"...this is the most articulate and accurate piece written about the club for years!" - Tales from the Front, http://www.otib.co.uk/

Saturday, 17 August 2013

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE Interview with Sean O'Driscoll


When you're offered an online exclusive interview with Bristol City Manager Sean O'Driscoll, you don't turn it down!

Some of you may have read this in the latest edition of The Bountyhunter fanzine, which was on sale at the Bradford match, but as they don't have an online presence I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to publish it via this medium.  There's some typically fascinating responses from SOD in here, some you'll love, some you'll perhaps have alternative views on, but all equally measured and balanced, as ever.

There's also a question from Sean himself at the bottom, which he wants the fans to answer.  So please feel free to comment on the blog below and I'll collate all responses and get them back to the club - it's a good chance to tell the manager (and others) exactly what you'd like to be happening at your club.

Enjoy...


"Last month we sent the club an e-mail, more in hope than expectation, asking whether Sean O’Driscoll would be willing to do a short Q&A for our next issue. Surely we thought, he’ll be too busy with important stuff – like trying to find some kit big enough for new signing JET – or probably just not interested. Wrong! No problem, they said! And in no time at all Sean’s reply had pinged into The Bountyhunter’s inbox. Our processes had achieved the desired outcome! Splendid. So here it is, with grateful thanks to Sean for finding the time to give us some open and insightful answers. Bostin!

10 Questions for...Sean O’Driscoll

The Bountyhunter: During the radio phone-in you did with Geoff Twentyman last season, you said emphatically that City will return to the Championship. Can you tell us why you are so confident about that?
Sean O’Driscoll: Because it’s a club that now wants to do things the right way, by putting solid foundations in place to support promotion to the Championship, the ability to sustain Championship football, and build from there. If you get any sort of stability in the approach on the playing side, coupled with a club that’s financially stable and has a firm but flexible infrastructure behind the scenes, you will be successful. This club has everything going for it but had lost its way through a culmination of many factors. 

What we cannot do is get hung up on the ‘when’ will we get promoted. Whatever happens, when promotion does finally come, the club has to go up in a stronger, more stable and sustainable position than it was relegated in. That may be this season, it may be next, it may be another three seasons, and you cannot start to get frustrated and lose faith in the long-term goal if it doesn’t happen straight away. 

Football being football, I could end up being one of the casualties of the transition process, as could some of the players, but if the fundamental principles that the club has decided it wants to govern itself by remain intact, I have absolutely no doubt at all this club will be back in the Championship in a much healthier, vibrant state.


2. Last season you said we were playing a position-based style rather than a possession-
based one. Was this expediency because you didn't have the right type of players available or because we were in a relegation battle?
When I used that expression I was trying to articulate what we were trying to do, how we were trying to make things as simple as possible for the players to find a way they could win football matches and instill some confidence back into them. Hopefully people understood that we couldn’t be expansive or take risks, and by no means was it a slight on the players that were here, but we had to give them something easy, quick and tangible they could buy into and believe in. They had to become a team greater than the sum of its parts. 

When we went on our run of good results that was testament to the boys trusting in what we were telling them and doing their jobs properly. The turning point of last season for me was losing Jon Stead. He was the focal point of this functional approach, and again this is absolutely no criticism of the boys that came in as they have their own strengths, but we couldn’t quite replicate the same resilience or find the right formula to win after his injury. 


Losing Jon Stead proved critical in City's failure to avoid relegation

We did look at the loan market but there was no one out there who met our criteria of being available, affordable and who wanted to come. Should we have broken the bank to get someone in? If you do that again, you are setting the precedent to keep doing it and for a club already carrying such huge losses you have to say ‘no more’ at some point. All you’re doing is putting a plaster on a broken arm.

3. We admired the passing football your Bournemouth and Doncaster teams played and hope for more of the same at City. Is the aim this season to play a more possession-based, fluid style of football?
The whole possession/passing thing is a bit of a misnomer. I’ve never coached passing; we aim to give players options on the ball, then coach decision-making. You can’t be predictable. 

Sometimes passing it out from the back might be the right thing to do but why would you persist with doing that if your centre-halves or sitting midfield player then kept getting caught in possession in dangerous areas? If players are comfortable in possession and don’t lose the ball, like Xavi and Busquets, it’s an easy option to give it to them. But sometimes your keeper or centre-half spotting a striker has peeled off his man into a dangerous position in the channel, and playing the ball up to him, is completely the right thing. If you keep getting joy that way and you play 15-20 ‘long’ balls into that space, does that make you a long ball team or an intelligent one? 

It sounds so simple but from the youngest ages players in this country have never been challenged to think and make decisions like that themselves, they’ve always waited for a coach to tell them what to do. What we try to say is ‘Here are your options, what do you think is the right thing to do and why?’ If they pick the right option and it doesn’t come off we will still applaud the decision making, but if they continually pick the wrong option then you’ve got a problem.

