The forgotten trait of player development

Football is a funny thing in 2022. With the never-ending fountain of virtuosos on social media, coupled with the perennial release of a particular football game, tacticians are being developed in the bedroom.

Now, far be it from me to critique the opinion of any one individual – I wouldn’t dare! But the beautiful game is being dragged into realms I never thought possible. Resolutions to a Premier League side’s decline are seemingly readily available online and you’d be a brave man to argue against an AVI of a famous footballer.

The solution to many of these problems, via the aforementioned individuals, is to splurge on a host of continental names – ultimately creating a side that can dominate for a decade across all fronts. I’ve experienced a similar phenomenon; my unforgettable rise to power with Hereford in CM0102.

Shaking oneself back to reality and understanding that the vast majority of these football clubs are run for profit, we move toward the paid tacticians on the sidelines – in particular, Mr Erik ten Hag.

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A man of distinct principle and unvarying philosophy, his is a way of meticulous preparation; coupled with a belief in player progression through fundamental training and repetition. He’s not just a cool cat on the sideline; this is a man that understands the basics and how simple this beautiful game truly is.

His time in Amsterdam is laden with silverware and this was generated through a belief in simple football being completed to a high standard. We often forget, as football fans, that this is a very simple game. It’s one we’ve played since we were kids – regretfully making the rich a lot richer these days.

Manchester United’s manager is famed for taking an apparent apple and turning it into an orange. He appreciates that professional footballers are of a certain talent and that the majority of these can be trained to excel at the highest level. The reason being is that to make it to the paid ranks, you’ve got to be a bit handy at kicking that beautiful ball.

Dušan Tadić, a Serbian footballer, was deemed “average” at Premier League side Southampton. Fast-forward five seasons and ten Hag had brought a talented man under his wing, converting him into a confident player who now proudly holds the captaincy for the iconic Ajax.

To keep this short and sweet, let us focus on just one player – Portuguese defender Diogo Dalot. Dalot was signed to United under one of the footballing greats, José Mourinho. He was viewed as one of Portugal’s great talents and a prospect who could dominate the footballing world for years to come. Inevitably, this did not come to fruition.

Dalot would struggle under his compatriot, as well as his successor Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Game time would become limited and the player would see himself loaned to Italian giants AC Milan. In most cases, this would generally spell the end of a player’s time at a particular club.

Enter Erik ten Hag and a philosophy that buys into the use of marauding full-backs. Dalot was recalled from Italy and returned to a dressing room where he had a clean slate. Fast forward three months and the Portuguese has excelled in so many metrics. His performances have received acclaim across the league and his statistics are supplying undeniable evidence that trust from your coach will inevitably reap the reward.

He has formed a formidable quartet at the heart of the United defence, with past begrudgers beginning to turn their attention to an easier target. This is the nature of football analysis in the modern-day; an amalgamation of video montages and ill-informed Twitter accounts reaping reward from a barrage of sheep that know no better.

For the basis of this particular article, let’s compare the performances of the player with one of the league’s best full-backs, João Cancelo.

While I can appreciate that different sides have alternative systems to generate results, the above is a neutral comparison of various traits in the player’s position. Further to the above, Dalot trumps Cancelo in xA assists, shot-creating actions, tackles won and ball recoveries.

This is a direct response to his manager’s instructions and his natural ability on show. The 23-year-old has always been talented – as are each and every professional footballer in the league. The interpretation of a couch potato, who values a snap with his dog over anything else, should not sway your opinion from the facts on display.

Erik ten Hag appreciates the basics, he understands the grassroots and for this very reason, the intricate details are casually introduced. Work on the training ground is paramount and his decision to run 14km with the team – following the defeat to Brentford – is a testament to his commitment to the cause.

For one to make it to the professional ranks, they have a certain something that differentiates them from you and me. It’s easy to disregard an individual based on the odd bad performance or two, but try to appreciate the greater picture.

We are merely spectators in a far greater game; a game that is being played by the elite and orchestrated by the super-rich. Erik ten Hag is a footballing genius and one that has already proven his pedigree in Manchester. Within a couple of months, his vision is displayed on the pitch and more than Dalot is prospering.

One need only look at the results of another targeted player in Marcus Rashford and his tremendous start to 2022-23. He’s another who has benefitted from the stern hand on his shoulder and the wise words in his ear.

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The answer is not always a marquee acquisition; it is often a quality individual who has lost his way. A forgotten skillset in the modern coach is an ability to brush off the pain of yesteryear while assisting a talent to stake his claim for entry back into the league’s spotlight.

In Erik ten Hag, there are very few who can do it any better.

More Stories Ajax Diogo Dalot Dusan Tadic Erik ten Hag Manchester United Marcus Rashford Ole Gunnar Solskjaer