Chris Morgan, the former Sheffield United defender, agrees with Jack O’Connell’s theory that too many players fail to understand the importance of developing good communication skills.
But Morgan, who made nearly 300 appearances for the club before announcing his retirement five years ago, believes societal changes are responsible for the exacerbating the problem rather than modern training methods.
“People have probably changed how they interact, how they get along and how they organise themselves,” he told The Star earlier this week. “How the game develops is always going to reflect that. I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that there are no leaders anymore but, because it’s so valuable and yet it’s not spoken about much anymore, I can understand where the perception comes from.”
Stroll through any town or city centre on an evening and it becomes clear what Morgan is talking about. Teenagers sit on benches texting not chatting while cafes are full of couples scrolling through their mobiles instead of sharing conversation. Sportspeople are becoming increasingly mute too. Indeed, it speaks volumes that O’Connell cited Jake Wright’s communication skills as one of the qualities which makes him such an effective team mate and centre-half ahead of tonight’s game against Burton Albion.
“I was speaking to Michael Duff, who takes Burnley’s development squads, the other day and he was telling me about how Sean Dyche has stopped players wearing headphones when they get off the coach and walk into a ground,” Morgan said. “It’s all part of what we are talking about; improving communication. If you’re on the bus and you want to go into your own little world, that’s fine. If you want to put them back on before a game because it’s how you prepare, fine. But his idea is that, when you walk into the ground, you should look like a footballer and act like a footballer.”
Morgan, who turned 40 earlier this month, captained the United squad which gained promotion to the Premier League 11 years ago and enjoyed two spells in caretaker charge at Bramall Lane. Now looking for a route back into management or coaching after leaving Port Vale, he outlined some of the methods which can be employed to encourage players to talk more. One is based on the same notion which recently prompted Travis Binnion, the manager of United’s Steelphalt Academy, to introduce compulsory work-experience placements for his young players at local companies.
“There’s a drill you can do where you say ‘right, let’s play football but nobody talks for five minutes’ and then players realise how alien it is not to talk,” Morgan said. “They realise how difficult it is without someone telling them ‘man on’, ‘drop-off’ and other things like that. Then, when the rules changes, they actually want to talk.”
“I’d never criticise academies,” Morgan added, “But when I did my YTS, you had to do jobs like sweeping up, cleaning and getting the ground ready. That also meant you had to talk and organise each other. It made it come naturally.
“You can be a leader or communicate in different ways, you don’t have to be bellowing instructions like I used to. Others do it in a more quiet way but it makes you feel so much more secure, so much more aware, when you are playing in a team full of people who talk.”