Well, I am not exactly a newcomer to podcasts (I think I subscribe to at least twenty football-/soccer oriented shows per work week), but about two weeks ago, I was a guest in the new podcast called Rasta möter (swedish for “Rasta meets”).

During the interview, the host, Fredrik Airosto, asked me questions about my coaching career, my view on tactics in football / soccer and what my goal is with Backatorp IF this season.

You can listen to the podcast for free from here (it is in swedish):
http://rastaochdalla.se/2019/02/20/rasta-moter-avsnitt-3-johan-solinger/

Advertisements

When I write these lines I sit in a hotel room in London, far away from white snow, grilled Christmas Ham and wrapped presents. I try to find the words to sum up what I think Christmas is all about.

For me, Christmas is primarily two things – Children and dreams. These two things belong together. To somehow tie the sack together for this feast, I am going to write about three stories from my life.

That’s it.
No big deal, just three stories.

We start a little bit cozy. The first story happened terribly long ago. I was 8-9 years old (it feels literally so long ago that I imagine that the dinosaurs were still alive then) and the television show Småstjärnona (in English, “Little Stars”) were a great deal. You maybe remember the show concept? It was an attempt at family entertainment on Friday evenings. The idea was that children would choose a favorite artist and a song to perform as closely to the original as possible. For understandable reasons, it was a mim and not a singing competition, so the best kids could do was to watch MTV and try to mimic their idols as good as they could.

Me and my friend wanted to be a part of the show. We had practiced the song Land of Dreaming (already one should have known that I would write this post about 20 years later) with Masterboy (and again, not a coincidence that I am called The Master).

To get in the mood, you can listen to the song here:

To be honest, we did not scratch the song especially well. I wanted to sing (mim), but for some unreasonable reason, I stood steady most of the time and rocked on my knees. My pal was not much better. We heard that they played some kind of synthesizer in the background, so he took out an unplaned wooden plank and pretended to plink on it. And rocking on the knees. Most of the times we rocked our knees to the ground.

When we finished repeating, we told our parents about our grand plans. But my friend’s mom said no. I really don’t think it was because his mother realized our limitations (believe me, it would have been enough to spare the Swedish people that suffering), because she was quite brusque. She simply didn’t want us to be disappointed if we didn’t win. So instead of letting us search for the competition, she forbade him.

There was no show.

I will return to this story, but before that we will forward the tape, more specifically to this summer.

For several years I have had a coach colleague who has more or less been eager to want me to help him with a football school that he is involved in. The idea behind the whole event is to let children and young people, whose parents have to work during their summer holidays, should have something to do instead of wandering the streets with no aim. Not infrequently, this is young people with parents who have bad finances. Usually, only those with money in the wallet can afford to bring the family to trips.

For the first time in several years, I actually had a vacancy gap in the middle of the summer, so I accepted the offer. My first thought was that my task would mainly be to instruct the young people in the noble art of playing the beautiful game, but there I mistook myself and I did it roughly. There was something sad and at the same time empty in the eyes of these young people. As if they had been grazed on their hopes long before their lives had begun (even I feel that my life has barely begun and I am a gaggle uncle in comparison).

I remember above all a sequence when one of the youngsters made a wonderful dribble through the penalty area, just to then smack it up the ball in the cross. Like a slap! I couldn’t keep my delight for something so beautiful, so I praised the player in question and it sounded loud.

“What a fantastic football event! You dribbled through the whole defense and put it in the second cross as if you haven’t done anything else. You are just like Messi!”

It is such a thing that USUALLY makes people happy to hear. But for some reason the player looked down into the ground and did not say a word. My first thought was that the player in question didn’t like Messi. It is a kind of battle there, who is the best of Messi and Ronaldo. So after the training I took my arm around the player and asked if it Ronaldo was his favourite. He wasn’t. But instead, the player told a completely different story.

“My dad thinks I should stop playing football”

“Why does he think so?”