4. In interviews you’ve spoken about wanting "thinking" players and ones with the right "character". Could you expand a little on what you meant?
I’ve probably touched on this in the previous answer but I want to develop players and a team who understand what is being asked of them, and therefore can make their own decisions on the field of play; players who are prepared to take responsibility for the decisions they make. As I said before, we will never have a go at a player for trying something and it not coming off if it was the right thing to do at that time. If it was stupid, irresponsible and careless they won’t be afforded the same grace! 

The more times you can create environments in training where people can take responsibility, the better the team will be. People who get that concept fly very quickly, and although they may not always be the most talented boy, they are your glue, the unsung heroes in a team. 

In any walk of life you want characters around you that you can trust, even down to the most basic things like punctuality. Why should footballers be any different? It’s just basic professionalism.

5. City are a big club in Division 3 terms, there to be shot at by the smaller ones. Whereas in the Championship, we’re a small fish in a bigger pond. So will the players need a different mind-set compared to last season? Do you work on the psychological side of the game with players?
What defines a big club? Selling 8,000 season tickets off the back of relegation suggests the club has the fan-base to sustainably support a higher level of football. There’s no doubt the club has potential but the hardest thing is unlocking potential as everyone has an opinion on what you should or shouldn’t do.

I personally don’t think Bristol City were a small fish in a big pond in the Championship. We had a wage bill that said we should have been mid-table. What we didn’t have was anything underpinning that, which is why we find ourselves where we are now with the club having made very brave, bold statements about the direction it now wants to go in. 

How do we deal with being a big club in League One? There are plenty of clubs considered bigger than us who are either in the division next year or have been in recent seasons. Every single thing we do on the training pitch reflects what happens in a game on Saturday so I’d say all my coaching reflects the psychological side of the game. You have to play the situation not the occasion, which is why everything I’ve always done with players focuses on getting them to think and make decisions for themselves, not wait for someone to tell them what to do. That’s not about being a big club or small club, that’s about simply understanding and the more you practice and recreate that on the training pitch the easier it becomes in a game.

6. Barcelona's Xavi was once quoted as saying "The result is an imposter." Do you agree? Is this a variation on your mantras "I don't look at the league table" and "focus on the process not the outcome"?
That is a fantastic quote and it is so right. My experience in 15 years playing was – win and all the things we did wrong didn’t matter, lose and all the things we did wrong were demonised. It wasn’t about how we’d played or what elements we could take from what we’d done well or poorly, and learn from them. 

Please, please can I one day play for Sean O'Driscoll? But don't bring that fella behind me

The process/outcome thing still gets misinterpreted by some people who think that, because you say you focus on the performance and not the result, you don’t care about the result or you’re not bothered about winning. Of course I’m bothered about winning! How can I not care about winning when I’m in a results-driven industry? But I have to understand the reasons behind every result. Then I can understand how we can improve and move things on, even in victory. 

I’ve said it so many times but if someone can show me a way to play poorly every week and win I’d take it. But no one ever has so that’s why I focus on trying to make sure we tick all the boxes that make a good performance for our team, whatever they may be. The more boxes you tick, the likelihood is you’ll win more matches than not. You can still take positives from a defeat too.

7. The terminology you use in a lot of your interviews, like “processes and outcomes”, sounds like it comes from sports psychology, much of which can be traced back to Buddhist philosophy. Are you a big reader of sports psychology, a Buddhist, or perhaps both?!
I’m a big believer in trying to understand why successful people are successful, whether that’s businesses, sports teams or people, schools, anything. I’ve read so many things and the one thing that everyone concentrates on is the processes. I’ve read it time and time again; if the processes are right then they get the outcomes. 

And I’ve experienced it with every club I’ve been at too. Surely it’s just common sense? Every successful business has concentrated on putting foundations in place first, but in football the minute you say those things so many people still roll their eyes and switch off; they just want to hear you’re going to win 6-0 and get promoted. It’s that favourite British football cliché “passion”; people who go on about processes and outcomes can’t be passionate right? But if you’re saying stuff with no substance to back it up what’s the point? You have to judge people by their behaviours and not what they say. 

I can communicate with fans in loads of ways but if what I’m saying isn’t backed up by what I’m doing it’s pointless. I might not always get something right but I’ll always be the first to put my hand up and say ‘I got this wrong but this is why I did it’. It’s up to someone whether they then accept that or not. 

We’re in an industry completely governed by results but because you know that, you might as well do what you think are the right things to do because you’re probably going to lose your job one day anyway. I believe the way this club is now heading is the right way. If I owned my own club this is the way I would take it. If that makes me an Irish-Black Country Buddhist then so be it!

