COMMENT: Time to give British practitioners a fair chance
Written by Simon Austin — January 21, 2018
CARLO ANCELOTTI made an interesting admission when I spoke to him a few weeks ago.
“I wanted to bring my own staff with me when I arrived at Chelsea in 2009,” he said, “but the club said, 'before you make a decision, check the staff and tell us if everything is ok and if you want to change something’.”
Having previously worked only in Italy - latterly with an all-conquering AC Milan side - Ancelotti’s instinct had been to install his own men at Stamford Bridge.
At Chelsea’s urging, he gave the incumbents an opportunity to prove themselves - and it turned out to be one of the best decisions he made.
“I used the first two months to understand the staff who were there, including [Head of Science] Nick [Broad],” he remembered.
“Nick was working there doing a lot of things - checking the training sessions, collecting data with GPS and cardio, doing nutrition for the players. He was working with [fitness coach] Glen Driscoll. I was impressed, because he was young but really experienced with a lot of knowledge and motivation. I was surprised.”
In fact, a lot of the work turned out to be more advanced than it had been at AC Milan.
“Chelsea were better organised [than AC Milan],” Ancelotti admitted. “They were used to collecting data in Milan, but not in this specific situation. We were used to collecting data from cardio but not from GPS. Nick had experience with that.”
Like the excellent leader he is, Ancelotti took this lesson with him for the rest of his career.
“When I arrive in a new club, I have to check the situation,” he said. “After that, if there is an adjustment to do, we can do it. Before, it is correct to check the people who are working there.”
Unfortunately, this philosophy doesn't extend to a lot of managers and clubs. Too often, when a new manager is appointed, he brings in his own staff and those already in place are handed their P45s.
Because many of these managers are foreign, their staff tend to be as well.
Antonio Conte brought nine Italians, including his brother Gianluca, to Stamford Bridge at the same time.
It makes you wonder where opportunities for British staff - regarded as among the best in the world - will come.
Someone on Twitter accused me of xenophobia when I raised this issue a few weeks ago.
Yet the situation in England is in stark contrast to that in Germany, where the vast majority of coaches and practitioners in pro football are German. Don't we want to develop our own practitioners and give them career opportunities within the English game?
As many as 15,000 students are graduating from sport science degrees every year, and many aspire to work in pro football.
The issue is not confined to the top six clubs, either. When Walter Mazzarri took over at Watford in the summer of 2016, he brought six Italians, only to later admit that language barriers had been a problem for him.
The club's former Head of Medical, Richard Collinge, is now suing the club for discrimination based on nationality after he lost his job in September 2016, a claim the club denies.
Aside from nationality, this constant churn just doesn't seem good for anyone.
When Garry Monk took over at Middlesbrough last summer, he brought his own Head of Physical Performance, Sean Rush, with him, and Head of Fitness Adam Kerr lost his job.
Six months later, Monk himself was sacked, along with all the staff he'd brought in. "It was very difficult, calling my staff the night before Christmas Eve," he said.
Jobs have become so precarious that several performance staff have insisted on specific clauses being inserted into their contracts, ensuring they are properly compensated if they're sacked. Unfortunately, this isn't realistic for staff further down the performance ladder though.
As I say, this state of flux isn’t good for anyone.
First of all, it isn’t good for the practitioners. Through no fault of their own, they're losing jobs because a manager has changed.
Unlike managers, they’re not highly paid and won’t receive big pay-offs though. Often, they will also have moved home and family to take a new job.
Secondly, the situation isn’t good for players.
Last season, Andros Townsend praised the impact of new Crystal Palace Head of Performance Ryland Morgans.
"Ryland has got me getting the most out of my body,” he said. “Now I'm putting in great shifts for the team defensively, and down the other end I'm managing to pick up a few goals and assists as well which is nice."
A few months later, when Roy Hodgson replaced Frank de Boer as manager, Morgans was sacked, just eight months into his post.
Finally, the flux isn't good for clubs, either. It means they lack continuity, waste cash on pay-offs, and spend time and money recruiting replacements.
So what’s the solution? One seems to be to have a Sporting Director leading recruitment in the different football departments, instead of the manager. Of course a new boss will want his own core of assistants (Ancelotti said, “it’s important to have people you can delegate to and trust”) but the Sporting Director can ensure continuity in the science and medical and coaching departments.
Saying that though, Norwich Sporting Director Stuart Webber brought in several German staff from Borussia Dortmund B to replace the British incumbents after he arrived last season. Manager Daniel Farke came in, along with assistant Edmund Riemer, Head of Sport Science Chris Domogalla and first-team coach Christian Fluthmann.
So perhaps, more than anything, there needs to be recognition of the crucial role coaches and performance staff play, along with a commitment to give skilled British practitioners a fair chance. Sadly, that's often not the case right now.