“Because he keep telling me that I will never be like Messi”

The player started to cryi and I almost did to. It turned out later, when we ate lunch together, that several players had been through similar stories. Sometimes it was their parents, sometimes even their coach, sometimes some spectators. But always there was someone who told them to stop dreaming, because it only hurts when one fails.

Before we tie the bag together, we go to the story number three that happened just a few days ago. As I said, I am in London right now, partly a study trip to see how other football coaches work, but partly also to lecture. I have been invited to talk about one of my favorite topics, game understanding, and as a coincidence I have over the years through networking built a contact network of coaches who by some unconscious (had they seen my other shortcomings so …) want to have my services.

During the last few days I have held a couple of lectures for a number of young academy players in the later teens, young people who do not have time to go home over Christmas and New Year to meet their families so they have to stay at school. At first, of course, we talked about the theme of game understanding, but during the time of all lectures I noticed an interesting pattern. Although all these youths are to some extent relatively successful (they have come in through a needle eye to end up where they are at that age), I noticed them being anxious and restless souls who desperately sought to find their place in universe. So, more than football, the lectures started to be about life in general (how they could ask an irresponsible 32-year-old about the meaning of life goes beyond my understanding).

Most of the discussions were when I pulled out a slide I had with the headline “You can be more than you already are”. By that I mean that the meaning of life, at least the way I see it, is to constantly improve. To become a little better person today than I was yesterday. I do not compare myself with others, but only myself. I do not think we are created for being aimless. In short, I believe that we are designed in a way that makes us need challenges, otherwise we are not going anywhere.

I once read an interesting quote that if man did not have a single concern, if we as a race could only sit down, eat cakes and converse about nice things constantly, everything would eventually collapse with pure restlessness. Probably we would break everything down. Then there would at least happen something.

I got a question from one of the academy players why I do this. Why I go to London in the midst of burning Christmas holidays instead of being home with family and friends just to talk football and life with a bunch of young people who will soon be ravaging the big football scenes.

“I can’t understand. We don’t want anything else but going home to our families over Christmas and you, you abandon them instead. Why do you do this? “

“Because I have a purpose with my life”

“And what is that?”

“I want people to dream and to dream big”

I think dreams are important. If we do not have ambitions, goals and challenges – What are we then? This can of course look different for different people and it can also vary from time to time for the same person. For some, it is to get a beach body 2019, for others to become a doctor, for a third to give back in form of time and consideration to their parents. It can be big and it can be small, but in common for all Dreams is that they are important for the people who have them. All of us must have those dreams, what we strive for. We really have to fight for life and the world to be a little, a little better than it was yesterday. Because if not, what is the point of everything?

When I stood up there on the podium, I remembered the two previous stories I told you about, so I rendered them to the academy players (with my Gothenburg-sounding English, I mind you). It is only now that I understand what they mean and what they mean to me.

In the former story, my friend’s mother just wanted his son to be safe and sound. Probably she had experienced so many disappointments in her life that she had been robbed of the confetti so many times that she had lost her spirit. For her, life was not something to hope for, but something to live through. She didn’t want to see her son as bitter as herself, so instead of hoping for too much, it was about being realistic. Seeing their lot here in life and making the best of it.

The same thing really applies to history number two. Young people who have been told to stop dreaming. They will never be anything. Really no Messis or Ronaldos. So they are better off believing this, so they don’t have to be sad and disappointed.

Over time, I have realized a very strange thing. Throughout my life I have believed that we are born unique and die as copies, but in reality it is exactly the opposite. Try to go to any kindergarten and ask the children what they want to be when they are big. One dream bigger, cooler and especially stranger than the other. Someone wants to become a firefighter, another wants to become an artist, a third wants to become an engineer (although they do not know what it is and above all can not spell it, but it sounds cool). I wanted to become a superhero and baker myself. Then I could save my friends and then invite them for coffee. I thought that sounded awesome.

