Dali and Dembele

I remember when I was about 15 or so we had a student art teacher and for whatever reason my work got quite… experimental. I was no artist really but I wasn’t terrible, and with a bit of luck and a following wind some of my stuff felt alright.  Anyway, this particular year I started incorporating bananas and mountains and kettles and fish and all sorts really, all into the same pictures. You should have seen them.  I don’t know that it worked terribly well but it was original if nothing else.

Anyway, at the end of the term we all got our reports and mine said something along the lines of “Richard shows some ability but his work is increasingly childish” which really stopped me in my tracks.  Maybe she was right, but in retrospect, the thing to do would have been to introduce me to the work of Salvador Dali and see what I thought of that.  Not call me childish.  (I have any number of these silly gripes – I’m sure they’ll all work their way out in the end).  Before too long I gave up art (another common theme!) and didn’t regret it at all.  But I still took that childish comment to heart.

Martin Jol has done the equivalent of introducing Moussa Dembele to Salvador Dali.  Dembele was doing things that nobody else was doing, but the problem was, they weren’t much use, or at least not as much use as it felt like they should be. He would get the ball and do his crazy stuff but sooner or later he’d run into too many people, and the excellence of his approach remained notional rather than actual. Jol has since reasoned that by dropping Dembele back down the pitch, suddenly he has a different kind of space to work in, where he gets more one on one situations and fewer funnels into massed bodies.  Now teams absolutely must have a plan to deal with him (and Dempsey, and Murphy), or they risk having 1, 2 or maybe 3 players taken out of the game one by one by Dembele’s dribbling.  And this opens up spaces for other players.  Rather than just letting Dembele keep splattering paint on his paper and waiting for him to ‘get it’, Jol has encouraged the player to work with what he does, but given him a better framework on which these skills might flower.  It’s classic coaching, the sort of thing that shows thought, flexibility and nous, and I love how Jol has been prepared to think outside the box on this one.

19 thoughts on “Dali and Dembele

  1. Completely agree and like the analogy. I think everyone noticed how well Dembele had been tracking back. But it was rarely thought that he could be a viable partner for Murphy in a midfield that didn’t have a defensive midfielder behind them. But Jol figured out that that the defensive midfielder’s space is exactly the kind of space Dembele needed and took the risk. Over the last three games, at least, it has been a masterstroke.

  2. dembele’s looked fantastic in his new role. i’m curious to see how the new setup will do against a top side. can dembele and murphy hang with a top class midfield?

  3. This post about your artwork and the lack of positive influence for your expression brings to mind something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately…with regards to how children get awards for participation these days compared to when we were young and your coach/teacher would flat out tell you that you were shite. In today’s “PC/everyone is special in their own way” world, I had always considered that a bad thing.

    But it might not be bad because those that are experimental in their artwork, music, sport, are probably getting the positive feedback as a child the may lead them to more success on some level. As a parent of a 5 year old, this certainly puts me in a spot…I want people in positions of influence to tell my son when he needs to work on things, but is that holding him back? It sure didn’t help your burdgeoning art career, and it didn’t help me to focus on one sport in my teen years (which coincidentally looking back would have been soccer/football).

    Oh, and Dembele? Purely a Dali on the field…lovely comparison!

    1. exactly. I wasn’t asking for praise – my work might not have been very good – but given what I was doing the obvious thing would be to show me some of Dali’s more surreal stuff and talk about that, see where it took me. It mightn’t have made any difference but I think it would have been better to do that than tell me my work is childish (especially when you see so many people with actual degrees in art churning out pictures of faux 2-dimensional teacups, etc)

      Interesting thought though, and different people respond in different ways. I suspect that when you’re doing lots of things then encouragement is generally the best idea, but once you’ve shown any degree of specialisation then you need to be more critical. So a 5 year old playing football should be encouraged no matter what; a 15 year old in Fulham’s academy probably needs a bit more of a stick than a carrot (or not, depending on the personality).

      The other angle is Woody Allen’s thing about 80% of life being about showing up. When I was younger all i wanted was to write a book. I wrote this blog for four years rain or shine and eventually someone asked me to write one. Had I not kept showing up then that wouldn’t have happened. So participation is important but perseverence is the big bit of that. But at some point in most cases you need someone to believe in you and to shape your development, which is what Dembele’s had with Jol (to a degree).

