to shake up a dressing room, and these are the ones who are really capable of conveying their message.
I’ve been won over by a training methodology based on ball possession and high intensity; others prefer longer more physical sessions: each to their own. But what I think we all agree upon as players is that we all appreciate a coach who is honest with you. For example, we do not like to hear implausible stories to justify a substitution. We prefer to be told straight: 'So and so is better than you. Practise hard and show me that you can play'. In this sense I've experienced all kinds of situations. I've had a very sincere coach like Paulo Sousa, who could look into your eyes and make what he wanted clear - and from whom I learned a lot on a tactical level. In contrast, when I first joined one club in the UK, working under a widely respected coach, I had to listen to far too many of the kind of excuses that I hate. I can accept it if I am not playing all that much, I am a player who demands a lot of himself and fights to do what is necessary to turn the situation around, but in the two years I spent working under him I did not know what I was supposed to be doing, nor did I feel involved. I found many of my peers in identical circumstances, who did not feel part of the team, that's the worst feeling a player can have. I try to be objective and see things from every possible angle - and I say this not because I didn’t get to play as much as I expected. Therefore, in contrast, working under Brendan Rodgers at Swansea (the current coach of Liverpool) things started well, but after I suffered several injuries in his first year I played just 6 Premier League games. Do I have a bad word to say about him? No. Why? Because he proved to be a great coach. He earned my respect with innovative training sessions, by showing concern for those of us who were not playing and creating quality training sessions for us, I respected his great knowledge of football and for being honest with me. I was never misled. Of course I would have liked to have played more, and perhaps deserved to, I don’t know; but I never had the wool pulled over my eyes or felt taken for a ride. That's something I appreciate very much. It was a negative year, yet I took plenty of positives from the experience: it all depends on whether you see the glass as half-full or half-empty.
I will not go on for too long, but I leave you with a final example. Another important feature of a coach is that he should be a good motivator. For example, I went into a new season in the UK on the back of what had been bad year for me and I needed the new coach to guide me a little and tell me what he wanted from me. In our first pre-season game, the coach told us who was in the team without telling us in what position each of us would play. Before I took to the field I approached him and asked: “Where do you want me to play, boss?” To which he replied: “I don’t care, do what you feel like.” I was quite surprised and left feeling a little lost. I thought he had been like that with me because he didn’t care what I did, but he was the same with everyone.
On the other hand, under Gustavo Poyet at Brighton, a similar thing happened when, 20 minutes into my home debut, as I was about to take to the pitch, I asked him: “Boss, where do you want me?'. To which he replied: “Where do you prefer to play? Right, left? Whatever happens, you'll be phenomenal!” I went out on to that pitch ready to take on the world, I felt like I had already won. It was exactly what I needed to hear and at the right time. I couldn’t have put it better myself. There are clearly two different ways of doing things, as those two coaches showed me - and both are succesful - so it is clear that in the world of football there is no absolute truth. I am aware of the complexity of it all. To me, it is hard enough putting together training sessions for 15 year old kids, I don’t even want to imagine what it is like to have to prepare a professional team and plan for an entire season. But I hope I have made my personal view clear about what I appreciate and look for in a coach.
All that is left is for me to thank all of those who have helped me up to this stage in my career: my coaches at the BSB soccer school in Barcelona, Xavi Ruiz, Frank Jimenez, Juan Barbero, Natxo Gonzalez, Edu Career, Txutxi Aranguren, Quique Costas, Joan Barbara, Paulo Sousa, Bruno Oliveira, Brendan Rodgers and Gustavo Poyet. And to the many others who have played their part: many thanks!