Somehow it is like all children dream big thoughts. Personally, I have never met really young children who does not. But somewhere along the way, that is changing for some. It is like a glass roof is placed above them that shows what is possible and reasonable to cope with. This glass roof often appears in adults who tell them what they can and cannot do. So, instead of letting children and young people believe in their own abilities and struggle to achieve their dreams, we strike them down in some kind of well-meaning spirit. To save them from suffering. Or at least it is so we think.

At the same time, I can’t help but think … Who am I to give them a glass roof? Who am I setting thes limits on them? Think what many children with such untapped potential that we have not been able to use for the good of society. Talk about high-level resource waste.

Quite often I hear people, often for some kind of mitigating purpose, tell other people who are having a hard time, “you are good as you are”. That they don’t have to do anything more than “just be themselves”. Somehow, I back back down when I hear such terms. Misunderstand me right, all people are just as much worthy and everyone is entitled to the same opportunities, rights and obligations in my world. But, and this is a fat BUT, to say things like those above indicate that they no longer have to make an effort in their lives. Why should I even try to make a difference in my Life? And if I don’t like myself, why should I be myself?

Somewhere we live in a fantasy world where we believe that everything is static. Not least our personalities. But the fact is that we are dynamic beings who can change our lives and thus also our destinies. We are so uch victims that we allow ourselves to be. For the vast majority, our obstacles are in the head. It is only when we realize that we can truly achieve our full potential, what we want to devote our lives to.

I realize I’m floating away here (suprise, suprise), but if we are to summarize all this I just wrote, Christmas is about Children and dreams. Let children dream. It can be weird, childish, overpowering, grandiose, and sometimes completely absurd, but let them dream. And never tell them what is reasonable or possible, because the opposite of dreaming big is to live mediocre. It is not an alternative that I think you or I want to live in.

So everyone I meet I try to inspire them to dream and chase those goals in one way or another, as long as they are receptive. It does not mean that I go around preaching, but rather trying to lead by example and having a future vision of life in general. It doesn’t mean I am perfect (but god damn near perfection, I mind you) or that I’m not making mistakes, but I try to learn from them.

I should not say that it is extraordinary in a world perspective, but for me it is important that my son really feel that everything is possible. No one should explain to him what he can or cannot do. Only he sets the limits. I try to help him every day as best I can. It feels meaningful. Somewhere I want all children to wear that feeling. That nothing is impossible.

The meaning of my life is to make people dream. To find again what makes one like a child again on the inside. You know, that childish enthusiasm that everything, everything, is possible. In my case, it is about me, as a football coach, seeing a responsibility to manage people’s dreams. For many people, football is the only thing they have and there I see an extra great responsibility. Everything I do in my life, in all aspects, is about that with dreams. Everything is tied together for me. It is also why I wake up every morning and feel happy that I will have another day. Another day that feels meaningful. It may sound scary, but that’s exactly how I feel. I suppose the child in me refuses to die. Or as Paulo Coelho once wrote in the Alchemist; “What makes life exciting is the opportunity to realize a dream“.

This picture that you can see on the beginning of theis post was taken during a study visit during this Christmas. Thanks to friendly colleagues, I got the opportunity to get a guided tour around the Emirates Stadium. Then they wanted to take a picture of me from the coach bench, which you can see the result of above. When I saw the result, I said this:

“It will be fun to compare this picture with the one we take in thirty years”

“Huh, what do you mean?”

“Yes, when I come back”

“What?”

“Yes, either as a home or away coach. Which of them settles. But back I shall ”

First, they both laughed hysterically. Then they saw that I was serious.

“You’re really not joking, are you? You’re dead serious!”

I shook my head.

Frankly, it should be fun to compare this picture in thirty years. It’s my goal, my dream. It must sound childish, completely ravenous and, not least, totally unrealistic, but I am not like others either. You may like to call me naive when it comes to such things, stupid even and in some cases quite devilly stupid in the head, but that is my view of life. That’s how I look at life. And I rather die with Dreams inside the chest than to live a life that feels meaningless.

It is only we who are really0 are so stupid that we believe that we will change the world that will actually change it for real. Because we do not see the boundaries, not the limitations. That does not mean that we are not reasonable. The approach must be realistic, the methods must be reasonable. But the goals? They should always be bigger than life itself.

