It’s been a mixed start to my second season in charge of Hapoel Ashkelon FC. We played badly in the Toto Cup and failed to get out of the group, losing three matches.
But early October finds us second in the league, unbeaten in five. We’re grinding out results, rather than playing free-flowing football, but as a result we’ve conceded only 3 goals to date.
With one window closed and the next way off, there’s time to assess the squad in relation to what I call ‘second-season things’ (SSTs). These are skills and qualities that I’d like to have in the squad during the first season – but which I recognise but might be difficult to acquire, since in the first season it’s often all you can do to get one or two decent players for each and every position.
There are four SSTs.
First, leadership (the one that I’d most want in the first season, if possible). Seb Rozental, my assistant manager, tells me we have a ‘leadership void’. Thanks for that, Seb. Next time, why don’t you just tell me how it is?
I suspect Rozental of a glass-half-empty mentality. The club captain, Pedro Galván (attacking midfielder), is no born-leader: but his profile tells me that he has a leadership attribute score of 15/20 (with determination = 13) and the way the squad navigated the previous season indicates he’s up to the task.
I’ve loaned out last season’s vice-captain, Machluf (leadership 16 but determination only 7) and replaced him with Stanciulescu (centre-back: leadership only 14 but determination a respectable 13).
Not great, but hardly a void, surely. And at least they play in different parts of the pitch.
Perhaps I’m more relaxed than Seb because we have some leaders coming through – two 16 year-olds: Asefa (leadership = 15/20) and Ben-Sa’adon (14). They’re too young to be eligible for Premier League football yet, but I plan to start getting them in when they turn 17.
The second SST is set-piece capacity. We’re OK on free-kicks: the right-footed Galván has an attribute score of 17 and the left-footed Atia scores 16. But on corners we’re heavily reliant on Galván. Galván’s our best penalty-taker too, though he’s not great (he netted two in our most recent game, but has a record of lamely shooting at the keeper). And we don’t do long throws.
So, not good on set pieces. But again I’m quite relaxed. Our policy is not to throw players forward for set pieces. That way, we have plenty of people ready to gather the ball when it comes out of the area, so we can start a second phase.
What worries me more is how dependent we are on Galván, for leadership and for set pieces. He’s 32 and on the wane.
The third SST is a better balance of personality. Out of 27 players at the club, 17 are best described as ‘balanced’; the other 10 consist of 1 ‘spirited’, 3 ‘fairly ambitious’ and 6 ‘fairly determined’. I’d like to replace some of the balanced personalities so as to get more diversity (more professionalism, resilience, resolution, and joviality), but I think the current distribution’s not too bad. I’m pleased to have the ‘fairly ambitious’ players: who knows, if we’d had that last season, we might just have qualified for Europe. And I’m very pleased indeed to have those half-dozen ‘fairly determined’ types to provide at least a little robustness.
The fourth SST is a balance of left- and right-footed players. Sadly I haven’t acquired any either-footed players. We have only 7 left-footers. We’re OK in defence ─ it’s a relief this season to be able to play a left-sided centre-back who’s left footed ─ but not in attack. I’ve started briefing the scouts to search for players who aren’t right-footed.
Overall, I would have liked to have scored higher on SSTs. It seems it will take another year to get a rounded squad.