In our last blog we discussed the potential contributions that FC Isle of Man could make to the local community, in Part Three of our mini series we sat down with our Sporting Director, Paul Jones, to discuss his thoughts on some of the core elements of the club, namely player identification and the potential player pathway.
Paul, the essential component of FC Isle of Man is the football club itself. I want to discuss your vision for identifying the players who will represent the club and the future opportunities that this is will offer our younger generation.
What do you think this important aspect of the club may look like over the next five to ten years?
Firstly we have to consider and put in place everything that is necessary to ensure that FC Isle of Man is playing in a league that ultimately enables it to be a professional football club. By that I mean having a group of players that can be playing full time.
When you consider the standard of the leagues we will hopefully compete in, the travelling involved and because of the sponsorship opportunities available, the whole project dictates the need to be ‘professional’ from the outset. Therefore, having players who meet the criteria to allow us to be just that is critical. Underneath (the first team) could sit an academy of perhaps 16 to 21-year olds who are in full time education who will get to train everyday to prepare them to ultimately play in the ‘first team’.
Ideally any ‘academy’ would be linked to education, whether that’s in competitive sport, in sports coaching, or within the workplace. This is with a view that the players are then subsequently giving back into the local community and local football and sports clubs when they’re not training or at college or university.
The vision of an academy sounds exciting and quite a radical change to the way we currently develop our younger players?
As far as a junior setup is concerned, I’m a bit torn if I’m honest. The traditional model is to have development groups between the ages of 10 through to 18 if not younger. However, we need to be more effective and efficient than the traditional model which is wasteful and inefficient.
My ideal scenario would be for the players to play in the local game at their clubs until the age of 14 or 15, at which point we may select players to come into FC Isle of Man for a couple of sessions a week, with a view to then be selected at 16+ (for the academy). This is arguably contrary to the way most football clubs are set up, but it is the direction of travel most researchers in this area suggest football clubs should be set up.
So, in those formative early years (8-13 years old) we would envisage that the island’s young players remain in their clubs?
Yes, because the local grassroots community are doing such a great job already and it is important children aren’t selected in or deselected out of the ‘system’ before they have reached an age people can make a more informed decision about their potential.
Can we explore the pathway in a little more detail? Going back to your first point about being a professional football club, and considering the level we hoping to enter the league system (step six) and beyond, what sort of attributes are we going to be looking for?
Commitment is a big one. All the players are going to have to demonstrate over several years, a commitment to the project, whether that’s training attendance, consistency of availability for matches, understanding the game plans, and giving their best effort every second of everything that we do. In addition, it’s being able to demonstrate the qualities of being humble, a decent human being and having that desire to go beyond the good of themselves for the good of the group.
And the reason for this is because our players will be performing in a completely different footballing environment and over a much longer period of time that they are currently used to?
Very much so.
It’s going to be a huge change for everyone involved and we will all, including the players, need to get our heads around this pretty quickly and understand how big a difference it will be. There may be some players who may not cope with the step. I don’t necessarily mean from a playing level, as we definitely have players that are good enough, but they may not necessarily have the behaviours, attitude, or consistency of performance just yet.
Part of getting to a point where FC Isle of Man becomes a professional team on the Isle of Man means we will not have time to wait for players to ‘catch on’ so to speak, especially in the first few seasons. Speaking from a sporting director point of view, the players will have to accept that we need to win leagues to progress, and the quicker we do that the quicker we get to a level where we have a more distinguishable player pathway. Having this pathway is the whole point of the project. We believe the players are good enough to get to that level but it’s this mindset that will be critical to when or if it happens.
So, there is going to be a high level of responsibility and thus pressure on everyone?
Yes, there will to an extent. I don’t think we can afford to wait three, four or five years to get a promotion, because that will cost too much money. The Manx public wouldn’t buy into that, sponsors wouldn’t buy into that, and we’d perhaps be spending two million quid to get to a point where we don’t have a player pathway, and we can’t do that.
There will be a bit of pressure on everyone’s shoulders to bounce up (through the leagues), and that will need players who aren’t afraid of a bit of pressure, who are capable of performing to a good level, week in and week out, for 50 games a year. We will need players who are capable of performing in training every week, who have shown that they can stay fit for long periods over a season and not get niggly injuries, who have shown they’re not going to get sent off for stupid reasons. All these attributes have to taken into consideration over and above whether they can play football.
This may mean certain types of players could be more likely to be included in the early years of the club, while in the interim hopefully enough players outside of the group figure out (the characteristics of) what is needed to be a player with FC Isle of Man. If this happens, then I also believe that this should help the Manx game to kick on, because there will be a different level of intensity and commitment in the local game as players attempt to prove themselves good enough to play for FC Isle of Man.
Succession planning will be important too, because we are also likely to have gaps to fill as we will inevitably lose some players along the way. For instance we may end up selling players to teams in higher leagues, some of the older players might retire, and some players might lose form, and because our philosophy is that the club is for Isle of Man based players, is it going to be to important to promote and educate those player attributes that will be required to the various levels below FC Isle of Man first team?
Without a doubt yes. Some of this will be may be the club explaining why we have the (initial) group of players that we do during the first couple of years and helping to educate people around the type of player that we are looking for. Part of this will be technical and tactical, they’ve got to be able to pass the ball, they’ve got to be able to understand ‘the game’. More importantly however, players will see that we’re signposting the sort of characters that we need, the types of people who can fit into the group, the types of people that will add huge value to the group both on and off the pitch.
Another part of this will be the work we do with players in any ‘academy’ we establish, as that will be ultimately the place where we can mould an FC Isle of Man player. We may also have opportunities to provide some education in the grassroots game by holding coaching workshops and parent workshops and perhaps even workshops and sessions with some of the young players, that are 11, 12, 13, 14 years of age, painting a picture of what it will take to be an FC Isle of Man player.
I also believe it’s important for us to signpost to the Manx football community that specialising in football before 16 isn’t always the right thing to do. Young people need to go and play a variety of different sports as the benefits will carry-over into their football. It’s so important for young people to experience other sports, to experience and understand new disciplines, meet new people, learn about themselves in a variety of environments so they are willing and prepared to commit to football when that commitment is actually required.
So, there’s loads of things that we’ll need to do from an educational perspective, but a major element of it will be by whoever selects the squad, and by us signposting our club values.
The types of players that we’re selecting should also form part of that. If we’re ultimately successful, this will help people to understand what it takes to be successful in the future. The higher up you go, the more it will become about technical and tactical abilities to a point, but you’ve still got to win the battle. You’ve still got to work harder than the other team for 90 minutes. You’ve still got to be prepared to do what the opposition aren’t prepared to do, and that is the nature of every footballer at every level, even at the Premier League in England. You’ve got to be on it, you’ve got to have intensity for every second of every game, and the clubs that do that and the players that do that have good careers and good success.
Our players, at FC Isle of Man first team level, will need to understand that they can’t switch things on and off, and they will have to demonstrate that they’re totally focused all the time.
So in summation, the players who ultimately represent FC Isle of Man are not just going to have the right correct technical and tactical skills, but perhaps more importantly are going to need the right mental skills to be selected both in the present and in the future.
Without a doubt, yes.