England are flying, the goals are flowing. The Premier League’s nets are bulging and the net value of a frontman who’s firing on all cylinders has never been greater. But away from the cameras the striker’s role comes under unique focus.
During an international week, England’s strike force when fully fit – which includes Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Jamie Vardy – will work with specialist attack coach, Allan Russell, the Scottish ex-pro whose expertise in finding the net caught the eye of Gareth Southgate, England coach, in 2017.
It led to Allan, who works with the leading Premier League strikers, to coach England’s young Lions as they thumped Panama 6-1 for a record World Cup Finals win during their impressive run to the Semi-Finals in 2018.
In Allan’s line of work movement is everything. Everyone remembers the finish, but it’s the vital movement in the build up to the goal which allows the space for the striker to deliver. During a technical training session Allan Russell, England’s goal-scoring guru revealed to RSNG what it is about a striker that makes the role so special…
RSNG You specifically coach forwards in the UK and abroad at all levels of the game, what is it about that position that requires unique tuition?
ALLAN RUSSELL, ATTACK COACH ‘Strikers are a very different animal altogether with lots of different movements to other positions and so they need to be trained in a different way. It’s a special kind of pressure; an expectation to score goals that defines them as a player.’
‘When you look at, say, defenders they’re judged on passing through the lines and breaking up attacks, Midfielders have few different parameters – tackling, switching play, playing through balls – that they can judge and be happy with their performance by. With strikers it’s a numbers game: no matter how good the performance, if they’re not getting on the score sheet they’re not happy with their performance. It’s a different mindset when it comes to what they think is a success in a game.’
RSNG How vital is confidence to the striker’s success?
AR ‘Everything, it’s everything – in essence that’s why I put a new movement programme together because when a striker suffers a drop in confidence they should be able to go back to the fact that they can trust their training, that they can trust their decision making, trust their technique in pressure situations and execute the right finish, at the optimum moment with the right technique – aiming to hit the corners. That’s the mantra, keep it low, hit the corners. When players are feeling low in confidence they can go back to thinking: “Ok I do it 9 times out of 10 in training, I’m good, I’m composed and I believe in my technique.”’
‘No one striker, whatever their level, is born a natural goal-scorer’
RSNG How much of the finishing skill we see with the likes of Kane, Vardy and Rashford say is learnt, and how much his down to natural ability?
AR ‘No one is born a natural goal-scorer. Lots of people think strikers can do things naturally. But when you look back to the learning phase of their career, a lot of these guys that look now as if they do things naturally have gone through a learning curve to do what they do. Maybe a certain coach at a certain time focused them on a certain area – but whatever it is, they would have focused their training on striking specifically. As young players, at a junior stage, they also watched good players and learned from that. Good technique resonated in their mind, they learned to visualise and then put into action what they saw – but no one striker was born a natural goalscorer.”
RSNG So it’s almost developed through mimicking the ‘greats’?
AR ‘You could say. The world’s best players will have grown up watching top players since they were toddlers, when so much of what we learn is gleaned from observation. That ability to watch and then action it on the pitch is what makes them good at what they do.’
‘The world’s best strikers grew up watching the best players since they were toddlers’
RSNG How do you work on weaknesses without undermining confidence?
AR ‘Good question. Part of being a good coach is accepting that no one system fits all. Everyone is different and they react differently to methods of coaching. Knowing your players’ individually is key – that works beyond football too. Knowing what affects them and how you address them individually is vital.’
‘So, if a player struggles with a certain weakness you have to decide how to help the overcome that, nuanced to what they best react to. You certainly don’t go and continually hammer it home to them that they’re not so good at X, Y or Z. You feed the information to them, the coaching points on how to improve – but you allow them to make mistakes because a lot of the time they’ll recognise the weakness anyway and learn from that.’
RSNG You work with England’s strike force but also Premier League ‘imports’ – do you see a difference in approaches to the game?
AR ‘Not especially. There’s a perception that South American and Spanish players, especially, are more technically astute but maybe lacking on the physical side. But whether it’s a Spanish or English player isn’t really relevant – within their nationalities and make-up they’re all different, with different attributes. You might be working with a big target player or nippy number 10 who’s good at finding space and shooting from all areas – but there’s no difference whether they’re UK or foreign ones.’
RSNG How have strikers changed over your time as a coach and to what do we England fans owe this current crop of talented front men?
AR ‘Academies now focus on the specialist areas in terms of nutrition and physical conditioning – they work on explosive movement and space awareness which the clubs work on at senior levels too, so they’re all are doing the same work from an early age. Also players nowadays are more tactically aware because of the huge access we all have to analysis now – 10 years ago it would have been hard to get hold of a player’s footage or look at things online where you can study games. Now the young players coming through are more tactically aware than ever before.’
RSNG In spite of all this plenty of strikers, of all standards, still have off days. What’s the most common error they make?
AR ‘What I see a lot with my son’s youth games and from Sunday morning park matches right up to the professional levels are strikers tending to drift into areas where they can’t really affect play. Be that in the first or the second phase of play, they tend to take themselves out of the situations where they’re most dangerous. The solution as a coach is to feed this back to them – I’ll give them homework too, which can include analysis and recordings of players to watch.’
WHAT NEXT? Follow Allan Russell’s coaching programmes online to develop movement and focus on finishing:
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