Ian Holloway: I told the lads 'go and have a few beers' – I threatened to fine them if they didn't
My final team talk will be off the cuff. I sense the mood, take it from there
Sunday 10 April 2011
We've been beaten 3-0 at Fulham and I'm not in the best of moods. Having to sit on a coach for a five-hour trip back to Blackpool isn't ideal. Unfortunately, losing games is an occupational hazard in this job.
We did some things right at Craven Cottage but most of it was wrong, mainly the fact we forgot to go forward. Football is quite simple. You have to stick the ball in the other team's net but we didn't really get close enough to do that.
I blame myself because I spent all last week talking about my trip to Spain and how I wanted us to play like Barcelona. I tried something different in training but unfortunately that got the players into the habit of passing the ball short, to the extent that we barely hit any long passes. We got caught between two styles. I take the rap, I confused them.
I was quieter than usual on the journey home, reflecting with my assistant Steve Thompson on what went wrong. When we got back, I jumped in my car and headed to my house near Burnley. Match of the Day 2 and bed. Not a good day.
The players had the day off. I hope they spent at least an hour watching DVDs of our promotion season last year. I asked them to do that to remind them of how well we can play and what it is like to win.
I watched the Fulham game again twice. I don't watch it like a fan, I see it from a coach's point of view. Sometimes I put it on slow motion so I can write down where we're going wrong. Other times I won't be watching the ball at all, I'll be looking at our shape and movement, to check everyone is going in the right direction at the same time.
I then gave myself a break...by watching more football. QPR were on, and being a former manager, I still have a lot of love for that club. I am delighted they are doing so well and watching their substitutes laughing made me think of last season. Winning is a nice habit to get into. We need it back.
The Fulham game was still bothering me so I watched it again. I don't think my wife Kim was impressed, especially as I didn't go to bed till 2.30am. Even then I didn't sleep well. It's hard when you're worrying about your team and mulling over how to do things differently.
I was tired after a late night but up again at 7am to go to training. The lads look at me as a leader, so I have to be positive. They were all getting ready to go out when I told them to take their strappings off and sit down. I decided to have a meeting to go through what I felt was wrong at Fulham. I talked through things and it was serious because we needed to concentrate on putting things right.
But when you are dealing with players, it is important not to get too heavy. I like to keep things light when I can and we had a few laughs too. I told James Beattie he would be playing left wing for the reserves until the end of the season for that beauty of a pass which put Bobby Zamora through at Fulham! Beattie is a great lad who knew he'd made a mistake.
Spoke to the local paper, the Blackpool Gazette, about doing a front-page piece urging the supporters to get behind us for the rest of the season. It applies more to the three matches after Arsenal – all at home, against Wigan, Newcastle and Stoke. They are massive games for the club and could decide if we stay up.
Having a noisy, passionate crowd can influence officials and make it a bit more intimidating for the opposition. I then went to Leyland to watch our reserve team play Bolton. Not a great end to the day. We lost 3-0.
"Don't bother getting changed," I told the lads when they arrived at training. They looked at me like I was mad. I said "go and have a few beers, unwind, sort your lives out and stop feeling sorry for yourselves". I threatened to fine them two weeks' wages if they didn't go. They all went.
While they were having some grub and a few sherbets, I went to the gym. I'm following a rigorous eight-week course to get the perfect abs. It has not happened yet but I'll keep at it...
Watched the Chelsea-Manchester United game. United were the better side on the night and deserved to win. Their goal was a joy to watch, the kind of football I've been harping on about. Fantastic cross-field pass, Giggs meets it on the full, then a pull-back to Rooney, one chance, one goal, get in. Class.
Watching the work-rate of both teams hammered home what has been a big problem for us this season. Physically we haven't been able to live with the top teams. We were 2-0 up against United and ran out of steam. We did well against Chelsea too but got done by two goals in four second-half minutes. I've lost count of the number of times we have not won games after going ahead. But that is just us adapting to the level. It does not mean my team are rubbish.
Day off for the players, not for me. Chris Kamara is a good mate and proved a great pal when I was out of work after Leicester. He asked me to go to a charity night at Leeds and I was happy to help out. My wife and I got picked up and driven across and it turned out to be a cracking evening.