Let children dream. Let them dream big. And then do the same for yourself. It’s not your right, it is your obligation. Just because you are 34, 57 or 69 doesn’t mean that life is over. It just means that you have a chance to start living in a meaningful way, which you feel makes sense. Be hungry for life. The best time to start doing something is always now.

Continue to dream. That’s what makes you human.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I read somewhere that a regular wage earner on average gets fired once per lifetime. Some never gets fired, others several times, but the average is once per person and lifetime. Within football, this number is definitely a low one. In particular, at higher levels, it is more common to have a couple of severance pay in their back pocket.

It is not rare to hear people say that the football / soccer world has become too cynical. Everything is about results and when they are not enough, a coach gets fired (let’s face it, it’s easier and cheaper to kick a coach than a whole team). Sometimes the results are not enough. Ask Fabio Capello who was fired from Real Madrid despite winning the Spanish league. The reason? They played dull football, the board said.

Now, when coach icons like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have put the bag on the shelf, it has in some way become a kind of pink skimmer of the times that has gone by. That it was better before when coaches actually got the chance and the clubs dared to invest in them in the long run. Note that it took a while before Sir Alex actually started winning titles. It is not rarely described that Manchester United’s patience and belief in long-term and continuity were crucial to laying the foundations for the success that would later symbolize the club.

Of course, it’s not hard to dream back to these times, not at least for us coaches. We would like to keep our jobs by writing long contracts and then praying and asking for patience. At the same time, I can not help thinking we have become a bit too nostalgic here. That football + continuity does not always lead to success. Wenger, who certainly had a couple of really good seasons, can anyone honestly say he has been succesful in recent years?

Misunderstand me right here. I think of course everyone should get a chance to do their job. My coach god, Brian Clough, got 44 days in Leeds United before he got sacked. Obviously, it was a strange employment and nothing I recommend, but what says that long-term always leads to success?

I recently read an article about AC Milan, describing their recent majesty era in the mid-2000s. When they won the Champions League in 007, the players were Paolo Maldini, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf. Then, the explanation for the success was the club’s continuity, that these experienced players stood for stability and long-term. When they left the same tournament less than a year later against Arsenal, the excuse was that Milan had not renewed. This despite the fact that it was basically the same team that as less than a year earlier lifted the same cup. What was previously shouted was now what was criticized. Can not make up your mind, eh? 

This issue becomes extra important at the lower levels of football. Not rarely, the squads changes radically from year to year. The core of the group usually consists, but in Sweden, in many cases it is a whole new team that will be gathered in January versus January the year before. Some players move, others test the wings in a new club, a third will have children, a fourth will study and so on. Trying to work on the same methods as the year before, despite the fact that the group is basically completely changed, would be a sort of suicide mission.

Even at higher levels, this is a problem. Attractive players move to larger clubs, the bad ones got sold or the contract expires, long-term injuries forces the club to panic signings. And then the coach is there with a whole new group of players. Then it’s not easy to be long-term.

My point here is that this thing with long term is certainly a good thing, but also a kind of football utopia. Why do we dream of something that is impossible to get? Of course, we will not make changes just because we can, but I think the key to being successful as a football coach is rather about daring to innovate, finding new approaches and always wanting to develop. Wenger ran on with the same old ideas year after year, finally the reality caught him. Just as it now seems to make for José Mourinho.

Sir Alex is an interesting example. Although he lasted for a long time, he dared to constantly develop his ideas and methods. United really did not play the same from when he took over to what he left. He also had no problems eliminating players who no longer delivered. In most cases, coaches usually become nostalgic and refuse to abandon a winning concept, but not Ferguson. It honors him and shows somewhere that long-term is not a worthy goal in itself. It is rather about developing.

