To start I must apologise for yet again taking my sweet time between blog entries but this post definitely has mitigating circumstances, the major one being it had to undergo a complete re-write from the original negative, dark and bitter first draft which contained more than a few sentences slating the boys, of course the win over Spurs may not paper over all the cracks displayed this season but it’s a bloody good place to start! I’m now willing to put all my nagging doubts and criticisms aside as I ride the way of post-derby Euphoria to the conclusion that we’re gonna beat Milan 6-0, win the Champions League, the Premiership and, quite possibly, the Six Nations.. I feel like I should open this blog by talking about the thing which has probably taken up most of my time this week, and came about partly due to the ‘massacre in Milan’. It is, of course, the eternal solace of frustrated fans and tactical geniuses, Football Manager! After setting out to prove I could out-manage Arsene I feel that I have proven the truth of that beyond debate, moving quickly in the transfer market I managed to secure the signatures of Javi Martinez and Edinson Cavani to play in my attacking 4-2-4 system. Despite early teething problems during which I suffered a 5-1 humiliation at the hands of Fulham I’ve since gone on an eleven game unbeaten run led by Cavani and Van Persie, the most magical partnership since Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee, which included a 6-1 demolition of spurs and only saw me drop points away at West Brom, a result I’m blaming totally on the fact I was distracted by watching Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown, continuing my journey through the classics whilst in India. I know you guys may not care about my virtual successes but I thought I’d better put it on here anyway as, since I’m working for Arsenal, I’m relatively sure Messrs Gazidis and Kroenke check this page daily and so my message to them is thus, I’m only a phone call away!
This week has also seen us finalise our plans for the two weeks we get off starting tommorow. After consulting a couple of websites and asking Arup we have decided to get the Train down to Rathnambore Tiger Sanctuary for a couple of days before moving onto Jaipur to see the Elephants and finally flying to Goa for a long-awaited week on the beach! After Goa Ali is going on to Gujurat with his parents whilst I stay on for a couple of days before we return to Dehli hopefully with many wildlife-spotting stories to tell whilst I sport a tan which would make David Dickinson jealous.
Anyway, the last week saw a number of notable English lessons/ coaching sessions, the first of these came at the end of last week as, due to our regular Literacy India teacher going on holiday, Arup managed to secure us a few extra days teaching at the Salaam Balaak Trust children’s home. Although in our timetable we are scheduled to take lessons here every Saturday a series of other commitments/illness/ alarm failures meant that Friday was our first visit to the home since our first week in Delhi. Our lessons here were very different from the ones we have been taking at Literacy India, far more basic and a bit more off the cuff! Despite some initial difficulties whilst we tried to work out what to do the kids displayed the hunger to learn that we have become accustomed to India and it was a pleasure to work with them. Whilst at Salaam Balaak I also got my first opportunity to play a bit of cricket in India, securing a heroic golden duck in a game of one hand one bounce with a few of the kids! After our stint at Salaam Balaak we returned to Literacy India this week to continue our work on directions. After a couple of days working from a map on the board we decided to put their knowledge to a more practical test on Thursday, creating a ‘map’ in the classroom using the carpets and stools and getting the kids to direct a blindfolded partners to various destinations. This progressed onto them directing Ali and I when they, of course, purposefully directed Ali straight into the wall! Despite the kids occasionally displaying signs of over-excitement this lessons was definitely our best lesson so far, the most enjoyable for the kids, and us!
In terms of coaching this week has definitely been one of the best of our time here so far. At IYSA my three sessions with the U-14 special group have been on everyone’s favourite topic, shooting! On Tuesday we worked on basic shooting technique, encouraging accuracy over excessive power and keeping the ball down, after a couple of drills I decided to end the session with the ever popular shooting game ‘Over the Bar’. For those of you who have never played this game it basically involves three teams (one shooting at a time) trying to score as many goals as they can without shooting over the bar (wheey) as this give their opponents the opportunity to catch the ball and thus end their turn, it is also so popular that football should consider itself lucky that it was invented first as if not I’m pretty sure I would be over here coaching over the bar after being sent here by Arsenal over the bar club who play in the Barclays over the bar Premier League (and still teach spurs and absolute lesson). After working on technique I moved the sessions on to some overload/ attack vs defence work and was initially quite disappointed with what I saw, with the group only scoring a couple despite on occasion having four attackers against only one defender! In order to improve this in the next session I decided to take the group back to basics, demonstrating a few techniques I felt would improve their performance in attacking situations, working on one-twos, movement and committing defenders. After this I ran a few of the same drills I had run the day before and saw a massive improvement within the group, creating a lot more chances and scoring more goals which , of course, as a coach is exactly what you want to see! The coaching week was rounded off with one of my favourite sessions so far, working on control with the under-11s. As Ali had worked on controlling the ball on the floor in the previous session I decided to take it to the air, working on their instep, thigh and chest control. After the ever popular domes and dishes warm-up I split the group in half and was very impressed with what I saw as, after a few tweaks in terms of technique, the vast majority of the group were displaying a good touch and a real understanding of the necessary coaching points. The session was finished with a ‘run the gauntlet’ knock out game which was, as all under-11 competitions seem to be, won by Hemant.
