Managers' 'not fit enough' claims are 'inflammatory & dangerous'

Frank Lampard (left) and Callum Walsh's 'new manager cycle' (right)

Frank Lampard (left) and Callum Walsh's 'new manager cycle' (right)

MANAGERS who arrive at a new club and publicly claim their players “are not fit enough” risk being “inflammatory and dangerous”, says former Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United Head of Performance Callum Walsh.

There are numerous examples of this having happened over the years. The latest high-profile one came a few weeks ago, when new Chelsea boss Frank Lampard suggested the squad he had inherited from Graham Potter was not fit enough.

Speaking ahead of the Champions League game against Real Madrid on April 18th, Lampard said: “When we do get the chance to work, I think the team needs some physical work. I think that’s important for us because at this level you have to be right on the limit and we are not on the limit right now.

“I think that can be a capacity thing with the players for whatever reason. It doesn’t matter how we got there but it needs to be addressed now. When you are a yard short, you are just a yard short. Or when you are receiving the ball and not confident, you take your first touch backwards.

“That can sometimes feel like a hunger or lack of passion thing but I don’t feel that.”

Walsh, who has written a number of excellent LinkedIn posts around the theme of ‘Why football is broken,’ believes comments like Lampard’s are made to “protect coaches and buy more time if immediate results have not changed”.

However, the inevitable consequence is that the work and professionalism of the coaches and practitioners who came before are cast in doubt.

“Statements like this can be inflammatory and dangerous by creating a narrative around a practitioner’s ability to do their job, thus creating less security for the practitioner,” Walsh writes.

The impact on remaining staff can be that they “play it safe,” he says.

“[Such comments] simultaneously demotivating and reduce productivity of staff, causing them to play their role 'safe' and just agree to any manager’s wants or needs to keep their jobs and not necessarily the role they are hired and paid for by the club - to look after the players' wellbeing on a short, medium and long-term basis.”

Walsh, who has also worked for clubs including Wigan, Cardiff and Liverpool during a 15-year career in professional sport, disputes whether any elite footballers are “not fit enough.”

He says any issues are more likely to arise from managers having different game models from their predecessors.

“Physical output is important, but can be drastically different depending on each coach’s game model and in-game requirements,” he writes. “Hence the importance of trying to hire coaches with similar game models.

“A major factor in not being able to carry out a game model for a sustained period of time can be if it is drastically different from the previous one. It can take time for players to carry out new instructions and be subconsciously competent of the new requirements. This could be a tactical acquisition period.”

Interestingly, when Sky Sports covered Lampard’s comments they flashed up a graphic (above) showing only three sides - Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa - had “run less” than Chelsea in the Premier League this season.

The metric used was average km/h per team. However, Chelsea’s stats - 105.72 km/h - were almost identical to those of Villa and Brighton, who have enjoyed stellar seasons.

Villa striker Ollie Watkins recently spoke about how Unai Emery, who succeeded Steven Gerrard as manager in late October, had told him to run LESS.

“I sometimes want to come out of the box, but he literally says, ‘Don't go there'," Watkins said. "He says it as bluntly as that, ‘Don't go, stay there'. It makes me laugh, but it works.

“He is very demanding on us. It means I know what to expect from other players, say from the number 10, Emi Buendía - I know exactly what Unai wants him to do when he has the ball and exactly what movement to make.”

Watkins’ goal output and xG has shot up under Emery and the team have risen rapidly up the table.

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