Nowhere did it teach you how to nutmeg a centre-back. Worse, nowhere did it give tips on goal celebration practice

Jim White ON SATURDAY
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The Independent Online
After a scrambled draw against the lads of the Victoria and Albert Museum football team, it was decided in the Independent's dressing room that something needed to be done to improve our game. After all, scraping through against an assembly of porcelain experts, nineteenth century interior design specialists and authorities on Victorian underwear can legitimately be considered under-achievement. Particularly since the V&A are renowned in our circles as the outfit that once lost 9-0 to a team from a further education college. Fair enough, you might think, everyone gets hammered occasionally. But there was nothing artificial about this particular result. Except the left leg of the opposition centre forward who scored a hat- trick. ("And by God," one V&A veteran said at the time, "when you tackled him did you know it was artificial.")

It was reckoned, in the lengthy post-match analysis, that what we needed was a bit of training: fitness was clearly a pipe dream, but a little binding, learning how to move as a unit, perhaps unravelling before we kick off the mystery of how to pass the ball to a player wearing the same coloured shirt might well pay dividends as we prepare to face the rigours of the annual fixture against the Daily Star.

Thus it was fortunate that this week sees the launch of The Skill Factor: The definitive guide to football training, a video and inter-active CD- ROM aimed at making your team better, presented by Alan Shearer and sponsored by Umbro. A perfect vehicle to learn a thing or two about groundwork from the way the English pros prepare, claims the blurb. And, in the week of European humiliation, it made illuminating viewing.

As a useful exercise for the Independent XI, it didn't begin too promisingly, though. Up came a written warning on screen: "Due to the pace of the training modules in the following programme it may be helpful to use your video recorder to pause certain sequences or rewind to review them." Speed, then, the essential pre-requisite in the modern British game: so that rules us out immediately.

The second most important thing to prepare like the pros, apparently, is to get the right kit.

"Umbro have developed the Pro-Training range to fit every need of training," claimed the voice over. "Pro-Training is more than just a range of clothing, it's an attitude."

A point Alan Shearer agreed with.

"I've always been happy," England's lone striker said, in a manner so wooden he made Gary Lineker look like Des Lynham, "with Umbro footwear, leisure wear and training gear."

Umbro cheques too, presumably. The next priority is to erect hoardings around your training pitch which read "Umbro" to catch the camera every time it pans around the action. The rather excellent facility used for this video, incidentally, is in Spain.

When you have got all that right, you can start training. Most of the emphasis in the video is put on the single priority of British football: "winning the ball back." Endless exercises are recommended - one player against one, five against five, three against eight - all instilling the virtues of, as the video's primary coach Mick Wadsworth has it: "Getting there quickly, getting his head down and putting the brakes on."

Useful stuff, though the Indy boys might have benefited from learning what to do once you had actually won the ball. Sadly none of the pseudo- scientific training modules were dedicated to practising how to keep the thing in those circumstances, or indeed how not to give it away in the first place. Nowhere, either, did it teach you how to do a drag-back, drop your shoulder past a full-back, or nutmeg a centre-back. Worse, nowhere did it give any tips on goal celebration practice.

This is not to say the video is a complete waste of time. It includes some lovely half-forgotten archive footage of Shearer scoring for England, for instance. And there is Glenn Hoddle, too, being interviewed saying: "We try to bring on the players' skills for 10 to 15 minutes a day. A lot of clubs do these things pre-season, but if you come down to our training ground in February, you'll find us doing it." A cynic might wonder what good all that work was doing Chelsea at the moment, but you can't help being inclined to the Hoddle analysis. Pity the video doesn't actually show Hoddle in action on the training pitch, or pass on any tips as to how we could improve our ball control in the way he advocates, but you have to suppose merely having him saying it is a minor triumph over the traditional British coaching method.

The final word, however, goes to Terry Venables. "They say under stress the last thing you learnt is the first thing you forget," he says on the tape. "And then you revert to habit. That's why you've got to repeat, repeat, repeat the good things until they become habits."

No problem then. I'll put in a repeat order for some Umbro kit, organise the hoardings and, as Devon Malcolm might put it, the Daily Star are history. Well, as long as they bring a ball along.

The Pro-Training Skill Factor is released by Umbro and VIP, and is available at pounds 12.99 from your nearest video store.

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