Success in football is not just determined by the end product of scoring goals or preventing them.
Success stems from decision making both on and off the park – decisions that are influential in putting you on the road to joy or that have serious repercussions and put you on the road to despair.
During training at my old club 1860 Munich in the German Bundesliga, one of my teammates used his hand to control the ball in a small-sided game- but continued to play on. I was furious, saw it as bad sportsmanship, so I chased him and ran my studs down his achilles tendon, a brutal foul – a brain snap on my behalf.
The coach looked at me and said “Zelic, go home, you-re done today, and don-t even think of coming back tomorrow unless you-ve cooled off”.
I stormed off the training ground and didn-t even bother going to the changerooms – I jumped straight into my car and drove away with my training gear & boots on!
Now, I was a regular starter at the club, one of the clubs most important players – at the time we were fighting for a European Cup spot in the league – and the coach and I got on quite well. But he drew the line with this indiscretion, refused to let me get away with it.
With my actions I had put the coaches authority to the test, to which he responded – not just to make it clear to me, but also the rest of the players who was running the show at the club. Discipline is paramount and the coach is the big boss was the message.
Next morning before training the coach pulled me aside and said “Next time I send you home, at least take your boots off when you drive away!” Done! Perfect man management – issue resolved.
A few weeks back after the Victory vs Sydney game, Mehmet Durakovic was quoted as saying “We wanted to take Harry Kewell off, but he wouldn-t come off” – so Harry was left on to play out the rest of the game.
Now, a player not wanting to come off is not unheard of, it-s not standard practice, but it happens – Harry was desperate to play out the full 90 minutes. The more concerning issue though, was the fact that he was allowed to do it.
A coach who allows a player to reverse his decision will quickly find himself heading down a direct path to losing any kind of authority he already had.
To get extra performance out of players a coach has to mirror an image of someone on the sidelines who is in control, someone who-s decisions will not be questioned, someone who has it within oneself to make tough, and unpopular decisions. The coach is the chief, the one that is meant to lead, the one that displays strength. That moment though, was a moment of weakness
Durakovic is an inexperienced coach at this level, so his priority should not just be to gain the respect of the playing group with his football ideas and philosophy, but to display leadership & strength.
That includes only making decisions for himself and sticking to them – decisions that he believes are for the good of the team, not ones to make anyone else happy, and not ones that are open for debate with players or members of his coaching staff. As an inexperienced coach just starting out, it has to be, “My way or the highway”.
Yes, players also carry responsibility for performances, but the presence of the coach and how he deals with certain situations go a long way in determining how successful a team can be.
All coaches need some time to fully implement their ideas, but Melbourne Victory were so below par in the derby game last weekend that I asked myself, is Durakovic letting time slip away because he is not mirroring enough presence to motivate his players to greater heights?
Or by thinking that a more than able playing staff plus a superstar of the calibre of Harry Kewell will be enough to get results?
To think that way would be naive. Even great players, superstars need to be motivated, challenged and given direction. A strong squad with strong characters needs to be led and dealt with by a strong personality.
Melbourne Victory can definitely get their season back on track – without a doubt. But only if Mehmet Durakovic shows leadership qualities for his players to follow – and responsibility on and off the park is confronted and embraced by both coach and players, instead of being just passed on.