Larry Ryan: Gaffers draw on all their powers to make us run

We are still waiting for sport’s true visionary, who constructs a winning philosophy around the mantra: 'At our own pace today, lads'
Larry Ryan: Gaffers draw on all their powers to make us run

RUN NOW OR LATER: Jurgen Klopp and Pep Lijnders during a match at Anfield in April. Pic: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

We know all this already, of course, but it is constantly driven home how much of management, in all team sport, basically involves persuading people to run.

Nobody gets into these things for the running, it’s safe to say. It seems to be well established as a fairly fundamental human condition that we prefer not to run at 100% of our capacity, never mind 110%. And even if we can be convinced to dig deep, in this regard, ideally we’d like to wait until things have settled down, aerobically, before ‘going again’.

Even those who have got themselves in deep in a sport where the need for running is written plainly on the tin, such as athletics, are noticeably quick to dial things down to around 70%, or less, once a race is won. Unless there is a few bob on offer for a record time, maybe.

But this outlook doesn’t suit the gaffers, who want people going to the max and going again long before they are good and ready. Even a genius like Guardiola, with his solutions for everything, has found no way round this one. We are still waiting for sport’s true visionary, who constructs a winning philosophy around the mantra: “At our own pace today, lads.” 

It must be frustrating for these coaching gurus, operating at the top of their industries, that they can come up with all the systems and formations and gameplans they like, but it will all unravel without this key ingredient, the supply of which is in constant jeopardy.

There are various ways of dressing up this vital commodity. ‘Intensity’ is the term in favour across most disciplines, even in the GAA, where it has traditionally been described as Savage Hunger. Though in recent times, Roy Keane has tended to break things back down to brass tacks, lest there be any confusion. “The culture at United has to change. There are players not running, not sprinting.” 

Once upon a time, it might have been enough to have Roy Keane sitting in your dressing room, as your cultural ambassador, to guarantee this part of the bargain would be fulfilled. But there are not many Roy Keanes around, it is accepted, so gaffers must become more imaginative.

I am reading Liverpool coach Pep Lijnders’ new book at the moment, for some ideas in this area. We can be fairly certain they will be provided because Lijnders has called the book Intensity. And he is at pains to tell us regularly in it that “our identity is intensity”.

And in fairness, there is plenty of detail about the kind of modified training games and drills and “speed-up situations” Liverpool employ to get lads used to the running aspect of things.

“A good team isn’t born,” he says, “it’s created through many, many exercises focusing on the same aspects time and time again; searching constantly for an intensity so we can go and the opposition can’t.” 

Yet after a week on the training ground going and going again, pulling the triggers on their “pressing machine”, Lijnders also accepts that himself and Klopp are in uncertain territory every weekend. “Each game we have to ask ourselves the decisive question: how badly do we want it?” 

Yes, the running is a hard enough sell, Lijnders accepts, that requires some cunning powers of persuasion. Run now to avoid running later, is one ploy he uses, which may not work on procrastinators.

“Counter-pressing isn’t problem-solving but problem-avoiding… and it for sure avoids a lot of running! So, if you want to convince players this one always helps… running avoids running!” 

This is reminiscent of how the other Pep used to coax Ribery at Bayern, telling him he just needed ‘four seconds at peak performance’ in the press so that Franck could avoid having to chase back 80 yards with his full-back.

Yet we all know four seconds is a long time at 110% and for once the Liverpool lads’ persuasion seemed to fall on deaf ears at Fulham last week, after which Klopp more or less concluded that they didn’t want it enough.

I’m also watching All or Nothing: Arsenal at the moment and it is abundantly clear that Mikel Arteta is acutely wary of any undersupply of this key commodity. Indeed Mikel is having to work overtime in this area, forever finding new, elaborate schemes to make them run.

He tells them he loves them, he draws a cartoon heart, with legs, on his whiteboard, holding hands with a cartoon brain. He brings in the club photographer, a lifelong fan, who tearfully tells them what it will mean to the supporters out there, to see them running. 

He gets them in a circle to close their eyes and rub their hands together, to generate energy that can be invested in all the running they are about to do. He goes full GAA dressing room — Look What They Said About Us — and puts Ivan Toney’s tweet on a wall.

Mikel likes to package all this up as ‘passion’, but there are a few half-time intervals when it is evident they haven’t wanted it enough and he has to simplify the message a little further: “Guys, we have to fucking run.” 

There are positive signs for Arsenal fans, all the same, insofar as at least nobody laughs during any of these episodes, which must require a fair bit of discipline, especially during the drawing. You get a sense that they do have good intentions, these lads, that they are mainly good lads, who’d like to give this man the speed-up situations he wants.

When they talk about culture, in this scenario, John Giles would probably simplify things even further and break it down into having more good lads than bad lads.

In adding Gabriel Jesus to the mix — and maybe subtracting Aubameyang and a few more — perhaps Arteta will have less heavy lifting to do this season. You sense Erik ten Hag, though, could be drawing on all his powers of persuasion.

Tragedy of a good lad

If you’re one of the good lads these days, there’s a real danger you’ll end up on a leadership group. That’s where Dillon Quirke found himself soon after he was called into Liam Sheedy’s Tipperary panel.

Tributes and eulogies this week have made clear the esteem for Dillon in his club and community and county. Speaking on the Nenagh Guardian Tippcast, his county teammate Robert Byrne described well how much fun Dillon was to be around. And he captured the value somebody with those leadership qualities brings to any manager trying to get his team to dig deeper.

“I remember one time, we were doing a session down in Setanta. Everyone was out on their feet. It came to the last circuit. You could hear a lad roaring down the bottom of the hall. I couldn’t breathe up at my end and here he was roaring down at his end, driving everyone on.” 

It is a heartbreaking tragedy that this young man won’t get to fulfil his own full potential. But in time it will hopefully bring some comfort to his family and friends to hear how much Dillon invested in others fulfilling theirs.

Heroes and Villains


Tony Adams: A well-marshalled offside trap on Strictly — they’ve finally sold it to me.

Xie Hui: Mourinho in a skip has been overtaken as the benchmark for a suspended gaffer. The Dalian Pro (Chinese Super League) boss got his messages across from high in the stands by having home fans chant them at his players.


English lacrosse: Beaten 14-3 by Haudenosaunee at the U21 Worlds in Limerick. Clearly Malory Towers is not the production line it once was.

Joey Barton: Setting new standards in man-management and dignity by telling the world he just didn’t trust former Shamrock Rovers man Trevor Clarke.

BBC: Should have got Kylie back again for the Classifieds finale, with a speaking part this time.

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