By the book: Should assistants be permitted to join the manager in the technical area?
FIFA is the ultimate governor for all business surrounding organised football. Between the white lines is a different story. IFAB sets the rules of the game. FIFA sits on the International Football Association Board. They wield exactly half the voting power. The four Home Nation federations, the FA, SFA, FAW and IFA, each hold one vote or 12.5% voting power. For any rule change to be implemented it must gain 75% approval or six votes. IFAB meets twice annually, once to discuss business matters, the other to take rule changes under advisement. The next meeting is on Monday and Tuesday, 5-6 November.
With that meeting fast approaching, It's Round and It's White polled our writing staff to see who might have a suggestion. Sayantan Dasgupta stepped up first with an ambitious notion.
Over the years, the technical area on a football pitch has been the arena for many battles. Some were fought between players, some between managers, some between players and managers. Still others were between referees and any or all of the above.
There’s plenty of content to binge watch on a weekend but what if we want to add to that drama? Not because I love seeing middle-aged men bicker. I mean I do but there's also a chance the game might benefit. Before you reach any conclusion regarding my sanity, hear me out.
Football managers are broadly categorised as attack or defensive-minded. It's not useful or even accurate to make such comments while describing a coach. Jose Mourinho, for example, is said to park the bus. Yet he had Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba in his first spell at Chelsea, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard during his second. At Inter, his lineup featured Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Diego Milito, Goran Pandev, Samuel Eto'o, Mario Balotelli and Wesley Sneijder. At Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel di Maria and Mesut Ozil were in the squad. These are not players who put it in reverse.
To win a football match, the right balance must be struck between attack and defence. Similarly, winning the Champions League or Premier League requires extensive tactical preparations in both aspects of the game. More often than not, the team which fails to strike a balance bows out.
Generally, a manager and his coaching staff divide the responsibilities based on their competencies and traits. It’s a team game. But, there aren’t any hard and fast rules. Teams with larger staffs whose members each focus on a different aspect, defending, attack, goalkeeping, set pieces, are better poised to succeed. All that happens on the training pitch, however. What if those specialists could take a greater hand in the matches themselves?
The NFL features offensive and defensive coordinators who are often more involved in tactics and playcalling than the head coach. Of course, offensive and defensive units don't occupy the field simultaneously. Despite that difference, having two different coaches helps teams manage each segment better.
Baseball features a similar dynamic. The first and third base coaches occupy separate technical areas while the team bats. When they're defending, the pitching coach and manager occasionally visit the mound to impart invaluable advice such as "throw strikes" or "get this guy out, will ya." When begging fails, they return to make a pitching change. All the while, the bullpen coach is handling the relief pitchers, preparing them for possible appearances.
Cricket specialises, too. After generations in which clubs had a single coach, most now employ a bowling coach, fielding coach, batting coach and wicket-keeping coach, separate aspects of the game that require specific skills.
In football, a particular manager might be a great tactician but turn out to be ineffective when helping a defender with his positioning. Another might struggle when his striker has lost his touch.
Some may argue it confuses players to receive instructions from different coaches. Come on now. We've all studied different subjects in school under different teachers. Confusion only occurs when the coordinators are not coordinated. The manager's job is to see that they are all rowing in time with each other, striving to build a cohesive style from their unique talents.
As such, relaxing the restriction on the number of concurrent bodies in the technical area could help the coaching staff pass on important information to the team. If the game allows both an attack and defensive specialist in the technical area, each can relate instructions to his group of players at appropriate moments, be that when they are in the thick of the action or watching events unfold at the opposite end. The manager, per his preference, can take part as well or sit back, intervening only in critical moments. Bosses like Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are restless and demonstrative in communicating their instructions. Louis van Gaal mostly sat in the player's box taking notes.
Three screaming coaches to either side is a prospect that would probably give nightmares to fourth officials. Baby steps might be advisable, first allowing two coaches in the area simultaneously. Another, less stressful option might be creating technical areas on each sideline, much like the first and third base coaches in baseball patrol opposite sides of the diamond.
In equal parts, the game is about preparation and communication. Clubs are hiring coaches to maximise their preparation. Why not improve in-game communication, too?