      1. Agree with all of what you said…it’s partly skill, encouragement, tough love, and showing up. Not in equal parts for everyone and certainly not the same mix for each individual.

        It’s why one remembers that baseball coach from when they were 8 who taught them how to throw a curveball, or the math teacher from 3rd grade who introduced a complex subject that most kids that age couldn’t handle.

        As a parent you just hope that those influences are out there for your children! I am certainly striving to help my son focus on what he excels at, but yet continuing to work at those things that might need more attention.

        But yeah, Jol and his staff do deserve credit for Dembele’s development into a free flowing midfielder.

  4. This raises an interesting question over what style of management that Jol uses. Before christmas, with all the vitriol coming from the Zamora camp and the fine for Kasami’s penalty, it looked as though Jol was a disciplinarian who wanted it his way or the highway.

    At the same time, however, there were reports from the youth players that he was much more encouraging than Hughes had ever been and they had been impressed. Frei made a point of running over and hugging Jol at the Odense match after he scored his first goal for the club.

    Then we have the Moussa situation – when Jol first arrived, there were a load of interviews with Moussa where he commented that Jol wanted him to shoot more and attack more. Then Jol moves him to central mid and he flourishes, handling the situation very well.

    So who is he? I have always thought he was laid back but encouraging. His interviews (which a vocal section of fans despise) I have always thought to be simply honest rather than point scoring (Mark Hughes) or mind games (SAF) based. His record with bringing through youth is also good, which would indicate he is a good teacher, someone who helps players to improve. Maybe this is why Zamora did not get on with him – new suggestions about improving his game were viewed as patronising and the older players felt there was a lack of respect for what they had achieved?

  5. Not much other to add than – what a fantastic analogy!

    I wonder how the Dembele dropping deep idea first got started – Jol suggesting it to Moussa, the other way round? In any case it certainly makes a big case for Jol being a thoughtful, thinking manager.

  6. Yes, a great analogy Rich. I think we (at least those of us over about 35), can all retell bad experiences at school. Mine was being told to just “mouth the words” when singing because I supposedly couldn’t sing. I found later in life that I actually could sing.

    I have a 16 year old son, and it has been eye-opening for me to see how much fun he has had over his school career. Teachers take a lot of stick in Australia, 90% of it unwarranted in my view. I’m increasingly of the view that schools should turn out a rounded, confident, creative individual, rather than a strictly disciplined, regimented, narrowly educated one.

    As for Moussa, I was getting increasingly frustrated with him until a month or two ago. His performances in recent weeks have been eye-opening. Being a demanding type of bloke, I’d still like him to be able to shoot. ;-)

  7. Concur both re. education and football — some good stuff in the post and responses.

    Moussa’s redeployment to midfield seemed right immediately. Curious thing is though, that it actually happened for one (possibly two) matches several months ago, possibly through force of circumstance. Can’t remember the details, just attending a game where he was deployed as now and hailing it afterwards as the best he had had for us even though he hadn’t scored/assisted. Mine wasn’t the only such appreciation afterwards either. Which match would this have been, folks?

    The experiment then got dropped and now it’s the status quo. AlexL writes well, above, about what this change of mind seems to say about Jol. It is the single biggest plus point of his managerial reign to date, the only downside being that Champions League clubs everywhere will be in the process of re-assessing Dembele and drawing much more favourable conclusions than formerly. He is the same player as before, how could he not be, yet radically different and more useful to our team — potentially to a more stellar one.

    1. The other angle here is that if Jol didn’t do this we’d have too many players in advanced positions. That 4-2-3-1 we used to start the season was a bit awkward and featured Dempsey/Dembele and Ruiz all switching around, seemingly jammed in because they were talented players whom Jol wanted to field, but not necessarily in the right way. Dembele dropping back frees up one of the attacking spots nicely (either for AJ or Duff or Ruiz), and given how he’s been surprisingly decent tracking back we don’t appear to have lost a great deal defensively.

