When I think of specialist coaches, the first thing that comes to mind is Rugby Union. Association Football’s cousin has a great need for such coaches for the game is split up into many different and dissimilar parts, all of which are crucial to get right if you want a successful Rugby team. Scrums, line-outs, attacking set pieces, kick offs, defensive lines, mauls, rucks, penalty kicks all have very different skill sets that need perfecting if you want to succeed in the game and the specialist coaches provide crucial training in each of these areas. Dave Alred was for many years, Jonny Wilkinson’s kicking coach while Shaun Edwards is world renowned for his defensive coaching abilities with both London Wasps and Wales. So can similar specialist coaching practices be used in football?
In my view, they can’t be used to the same extent in football as in Rugby, because it is a far more fluid game, and although there are set pieces involved in matches, they are far less a crucial component than in Rugby where scrums, rucks, mauls and line-outs are critically important. Fitness coaches have however, come far more readily into the game as football has developed to become far more professional in recent years, but coaching tactics and other key areas has been down to the manager and his assistants who normally have a far more general knowledge of the game.
Specialist coaches have though, become far more prevalent and the most recent example is the mooted return of Ian Rush as a striking coach at Anfield. The Anfield legend had been at the club in a similar role under Gerard Houllier but now Rafa Benitez appears to want to take him back aboard. So will such an appointment work for Benitez and Liverpool?
Rush scored 346 goals during his time at Anfield and is a legend at the club, and despite the fact he has had a limited coaching career, I have no doubt his experience will be invaluable when helping out strikers at all levels of the club. According to reports, he will be mainly assisting the academy strikers, something which will be a fantastic opportunity for those players, to learn from such a great goalscorer. Rush’s ability to ghost past defenders and be in the right place at the right time to finish was legendary, and if he can give just an ounce of this knowledge to the next generation, his contribution will be invaluable. Benitez has already brought in Kenny Dalglish as the Academy’s ambassador and with two Anfield greats guiding the futures of the next generation; it certainly cannot be a bad thing.
It has also been suggested that Rush will work with Liverpool’s first team strikers once a week, and although we all know Fernando Torres does not need much coaching, a player like David Ngog may just benefit from such a great past player being around, coaching elements in his game and giving him advice when he needs it. Perhaps there could be specialist coaches in other areas too and maybe Sami Hyypia could return to a club when he retires as has been hinted by Benitez, to coach defence.
Unlike Rugby though, where technical and tactical skills are a premium, football’s focus is heavier on other elements that can’t be coached. Natural talent and great instincts are essential in any top level sport, but football has demonstrated time and time again coaching is not a substitute for natural ability, just look at players such as Wayne Rooney and any Brazilian player as an example. Coaches cannot be a substitute for class and while Rush will do a great job as a striking coach, football will never be a sport like Rugby where specialist coaches are needed in all positions.
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