Somewhere, I believe that long-term and continuity are needed to some extent, but there is a limit to it. Development is much more important than continuity. Otherwise, we stagnate as a coaches and get worse, or others get better. Where this limit is, I do not know. Expecting large-scale works during a season may be too demanding, but adhering to the same method when no major results or improvements have been seen in 4-5 years may be dumbfounded.

I am tired of talking about long-term.
Let’s talk about development instead, shall we?

It was a good while since I wrote something here last. It almost feels like it was the last World Cup final, but that is of course not the case. Now, my work situation are manageable and I hope to be able to write more here on my official website.

As many of you know, I do not have any coach assignment at the moment, but I will take a new one in 2019. I want to go back to senior level in general and men’s teams in particular, mainly because I want to coach players at the highest possible level of football / soccer. I am currently living in the Sjuhärad area of Sweden, which is where I’m looking for a job. Until then, I will be a guest coach for a couple of clubs within the country’s borders when time is right between work, family and some other stuff. If your club is interested, please feel free to contact me, see my contact page for this!
It is well known that the World Cup is in full swing. As always, I think the tournament is a party, but of course there are things that bother me enough to write a blog post. One of these annoyances is VAR, or Video Assistant Referee, as it is also called. This phenomenon has already been ruled out by media and fans and that for some good reasons.

Unexpectedly, I was positive about VAR. The referees have an difficult task out there on the pitch and are expected to have an eagle’s vision on things that go far beyond their field of view. Of course, reviews should give them good opportunities to make justice?

Unfortunately, there have been childhood diseases that need to be addressed. The big Achilles heel is not, I think, that the games are falling in flow and pace, because I think that has been non-existent. Rather, it seems to me that decisions taken after these reviews are often wrong.

Despite the possibility of video reviews, a great deal of penalty kicks has been missed and despite the possibility there are also penalty kicks that should not have been taken in the first place, much because everything seems way worse in slow motion. Since it also is an assessment question, it is far from simple, even though these reviews exist.

In my book we shall allow the referee to have integrity intact. As it is now, we have referees that act as cowards, who do not dare to blow because VAR will make them look stupid. This is not a sustainable situation.

My suggestion is that VAR remains, but is used in situations where subjective judgment is not needed. For example, to determine if a ball is over the goal line or not (goal camera) or to judge if it is offside or not. These rules are clear and need no closer subjective judgment, in any case not the same as penalty kicks do.

I think there are other things that are more important than VAR, such as effective playing time, time out breaks for the coaches and the like.

But maybe in the future, all is well…

img_1700

At the moment, I am without a coach job (if anyone has an interesting offer, just get in touch), but that does not mean in any way that I’ve been lazy. As a football / soccer coach, you rarely have time to improve yourself or have the space for your own field studies, so I try to use the time I have to educate myself in areas I find interesting.

One area that has interested me for a long time is futsal, a kind of indoor version of football / soccer (which not in any way be associated with that felt ball and tough tackles in slatted chairs). One of the biggest reasons why I have become curious about futsal is that it in many ways removes the things I dislike about football / soccer. More time with the ball per player, no long balls, effective playing time, timeouts allowed for coaches, fluid positions, focus on skill and understanding of the game … Yes, the list runs long and I have not even begun to write about how much fun the sport is to watch.

The other night IFK Uddevalla played against IFK Gothenburg in the Swedish top league, the SFL. They drew 0-0, which apparently was the first time in history that a futsal game ended 0-0 in Sweden. That alone says a lot about how many goals there is in futsal.

To satisfy my curiosity, I went on a course for futsal coaches on Saturday with the Swedish Football Association. Today’s supervisor was Lars Ternström, with dual championships as a coach on his resume as futsal coach of IFK Göteborg Futsal. We were a motley crew of about 10 students who wanted to take us of one of Sweden’s relatively new sports.

In South America, futsal began as a response to the lack of space that existed in the cities, where there simply was not room for large football / soccer pitches. Instead of abandoning playing football / soccer completely, futsal was created, a variant of indoor football / soccer, where the games are played five against five (including goalkeepers) on a surface the size of a handball court. Futsal has been around since the 30’s, but in Sweden, the sport is still relatively new, and our men’s national team (we have no national teams for women yet) have not yet managed to qualify for either the World Cup or European Championship. However, it is the fastest growing sport in the country right now, with about 140 000 licensed players. This compared to ice hockey that has about 64 000 players who are licensed.

