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.