Big match tournament experience is one of the key factors Team GB head coach Les Reed brings to the table, according to open football manager Jonathan Kestenbaum.
No. 2 to Kevin Keegan at the Euro 2000 finals, technical director at the FA and of Northern Ireland, and director of football at Fulham, it is clear that Reed has a wealth of experience that could benefit GB at next month’s Maccabiah Games in Israel.
Having stepped in to replace Michael Stone last month, Reed is clearly impressed with what he has seen. “They have come together very quickly in terms of team spirit and desire,” he said. “We’ve probably got more in our locker than I first thought. There is a really strong bond between the players. We have a nice balance and Jonathan Kestenbaum and Ben Winston have done an excellent job.”
In the blue riband event of the Games, GB line up in Group D, following a second redraw, alongside Brazil, Argentina and France.
“The group changes have not affected the players at all,” says Reed. “We’re in a tough group. I believe that there will be some assumptions about us as a British team. I’m happy not to be fancied to qualify in the top two. That suits me. We’re strong enough to take some teams by surprise and will get stronger as the group progresses.
“We have some experienced boys in the squad in terms of Maccabiahs and won’t be fazed by big names or colours of shirts. The squad is confident that we will be a match for anyone. That might not have been the case in the past.
“We have a lot of depth so we won’t be relying on a thin 1st XI. Where there’s an opportunity to rest players and rotate, we will do that. The squad contains a large core of very good athletes, some very quick and some very powerful. The group is fantastically technical and has attacking flair. We’ve got quite a lot in our locker and we’ll make good use of it.
“It’s important we get off to a good start as we don’t want to be playing catch-up.
“Tournament football is very different to league football in England so it’s important our boys adapt quickly. I’ve been with the squad long enough to know that they’re good enough if they adapt. They are a very talented group.
“We’d like to play a possession, ball retention game from the back, given the conditions in Tel Aviv. I’m happy for our South American opponents to keep the ball in areas that are not dangerous.”
Kestenbaum chipped in: “In 2005, we suffered twice by not holding on to leads. The margins will be narrow in this tournament.”
Reed has been to Israel several times for the Uefa Under 17 European Championships. He said: “I know what to expect in terms of the conditions and we have educated the squad in terms of rehydration and nutrition.
“We have a playing strategy for the conditions and style of football so our fitness will pay off in the long-term. You can never prepare for injuries but the fitter and stronger they are, the better they’ll recover.”
Looking at the competition overall, Reed said: “I would expect some mis-matches and some very cautious football played early on. As in lots of tournaments, things tend to open up during the second phase of the competition before the latter stages become more cautious again. Teams will need to more adventurous to qualify.”
A great believer in discipline, Reed said: “I’m not one for lettings things go on in training that wouldn’t happen in a match. We plan to have tournament quality referees to give the boys some pointers as some have learnt hard lessons in the past. This group understands what tournament strategy is all about. We need to be flexible in selection and rest players so if results go our way, we’ll be looking to conserve energy without putting results at risk. And if losing, we need to get back into the game without expending energy.”
Kestenbaum said: “Les has brought two things. Firstly, an extraordinary profile. He’s able to work with and identify with the boys to get across everything that needs to be said in a way they can enjoy and understand.
“Secondly, experience in tournament football. The closer we get, and particularly once it starts, the ebb and flow of being under intense pressure and being away from families kicks in. It’s been a real eye-opener.”
The million dollar question is, are GB ready for penalties? Reed is not worried. “There’s a big advantage in practicing,” he said. “It’s a regime I put in place at the FA post-1998. At the end of the day players will handle the pressure better if fully prepared. All friendlies will have meaningful penalty practice. Each player is devising and rehearsing play preparation for the shootout.”
So, what happens after the Maccabiah? Reed said: “I think there are a number of players who can step up. We have a lot of young boys showing potential to go further but only when the Games start will I see how them under real pressure as that’s the difference between stepping up.”
The squad plays the first of three warm-up matches against Bishops Stortford on Sunday. Reed said: “They give us the chance to ensure the pieces are in place before we leave. We’ll know a lot more after the friendlies.”
- GB captain Sam Sloma, 26, has signed a one-year contract with Blue Square Woking, subject to passing a medical.