Kenny can keep ’em happy, but Perth are Lowe on tactics

Tim Palmer Columnist

By Tim Palmer, Tim Palmer is a Roar Expert

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    Coaches have always been important, but this particular time period in the A-League feels like the era of the coach.

    There has been a growing recognition of the importance of the role, more prestige and pressure attached to it, and an increasing onus on them to shape not only the fortunes, but also the tactical identity of their club.

    Tactics are particularly important in a salary capped league. The nature of the salary cap means that playing squads should be, on the whole – with the exception of lavish marquees – somewhat even on the paper. Therefore, it is up to the coach to maximise returns on the playing squad. This is achieved through good tactical planning.

    The very best teams in A-League history have always had a clear tactical mandate, and are excellent at targeting weaknesses in the opposition’s approach through a specific game plan. In this particular component of management, it has always been very difficult to shake off the feeling that Kenny Lowe is not the man to bring glory to Perth.

    Last weekend’s 2-0 defeat to the Mariners felt like a damning blow to the Glory’s season. While Perth had, in fact, gone five matches undefeated prior to the loss in Gosford, the manner of that defeat summed up the niggling problems with Lowe’s approach.

    But what exactly is Lowe’s approach? He will soon be Perth’s longest serving coach, yet it is difficult to say what his preferred style of play is.

    There is nothing about Perth that makes them distinctive. They’re decent on the counter-attack, not bad with long spells of possession, are capable of defending deep, sometimes press high… but there is nothing that makes Perth, Perth. They’re average at all of those tactical concepts – and average gets you exactly where they are now: the middle of the table, in fifth position.

    Think back through the great A-League teams, such as Ernie Merrick’s Victory, Vítězslav Lavička’s Sydney FC, Ange Postecoglou’s Brisbane and Graham Arnold’s current Sydney FC. Even if they wore a different kit, or you blurred the faces of the players, you could still tell straight away who these teams were from the distinctive way they play.

    Ange Postecoglou oversees a Melbourne Victory training session.

    Of course, having a clear identity is not fundamental to success. However, Perth’s lack of a clear tactical strategy results in a lack of clarity on the pitch. In the defeat against the Mariners, for example, it was painfully clear once the Glory went behind that the players weren’t all on the same page.

    Sometimes they crossed from out wide, but neither of the strikers knew the cross was coming; sometimes Liam Reddy would try to play out from the back, but the centre-backs would not be in the right position. These are the small details that come from clear, meticulous planning and preparation by the coaching staff, and rehearsed and revised on the training pitch. Perth never seem to have that level of cohesion or understanding.

    It makes you wonder what the Glory work on in the four or five sessions a week prior to a match. The training sessions of most A-League clubs contain physical preparation, possession and positioning exercises, then large-scale games of eight-on-eight or 11-on-11, where the head coach has the opportunity to drill specific patterns of play and tactical concepts into his players.

    Watching a Kevin Muscat, Graham Arnold or even John Aloisi session, it is clear the coach has a coherent vision of how he wants his team to play, and a comprehensible gameplan for the upcoming match to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses. The coach freezes the session, delivers key tactical messages, then ensures the players understand these instructions in the resulting passages of play. These are then reinforced with video analysis, and team meetings.

    Lowe’s focus, though, seems to be about keeping his players happy. When asked about his coaching philosophy, he told Aidan Ormond on the A-League website, “For me it is the environment. It’s purely environment. I want to ensure that when players wake up in the morning they actually want to come to work.

    “If I can have an environment where people are happy and enjoying themselves and enjoy the work, then we have half a chance of being successful.

    “My big focus is to take care of the players.”

    There is little doubt Lowe is extremely good in this regard. For all their shortcomings, the atmosphere around the Glory is always a calm, settled one. Players seem to genuinely enjoy playing under him and many have been loyal. Without a doubt, this is a critical component to coaching success.

    Yet keeping the players happy also guides Lowe’s choice of formation. He often changes shape simply to fit his best players together in a starting team – even if that leaves the side unbalanced, or comes at the expense of a specific tactical approach.

    For example, earlier this season he switched to a 3-5-2 against Sydney FC. This got Adam Taggart and Andy Keogh together upfront, with Diego Castro playing behind them in his favoured No.10 position. Yet Perth’s wing-backs were regularly overrun by Sydney’s overlapping full-backs, and Lowe quickly changed formation in the following games.

    There is a legitimate argument to say that your best players should be in your starting team anyway, regardless of your preferred system or style. The big issue with Lowe and Perth, though, is that this seems to come at the expense of the broader tactical components of being a coach.

    That may work in the short-term, such as when Keogh could not stop scoring at the start of last season, and Perth soared to the top of the table in the first ten games. In the long-term though, great teams win because of the systems their coaches put in place.

