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Men the game needs (by Elisha Scott)

Positions which are most difficult to fill
by Elisha Scott (Irish International goalkeeper of Liverpool).

Elisha Scott 1932

All of us who are interested in the game of football are interested in the building up of football teams. Don’t we just love to imagine ourselves getting together a really good side to represent the club in which we are specially interested; getting together something like an ideal side, that is.

Many a time I have been told by managers of teams which were not doing too well about the scores of letters – hundreds in some instances – they have received from the supporters of the club. These letters have told the managers the sort of players they ought to get to pull the team together. The letters have also told the managers how the teams could be made up, from the playing material at the disposal of the manager, to put it back on a winning way. All very interesting, all showing that many of us rather fancy ourselves at the job of team building.

How much of that advice, how many of the suggestions which come from outside are really worth anything I have no means of knowing. Anyway, it is a matter about which we need not worry our heads at the moment. The vital difference between the men the manager plays in the colours of a club, and the men who would be played by the amateur team selector, is that the former are tried out on the field and the latter are not.

Like a jig-saw puzzle
I don’t suppose there is any sort of unanimity among managers concerning the correct way to tackle the job of building a successful team. I know there is a lack of unanimity because in my talks with managers I have found different ideas. Some get the players and try to build up the team round those players. Other managers seem to have a very clear picture of the sort of football they want their team to play, and try to find the players who will carry out their ideas.

In either case there are difficulties in the way, of course, mainly because the supply of the right sort of football material is smaller than the demand. In any event, and whatever the angle from which the task of team building is approached, it must be very much like piecing together the bits of a complicated jig-saw puzzle.

Centre half – the corner stone
When I first came into top class football there seemed to ba much clearer cut idea as to the way to start team-building than there is now. I know several managers who used to concentrate, first and foremost, on finding the right type of centre half. He was the corner-stone round which the team was built.

Those of you who have been connected with this football as long as I have will be able to recall, without much difficulty, teams which were literally built round a super-player appearing in the centre-half position. Find the centre half and build the team round him. That used to be the slogan. I don’t think that slogans is nearly as popular to-day, probably because ideas concerning the part which the centre half should play have changed so far as modern clubs are concerned.

The old-time centre half used to be the complete footballer; strong, two-footed, super with his head, skill in his feet to beat an opponent, and accuracy with his kicking to support his own forwards. Such all-round skill is not demanded to-day. He is regarded as the stopper, and I suggest that it is easier to find men who are stoppers, purely and simply, that it is to find the complete footballer of the old centre half type. So perhaps we can say that, in a general sense, there is not the same difficulty in filling the centre half berth as there used to be.

Six a penny goalkeepers
Talking about the men the game needs, I don’t suppose I shall be expected to say that goalkeepers are among the big needs of our time. I have a manager friend who tells me that he would never pay a big transfer fee for a goalkeeper because good goalkeepers can be found anywhere. That sort of statement is apt to strain our particular friendship. It might be quite true that there are plenty of good goalkeepers, but it isn’t very consoling to a goalkeeper to dwell on that thought. So we will leave it with the suggestion that perhaps goalkeepers are not among the game’s biggest need because they stay on the active list so long.

Why centre forwards fail
That the game needs centre forwards who can satisfy the demand for consistent goal-scoring from that position is obvious. Centre forwards who can keep at it in the goal-scoring sense are not easy to find, however, mainly because, as I pointed ot in my reference to centre half-backs, their task is made exceedingly difficult owing to the “policeman” tactics now so largely employed.

Personally, I think some of the centre forwards might complain that their task is made even more difficult that it ought to be because they have not the men on either side of them to provide the openings; to take part of their burden off their shoulders. And that thought brings me automatically to what many people would, I am sure, consider the greatest need of the game to-day: more and more efficient inside wing men.

It is my view that the inside wing men have become the real key-players of the average football teams in these days. They have to be the workers, the fetchers, the carriers, the feeders, and in addition to provide the real brains of the side.

The measure of success which comes to outside wing men, and scoring chances to the centre forwards, are to a large extent dependent on the inside wing men. Whether you look at the International sides of recent times, or look at club sides, I think you will get evidence that the inside wing positions provide the managers with a lot of difficulty.

The game to-day also needs, perhaps more than ever, wing half-backs with ideas of constructive football highly developed. And football speaking in the general sense, needs thinkers. More time and thought is spent on tactics to-day than ever, but I don’t believe the last word has been said. There is scope for greater variety in football.

My favourite story
A cup-tie was in progress, and it was rather a rough game. Six of the players has sustained severe knocks, and one of the home backs had to be carried off the field in a state of collapse. At this stage a lady spectators, who had grown very alarmed, turned to her neighbour, and exclaimed: “What a terrible game! How often does a man lose his life at this sport?”
“Only once, madam!” said the gentleman.

Copyright - Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 04-02-1933 - Transcribed by Kjell Hanssen

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