Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Why the Canaries, after the Canaries, is a good idea.

As a correspondent reminded me recently, "C'mon then, where are you", - "let's be 'avin' you".

Delia's famous on-pitch entreaty to her recalcitrant fans seems particularly apt this week, given that we've just recently had to suffer a 3-2 reverse at the Liberty to Paul Lambert's buzzing Norwich City, and you can bet your bippy that the doom-mongers and nay-sayers will crawl out of the woodwork, and demand that our Club, far from "gallivanting" off to the Sun, should serve some penance, maybe cleaning some toilets or tossing a burger or two at some future-featured-fast-food outlet.

Hey guys, this is not some diasporic act - the break is planned, and has always featured in the long-term outlook of the club - the better to prepare for the remainder of the season.

So, here's a very personal message to anyone who thinks that way - chill out, please, and try to understand..

A Winter Break is something of a perennial in the discussion of British Football. Whilst much of the European Continent particularly takes such a calendar break, regularly, for granted, newcomers(particularly) to the Premier League are both fascinated and frustrated by our remarkable Fixture congestion and resolution, particularly over the Christmas period.

I think it's fair to say that we British fans would be loth to give up those remarkable festive fixtures that seem to spill over each other throughout the holiday period, and there's a strong argument for putting football on when it suits us fans - it may not be the norm in Europe, but I'd suggest that this is something within football where we're better enlightened.

It is, of course, dependent on our differing climates - whilst the snow and cold will continue to disrupt the Bundesliga, although less so La Liga and Serie A - we must respect the modus operandi of these differing Leagues.

However, here at home, we've all seen the more disruptive inclement weather take a (calendar year) different track in the British Isles. Surely if we we were to be "Dormant-in-December", we'd be far more likely to be "Jinxed-in-January".

Whatever, we've got what we've got, and long may it be so.

So just occasionally, as with us Swans this year, there comes a weekend in the New Year when, for myriad reasons, your Club doesn't have a fixture - and not because it's a FIFA-designated Blank Weekend - it's simply down to the fact that you're out of the relevant Cup Competitions, and your League opponents may not be.

In the nPower Championship (or CCC as was) we know from experience how hard a graft a 46 game regular season can be - and then you get to the Play-Offs!

Last year was a tough ask, and whilst we may have slipped into a slightly more nuanced fixture tempo that suits our style, the significant upgrade in quality of opponent has meant that we nowadays have to deal with differing strains and stresses, which make demands on each and every member of the squad.

So, Wow, you've got a free Saturday. What to do ? Why, watch the rest of Planet Football, of course, what else is there?

After the week we've just had, with "handshake-gate" preceding Mick McCarthy's humiliation and subsequent dismissal, it could only happen on Planet Football. Honestly, you couldn't make it up.

There is a difference here though, as we know, between us fans and our Team's players.

Most of us "normal" people will be fitting the coming week and Saturday too, alongside our everyday lives, with a partner often decreeing, particularly with regard to the weekend, that maybe "you can come shopping with me" or "look after the kids, for a change". Been there, done that, shudder.......wonderful, but served my time, thanks.

All flippancy aside, what many of our favourite Clubs have done however is to take the playing squad away, for a refreshing Training Camp on the Continent, - always, to a warmer climate, and often referred to in Tabloidese as a "Sunshine Break " or, more guiltily, "Time off in the Sun".

However much we envy that presentation, I'm here to argue that it firstly makes good sense, and secondly can be beneficial for the team. I ask you, please, to hear me out.

Much is made nowadays of the "pressure" put on modern players and Managers, playing, as they do, in the "best League in the world". Whilst most of us will take that with a pinch of salt, it can't be argued that the genuine competitiveness of their situation, and the subsequent value that retention of the status quo is the minimum requirement.

This is a League where the retention of PL status is almost the financial equivalent of a Champions League place, and we know, from bitter experience, that the social significance of our PL status is huge.

Just ask our bitter rivals up the road. Whilst we're enjoying our first year in the sun, as it were, their recent results will not only have given us Swans a sneaky satisfaction, but the growing panic on their GB's is testament to their increasingly nervous sense of "no, not again!" in the Bottling Stakes.

What can't be argued is that it is, indeed, a tougher ask than in some years previous, to, maybe, re-vivify efforts, and either continue or advance the team's success or, in some cases, perform better than they have been.

So, on that basis alone, we should wish our players "God speed, and have a nice week/end". Unfortunately, I can hear some people mutter already........"how dare they? Paid a bloody fortune and now they're off to Tenerife? Waste of money- not fair!"

Calm down, calm down. Look, the facts are these.

We've not long been a PL team, but our performances this year have seen us win plaudits not just from our own passionate support, who've seen the Club thrive and grow over the last few seasons, but from esteemed and prominent pundits and commentators, and all of those plaudits have been well deserved.

We've now hit a crucial period, where, in all likelihood, the upcoming fixtures are both more difficult and testing, and will shape the outcome of where we'll end up. This is a serious chance to meld the squad into the high-achieving unit we hope it can and will be.

On a personal basis, I don't find it hard to distinguish between any Club's pre-season planning including a spell abroad (Holland, Spain, etc) in order to get the team prepared for the coming season, and some other Clubs' participation in tours to China, the Middle East, Asia, America, Australia even, which seem to me to be more about "growing the brand" than getting the Team fit and ready for the Season.

We've all seen Arsenal, Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and several other lesser giants of the game take this route, not always to their footballing benefit. However, these are also the Clubs who, if they announce that they're jetting off to Malaga for a warm-weather break at this time of year, will be deemed to be forward looking, and "taking care of the playing staff".