8. "The most important thing in football is what a player is doing on a pitch when he's not in possession of the ball, not vice versa." So said Valeriy Lobanovskyi (former coach of Dynamo Kyev & the USSR). Do you agree?
The average Championship game is 94 minutes long and for 45 of those minutes the ball is out of play. One of the things we asked at Doncaster was ‘can we be the best team in the league for those 45 minutes?’ That has nothing to do with money, the size of the club or a player’s technical ability, simply whether they understood the value of switching on when the ball was not in play. For us it was an opportunity to win the ball back and we were very effective when we were in possession. 

It’s one of those Moneyball type things. One of my biggest bugbears for years has been the number of goals conceded from throws in the final third; more chances come from throws than corners and free kicks because they are seen as innocuous, players switch off and don’t think marking from throws is important. But just watch how many times it happens! 

One day one of the top coaches in the world will make this point and everyone will think it’s genius but we’ve been saying it for years. It’s such a simple thing to do – stay alert and concentrate on throws – it’s not difficult!

9. Historically City fans have enjoyed watching us play with a proper winger, even two at times, but your previous teams have not always included out-and-out wide men. Is this a personal preference or can we hope to see some skilful wing-play for the City this season?
Wade Elliott at Bournemouth and James Coppinger at Doncaster were probably the two most skilful wingers I’ve managed, but they had so much more to their game than simply hugging the touchline and waiting for the ball to come to them. They had the intelligence to switch sides in play without being told, come inside to find pockets of space, yet always had their basic winger instinct to beat a man to underpin all that too. They were wingers who understood what was needed in a fluid system. They weren’t one-trick ponies. The days of standing on the touchline have gone. 

Even Wilfred Zaha, probably the most high-profile ‘winger’ in the British game at the moment has added so much more to his game, which has made him the real asset he is now. He always had pace and could beat a man but now he can switch wings, drop into midfield, play upfront – he better understands his own game, when he needs to defend and how he can contribute to the team effort. 

You think traditional wingers and you picture immediately a 4-4-2 formation; we get so bogged down in formations in this country it’s untrue. What you want is flexibility and fluidity, intelligence and bravery. Get that in a wide man and you have got a good player.

10. Any memories of playing against City yourself, as a Bournemouth player in the 80s/90s? (Please don’t mention that 5-0 drubbing at Dean Court in 1985 when Colin Clarke scored a hat-trick in the first 10 minutes as we still have nightmares about that!)
I don’t have too many memories of playing against many clubs to be honest! I’ve just never been someone that reminisces about things; I’ve always been too worried about what’s around the corner that could bite you on the backside! 

I remember an interview with Arsene Wenger when he recalled walking around the pitch having just won the title and going through the season unbeaten, and all he was thinking was ‘how am I going to better this next year?’ – while he’s on the pitch! That’s what it’s like and the minute you start slapping yourself on the back is the minute things start to slip. 

As an opposition manager two of my best team performances have come at Ashton Gate with Bournemouth on a Tuesday night and the 5-2 win with Doncaster Rovers. But you enjoy those because of the performance and execution of gameplan. 

Sean O'Driscoll has masterminded some impressive victories against City in the past

One of my strongest memories of this club strangely was an FA Youth Cup game at Ashton Gate on a freezing Tuesday night when I was youth team manager at Bournemouth. We were down to ten men when James Hayter, who I later had in my Bournemouth first team and also took to Doncaster, scored the most magnificent Glenn Hoddle-esque chip from the edge of the 18-yard box to win the game. As for Colin Clarke, he was an excellent finisher, which taught me it doesn’t matter how good a team you are if you haven’t got a goalscorer you won’t be successful.

(11) (Sorry Sean, we can’t count!) What do you like doing to switch off from the day job?
I’ve discovered Thatcher’s Gold since I’ve been here - always believe in your soul!


To finish, Sean turned the tables and posed a question of his own to all City fans:
"What do you think are the things this club needs to do to be successful and how do we go about it?"



Remember, be sure to let him know what you think. As I said above, I’ll happily collate and send on to the club so please feel free to comment in the comments section below (or via Facebook/Forum comments section) to get your voice heard.


Aside from the Thatcher's Gold quote I love this one 
"I believe the way this club is now heading is the right way. If I owned my own club this is the way I would take it."
It demonstrates the total commitment behind what we're trying to achieve as a club - not all managers would be as bought into youth development and budget management as Sean is.  It's a ringing endorsement of the club's 'pillars' programme from a man who has been in the game a long time. That's good enough for me!

What this also re-emphasises - yet again - is that we currently have a team very much in development, as I indicate at the tail-end of my season preview from a couple of weeks ago (http://exiledrobin.blogspot.fr/2013/08/its-here-at-last-exiled-robins-bristol.html).  We've got a very young and somewhat inexperienced side, who are learning fast. They need time, Sean needs time, and we're the ones who can give them that. 