Part of the reason for the success of these sessions, and most during the last few weeks is that the kids now seem to be completely comfortable with us and understand that they can have a kick around and a laugh with us before and after sessions but have to concentrate during them. Every day at training now seems to end with us being dragged off the pitches by Arup as we’ve stayed too long playing PIG (a knock out keepy uppy game), being tackled/climbed upon or, as seen this week, gambling away our player cards to the kids. Obviously missing my weekly donation to Will Hill or Paddy Power this week I decided to agree to a kick-up challenge from Morwin, one of the under-14 special group, with the odds of a player card to a chocolate bar. After thoroughly beating him in our first two games, with each loss greeted by his favourite phrase- ‘oh shit’ (I’m not sure whether this is viewed differently in India or he’s just an absolute badman)- our third game saw me comprehensively beaten after just about reaching double figures and ,of course, to the victor went the spoils. Before and After sessions are also where the kids get to show what else they’ve learnt from us apart from football, with Morwin’s little brother particularly fond of the old ‘fake hand shake’ trick, using it at least 10 times a day. We also get to learn a bit of Hindi from them with this week’s most popular phrase being ‘Moti Bhains’ (fat buffalo) a nickname which was given to one of the opposition when we watched the u-16s play a match! I guess the point of this paragraph is to try and get across the fact that now the kids have come out of their shells I don’t reckon they’ll be going back, this confidence they’ve discovered in the last month or so has meant that training is buzzing and Ali and I are having as much, if not more, fun as the kids!
During this week we also held a number of successful sessions at Moti Bagh, deciding to treat the kids with matches before we go away, although there is quite a large difference in terms of ability and footballing styles between these guys and the IYSA players we were pleasantly surprised by the standard of football on Friday and Saturday after a really poor quality tournament on Thursday and, as I’ve said before, it is always good to see the enthusiasm and love for the game displayed by the kids, especially when it comes to matches!
Finally I’ve got to talk about Sunday, IYSA finals day. After a couple of months of league fixtures each division (age group) was decided by a final between the two highest placed teams. The under-14s final saw hot favourites Eleven Aces (managed by Ali) take on the Serious Cyclones (managed by me). Despite a close first half which saw the sides come in at 1-1 the Eleven Aces firmly lived up to their billing in the second, romping home to a well-deserved 7-2 victory in what was in all honesty a very one sided game. Although I was disappointed with the performance of my team on the day there is no doubting that the Aces have been the best team over the season and we well deserved champions, the fact that they also won the under-11s final on penalties is an indication of the team’s dominance over the IYSA this season which also saw them crowned overall champions. This game also saw Ali and I end of managerial duel with an honourable 4-4 draw. Anyway, after the finals were done with it was on to the star attraction of the day, the hotly anticipated clash between the IYSA coaches (featuring me and Ali) and a select team of Level one under-16s. Although we had been winning games against the under-16s after training reasonably comfortably this was the first time we had played them when they had all their best players available and it promised a tough game. This was certainly reflected in a first half in which, despite shading possession and territory we couldn’t break down a dogged defence and were perhaps lucky on a few occasions not to concede on the counter. After a half time break in which a lot of water was taken on board the u-16s came out strongly and put us on the back foot, partly due to my personal performance beginning to wilt in the heat! Despite their bright play they faced similar problems to us in the first period, unable to break down a well organised coach’s defence. Late in the second period as the game seemed to be heading for a draw I managed to recover from a nightmare 5 minutes ,where I was pretty sure my first touch had melted away, to seize on a loose ball in midfield and slot home from the edge of the box to score what would prove to be the only goal of the game and seal a win for the coaches! This followed by the Derby victory all added up to a great day of sport! This coupled with the promise of a tiger safari tomorrow, Elephant riding soon after and a couple of days on the beach next week all contributes to the feeling that life is very good right now, It’s safe to say I am loving India and it’s scary to think that when we come back we’ll be entering our last month! Anyway, I’ll save that for another day, sorry for writing another essay but I’m sure reading about my goal was worth hanging on for!
I’ll try and post again (hopefully shorter!) soon,
P.S I’ve just been knocked of the FA Cup- I was watching Never Back Down, the sequel is debatably better…
P.P.S I bought Hall Pass, if you know why this is relevant then you are obviously an avid reader of the blog, a fact that should make you either very proud or lead you to ponder what you’re doing with your spare time, I’d go with the first option.