It is, as I imagine it was for floorball’s relation to ice hockey, easy to bundle futsal and football / soccer together. It is easy to believe that it is “the same sport, but indoors instead of outdoors” but the differences between sports are striking. Almost as to the degree that I would say that futsal has more in common with sports like basketball and handball than football / soccer.

If we start with the similarities, the feet are main center of attention here. Just like in football / soccer, I pass and shoot with my feet, but that’s about where the similarity ends.

For example, you use much more sole in futsal than you do in football / soccer. There is even a direct necessity to control the ball with the sole in a sensible way. The ball has its own history. It is smaller than a standard football and has a moderate bounce. It feels heavier and is therefore more suited to a game via the ground, the long ball is virtually non-existent in futsal.

There is, because of the size of the court, of course, a difference between the number of practitioners at the same time (five players on each team including the goalkeeper), but there are free substitutions in futsal, unlike football / soccer. The coaches also have timeouts that they can use during a game. When the ball crosses the long side, it is not even throw in, but a play in with the feet.

With this in mind, what did I want to get out of the day that I could pass on to my football / soccer?

One idea I had was if it was possible to use futsal instead of practicing too much at the gym during the winter months. In Sweden, we have a long winter and pre-season training traditionally has contained very little training with the ball. Futsal could be a response to this while developing the individual technical skills and game understanding. Happily, futsal is an interesting complement to this type of gym training, but I much more than that with me from this education day.

One thing that was striking to me is how different the individual movement pattern is in futsal versus football / soccer. In football / soccer, it is normal to follow up a pass with “run with the ball” or go into a new space to be a playable option. In futsal, it is more normal to “back” from the original position and thus rotate with another player. The starting positions are not as important in futsal as there are in football / soccer, the players almost seamlessly switch roles with each other for what is best in the situation. A back can in the next stage become a forward and vice versa.

This makes the players more involved in the game than in football / soccer, but also places greater demands. You cannot sneak cheat in the defense in futsal, the team loses 20% of its total team effort when a player does not defend. Same thing in the attacking game, the team cannot afford to have bad passing players when it comes to attacking. All players are needed in the defense as well as in the attack.

In my head, I thought it was much more skills and less tactics in futsal compared to football / soccer, but oh how wrong I was. The coach’s role is incredibly important in futsal, not only because it is free substitutions and timeouts, but also because it is important to set up the right tactics. Each player is important and needs to have clearly defined roles. Above all, the strategy at set pieces is crucial. To just “shoot the ball” is a guarantee of a conceding a goal, so this needs to be chosen carefully by the coach.

Finally, I had not anticipated that it would be so tough physically to play futsal. Tackling is strictly prohibited, but it does not mean that players should be lazy. The fact that there are so few players on each team, each individual takes up much more space than they do on a football / soccer pitch. In futsal, small teams game is a constant, which is very demanding. Free substitutions are thus understandable. It’s about constantly being in motion to help your teammates. I would not call myself out of shape, but I got sore muscles after Saturday’s practice. That says a lot.

In sum, it was a rewarding education with a good instructor, but the question remains – What is the next step for futsal?

Obviously, there is a breeding ground of many players, but can the media attention increase? I doubt that futsal will outrank football / soccer or ice hockey, but to be the third largest sport in the future should not be impossible. It’s fun to watch, warmer than going to watch football / soccer outdoors, you get closer to the game … All the possibilities are there.

For me personally, now that I’ve got a official futsal coach eduaction, I would enjoy to one day coach a futsal team. I think there are many intriguing similarities (and differences) between football / soccer and futsal that would be interesting to explore in my coaching and leadership.

Futsal may only be in its early stages here in Sweden, therefore it will be exciting to see what the future