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Martin Jol explains why England must back youth

Martin Jol gives an in-depth insight into his tactical philosophy at Fulham, and explains why England must put more faith in youngsters. Interview with The Dugout

How does the playing culture differ between England, Netherlands and Germany?

I think you need to divide it between certain periods, because I played in England, Germany and Holland, and I have managed in all three countries as well. As a player it was different because it was probably 30 years ago.


As far as management is concerned, the culture is different in Holland because there your style is the most important thing. In Holland you could never play a real 4-4-2, because that is a direct style and in Holland they like to play the ball from the back. If you kicked the ball from the keeper they would criticise you, so you always have to play football.

For a small country like Holland that’s a very good thing. We’ve only got 15 or 16 million people, so if we didn’t make ourselves different we would probably be more like Luxembourg or Belgium, you know, a smaller country in football terms.

So for us it’s important that we make a difference, and we produce different players, in the style of Rafael van deer Vaart, Wesley Sneijder or Robin van Persie. We will always have players like Arjen Robben, who you don’t see in Germany or England.

So the playing style is the most important thing. Of course, if the players are good, they will go abroad when they are still young, but that is our fate, that is what will happen. The Dutch League is not the strongest because all of our top players play abroad – but Holland was top of the world rankings until two weeks ago. That was not because of the players in Holland, but those who were brought up in Holland and went to play abroad.

Play Football

But they have all been brought up in the same style; playing angles, playing in pockets, trying to play football and that will always pull you through. It’s not maybe the same as it was 30 years ago when we said ‘if you score two, we’ll score three’. It’s more organised now, but the focus is always on your style, and if your style is good you will always win games.

In Germany they did it in a different way; their organisation and discipline were always the most important things. They were probably the only team who could win the World Cup in a 5-3-2, with five at the back like Arsenal did with Tony Adams at the time about 25 years ago. When opposition fans talked about ‘Boring, boring Arsenal’ it was because they played with five at the back and the Germans did that too.

Over the last 10 years, German football has changed and it is focusing on the academies more. You will see that all the teams in Germany are stronger because they give youngsters a chance.

German & Dutch Way

All the youth teams, Under-17, Under-19, Under-21 – they all play in a good style, it shines through because you see a lot of youngsters in Germany now. They try to play their football now and the evidence lies in the fact that at the last World Cup they played in a Dutch way.

At that World Cup tournament in South Africa, Holland played in a German way, with two central midfielders in a sitting role; with a six and a four block. Six defenders and four players going forward. That is not Dutch because we always used to play in a five-five system which is what the Germans did at the recent World Cup, they had five attacking and five defending.

For example, they had Sami Khedira in midfield who played more offensively and Bastian Schweinsteiger who sat. The Dutch played with Nigel De Jong and Mark van Bommel who both sat in midfield.

Holland reached the World Cup final in a German way – but everyone was moaning because the most important thing is the style. The main man is Johan Cruyff and he was always criticising the coach during the tournament, saying ‘you can’t play like this’. The coach proved he could win by being organised and disciplined, but this was not Dutch, people weren’t proud of the team. They would rather lose in a Dutch style than win in a German style. For the coach, it was more important to get to the World Cup final, and I appreciate that.

Why doesn’t Holland ever win things?

In England people always ask me: “Why doesn’t Holland ever win things?” And I say: “What are you on about? We’ve got 15 million people, and we’re always in the semi-finals! Don’t you think that’s enough? Isn’t it a big achievement?” Everybody in the world appreciates our style but the only criticism is that we don’t win things. But of course we won Euro ’88, and we have had European Cups with Ajax and Feyenoord.

Now we talk about England – do you see a lot of youngsters (coming through) like in Holland and Germany? No. They don’t get the chance because teams will buy players from abroad. In Germany they made a decision to try to develop players with academies – the English clubs were probably the first ones with academies, but they (the young players) never really get a chance. There are still some clubs with very good academies where they give the players a chance. But there are not enough. There is so much money at stake that everybody is under pressure for immediate results so they are often reluctant to play youngsters.

Your experience of different countries has given you a very rounded perspective – could British coaches develop their skills by going overseas?

You might have one or two in Holland or France, but in general foreign countries don’t take British coaches because they believe in their own identity.

There are some coaches in Britain now, like Brendan Rodgers at Swansea, who is trying to play in a 4-3-3. That may be because Rodgers was at Chelsea with Jose Mourinho who played a 4-3-3, and perhaps he thought: “Hmm, that’s not bad.” Mourinho wanted results of course, but he still played in a 4-3-3 with great players, as he did at Porto.

In Spain you would probably think in distances. I’m in midfield, he’s on the wing, and there can’t be more than 20 metres between us. If the distances are too big, like in a 4-4-2 where there can be 40 metres between my midfielders and my wingers, there is never an angle.

Steve McClaren is a good example of an English coach who went abroad recently and succeeded. He went to Holland, played 4-3-3, adapted well and won the Dutch league. It was a very good learning experience for him. When he wasMiddlesbrough manager he sometimes played 4-5-1, and he had confirmation when he went to Holland.

You can’t always play the formation that you want. I started here at Fulham with Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora, and Moussa Dembele wasn’t here, so I couldn’t play a 4-3-3. I had to play the first eight weeks in a 4-4-2. Now you can start seeing us play good football. Why? Because I’ve got Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey. They were not here the first eight weeks.