      The team feels a bit more balanced now, although I still don’t know whether you keep playing with AJ in every game of pick certain matches in which you suspect he’ll thrive. I will have to do a ‘with or without you’ thing on him this weekend.

      1. Yes that is the other angle. Absolutely. With Moussa in his new role it all fits into place. But if he’s absent injured….?

        The Newcastle game showed Sidwell failing in that role and everything changing when AJ came on. That isn’t definitive about AJ (about whom your question is reasonable and I don’t know either) but I am confident that Sidwell won’t fit the spec, and am doubtful that anyone else at the club can either.

      2. Someone on TIFF posted a link to league stats on whoscored.com. If you look at the attacking stats you can see that we have the lowest %age of attacks from the left in the league (by quite a large margin). The fact that we funnel our attacks through the right has long been a feature of our play, caused I believe by Dempsey’s drifting inwards. Having Dembele in central mid might provide us an opportunity to get more balance to the side by bringing in someone who can genuinely play on the left, and moving Dempsey into the middle to focus on being a striker/roving attacker.

        1. Maybe, but Dempsey seems to be at his best making that run in from the left. The thing here is that you need someone running into that space, and Riise’s still not doing that very much (well as he’s playing).

          1. I’m not sure about that. Dempsey has scored whether playing up front or through the middle. And he’s never really been tried behind a front man. Dempsey, to me, is the modern form of Peter Beardsley, a player with midfield skills, but a brilliant ability to read the game, make runs, and score scrappy goals. Beardsley was at his best when given the freedom behind a front man, and I think Dempsey would be too.

            In addition, the lack of attacks from the left isn’t just about a lack of someone running into space. There’s a limit to what a fullback can do to initiate attacks from and retain possession on the left in the attacking third. Even a player of Riise’s quality can never do much more than get in crossing positions and act as a back-up to the midfielders in terms of possession. In order to be truly balanced (I’m assuming we want to be), we need someone who can hold the ball and initiate attacks from the left.

            I like Dempsey but having him on the left limits us greatly in terms of balance and causes us to be funnelled through the middle. Someone out left with a brief to work out there would resolve that and would allow Dempsey to play with more freedom to make runs where ever they are best suitable.

            1. Ruiz might be the answer, as he doesn’t do the Duff cutting inside thing particularly. I think you need him reasonably central, too, to make the most of his creativity and vision, but I think he could do a job out there (a la Kevin Sheedy).

              Otherwise an outlandish idea would be to pick your moments and give young wide players a go, trying to recreate the Kerim Frei “element of surprise” we saw earlier in the season. I don’t know which flank Kakalincic plays down but suppose we figure that four of our remaining opponents aren’t strong down the right flank? It’d be fun to give a young winger a go in those matches.

              Incidentally, we sit in the Riverside just down the Fulham left wing slot and that side of the pitch does get used a fair amount. The reason I keep mentioning Riise is that every so often the attack naturally feels like it’s coming our way (as it would have under Roy) but despite all the space, nobody’s bombing on. If they are, Murphy has shown himself particularly good at dropping the ball into this area this season, but the runs have been quite rare. It’s something Matt Briggs showed promise with, but that’s another matter – he seems to have a lot of good football skills but not the right ones to make him a good idea at any single position!

              1. The Riverside? I hadn’t realized you were so close to retirement!

                Yeah, I’m not really talking about a winger per se. But rather someone who can play on the left and act as a creative force for us there. Dempsey, for all intents and purposes, is a support striker: all movement, clever touches, and opportunistic finishes. He is brilliant at it and I would like to see us committing to give him that role full-time so that we can balance our midfield appropriately. Right now it seems odd to play with both dempsey and AJ around the striker, two in the middle (Murphy and Dembele) and a winger (Duff or Ruiz) on the right.

                Its working, and an unbalanced side would not be out of keeping with modern football. So I am willing to accept the possibility that my own need for order is harming my ability to see that it is the less-structured nature of our formation that has made us look so good over the last three games. But to the extent we need balance — and I think maybe against the better sides we do — I would be in favour of experimenting with Kasami, Frei or Ruiz out left, playing Dempsey more centrally and dropping AJ to the bench.

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