Now that we're a member of that self same PL group, shouldn't we at least be deemed to be equally forward thinking by doing something similar? I think so.

It's also important to stress the difference between both kinds of trip, or "jolly", as some would have it, so here goes.

When the first of these foreign jaunts were made, they were, literally, foreign jaunts. In British football, Brian Clough was a leader in this sense - he often took both his Nottm Forest and Derby Championship and European Cup winning team/s to foreign climes - usually Spain, and he would equally bizarrely insist that their their partners came too, with all on the trip encouraged to drink beer, the better to serve Club and Team bonding.

Whilst he may have been misguided on the food and fuelling aspects of such trips, he was undoubtedly a progenitor of the advantageous benefits to be gleaned from top quality, appropriate team training and cohesion. He saw, and reaped the benefits of something that his then opponents took no part in. Whilst Forest were bonding in Malaga mid-season, even Man Utd and other top flight competitors were not quite as enlightened, and their players were corralled in the British Winter.

Nowadays, things are very different. Thank goodness for that.

Fortunately, following the revolutionary change in approaches to fitness and conditioning for elite athletes in modern years, it's accepted that such situation-appropriate changes in routine can reap genuinely result-appropriate rewards. Evidence shows that Teams who have done it correctly have thrived.

Given Brendan Rodgers, our estimable Manager's attention to detail, I think we can all be reassured that this week's transposition of the Playing Squad and Staffs' routine to the Canaries, will be both a reward for the achievements thus far, and an incentive to double our efforts in pursuit of his stated aim - namely that of progression into a stable, sustainable Premiership Club.

This will not be a "jolly" of any sort. Nor will it be some sort of acknowledgment of satisfactory progress - think of it more as a staging post on the way to securing an end result that the whole Club is pursuing - a second, and subsequent season/s in the Premier League sun.

Of course, the arguments against such practice will gather greater vocal prominence particularly as a result of our 3-2 loss at Home to Norwich City last week. God forbid that it should have been the result of NCFC's greater tactical acumen on the day, coupled with their willingness to engage in a high-tempo, physically dominant performance that was pertinent and successful on the day. No- we lost because these reprobates of ours are about to jet off to better climactic conditions. How dare they?

I offer, to adherents of that mind-set a prominent middle finger, and a suggestion that they're mistaken

The psychology of success is interesting, to say the least.

The early part of the New Year has long been recognized by successful Managers as being where the Title is won or lost. Forget SAF's oft-repeated phrase that it's all about March/April- just ask AVB or Arsene if they can come back then - or, even more relevant in our case, that same dismissal of McCarthy at Wolves saw Steve Morgan, their owner, not prepared to wait and see.

The chance to cement and re-group is key.

As Gary Monk, our top class Club Captain intimated this week, there would have been a time when this sort of mid-season break would have sent the Squad to Fairwood Common rather than the Canaries, and who can doubt that the latter will prove a better, effective choice.

This follows the Steve Jobs model at Apple, where the wonderful entrepreneur is often lauded for creating an environment where success can more easily follow - much better to train and play on a pristine pitch in Spanish sunshine than some squally weather and bumpy turf on the Gower where you've had to carry the Training cones out, oh, and btw, you have to wash your own kit afterwards.

Nothing wrong with that, of course, at the Amateur level we've all had to do it.

But do we want our team to do it now? Really? I think not.

We can be assured, as I've said above, of our Gaffer's commitment to the cause, and the news that BR has now signed an ongoing three and a half year contract that means he can continue his fantastic work on our behalf. Hopefully it means that this is the sort of modern and pertinent planning that continues our long term aims.

So, when you read about our players "jetting out to the sun" this week, by all means feel jealous ( I think we all do), but don't, please, begrudge them it.

It is, after all, just a part of their daily work routine. It may be a lot more pleasurable and comfortable than ours - but hey, it's just something that they have to do. On our behalf.

We all wish we could be there, but I can honestly say "Do it for us, guys". And, btw, enjoy.

Onward, Swansea City.

What else is happening in Football.

A great deal. No sooner does 'Arry get cleared in court of any Tax-evasion than Fabio Capello resigns over the "John Terry affair". You couldn't make it up, really. It's like some really well written Soap/cum/Footy reality show.
As I've said above, this has been followed by the Suarez handshake-gate controversy, and Wolves' sacking their gaffer. This is, indeed, the Premier League.
Where else?


Anonymous said...

Hi Pierre, couldn't agree with you more, in today's modern age the benefits of warm weather training either pre or mid-season is beyond doubt. I had the pleasure of working in the Bahamas in the late 1970's early 80's, and the renowned New York Cosmos used to come on the island every year for a month's pre-season training due in part to NY's inclement weather. They used to train and play on the company I worked for training facilities, and would play just about any team on the island while they were there. Had the pleasure of meeting and training with them. They were just about the biggest club in the world at the time, with Beckenbaur, Carlos Alberta, and of course our very own Giorgio Chinaglia.It was pre Pele, so never met him.Used to meet up with Giorgio Chinaglia for drinks occasionally, he remembered playing for the Swans very fondly- a bit before my time though.Warm weather pre season training definitly didn't do them any harm if you look at their results! Another great blog from you, looking forward to your next enthralling instalment. Come on the Swans!

Anonymous said...

Hello Pierre, nice writing mate. There was a piece on Phils website saying much the same a few weeks back that met with great disdain.

Keep blogging.

Up the Jacks.