“It’s about your players, but it’s also about a philosophy. It would be good for British coaches to go abroad”.

Fulham’s season started in June with Europa League qualifiers – how did you adapt your pre-season preparations?

We approached it as a normal preparation. In terms of training and intensity, I always do either a four-week plan or a six-week plan. But I had so many games in a week – three games in seven days – that I had to change it to a four-week plan with a lot of neutral weeks between.

If you are playing three games, you can’t load players before or after a game, especially if you have to play an official game. You can’t change your whole team in the second half of an official game, because there are only three subs allowed. So that was a little bit of a problem.

We played almost our best team with 14 or 15 players. Normally you would have more like 20 players, but we couldn’t do that because we simply didn’t have the players. We offloaded 10 players in the pre-season – players like Greening, Gera, Gudjohnsen, Salcido, Dikgacoi, Stockdale, Pantsil – it was not easy because you need them all and we were left with only 14 or 15 players.

The intensity of the pre-season was the same. We started on the 23rd of June, and our first game was five days later, can you imagine? In a ‘normal’ pre-season you will play after five days, that’s not a problem, but you will be able to use more players.

After the 1st of September, I had new players. Patjim Kasami came in, Dempsey played, Moussa came back. We had Bryan Ruiz come in. Then I could change the style and we played better football and created chances.

Now we are playing with a lower ’10’ instead of a second striker and the difference is showing. The only thing now is we have to score goals. Bobby Zamora was our only goal scorer and he was not available. So against West Brom we played with the young boy Orlando Sa, and that is not easy because he did not play for Porto over the last couple of months.

So it was a difficult start, but I had to lower the average age of the squad because it was the oldest squad in the Premier League. We did it with Marcel Gecov, Patjim Kasami, Sa and Matthew Briggs, who is now a regular in the 18-man squad.

It was an amazing achievement to reach the Europa League final two years ago – what are your ambitions for the club?

My ambition is to follow the same Dutch principle. If you play your best football, starting from the back, the results will come naturally. If you don’t, you go back to the defensive, compact way – it’s good, because it’s the style Fulham used – but to go forward you need to score goals. The focus for me is on the performance and style – if you get that right, then you will achieve your objectives.

On Saturday we could have won easily; we could have beaten Chelsea; against Man City we came from two down to make it 2-2 and could have nicked it at the end. If you play good football, your opponent will be under pressure, and they will be the ones who have to shift to a 4-5-1, and that was good to see against Man City.

How will the introduction of Financial Fair Play affect Fulham – will it help to create a more level playing field?

If you talk about Financial Fair Play you could go on and on and on. Everybody takes Barcelona as an example, everybody. But they are 450 million euros in debt!

It’s not the fairest set-up, but what I would like to see is the 6+5 rule, which will have the same effect. Play six players from abroad, and five English players. Then you will see the English national team benefit.

Of course you have got exceptions like Rooney and Wilshere who started young, but these are big, big players. Generally, will you see 19 or 20-year-old players in the England team? No. But if you see the Under-21s now with Sturridge, Henderson, Jones… they have all come through the ranks. I think the English are probably on the right path, but you will see if you get the 6+5 rule, it could be good and fair.

For example, I have got a player now in my reserves, Kerim Frei. He is 17 and has played eight games for us. Now I feel he would never have played for us if we hadn’t given him the chance or if he was not good enough. But it was a necessity to play him because there was no Clint Dempsey and I needed someone to play on the left. That’s the Dutch way – if your left winger is not there, you play the second one, and if he’s not there you play your third. Kerim Frei has played a few games for us and he was one of our best players against Chelsea. If you have a 6+5 rule there will be more space for young players and it will start to pay off because it is not all about money.

But that is probably too Dutch! It is not reality…

Do you prefer a traditional British manager’s role or a Continental-style system with a coach and a sporting director?

It is a long time since they said to the manager: “This is your budget, do what you like.”

I think at every club in England the manager is working with a chief executive or a managing director who is taking care of the finances. I don’t even think Sir Alex Ferguson is doing the financial side. But that is not the same as having somebody else who is responsible for choosing which players to buy. Sir Alex Ferguson chooses which players to buy, even if other people deal with the financial aspects.

I think it is a good structure to have a sporting director, but only if the manager is ultimately responsible for selecting the players. If the manager tells you not to get a player, don’t get him. There are some clubs abroad where the sporting director is getting players in and the manager has to work with them; he is held responsible even though he maybe didn’t want the players. That is wrong.

At Fulham I’ve got Alistair Mackintosh, who will always ask me: “Is he good?” So I’ve got my scouting system, and there will never be a player coming in without my permission. But the price and the wages of course have to be right, and they are doing the negotiations and I think that is right. So if they are too expensive, they won’t come.

It can be a very good combination if you work together well. I worked well with Frank Arnesen at Spurs; we got along well, he never did anything behind my back. If I said: “I like this player,” he would never say: “No, he is too expensive.” He would find out first, then tell me. In a bad structure, the sporting director can tell you a player is too expensive or doesn’t want to come without checking it out. In that case, you have got a big problem.

Martin Jol was speaking to Yahoo!’s ‘The Dugout’ through its partnership with the League Managers Association

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