    The aforementioned attention to detail in training and match preparation becomes evident in games, because the players repeat similar actions, carry out a clear gameplan and have a definitive, collective understanding of the principles that underpin why they repeat these actions and have a particular game plan.

    Perth, unfortunately, never consistently have this. It happens occasionally – such as in that fine counter-attacking win over Melbourne City in October – but ultimately, if the team can’t do it consistently, that too is a reflection on the coach.

    It is undoubtedly an enormously difficult job, and Lowe is clearly gifted in other aspects of management, but a coach in the A-League is now also judged on the team’s tactical approach. In this regard, Perth are languishing under Lowe.

    Tim Palmer
    Tim Palmer

    Tim is a football coach, writer, analyst and sports scientist. He has worked with the Socceroos in an analysis role, has completed the FFA B Licence, is currently a player in the Australian Deaf Football Team and coaches in the NSW NPL. You can follow him on Twitter @timpalmerftbl.

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    The Crowd Says (23)

    • February 1st 2017 @ 8:21am
      Freddie said | February 1st 2017 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      The atmosphere around the Glory is always a calm and settled one? You might want to ask Rhys Williams about that!

      On Lowe, his team does have a distinctive approach. They are happy to concede possession, and play mainly on the counter, using the pace of Harold especially. He has lots of goalscoring talent in Keogh, Taggart, Castro, but his team often lacks a bit of creativity in midfield.

      On the whole, Lowe is a good coach, who should be applauded for bringing in talents like Castro & Taggart and helping to turn the club around post salary cap scandal. His surname and background aren’t cosmopolitan enough for the “style” fanboys though, obsessed with aesthetics, which they believe can only be delivered by chic Europeans in tailored suits.

      • February 1st 2017 @ 9:36am
        Franko said | February 1st 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        I dunno Freddie. I think on paper Perth Glory have a brilliant side and they are under-performing. The players brought in has more to do with Jacob Burns, Peter Filopoulos and Anthony Radich I would have thought.

        On paper a front pairing of Taggart, Keogh and Castro is as strong as any in the comp. With Griffiths in the middle adding steel and Risdon and Lowry in the back 4, there is no reason they shouldn’t be top 3.

        Kenny is ok, but they need someone new to take them to the next level.

        • February 3rd 2017 @ 1:24am
          Arto said | February 3rd 2017 @ 1:24am | ! Report

          Actually, I’d argue that PG are where they should be as they lack pace in the middle of the park – as soon as the opposition starts moving the ball quickly (either side-to-side or more directly towards goal) PG struggle to keep up. the pace you refer to is limited to their front 3 (not Castro, but Harold) and Risdon – the rest have been exposed too often this season. As a counter, PG are quite tough in midfield and CB so that when the game relies a lot on tackles and headers they tend to prosper.

    • Roar Rookie

      February 1st 2017 @ 8:51am
      Stevo said | February 1st 2017 @ 8:51am | ! Report

      I’m glad you mentioned the Perth v City game where Lowe exposed the weakness in the JVS high press setup and was subsequently adopted by JA. I’ve never understood why JVS wasn’t grilled mercilessly over his coaching style and lack of success. As for Lowe he appears competent but maybe he has taken the team as far as he can.

    • February 1st 2017 @ 8:53am
      Franko said | February 1st 2017 @ 8:53am | ! Report

      Oh yeh, and he wears rubbish clothes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • February 1st 2017 @ 9:31am
      Nemesis said | February 1st 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

      I think I read Alex Ferguson say that whilst formations & tactics are important in his role as a manager, the most important attribute that separates good managers from bad, was the ability to manage players.

      From what I’ve seen, Kenny Lowe is a superb manager of men.
      He understands them. They want to work for him.

      • February 1st 2017 @ 9:36am
        Franko said | February 1st 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        Williams? Risdon?

        • February 1st 2017 @ 9:55am
          Chris said | February 1st 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

          You can never ever keep everyone happy. I’ve been coaching for many years at a fairly high level and even in seasons where we won the league, there was a smattering of unhappy players. Not enough game time, playing in the “wrong” position, not buying into the philosophy etc etc.
          The successful manager limits these negative feelings from infecting the whole squad. Once it spreads, the only way is down and out.

        • February 1st 2017 @ 10:07am
          Nemesis said | February 1st 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

          From my perspective man management is not about keeping everyone happy.

          It’s about extracting the most out of the collective group. I don’t think Risdon is leaving because of Kenny. He wants to remove himself from his comfort zone that is Perth.

        • Roar Rookie

          February 1st 2017 @ 11:34am
          The Phantom Commissioner said | February 1st 2017 @ 11:34am | ! Report

          No-one knows exactly what the Williams situation is and as Nemesis says Risdon has been at Glory his whole professional career and wants to try something different, who doesn’t want to experience different things at 24?. Look at the players who’ve come back like Keogh and Griffiths, Castro stayed on so i think he has plenty of respect from the playing group.