Steve Bruce and Mick McCarthy were there and it was great to talk to them about the Premier League and get their advice on how to stay in it. Leeds boss Simon Grayson, in charge at Blackpool before me, was also on the top table and in good form.
Funniest moment for me was when Bruce told a little story about Eric Cantona and the press conference when he went on about seagulls and trawlers. All the press thought he'd lost the plot, and so did his team-mates. Steve went to training the next day and said to Cantona: "Come on, mate, what the hell was all that about, where did you get that line?" Cantona looked at him and said: "I don't know, but it was great, wasn't it?"
We had a good natter and a laugh, which I needed. It was nice to talk to people in my position and share a few tales. Another late night, though – did not get home until 1am and I was tired when I woke for training at 7am.
We worked the players hard. I didn't name my team but the lads probably guessed most of my plans from the way I set them out. There was a problem when David Vaughan had to go in with a sore foot. I called another player over to fill in for him. It was a slightly unusual choice and that caused a bit of a bad reaction from a couple of other players.
I was due to meet the media straight after training but instead I decided to have a chat with the lads who had been upset. It was interesting to hear their take on things. Basically, they are not happy because they've not been playing in the first team. But what amazes me is how anyone in the reserves thinks they should be in the first team because our reserves have lost their last four matches!
I told them that straight. It is another part of management: trying to keep everyone happy, which isn't always easy when you are in the Premier League and some individuals can get a bit above their station.
That meant I was an hour late for the press conference. I got there at 2.30pm and did TV interviews with Sky, Premier League, BBC and Press Association, then national and local radio, national daily papers and then the Sunday papers.
I always answer every question. It's an important part of the job. It is a bit draining – it took more than two hours – but the only time it bothers me is after games when I'd prefer to be talking to the opposition manager.
The best news is Charlie Adam's nomination for PFA Player of the Year. A few papers described it as a shock. Not to me. I've been saying all season how good he is. We have him under contract next year, so people won't be able to pinch him off us for an insulting price in the summer. He has a massive part to play in the last seven games and looking at his body language, he is up for the challenge of helping us stay in this division.
This is when it gets technical. I told the lads what the starting line-up is and went over some new tactics I am introducing specially for this match.
It is not a huge change – I don't want to confuse my players again – but it involves doing something a bit different when we haven't got possession. Arsenal are so devastating with the ball, I want us to make it harder for them to pass it around. I'm not going to reveal exactly what we'll be doing in case Arsène's reading but it might cause them a problem or two.
I went through our defensive and attacking set-plays. We showed them some of Arsenal's set-plays and talked about who will take ours. We worked on our pattern and I reminded the lads where I want them to be when Arsenal have the ball. The lads who aren't starting provided the opposition in a practice match. By the end I was confident the lads had got to grips with what I was after.
Last night I watched Match of the Day. It's the one football show I never miss. Even if I'm out I make sure I tape it. I had an early night by my standards. I want to be fresh for Arsenal.
D-day. Arsenal are a superb team and I've been coming out in a cold sweat thinking about the great players they have, but we intend to give it a good go. I will get to the ground at 10.30am, three hours before kick-off, and I'll be one of the first to arrive. That's important – the boss can't be late.
I'll spend an hour with my assistant writing out the tactics on a board. We have a load of miniature pitches which we pin on the wall. We have stickers with the initials of each player and we set out where they are meant to stand for every corner – defensive and attacking – and free-kicks. There are about 20 scenarios which the players have to memorise.
The players arrive an hour and a half before kick-off and I'll tell them who the substitutes are. I always reveal the subs just before a game because some people don't prepare right if you tell them too early. My final team talk will be off the cuff. I sense the mood and take it from there. We always have a group huddle before we go out. That is when I will say a few final words, then it is over to them to implement the plan.
If we lose it won't ruin my night. It will be a case of "that's another one gone, now we need X amount of points from six games". I have to be philosophical. Next week will be the same again, working hard for Wigan. I suppose it is like Groundhog Day but I wouldn't swap it for the world – football is all I know and I wouldn't want any other job. Mind you, I might not be saying that come 3.30pm today!
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