My thanks once again to the Bountyhunter fanzine for letting me reproduce this, and to Sean and the club for offering such an excellent insight into the mind of our head coach.



The Exiled Robin

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10 comments:

  1. A team that plays for the shirt and each other who will strive for city, whilst endeavouring to play attractive football. A team that always tries their best to compete.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The club needs to engage with fans more. Let them be involved in basic decisions such as kit choice. The more involvement with things like this the more money will come in to help with matters on the pitch.

    This can be achieved with polls on the main website.

    On the pitch players who enjoy being on the ball, with good movement and work rate off the ball.

    Players who want to be here and want to be part of our future. Players who don't mind fan interaction rather than shy away from.

    The way to achieve that is to let the manager and Keith do there jobs by trusting in them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I trust what sean and his team are doing I think they are going about building in the right way. But drop fontaine and we will be fine.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dr Balls:

    I think that the club needs to re-build from the bottom up, which means making it the best option for local lads to come into professional football, then bring them through the right way so that they can be intelligent on and off the ball. If the fans see local boys eventually making it into the first team then that just brings the team even closer to the fans. That is not just sentimental nonsense - just think how important it is to Barcelona to bring through their own Catalan players. In this country the same applies to Liverpool. It also naturally brings a passion from both sides that cannot be underestimated.

    Also having a conveyor belt of talent coming through means the club is more likely to make it back to the top and remain financially viable. Witness the quick rise of Southampton after hitting rock bottom, while still selling on Bale, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain.

    Last but not least, the club has to be close to the fans and vice versa, which means meaningful input. We are lucky to have a local man as a benefactor and one who believes in the club and the city enough to plough in substantial amounts of his own money. However his greatest lasting achievement would be to make the club financially self-reliant, successful and a focal point for the city. That may sound ridiculous but you cannot underestimate how much sporting success can make a whole city feel good about itself, it's just so long since we have had much to shout about. I lived in Leicester the year Leicester City won the League Cup, the rugby club won the title and Leicestershire won the Cricket County Championship. I swear that everyone in the city walked at least an inch taller that year!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Tell him that both City and Willem II fans want a (yearly) friendly between the two sides.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Find a squad of players that are predominantly young,eager to learn and committed to their profession. Then add good quality coaching and also, place an importance on them getting into the community. This will mean that the fans 'buy in' and at last, there is a foundation to build on.

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  7. The recent changes are encouraging. What fans want is passion for the club, a good honnest work rate and a squad that works for each other. Thats on the field.
    Off the field fans want to be informed as to what is happening behind the scenes and what the clubs vision/ambition is for say the next five years. Fans also want to know how the club sees this happening so they can also buy into it. Supporters are pretty clued up although you will always get the odd fan who jut likes to whinge. Any fan with an ounce of sense understand that you have to work within a budget and its limitations. However it would be encouraging to see more interactions like these so the clued up fans can pose concerns and questions they may have without having to get into a prolonged debate.
    Keep up the good work, the results will come and nothing ever came from a quick fix.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have experience of working with the administration at the club. During that time, I found them naieve in their dealings with the opponents to the stadium and supermarket, I believe that is why we have so far failed in our bid for a new stadium. Generally my opinion of them is that they are weak willed, easily outflanked and know little about decision making when it comes to running a football club, as opposed to a business complying with administrative demands. It appears that decisions are taken initially on financial grounds but never with the intension of helping the team win a game of football. I would like the decision process start by asking, will this help the team win matches. Whilst also understanding that the financial implications are important the process must also look at the repercussions of those decisions on the football side. As an example, the ballboys were removed of their duties because they recieved free entry to games. The financial saving is questionable when you consider how important those ballboys are when either retrieving or not retrieving the ball at important times during the game. The ballboys were replaced by accademy players that were changed regularly and did not fully understand their duties.

    ReplyDelete
  9. There are only 2 things wrong with any team and that is the players are not good enough or they are not organized and disciplined now as Sean has recurted most of the team (9 new players he has signed) he must think they are good enough the other players he has not signed all played at a higher level that leaves us to the conclusion there is no organizion which means Sean and his coaching staff and not doing a very good job as for asking for time you are not going to get time City are a club that should be looking for at the very least play-offs the opposition are not excatly the giants of football I'm sorry Sean if you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen and work every day on getting the players drummed into them stay organized and keep tight if you have the England back 4 and they don't play as a unit you will conceed goals and lose matches Sean make yourself hard to beat,time is not on you or any other manager side we play good money for results now not promises of a better tomorrow as all fans know tomorrow never comes.Passionate City fan (supporting our local club)Terry

    ReplyDelete
  10. Please ask Sean if he has any advice for an aspiring football coach/ manager.

    ReplyDelete

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