          Now tactically Perth Glory do have an identity it’s very clearly a side who would let the opposition have the bulk of possession, soak up pressure and hit in a very direct and effective manner in attack. Of course playing this way the last thing you want to be doing is tinkering around with your back 4 which has been an omnipresent problem this season for us, it’s no coincidence that in that good little run we just had the back 4 was unchanged….then of course Grant goes and gets injured! Of course none of that can explain the complete capitulation against the Mariners in first 10 minutes of the 2nd half last week when we should have been 2 or 3 up or how we can completely be-dazzle Newcastle away for the first 15-20 away but only manage a draw, consistently inconsistent sums up a very disappointing campaign so far.

          • February 1st 2017 @ 10:54pm
            Daniel T said | February 1st 2017 @ 10:54pm | ! Report

            Williams tweeted about going to the cricket the other week with a couple of the lads so i dont think its quite as grim as the media would have u believe. Perth definitely didnt want him to go to another a-league side (particularly top of the table sydney) and Rhys was frustrated cos he wasnt getting the game time to attract the interest of any international sides. He came to Perth underdone though and probably shouldnt have been played until he was fitter but the aforementioned injuries to our back line forced Kenny’s hand and he was thrown in.

            I think Kenny has a lot of respect from the players, hence Id like to see him kept at the club but in a different role. We need someone capable of taking the next step to push for a top two spot, not just top 6.

            • Roar Rookie

              February 2nd 2017 @ 12:42pm
              The Phantom Commissioner said | February 2nd 2017 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

              Hopefully we do see Rhys Williams at his best in a Glory shirt it’s a shame how things turned out. He can’t be training the house down though he can’t even make the matchday squad, perhaps after all the injury setbacks the fires gone out or he’s just never going to be the player he was.

      • February 3rd 2017 @ 1:26am
        Arto said | February 3rd 2017 @ 1:26am | ! Report

        Graham Arnold just said something similar this week… 😀

    • February 1st 2017 @ 10:06am
      Daniel T said | February 1st 2017 @ 10:06am | ! Report

      I was waiting for an article like this. I couldnt agree more with the general sentiment that Perth are unlikely to ever achieve more than a mid table side under Lowe. Sure he seems like a nice guy and he has a decent track record of teaching kids from a technical perspective, but I feel that we have underperformed tactically under him. This season has been particularly inconsistent and frustrating from a fans perspective.

      Tony needs to ask himself if he is content for Perth to sit in the middle of the table or if he wants to push for the top. It seems to me that he is will to put his money into buying top quality players (you dont breach the salary cap by being tight) so I believe/hope it is the latter.

      Does anyone know when Lowe’s contract expires? Does he have another season? Perhaps he could be kept on as youth team coach or in a technical capacity…

      • Roar Rookie

        February 1st 2017 @ 11:58am
        The Phantom Commissioner said | February 1st 2017 @ 11:58am | ! Report

        Probably the most frustrating season in A-league history, it’s the optimism that kills you whereas before you just expected to lose. I think apart from Sydney though most teams have been wildly inconsistent and that’s without injury to alot of key players. I don’t know i’m very much on the fence with Kenny we’ll see what happens from here on in, we could still finish as high as 3rd and you never know even win the dunny seat…but if we regress and slide down the table he has to go.

      • February 3rd 2017 @ 1:43am
        Arto said | February 3rd 2017 @ 1:43am | ! Report

        According to The Guardian he has a contract for 2 more seasons after this…

        https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/jun/21/perth-glory-re-sign-coach-kenny-lowe-but-miss-out-on-mark-schwarzer

        That’s either a big stuff-up or a monumental show of faith by Management as the extension was for 2 years and signed before the start of this season and coming off the back of 2,5 seasons in which PG have only an FFA Cup Final to show for their efforts (granted they were hit by the Salary Cap scandal back in Season 10)…

    • February 1st 2017 @ 11:03am
      Steve said | February 1st 2017 @ 11:03am | ! Report

      Harmony and happy environment is great to have at a club , but surely all the players want to win tropheys , I’d imagine when they set out at the start of he season , that very first meeting . “Okay lads were playing for mid table , let’s all be happy and nice and have a good season ” . Bullshit – he’s covering up the cracks with positive words about anything to stop the thoughts being on the negative . I managed a team last year we won the league unbeaten , but it was shit fun and tbh not that enjoyable . The year before we came second and it was emence !!! Pull your head outta the water Lowe , get rid of ge fringe players , stop messing around with different set ups and play the best 11 . Perth have a great squad on paper , everyone knows that and can see it !

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