Tuesday, 3 March 2009

'Sparkyisation' : Purposes and methods

This is a word I've started to use and I feel like I ought to unpack what I mean by it.

Sparkyisation is the process the club has been undergoing this season. It is the imposition of a certain footballing ethos upon the club, in reaction against the state of the club when Hughes took over. So it has both a positive and a negative aspect; order-destroying and order-creating.

It is based around an understanding of how to be successful in the Premier League - through quick, hard-working, competitive and experienced players. It, and this is crucial, defines itself against Eriksson's Manchester City side of 2007/08. Hughes has been openly critical of Eriksson-era City. He said of the success of autumn 2007 that "everyone in football knew [that it] wasn't going to be sustainable". The criticisms focus on unfit players, insufficient physical preparation, too relaxed an attitude at the training ground, a lack of mental toughness. Each of these failings would be transformed by Hughes (and his coaching team) into strengths: weakness, laziness, that certain irony and diffidence of the Eriksson team would turn into strength, discipline, order, all underlined by a Stakhanovite work ethic throughout the club. Hughes essentially wanted to transform the squad he inherited - a mix of talented foreigners bought by Eriksson, old pros bought by Pearce and talented Academy youngsters into an upgraded version of his Blackburn side.

(On a side point, we should recognise that Hughes' criticisms of Eriksson also have a strategic aspect. The worse he paints the situation before his arrival, the more space he creates for himself. Just look at Harry Redknapp.)

The method of Sparkyisation was essentially two-fold: transfers and training. Hughes' transfer policy in both the August/September and January windows demonstrates a commitment to this approach. Accepting that the deals for Jô and Tal Ben Haim were arranged before Hughes' arrival, and that the Robinho transfer was done over his head, Hughes' seven other signings have all been on a certain template. The six outfield players - Shaun Wright-Phillips, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Nigel de Jong, Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bridge - are all aged between 22 and 29, all full internationals (Zabaleta is the only one not to have at least twenty senior caps), and all quick, athletic and competitive. They are all now first choices in their positions.

Contrast briefly (as Hughes has done) with those players brought by Eriksson. They tended to be characterised as technically excellent but unprepared for the physical demands of the Premier League - Geovanni, Garrido, Castillo and Bianchi certainly fall into this category, Elano and Ćorluka arguably do. He also brought in inexperienced players. None of Fernandes (20 when we signed him), Garrido (22) and Bianchi (24) had won a full international cap when we signed them. Felipe Caicedo and Valeri Bozhinov had played international football, but were only 19 and 21 when we bought them. Of all the Eriksson signings, who would Hughes have bought, given the choice? (Don't forget that Jô is effectively an Eriksson signing, and certainly fits with more of his criteria than with Hughes'). Martin Petrov, certainly. Maybe Bozhinov. Possibly Ćorluka. But no one else.

But back to my main argument. While creating a squad of 'his players', Hughes and co. also engaged in a process of molding that squad into one better equipped to play Premier League football. This was through the introduction of intense physical training of a sort completely alien to the Eriksson era. This is something Hughes often talks about publicly - he describes it better than me. Read this, this, this, and this. If you can use google you can easily find more. The focus seems to be on hard physical work during training so as to improve players' speed, fitness and stamina. This ought to lead to a team which performs better in the latter stages of matches and of seasons. (But Blackburn away and København (not Aalborg) at home remain the only games this year where we've noticeably stepped up a gear in the latter stages.)

So that's the purposes and methods of Sparkyisation. I'll write about the outcomes of Sparkyisation, the main barriers in its way, and its future prospects tomorrow.


mark said...

A fair assessment so far. Look forward to seeing tomorrows post. Also pleased to see the term Stakhonovite used outside of a Russian history book. Well done.

trinder said...

Yes, that's a fine summary of Hughes' attitude to transfers and training, and it's absolutely the right approach. He clearly understands the type of players, physical condition and temperament that is needed to compete in the. Premier League.

Perhaps when he feels the squad is ready next season can we then judge his own suitability: his tactical ability, his defensive organisation and his judgement of a game's balance and how to react. I'm prepared to wait.

TPB said...

it was Copenhagen at home, not Aalborg. good piece though

Jonathan said...

Agreed - good piece. Like Trinder, I'm prepared to wait and like Mark, good to see the use of the term Stakhonovite.

Jon Whitwam said...

Great post! I concur, wholeheartedly! Give time for the Sparkyisation process to be complete, and we should have a decent season!

Loving your work Jack - Keep it up!