Manager at Stevenage Borough on three separate occasions, Graham Westley has a somewhat mixed reputation in English football. He has managed eleven clubs in a coaching career spanning more than 900 games and over a period of more than twenty years, however nine of those years have been during his periods at the Hertfordshire club, where it would be fair to say he has had the most success. His playing career was short and fairly modest, ended by an ankle injury.
His coaching career has so far peaked at the third tier of English football (League One). His confident personality seems to have not gone down well with some who he has worked with, his reputation saw him included in 4-4-2 magazine’s 2017 article “50 Most Hated People in Football”. However this coaching session, which took place on transfer deadline day – traditionally a very busy day in the football calendar – while he was managing Barnet, which reflects well on him, taking the time to help others improve.
What better session subject for a confident and positive personality like Graham Westley than “Turning to Avoid Playing Back and To Encourage Forward Play”. He spoke of encouraging positivity with the players, getting them to try and play on the front foot. Any mistakes made should be applauded if the player was showing courage, which would be needed in a session where often the easy or “safe” option would be to play backwards. Within the session he praised invention and penalised teams for playing backwards.
When speaking with the coaches, Westley outlined the design of the session and the reasons behind it. The warm-up should always be related to the content of the session, so with the focus on turning, he was keen to include movements involving parts of the body such as the groin or ankles. In terms of technique and skill, players should be working on protecting the ball or taking other players on. The session should build on the technical side, working on different types of turn (again, encouraging creativity), and work towards a game situation which is conditional to try and prevent players passing backwards. The former Preston North End manager encouraged the players to push themselves as hard as possible even if it meant they made errors, emphasising that the best players are not afraid to make mistakes.
The example of pushing the players was evident in the game, where the restrictions meant that forward passes were a necessity. Westley also introduced point scoring for midfield players executing a turn, prevented players from moving back unless possession turned over, and restricted the goalkeepers to distributing only to their defenders. This meant that even the most defensive minded players had to take responsibility and look to play forward. Again, mistakes were praised as long as the players were trying to be inventive or courageous.
Of course, in reality, the players are not always going to be able to pass forward in every situation in a game, but by producing a session focused on positive play, it certainly encouraged innovation and creativity which are vital in enabling a team to score goals. We have seen many examples of teams who are so focused on keeping possession or preventing goals that they lose the ability to create chances and score themselves. Westley, who once stated that his kids don’t call him “Dad” but “Medal Winner” is certainly the type of coach you would want to put on such a session, and the players certainly seemed to respond positively to his coaching.