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The Future's Bright, The Future's ColU
The Future's Bright, The Future's ColU
Tuesday, 4th Dec 2012 12:45 by Noah4x4

With the Charlton U 21’s game off due to a waterlogged pitch, the Season Ticket Holder’s Q & A started early, with Joe Dunne and Robbie Cowling in good form. I came away mightily impressed with their openness and honesty. I thought that I should “report” upon this event for the benefit of our faraway U’suals, albeit from my very individual personal perspective. Hopefully I will accurately reflect what was said, especially their obvious passion for the club.

Joe Dunne evidently respects that his two month tenure had brought fans both tears of joy and sorrow. He was brutally frank (without naming names) about matters ranging from managing player ego; recent individual mistakes; players that were not fully embracing the tactical philosophy; unacceptable loss of concentration; refereeing decisions; relationships with officials; and a host of other things that have recently conspired against us, but always emphasising that it is his personal managerial responsibility to change things for the better. There was far too much ground embraced to cover this in detail here, but Joe is evidently pulling no punches behind the closed doors of the dressing room.

It’s pretty clear that Joe soon wants to overhaul what has become a tired (e.g. John Ward et al) squad, but must sell to buy; not easy. Even if Robbie Cowling was inclined to do so, FL Rules now mean he can't simply throw money at a solution. In the meanwhile, Joe is placing great emphasis on creating player competition for every position, citing how some of the recent loans signings have had that objective. Here, Joe gave an interesting insight into the world of loans and transfers, and what motivates players to join (or leave) particular clubs. Playing philosophy being a key motivator, particularly true for loan players.

Inevitably, Joe balanced any negative (but honest) observations about the challenges ahead with just as many positives, but I found his most interesting comment was that it has been “far easier to get the youth teams embracing and playing the new more attractive passing style than a few of the First XI”.

He explained how the youngsters have now been doing it for longer and had hence already fully embraced change. However, it will take a while for this to work through the age ranks. To explain, he confessed to having personally been an old style defender that once knew no better than to give it 100% and tackle and hoof the ball forward. Inevitably, we have some (unamed) defenders for whom this is their more natural game. Joe recalled that he was aged 22 and a seasoned professional before anybody showed him any other way. This is no different to the transition that some senior players are having to make today. But today, top quality football in the Premier League and Championship (to which we aspire) does require higher skills, and he cited how clubs like Arsenal won’t ever offer us loan players unless we do agree to play in this more skilful attractive style. We are seemingly fast building a good reputation as loan players like Sanchez Watt and Craig Eastmond have already fed back that we are achieving such goals, even if the results haven’t always gone our way. Also it is conspicuous that opposition sides are more recently being forced to radically change their tactics to counter our new threat. Joe stressed that here we do have a 'Plan B' but it's more subtle than simply 4 4 2, and needs further refinement. It's not been helped by recent injuries, unavailability, and the list of catastophes in my second paragraph. It's a question of patience, and will take time.

Both Dunne and Cowling are evidently committed to creating a long term (top to bottom) new club playing philosophy based upon improving ball skills and tactics, and not solely upon the incumbent manager’s whim. Joe confirmed exactly what we all previously thought, how, as Assistant Manager, he was often frustrated that various Managers had come (and gone) demanding a certain style of play perhaps requiring (say) huge centre forwards and defenders and a hoof-ball style that contradicted a previous manager’s (and Joe's) favoured route. The result was always that the U’s youth teams then had to mirror the incumbent manager’s First XI philosophy, which was changing far too frequently to be of any tangible benefit to the youngster’s development. Joe has long been committed to playing football as he (and we) think it should be played. However, he always remained 100% loyal to his incumbent manager's philosophy, but in his heart often wanted change. He reflected in the difference of being the number two (and coach) and the number one, and despite his misgivings about some things (like past playing style), illustrated how previous manager's had offered him the wisdom necessary to curb his natural hot head, and how relationships, loyalty and respect were more important than any disagreement over how to kick a football. However, there is a better way.

At least in the last few years the U's youth coaches have been working towards one common goal (e.g. Academy level II ball skills), despite this perhaps only having recently been reflected in the First XI playing style philosophy. It's no wonder that some senior players have found change more uncomfortable (as Joe himself once did), and no surprise that some are a little behind the youngsters as regards its instinctive adoption, or occasionally slip into old habits with error consequences. The future lies in a new approach.

He and Robbie both emphasised that if Joe was NOT the manager, any new incoming manager would now be expected to play THE new “Colchester Way”, with Robbie quickly adding that he hoped Joe would be with us for the very long haul. I think that was sincere. Robbie confessed that he had allowed himself to be lulled into many unjust strategic and squad changes by some past managers, and that he was now convinced that instead we need a long term consistent playing strategy (rather than one lasting a mere 90 minutes or the tenure of one manager). Yes, future managers will refresh the squad personnel, but there is now the intent that no manager will ever stray from the new ‘Colchester Way’ of playing quality football. Sides like Arsenal, Ajax, Barcelona, Wigan, and Swansea were mentioned as offering the playing style that we now want to emulate. Both Joe and Robbie admitted there is another more brutal way (perhaps like Stoke), and a more defensive negative style, but the commitment that the U's will play attractive football at all levels in perpetuity received rapturous applause. I think the sentiment is now that we would sooner win four and lose six to take twelve points from ten games rather than draw nine and lose one playing football that the fans hate to secure 25% fewer points. Attacking football is about winning and losing, not scraping draws.

Perhaps greatest emphasis was placed on the U’s recent success in getting Category II youth academy status. What this means that if they can’t get a placement with a Premier League club, talented youngsters will now want to come here ahead of most other lower league clubs for the opportunity of working with our 19 qualified coaches and to play youth fixtures against the top teams like Arsenal. Being realistic, many of the stars we saw in the Chelsea U 18's won't ever make their first team, whilst some might immediately play for the U's. Category II is the springboard we need to bring these types of player to the club. B

ut Category II requires an annual investment of in excess of £1M, which is very significantly more than for lower categories. However, this puts us streets ahead of most Division One rivals except for Crewe. What I didn’t realise is that contracts are awarded at a very young age, and whilst we can’t ever avoid losing the very highest young talent to the likes of Manchester United, we now get £25,000 compensation per annum for each year of their coaching. If we ran any lower category academy, we would get far less compensation. Robbie Cowling did more than enough to convince me that this investment is very worthwhile. Emphasis was placed on developing home grown talent, and not just for the obvious financial benefits (costly that Category II is).

Robbie said he dreams of us growing far more local lads into super stars to help get the town far more broadly behind the club. Here, he praised the existing fans. Joe added that he saw Coventry as a turning point. Despite a defeat at the hands of the referee, here, the fans roared the team on until the final whistle. This enabled him to better motivate the players, and the players valued the vocal support. Sadly the wheels have come off after that for reasons cited in my second paragraph, but he remarked how noticable it is that the fans have kept the faith, even in defeat. This is important if he is to turn things around, as negativity on the terraces does affect the players. The buck stops with Joe, and he does bleed blue and white, so he understands our pain. Seemingly he is a terrible loser, and his wife and childen leave the house if we don't get a point.

It’s pretty obvious that beneficial change from here will require patience, and Cowling ackowledged that it’s probably a two year job to remedy things. Matters concluded with a clear call of support for what the club is now trying to achieve from the floor, echoed by all, that the fans are 100% behind Joe Dunne, and his playing philosophy. Thankfully, I think Robbie Cowling is too.

Photo: Action Images

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