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Edgar Davids appointment at Barnet is far from a farce

Michael Holden
Edgar Davids 300x225 Edgar Davids appointment at Barnet is far from a farce

Edgar Davids

The managerial merry-go-round can be like a continuous episode of Laurel & Hardy but so common are the absurdities of sackings and appointments, the audience have a tendency get confused and don’t always laugh on cue.

When Edgar Davids was announced as joint-first team coach at Barnet in October, the reaction was rather scornful. It was, according to the general consensus, one big circus act that was bound to end in tears. I mean, what business did a distinguished global figure like Davids have at a place like Underhill?

We’ve all seen this kind of farce unfold before and it usually gets filed in the box marked ‘cheap publicity stunts that backfired’. The failed examples are too many to mention but perhaps the most recent point of reference is the mess that John Barnes left behind at Tranmere.

So what makes Davids different? In two words: simplicity and coherence.

When a world-renowned superstar takes control of a team way beneath the standard at which he used to play, he needs three things: he needs a philosophy or a style of play that draws upon his own vast experience and incorporates everybody in the group; he needs to understand the limitations of his players in respect of that philosophy; and he needs to be able to communicate his ideas in a way that his players will understand. On the evidence of the first three months, Davids ticks all three boxes.

At the time of his arrival, Barnet looked like a lost cause. They were bottom of League Two with a measly three points from 12 matches, seven points adrift of safety, and they’d shipped a staggering 26 goals. In 16 subsequent outings, they’ve kept seven clean sheets and picked up 26 points. Times that by three and you finish in the play-offs.

Needless to say, the Davids philosophy is primarily concerned with the defensive shape of the team. In the cultural parlance of his compatriot, the professor Geert Hofstede, he is cultivating an operation that is high on both collectivity and uncertainty avoidance – neither of which, curiously, are typical Dutch traits.

This is significant because, if you were to create the ideal cultural blueprint for a superstar footballer to be successful with modest players, these are probably the dimensions that would give him the highest chance of success.

It’s a combination that works because the collectivity doesn’t create divisions among players desperate to win the manager’s affections, while the uncertainty avoidance minimises the pressure they might otherwise feel in a strategy that requires players to express themselves creatively. And this is where Barnes went so badly wrong at Prenton Park.

We can all pot a long red down the snooker hall from time to time, but try doing it with Ronnie O’Sullivan looking over your shoulder. Yet if Ronnie’s only request is to get the cue ball back behind baulk, we’d happily do it several times over. Bursting with pride each time no doubt.

So it’s fair to say that Davids starts out with a huge advantage over managers who enjoyed less distinguished playing careers in terms of receptiveness from the dressing room he inherits, but it’s only an advantage if its used in the right way. And to his credit, Davids is doing just that.

He is asking more or less the same of everybody in the team, placing huge emphasis on the basics and the message, down to the finest detail, is coming through loud and clear.

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